Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff; 2015

I’ve been cured! Fates and Furies has whisked me away from my reading rut of too-long novels with big words and mile-long sentences. Finally a book in 2016 that I have truly loved and enjoyed all the way around.

IMG_4148First of all. Lauren Groff’s writing. Every single sentence is a delicious, decadent treat. Impossible to pick the best tine, because almost every sentence is the best line. I re-read the first two-and-a-half pages of this book more times than I can say because I was so impressed by it all, and there’s a lot to learn from them. It’s stunning.

Groff is also the queen of perspective. It’s the story of a marriage, told in two parts and two perspectives: that of Lotto, husband, and Mathilde, wife. Lotto is the simpler of the pair, open to the whole world, shining, blessed with genius and fortune. Mathilde, aloof and saintly, operates behind the scenes and holds most of the marriage’s secrets. We have to understand Lotto to understand Mathilde, and vice versa (note: neither are likeable). By the end of the book we have seen both sides of a marriage, but are left wondering which side to believe. I had done a decent amount of reading about Fates and Furies before I started it, so I knew that things were going to shift dramatically with Mathilde’s perspective. But where I was expecting a Gone Girl-level shift, it was much sharper and less extreme.

This book begs to be re-read, primarily because of the impulse to compare the two versions of the narratives, but also just to admire the construction of it. I would turn around and read this again tomorrow.

I put a freeze on buying new books for myself months ago; I haven’t purchased a new book since probably December, an all-time best (or worst, depending on how you look at it). But now all I want to do is run to the bookstore this weekend and buy Arcadia, Groff’s previous novel. So I guess the freeze is over.

-M

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I Am Legend

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson; 1954

A friend agreed to read Station Eleven on my recommendation if I read I Am Legend in exchange. Otherwise, I probably never would have approached this one, if only because of lingering trauma from the dog in the Will Smith movie version. This is probably not news to anyone else, but Richard Matheson’s book is completely different from the blockbuster. So if the movie was holding you back, feel safe enough to proceed to reading the book.

It’s 1976 and Robert Neville is the last living man on earth. But he’s not completely alone. A vampire plague has destroyed civilization, and at night every other remaining human terrorizes Neville while he barricades himself in his home; by day, he hunts the living dead one by one. It’s less a book about vampires, and more about loneliness and survival. It’s also a kind of grim character study: there is only Robert. The language is simple and to the point, no frills. The last page gave me chills. Best of all, this book is super short – 160 pages – which was the most wonderful breath of fresh air after finishing City on Fire last week.

It reminded me so much of ‘Salem’s Lot, which I read earlier this year, that I went back and poked around. Stephen King cites Richard Matheson as one of his greatest influences as a writer, so all of that makes sense. I love seeing firsthand how books influence one another. I Am Legend wasn’t as terrifying as ‘Salem’s Lot in my opinion, but it was definitely haunting and very grim.

I realized that I’ve unintentionally read a lot of sci-fi in the last six months, and I’ve enjoyed all of them (well, with the exception of Congo). I think I might embrace this sci-fi trend and explore the genre a little further. But first, off to embark on Fates and Furies – FINALLY!

-M

 

City on Fire

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg; 2015

As I was reading City on Fire, a few people asked me what it was about and I grumbled with frustration. It’s difficult to describe it other than a massive family drama/saga-New York City-“American”-“epic.” Sigh. I read in a few places that this was being compared to A Visit From the Goon Squad. Maybe, but I’m so not sold on that comparison. Honestly, I need a big ol’ break from these NYC books. There are other cities. This is one of those books that tries way too hard to be the quintessential American novel that it’s at times a little cringe-y. You’ve got your gay, black aspiring writer from the South, NYC aristocracy, the prodigal son, 1970’s underground anarchy punk movement, 4th of July fireworks, American suburbia, divorce, and so on.

Each character, no matter their age, gender, or race, has the same voice and perspective. It’s a third person omniscient narrator, so I understand why that happened, but, for example, a sixth grader literally reads Hamlet, understands it, and then writes a provocative misogynist essay about it to get his parents’ attention. Okay, no. A sort-of murder mystery grounds the plot and ties all of the characters together, but after about 300 pages in I kind of forgot about the shooting and didn’t care about it. When it came time to either return this to the library or renew it, I almost returned it but for the feeling that abandoning it 500 pages in was cowardly and lame.

All of that said, there is no doubt that Hallberg has serious talent. I think I would have loved this book if it was half the size. His prose was pretty much the only thing that kept me pushing through, because his writing is truly a delight. He writes with precision and has a strong hold over his sentences. But City on Fire was just a little much. There’s a lot going on, a lot of characters to keep track of, and a lot of pages (read: TOO MANY of all of the above). I will say that for as long as it is (911 pages), it goes fairly “quickly” in the larger scheme of things because Hallberg’s writing is so readable. The Demon Brother was such a deliciously unsavory character that I was just like YES – he was so well-executed and I could envision him perfectly.

Despite how it sounds, I don’t regret reading this. It didn’t feel like a waste of time and I didn’t fully dislike it. There’s no question that this is an impressive first novel, but for as big as it is, and with all of the hype, it definitely didn’t blow my mind. It was kind of like, meh, but I do look forward to reading whatever Hallberg puts out next – with the exception that it’s a more reasonable length.

-M

Little Bee

Wow! This book took me some time. It was so unbelievably dark. The last time I wanted to stop reading a book because it was disturbing me was when I read They Poured Fire on Us from the Sky and it is the true story of child soldiers in Sudan. That book I had to physically remove from my immediate vicinity, that’s how upsetting it was for me. This one was only slightly less disturbing, and only because I knew it wasn’t entirely true.

Little Bee is the story of Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee who comes to England after narrowly escaping death in her home country. She comes to England to find the woman who saved her life, Sarah O’Rourke. I feel like the author, Chris Cleave, tried to make the ending “happy”, but didn’t succeed at all. I won’t give anything away, but honestly, while this book was well-written, I wish I hadn’t read it. I will definitely be thinking about this one tonight while I stare at the dark ceiling of my room.

I will go back to Mary Higgins Clark now please.

-A

Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead

I have so much to say about this book. My mother has been trying to get me to read this for the longest time, and I finally caved when she mailed it to me. I hate to admit it, but I was really looking at reading this book as a chore I had to do. But I will be the first to admit, this book sucked me in. First of all, it is FILLED with insane facts and figures, as well as ridiculous studies completed in modern (2012) America that prove how sexist we still are on a daily basis!

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead was written by Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. It is an easy read for anyone who is interested in human rights. Sheryl writes about her personal experience in the business world as well as studies compiled over the years about women in the workplace. I’ll summarize her main points for those (like my roommate) who know they should read this but don’t want to. Sandberg is basically arguing that if you (as a woman) want to work and have a family, you can. If you want to have a family and be a full time stay at home mom, you can. If you want to work your butt off and not waste your time on stupid boys, you can. Basically do you, and show other women that you have the courage to do you. Women are constantly told that they shouldn’t point out that they want to have kids or that they want to work full time after having babies. It’s fine to want these things, but let’s just not talk about them, for whatever reason. Sandberg urges everyone to talk about what they want and how they are going to get it.

This book reminded me of my biggest pet peeve. I hate HATE HATE when women say they are not feminists. As Caitlin Moran so wisely said, “Do you have a vagina? And do you want to be in charge of it? If you said ‘yes’ to both, then congratulations-you’re a feminist!” But seriously, so what if you are associating yourself with the super-liberal, bra-burning women of the 70’s? Those girls kicked butt and helped us get where we are today! If it wasn’t for those feminists that everyone hates being associated with, us women would probably be earning 40 cents to the male dollar. Ughhhh, come on ladies.

The part I connected with the most in Lean In was definitely the chapter where Sandberg described how women typically “lean out.” At 24, I am super aware of the fact that I want to have babies (lots of them) and settle down. I have already found myself thinking about how I probably shouldn’t go to graduate school because it will be a waste of my money and time if I am just going to go, start working in my dream job, and then get pregnant and be done with the working world. I didn’t even REALIZE how ridiculous I was being until I read Lean In. A) I don’t need to seriously start having babies for another six years, minimum. B) NOW is the best time to go to grad school, BEFORE I have to deal with the non-mobility of having a family/husband/babies. C) As Sandberg points out, if I have an amazing job that I love when I get pregnant, I will want to go back to work that much more after having the baby, and the more I love my job, the less it will seem like a chore to go back to work! Epiphany moment!!

Also critically important is the fact that most people refuse to believe that they are gender biased. In studies when a job interviewer reads over resumes, if the gender is omitted, women always score better than if the gender was evident. There was this one study where scientists had other scientists look at TWO IDENTICAL resumes, but changed the name from a female to a male, and the men were SCORED HIGHER and thought to be a BETTER FIT FOR THE POSITION.

In conclusion, I will end with Sheryl’s words:

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-A

The Martian

This might have been the first time I have ever watched a movie before I read the book version. And I only did that because I didn’t realize there was a book version of The Martian. I should have left it at the movie.

My coworker told me that this book read like an extended math problem. So accurate. I will say there are technically two parts to this book. The parts on Mars, and the parts back on earth. (For those unfamiliar, Mark Watney gets stuck on Mars when his crew thinks he’s dead. He has to survive five years until the next spaceship lands on Mars). The parts set on mars are SO BORING, but the parts set on earth, as NASA tries to figure out how to get Mark home, are pretty good.

Still, I would only recommend this book to one of my friends, and she was a double math and computer engineering major, so she would probably get more of this book than I did.

If you can’t decide if you want to try reading this book, my suggestion is to Abort mission. Get it?

-A

The Maze Runner

James Dashner; 2009

Here I am again, trying my hand at YA. Even though The Maze Runner is now a movie franchise, I still managed to not know anything about it other than the obvious: a maze and a boy running in the maze. The story starts off with the main character, Thomas, entering a place called The Glade in a box. He doesn’t know where he came from, and only has vague memories of the world before he entered The Glade. The Glade is in the middle of an enormous maze, and the Gladers devote their days to finding a way to escape.

The Maze Runner starts out really strong; it’s exciting, fast-paced, and mysterious. It was a little frustrating to not understand anything that was happening, although the gap in knowledge perfectly mirrors what Thomas is feeling. I couldn’t take the slang/invented curse words seriously at all – i.e. shank, slint-head, shuckface, etc. They got a laugh 99% of the time, which I’m not sure was the goal. I got a little bit bored towards the middle, and some of the plot was predictable. But the end was enough of a plot twist/cliff-hanger to make me want to read the next book. Off to watch the movie while I wait for my library copy of The Scorch Trials!