WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: I think my new favorite genre of book is “Really Great Books From a Long Time Ago That Everyone Kind of Forgot About But Why Did Everyone Forget About These Books Because They Rock The Disco?!?!”
(Can you tell I had no clue how to punctuate that last sentence. I think that’s because that last sentence was unpunctuate-able. I deserve dessert for that.)
Here’s my latest and greatest reading news. Last week I read an ARC of Harper Perennial’s re-release of the 1956 teen girl novel Chocolates For Breakfast, which I have mixed feelings about but ultimately I think I liked it a lot (I THINK, sometimes it takes me a spell to make my mind up about a book!) Then I read the 1935 adventure memoir Canoeing With the Cree which I have NO mixed feelings about, I just thought that book was the awesomest of sauce. And of course, there’s today’s Book Girlfriend, the 1963 novel The Group, the predecessor to HBO’s Girls and Sex and The City.
I found The Group by picking my way through this list from The Millions “Ten Books to Read Now That Girls is Back” I read Sheila Heti’s How Should A Person Be and am pretty positive I am the only person who writes for Book Riot who liked this one . I read Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan and thought it was, I want to use the right word here…. serviceable, I thought it was serviceable. Already read Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado (which I LOVE), Sloane Crosley’s I Was Told There Would Be Cake (which I was… whatever), and when all was said and done that basically left The Group. So off I went to read!
The Group, written in 1963, begins in 1933, and follows a group of young Vassar grads (at the time an all-women’s school) through the next ten years of their life as they spread out around the country (but by and large stay NYC central) fall in love with men who are no good for them, deal with the guilt of being wealthy and the terrors of being poor, choose between children and careers, basically figuring out the same things in their twenties that American women in their twenties are still trying to figure out eighty years later. Each chapter stars a different member of the group, so the girls take turns playing leads and supporting characters, a structural device I loved to pieces. It really drove home the point that in any group, every individual member is going to feel like the center and star of the group (because of course that girl is the center and star of her own life).
I just ate this book up with a spoon, you guys! I found it so absorbing and relevant and thoughtful and shocking and provoking and great. Even though I know this book paved the way for SATC (Candace Bushnell’s editor specifically asked for “a modern version of The Group“) and now Girls, I felt like I was reading something wholly original when I read this book. If you’re looking for a great period read that feels like a great modern read and would make the most kick-butt of cable shows, check out The Group.
WHAT KIND OF GIRLFRIEND IS SHE: Such an old-fashioned peach with such modern and newfangled ideas!
MY DATE WITH “THE GROUP”:
We get together to have tea and gossip hard.
We tell the most scandalous gossip about our friends I cannot even print it!
Then we drink our tea!
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT:
I wrote about Meg Wolitzer’s THE WIFE a few weeks back (quick recap: I ate it up WITH A SPOON AND A FORK). So of course I’m now on the backlist prowl (I got THE POSITION and THE TEN YEAR NAP from the library). And then wonder of wonders, miracles of miracles, Lydia Hirt over at Riverhead scored me a copy of Wolitzer’s upcoming book THE INTERESTINGS (out this April).
If I was a good and patient little book blogger I would write my review now and wait ’til April to post it.
But I’m NOT a good and patient little book blogger. I am a wicked thing. And I CAN’T wait to tell you how much I liked reading THE INTERESTINGS. I ate it up with a spoon and a fork and a knife and spork and CHOPSTICKS and I don’t even know what else.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: I know that some of you picked up this book, saw that Miranda July and Sloane Crosley both blurbed the back, and ran screaming into the night.
All I knew when I checked out the book from the library is that it was one of the few books selected to compete in the Tournament of Books that I had not heard of (the other titles I didn’t recognize were HHhH and Ivyland). Oh, and I also saw it mentioned in Claire Miye Stanford’s post for The Millions Ten Books To Read Now That “Girls” is Back.
That’s all I had going in.
You guys, I really liked this book. Sheila Heti manages to combine novel and memoir and theatrical play in this Canadian-based tale of a frustrating friendship between young and frustrated female artists. Sheila, our narrator, works at a hair salon and has a play commission she can’t seem to finish, she’s overanalyzing it too much as she does, well, okay, everything. Margaux is a talented painter who is more fragile than glass that HAS ALREADY BEEN BROKEN. The two form a codependent friendship that feels almost romantic. They break up and make up a lot as they try to figure out how to be friends with each other and equally as important, how they should be as people.
I know people hate this book. I was just today eavesdropping on a conversation on Twitter (is it eavesdropping if it’s on Twitter? I’m still trying to figure out the 21st century.) where book bloggers I know and like very much were a.) hating it if they had read it and b.) reluctant to read it because of the hating. The novel is self-indulgent and navel-gazing and I get hating those things in a book because I HATE those things in real life, HATE, go act like a seventh grader somewhere else, I’m serious, I don’t want to be friends with you.
But I liked those things in this book. I liked these girls as much as I felt sorry for them. They take themselves so seriously and yes this is ridiculous but there is also an earnestness here, these girls are so vulnerable and are just hoping so hard that they can figure out their friendship and their lives and just get their acts together and this just broke my heart.
I’m not the Girl Who is Obsessed With Miranda July and Sloane Crosley and the HBO Show GIRLS. I’m not constantly staring down at my belly button trying to figure out what it all means. I’m not That Girl. I identified, but I didn’t liked this book because IT IS MY LIFE. I just thought it was thoughtful, inventive writing about a fascinating friendship. The characters are flawed, but I don’t think the book itself is flawed. I think it is absorbing, provocative, and pretty wonderful.
WHAT KIND OF GIRLFRIEND IS SHE: Her hair is SO PRETTY and her thoughts are SO LIBERAL-ARTS-EDUCATED and she’s CANADIAN, COOL but she is SAD GIRL CRAZY and I’m NOT okay with it BUT I’m also kind of.
MY DATE WITH “HOW SHOULD A PERSON BE”:
We stare at our navels.
What else would we do?
Big News Before We Boyfriend It Up Today:
START HERE, Book Riot’s first book is out. It’s only 3 bucks for a digital copy and it’s a great resource for reading through famous classic, contemporary, and cult authors. I penned essays about Stephen King and Italo Calvino (which demonstrates the range of the book). Lots of Book Rioters and famous authors and reviewers also contributed their smart-as-heck thoughts. We did an ab-fab job with this one, and I really hope you check it out!!
What the Book is About:
You guys, I’m really mad at you right now.
Why didn’t any of you SHOVE THIS BOOK DOWN MY THROAT when it came out A YEAR AND A HALF AGO? I’ve been walking around all year without the shape of a 384 page book cartoonishly bulging out from my neck. You guys. I thought we were friends. You guys.
I was looking for a good Audible book last week (having some couple hour drives looming in my future) and I remembered that this was all over Audible about a year ago, and I pulled the trigger and used my credit.
You guys. Why did no one tell me that this book was Charlie and the Chocolate Factory meets The Matrix? You guys! That’s the best A meets B combination since someone told me that Bone was Charlie Brown meets Lord of the Rings. YOU GUYS!
Ready Player One takes place in 2044 in a collapsing world where people spend the bulk of their time away from reality in a virtual universe called the OASIS. When the OASIS creator James Halliday dies, he sets up an elaborate virtual scavenger hunt that leads to an Easter egg that will name the winner of the hunt the heir to Halliday’s 200-something billion dollar fortune. The story opens as poor as shenanigans Oklahoma teenager Wade Watts finds the first clue to the puzzle. Wade’s avatar Parzival becomes a global celebrity, his competitors become both his most loathed enemies and closest friends, and as his virtual adventures bleed into his actual life, he finds that he can no longer avoid the real world and everything that is so wonderful and terrible about it.
This is a chunky motherf—er. There’s a LOT of exposition and a LOT of nerd references (Halliday, who came of age in the 1980’s, makes his entire scavenger hunt 80’s nerd trivia based). The exposition and nerd-insideriness should weigh the book down, but it doesn’t, it buoys the story up, giving the world such wonderful specificity. This novel reads like a sci-fi Harry Potter. I absolutely could not put it down. I listened on audiobook (nerd icon Wil Wheaton does an A+ job narrating) and found myself listening long after car rides were over. I was listening to this book late into the night like a kid with a book and a flashlight under his covers.
I’m so pissed at everyone who didn’t shove this book down my throat so I’m shoving it down yours. READ AND LOVE.
(No pictures today because I read on audiobook. I’m reading lots of library books so lots of book dates caught on camera in weeks to come!!)
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT:
I feel like this post should really be called “Meg Wolitzer, where have you been all my adult reading life, come over here and give me ALL THE KISSES!”
But first, credit where credit is due. Thank you SO MUCH to Emma Straub who recommended this week’s Book Girlfriend via Read This: Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores. It’s an INDISPENSABLE book guide. Some of my most favorite internet bookseller friends show up here (Liberty Hardy of RiverRun, Josh Christie of Sherman’s Books and Stationery, Emily Pullen formerly of Skylight, now of Word, and, of course, Straub from Book Court.)
I already liked so many of Emma’s picks ( you guys have heard me talk about my huge crushes on Kate Christensen’s The Great Man, John William’s Stoner, and Adrian LeBlanc’s Random Family on the blog) so I was all kinds of excited to order a bunch of Emma’s picks from Read This from the library.
I read The Wife in about a day and a half. It wasn’t the “This is my allotted nightly reading time so I’m going to pick up my book” kind of reading.
It was the “I’m going to pick up this book with every free chunk of time I have even if that chunk is only three minutes long” kind of reading. Harry Potter and Hunger Games reading. Yes, THAT kind of reading.
The Wife is told from the POV of Joan Castleman, the wife of one of the 20th century’s greatest living novelists John Castleman. Joan met John while attending Smith in the 50’s. He was her married creative writing professor and she his prize student. The two ran away to New York where she became his new wife and proved instrumental to him writing his smash debut novel. Through the decades Joan is key to her husband’s writing career. They build a family, and a com-plic-ated one at that. But their complicated relationships with their children is nothing compared to their complicated relationship with each other. Basically she’s the backbone of his life and he cheats on her ass like cheating is going out of style. As the book opens, Joan is accompanying John to Helsinki where he is to receive the literary prize of his life. Their story is told in flashbacks. We return to Helsinki throughout. The novel culminated with John receiving the prize. Then there’s a revelation at the end that completely reframes the entire context of the book.
Here’s the thing- I saw the twist ending coming from halfway through the book on.
Here’s the other thing- that didn’t really bother me.
Knowing the ending didn’t spoil the middle for me, it made it that much more boggling and wrenching. And boggling and wrenching are two of my VERY MOST FAVORITE READING ADJECTIVES.
I just adored this book. It was so sharp and funny and provocative. It explores one woman’s relationship with creativity and success with such intelligence and compassion. The scenes are riveting and the characters are so infuriating and flawed and human. It’s an issues book without being preachy or ponderous. I ate it up with a spoon and a fork.
If you’re looking for just the smartest domestic drama, pick The Wife up stat. And it’s skinny little book at that, two hundred something pages, you too can read in a day and a half!
WHAT KIND OF GIRLFRIEND IS SHE:
Such a smart and patient Book Girlfriend that puts up with me cheating on her with ALL THE OTHER books.
MY DATE WITH THE WIFE:
Me being a bad girl with another book.
Me getting caught by The Wife.
Me trying to explain.
It doesn’t go well.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT:
So you see Justin Cronin’s name on the cover and you instantly assume that Mary must be a glowing green vampire-zombie thing and O’Neil the monster hunter who has sworn to kill her and all her kind.
Because that’s what Cronin, author of horror-apocalypse bestsellers The Passage and The Twelve, writes about. Right?
YES but also NO. Back before Cronin was writing about monsters and the people who love to kill them he was writing about the quiet joys and tragedies of domestic life. Before he was Stephen King’s The Stand-ing it he was all about getting his Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge on.
Mary and O’Neil follows a destined-to-be-wed couple pre-meeting through the birth of several children. This novel in stories is bookended by tragedies (and there are some more tragedies in the middle) but bolstered by the joys of weddings and children and small happinesses of domestic life with the one you love. It’s slice of life but it is slice of life observed so finely it’s as if Cronin’s brain were the literary equivalent of a CAT scan.
It’s also SKINNY BONES. 243 pages, word. Perfect for when you just want to read a book in an afternoon. If you want to pair it with another skinny bones read, Glaciers by Alexis Smith would be an ab-fab choice.
If you just want to get your domestic drama and good literary writing on, this is your jam.
WHAT KIND OF BOYFRIEND IS HE: One that skews melancholy without being a depressive, the kind of boyfriend you can sit in a room with for hours drinking tea and reading without it being awkward. You can also wake him up at three in the morning to talk about something that’s bothering you and he’ll only be a little bit annoyed.
MY DATE WITH “MARY AND O’NEIL”
We’re very slice of life on my couch drinking our coffee and non-caffeinated tea.
Kisses for domesticity!
Hey, PS. completely forgot my jeans were ripped until after I looked at these photos. Maybe it’ll give me, like, some edge or street cred. I really need both those things.
How was I NOT going to do an end of the year list- I dated too many amazing books this year! It was THE HARDEST to narrow all my book boyfriends and girlfriends this year, but narrow I did!
Below, my favorite dates this year:
FAVORITE NEW FICTION BOYFRIENDS AND GIRLFRIENDS:
GOLD by Chris Cleave- Yes, this was “the Olympics novel that came out during the Olympics.” It was also one of my favorite novels this year. The character geometry! The worlds of competitive sports and science fiction and pediatric illness colliding. Reading this novel felt like the cycling races described in the pages, just the most exhilirating stuff.
ARCADIA by Lauren Groff- This novel, following a boy that is born in a 1960’s Utopian commune, as he and the commune both grow up in his lifetime, knocked me on my ass it was so richly human and compelling.
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain- I didn’t know third-person could be SO OH-MY-WORD AWESOME. This is the post-9-11 novel. Everything everyone’s saying is right, buy this pronto-burger and eat it up fast.
TELL THE WOLVES I’M HOME by Carol Rifka Brunt- The story of a teen girl in the 1980’s whose beloved uncle dies of AIDS and her bewildering journey as she fulfils one of his last requests and befriends his long-term partner who also has AIDS, this was just one of the most worthy novels published this year.
WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE? by Maria Semple- One of the funniest novels I read this year, this book was such fun social satire and such deeply twisted and awesome family drama.
BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS by Katherine Boo- Me and the National Book Awards are in agreement on this one, this book is tops.
- Anything and Everything by Jennifer Egan (but if I have to pick one, I pick THE KEEP). Jiminy Cricket, that book is good!
-WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN by Lionel Schriver- AKA WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT HOW MESMERIZING AND TERRIFYING THIS BOOK IS.
FAVORITE UNDER THE RADAR BOOKS
CARRY THE ONE by Carol Anshaw- I loved this book so much that my blurb is on the inside jacket cover! I wish I saw this slim novel about the a wedding after party gone horribly wrong and the decades-long ramifications of that fateful night getting more end of the year love. Whatever, I love it, and if you haven’t read, you should.
THESE DAYS ARE OURS by Michelle Haimoff- This literary novel, about wealthy Jewish college grads in post 9-11 NYC, was such an ab-fab surprise. It’s like if a CW show was just the f—ing smartest and most human thing. Pretty shocked this didn’t get more traction. Readers who like YA would like, readers that like literary would like, readers that like the CW would like— and if you like all of the above, y0u’re money in the bank
I have a few!
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green- Yes, everyone talks like they’re cast members of Dawson’s Creek in this novel and yes this is okay because the characters are so compelling and the storytelling is so pitch-perfect. Teens with terminal cancer falling in love could be the most maudlin of plots but the book sidesteps treacle and left me feeling like this was one of the most honest and original stories about love and loss I had read in I don’t know how long. And I cried a million times. Well, six times, same difference.
SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo- Harry Potter, I have been looking for your successor and I have maybe found it. This book, the first in a trilogy, is basically like if Anastasia (the cartoon) went to Harry Potter’s Durmstrang school. It’s so Russian and magical! J’adore ca!
EVERY DAY by David Levithan – This is ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND and HAROLD AND MAUDE-level original love story. I don’t want to say much more than that. The discovery is the fun part!
FAVORITE MIDDLE GRADE
WONDER by R.J. Palacio- This middle grade novel about a boy born with a severe cranio-facial anomaly starting his first year of middle school was ONE OF MY FAVORITE NOVELS OF THE YEAR IF NOT FAVORITE. Hilarious and heart-stompingly-sad and just THE MOST HUMAN OF BOOKS.
GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn- I know, me and everybody else, whatever, I’m a little reader sheep, I don’t care, I was riveted by this mystery. The first half is compelling, the last half is unstoppable, once you get to “the big revelation”, you’ll be reading until you’re done. Which might be 3AM. That might have been what happened to me. MAYBE!
TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Cheryl Strayed- I know WILD was the big sell this year for Strayed, but my favorite book by her, that came out just a few months after, is TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, a collection of advice columns she wrote as the Rumpus’ Wise Woman High Atop a Mountain “Dear Sugar.” This is the perfect gift for someone who’s had hard times this year, or the perfect gift for YOURSELF if those hard times belong to you. Something in this book will make you feel better. Or it will just make you feel. Either way, buy, buy, and more buy!
FAVORITE COLLECTION OF POETRY
IF THERE IS SOMETHING TO BE DESIRED by Vera Pavlova- Her poems are the size of paragraphs and tweets and they capture the human experience so honestly and gorgeously I become inarticulate while trying to articulate how affected I am by Pavlova’s poetry. I would marry the person who gave me this book of poetry (and I’m ALREADY getting married so it’s a good thing I got this book for myself before some rando bought this book for me and I had to marry him/her and leave my poor fiance without a bride!)