So I fell down the YA hole HARD this past Thanksgiving week break. All my literary fiction and non-fiction boyfriends are staring at me from my bookshelves with the fear of God in their hearts petrified that they will be replaced by TEENAGE ANGST.
No, Literary Fiction and Non-Fiction, cease your conniptions,the new Erdrich and Munro are on my bedside table, Katherine Boo’s BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS is what I’m listening to you in the car right now, you guys, I’ve returned to the land of adult books, we’re all good, everybody exhale.
But while I was drifting through the YA verse I found some top-notch boyfriends and girlfriends and want to quickly share.
SHADOW AND BONE by Leigh Bardugo
This was my gateway drug to YA this week. I was voting for Goodreads “Best of This Year” book and I liked the cover of this one. Yes, I judged a book by its cover, that’s why they pay book cover designers money, so that I will do that! I flipped through all the raves on Goodreads and decided to give it ago. You guys, this book is basically like if Harry Potter’s Durmstrang was a million times awesomer. Or if Harry Potter was also the animated cartoon Anastasia. It’s Russian-esque teen wizarding fantasy with just such fun world-building, a really prickly and cool protagonist, and a, well, I’m not sure if by the end you can qualify this love triangle as a love triangle, but whatever it is, it’s the best.
THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green
I actually tried to read the sample of this on Amazon several months ago and the hyperwarpspeedteenspeak I just… I don’t know… it just felt like kids talking like they were Juno but also in a Wes Anderson movie but also a Wikipedia entry but also guest-starring on Dawson’s Creek… I just didn’t believe the dialogue and so I put it down. And believe me I felt bad. No book blogger wants to be the girl to dislike the John Green book about cancer teens in love. You might as well get “See You Next Tuesday” tatted on your forehead. I picked this book back up over the break and am so glad I did. I liked the beginning a lot better this time around, and the middle and the end just made me cry ALL OVER MY iPad screen. The characters are gorgeously drawn, the storytelling is right on, and the way this book deals with illness, death, and grief, is Cheryl-Strayed-Dear-Sugar worthy and I never think that about basically ANY BOOKS. I liked the dialogue much better this time but I did still find it occasionally find it grating. Sometimes the characters voices bled together and that annoyed me also. Like, fine, the teens can be hyper-witty but wait, the nurse is hyper-witty in the exact same way? No and more no. Ultimately this was a noticeable but forgivable editing oversight, the book is awesome, read it tomorrow, or if you read it six months ago, read it again.
EVERY DAY by David Levithan
You know, I’ve always wanted to read Levithan’s novel THE LOVERS DICTIONARY and it’s just never happened. But now it’s much more likely to happen because I liked EVERY DAY so well. The novel tells the story of A, a soul who wakes up every day in a different sixteen year old’s body in the greater Baltimore area. This has been A’s life since birth, he migrates from person to person, from day to day, through the years, never getting attached, just trying to get through the day in the body du jour. But on the day the book starts, A, in the body of teenager Justin, finds himself falling in love with Justin’s girlfriend Rhiannon. Now, A has to try to get back to Rhiannon even as A is thwarted by the different bodies A is put into day after day. I LOVED the world-building and storytelling with this one. I could have used a little less angst and a little more humor and specificity in A and Rhiannon’s relationship. Also, sometimes, some of the bodies A inhabited felt like just chances to do mini-after school specials. I don’t want to get too quibbly, I thought this book was ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND original in its telling of a love story and I ate it up with a spoon and a fork.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT:
Books ARE my Boyfriends. But television is my dirty and awesome hook-up on the regular. And when a great book about television comes along? That’s so much boyfriend-ing and hooking up it’ll make it so a girl can’t walk straight for a week. I’m sorry you guys, I know that’s disgusting, sometimes the truth is just the grossest of things.
Alan Sepinwall has been blogging about television since the dawn of blogging (he had a Usenet site where he posted about NYPD Blue. I know, I don’t know what Usenet was either, I think it was the prehistoric fish with legs version of Friendster maybe?) He currently reviews television for HitFix and has quite the online following. Today I’m boyfriend-ing his self-published book (when you have 50,000 followers on Twitter, you can do things like self-publish in good-ish conscience) The Revolution Was Televised: The Cops, Crooks, Slingers and Slayers Who Changed Television Forever. In chronological order, Sepinwall takes the last decade and a half of television and writes individual essays about the shows that defined the “New Golden Age of Television.” In order, they are Oz, The Sopranos, The Wire, The Shield, Lost, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 24, Battlestar Galactica, Friday Night Lights, Mad Men, and Breaking Bad.
The essays (which can be read stand-alone, skipped around through, or read, beginning to end) are sharp and compelling, with keen insight into what made these shows revolutionary and A+ reporting that is the equivalent of giving a fan of these shows so many fun behind-the scenes stories covering the carpet under their Christmas trees. I thought I was a SERIOUS fan of some of these shows, I thought I knew the origin stories, and I found myself surprised at every turn while reading about how the shows I love came to be the shows I love.
Minor quibbles. The cover art is not TERRIBLE, but it’s also not as good as it should be. The book could have used one last good copy edit (in the 24 chapter there’s a reference to “September 11th, 2011”, which is not the date I think Sepinwall intended to point to while talking about the paradigm-shifting global event that exerted the heaviest of influences on the Fox show).
Now I have some, not quibbles exactly, but not entirely un-quibble-y thoughts. I was a little surprised that no half-hours made the cut- I feel like at least one or two half hour shows in the last fifteen years have been as groundbreaking and landscape-changing as the hour shows explored in the book. Maybe this is the follow-up book, oh, no, now I got myself all excited for a follow-up book about comedies and I’m going to be really disappointed if there isn’t one! Also, after a while, I kind of got sick of all the white male showrunners. Really, the only not-white-male that gets much time on the court in this book is Jane Espenson. This isn’t really Sepinwall’s fault, it’s the sexist-racist-gross television industry’s fault, but I did think that there was room in this history for someone like Shonda Rhimes, Jenji Kohan, or Amy Sherman-Palladino, if not all these women. That’s not me trying to impose affirmative action on this book. I honestly think you could make a case for these showrunners creating shows that changed the landscape in equally powerful ways.
If you love television, if you’re into even half the shows covered in this book, drop some coin and get your copy. I read this one on my phone and it was a GREAT smart phone book, very handy for waiting in line at Starbucks or being ten minutes early to a meeting. Don’t read the chapters for shows you haven’t seen unless you want to get spoilered from here to next Tuesday. Also, I think this is a killer holiday gift to keep in your back pocket for your hard-to-shop for smart friend who’s always making you feel bad about not having watched The Wire yet.
WHAT KIND OF BOYFRIEND IS HE: The kind that will NEVER make you feel bad for staying home in your PJs on a Saturday night to catch up on your DVR but WILL make you feel bad for never having seen The Sopranos.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT:
I know this should have gone up yesterday! I know Tuesdays are Book Boyfriend Days! Or Book Girlfriend Days. I KNOW they’re Book Very Special Kissing Friend Days!
Please chalk up my slacker posting schedule to the fact that I am participating in NaNoWriMo (I’ve been working on something fiction-y between scripts since August, but am taking advantage of this month to try to really get some serious word count under my belt) and I got promoted to Contributing Editor on Book Riot (CONFETTI CANNON!) which means that instead of writing one post a week, I now write four. All of that will eat into a girl’s writing time!
But I have been reading! And you guys, it was just the most fun reading Jami Attenberg’s THE MIDDLESTEINS. This was my first Attenberg Adventure (yes, it’s basically the same as being in a 1970’s disaster flick where you try to survive after your ocean liner capsizes at sea) and I liked it so much, I put her whole back list on hold at the library.
This is big stuff, guys. I don’t make those kind of moves for just any author. The last time I got an author’s whole backlist stacked up next to the door (that’s where adopted library books go so I don’t mix them up with my biological children books) was, I think Kate Christensen a summer ago? It’s been a whiles, I’ll tell you that.
So let’s Synopsis Gadget this bad girl!
THE MIDDLESTEINS is the story of Edie Middlestein, a complex and intimidating woman in her mid-late life whose eating addiction is killing her. When her husband Richard leaves his wife, it’s up to their kids complicated and difficult Robin and easy-going, conflict-averse Benny (as well as Benny’s Type A wife Rachelle) to try to pick up the pieces and put the family back together. Chapter by chapter we snap back and forth in time putting together the pieces of this family’s puzzle. We begin with Richard leaving Edie and we end with Benny and Rachelle’s boy and girl twins’ b’nai mitzvah and in between we get all sorts of family drama and thoughtful exploration of habit, addiction, and the many forms redemption can take.
I ate this book up with a spoon. It was so thoughtful and smart and sly and a great original take on the family drama ONE OF MY FAVORITE SUBGENRES (See Family Fang, Where’d You Go Bernadette, Tell The Wolves I’m Home, We Need To Talk About Kevin, The Great Man,Freedom/The Corrections, a significant percentage of books I’ve liked in the past few years)
But it was so little book to eat with a spoon! Our central character may be obese, but the book itself is SKIN-NAY. It left me wanting so much more. I loved being a fly on the Middlestein’s kitchen wall so much. Can’t a girl get some more voyeur time? I don’t think this novel is lacking at all. But if Attenberg had put a few extra pounds on this girl, I would have happily eaten it up.
WHAT KIND OF GIRLFRIEND IS SHE: So smart and sharp and articulate. Just so great. But there is that eating thing. There is definitely that eating thing.
MY DATE WITH THE MIDDLESTEINS:
I find her at the fridge, natch.
Make that in the fridge. Uncomfortable times!
It should be yours too! Vote if you haven’t!
Okay, okay, do we need to do a book boyfriend this week? Is voting not enough of a boyfriend?
The last SO FUN book about politics I read (and I don’t read a ton-a ton) was GAME CHANGE by John Heileman and Mark Halperin. This book was just the gossipiest, funnest read. It’s like if US Weekly did a really, really long issue of their magazine about the election. I listened to this on audiobook and the narration was great, all my car rides were so gossipy and informative and fun! If you are a stickler for verifiable sources, you are going to hate this book. If you love gossip and scandal you are NOT going to hate this book.
I really hope these dudes write a book about this election. Especially about all the propositions! They’ve been tricky this year!
Do you guys have any political read recs? Fiction, non-fiction, non-fiction-that-let’s-be-real-is-most-likely-fiction? Let a girl know!
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: I’m going to make this short and sweet. I’ve written a little bit about THE TWELVE (Justin Cronin’s vampire apocalypstic-but-also-post-apocalyptic sequel to his mega-hit THE PASSAGE) on Book Riot poking fun at the Washington Post review and then later talking about how the book gave me nightmares.
Here’s the deal. I’m not a genre girl, I don’t love vampires and I don’t love zombies (so why would I love “virals”, which are Cronin’s half-vamps/half-zombs?), I think the structure of both books is wonky, the world building skews shaky (like there’s that much viable gasoline to siphon and canned food to eat 100 years after a vampire-zombie apocalypse), the dialogue can be a little action-adventure cliche AND YET I turned pages on this mother faster than I turn them on most literary darlings I don’t have qualms about AND YET both books gave me multiple dreams and nightmares whereas I can’t ever remember having a dream about TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and MIDDLEMARCH which are two of my FAVORITE EVER books.
So I can nitpick from sunup (when the vampires are asleep) ’til sundown (when they’re not asleep) but the truth it this book got under my skin more than most books. And I read A LOT of books. That’s a solid recommendation, my friends. Grab a copy, get in a bath, crawl under your covers, and read this son of a gun cover to cover.
MY DATE WITH THE TWELVE:
Well, it eats me, naturally.
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT-
You know the book that you’ve been wanting and meaning to read forever and there’s no excuse for why you haven’t bought it and read it, you just…. haven’t?
Once Upon a River is that book for me.
I picked it up as travel reading for a Texas wedding I went to this past weekend. While having my purchase rung up, I thought to myself “Once Upon a River, you BETTER hold onto my attention during my two flights and layover in between and that is not going to be easy to do between me being uncomfortable in my middle seat and being freezing because the airplane air con is on full blast and accidentally leaving my sweater in the luggage I checked and babies are going to be screaming and I’m going to get hungry mid-flight and realize I forgot to pack snacks.”
But you know what? Once Upon a River DID hold my attention through all that. And when I got to my hotel finally (I rented a car and drove into middle of nowhere Texas, you would have gotten lost too!) I ran a bath and stayed up til 2AM reading.
Let’s SYNOPSIS GADGET this sucker.
(Gadget makes buzzing, whirring, and occasional hiccuping sounds as it starts up)
Margo Crane is a river girl, living on the Stark River in Michigan. She’s a girl that can live off the land, the kind of girl who knows which mushrooms to eat (and which ones DEFINITELY DEFINITELY DEFINITELY not to eat) and is a deadly with a rifle. Margo’s also a car magnet for trouble: after her grandpa dies and her mother abandons her, a chain of events is set into motion that leads to Margo’s assault and her father’s death. Living on the water is no Walden Pond for the Stark River-side dwellers. Her father’s death sets Margo on a stop-and-start journey to find her mother.
I say stop-and-start because blurbs of this book compared the novel to stories like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey, and that’s not accurate. Margo goes up and back down the river, meeting new people while running into the same old friends and foes time and time again, spending lengthy amounts of times at each one of her “stops.” It’s not a typical Destination-A-to-Destination-B journey, and the fact that it wasn’t typical is also the same fact that made the story so surprising and the world feel so real.
This novel amazed me. The plot was twisty, not whodunnit-murder-mystery-twisty, just life-takes-the-strangest-turns-sometimes twisty. The prose was beautiful without making a big deal about the fact that it was beautiful. And I’ve never read a journey like Margo Crane’s. I can come up with comparisons- Ava Bigtree in Swamplandia, Ree Dolly in Winter’s Bone, even Astrid Magnussen in White Oleander, and still Margo Crane was a character all her own and her world, Michigan’s river country was all its own.
If you’re look for just a great novel to eat up with a fork and a spoon, get your ass to your local bookstore/library/phone so you can download and get on this train.
WHAT KIND OF GIRLFRIEND IS SHE: A WILD RIVER CHILD, NATCH AND NATCH
MY DATE WITH “ONCE UPON A RIVER”:
She just came out of the river and needs to get dry!
Going to wrap her up like a burrito just like my mom used to do to me when I got out of the pool.
Kisses, kisses, dry kisses on land!
WHAT THE BOOK IS ABOUT: This is a long overdue boyfriend post- I read this book back in July! I talked about it a liiiiittle bit then, in a post I wrote about reading on the trip I took to Colombia. This is what I said back then:
BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK by Ben Fountain- Debut novel from that dude who was the author in Malcolm Gladwell’s late bloomer essay. Well motherfucker has bloomed, that’s for sure. The story of an American military squad on a two week publicity blitz hero tour, if this novel isn’t shortlisted for a Pulitzer I will punch myself in the face and put it on YouTube.
So I’ll say more than fifty words about this book now. First off, I still will punch myself in the face if this book does not win the Pulitzer next year, that’s how deserving I think it is of the honor. I also think the third-person in this book is some of the most vibrant prose I’ve read in I don’t even know how long. This is not unobtrusive, quietly objective, playing it safe prose. This is wild and crazy and risk-taking and full of fire and music third-person. It has the personality of a great first person story with the omniscience you can’t get with a protagonist rocking the narration of his own story.
So this book has style to spare, and holy cats and dogs does it have substance. We have a brief window of time (a day really, with a lot of flashbacks thrown in) to follow these military guys (late teens and early twenties, they’ve JUST stopped being boys and JUST started being guys and are KIND OF men because they’ve been through war-hell and back but are also still BASICALLY boys) on the last day of their hero tour as they attend a Dallas Cowboys game on Thanksgiving Day. The central conflict of the story is Billy, our not-book-smart-but-life-smart protagonist, a specialist in the receiving-a-hero’s-welcome-home Bravo Squad, deciding whether or not he’s going to return to Iraq to serve out the rest of his tour. The story is populated with vibrant characters and their compelling relationships with one another, the other members of Bravo Squad, living and dead, Billy’s out-of-a-Eugene-O’Neill-play family, the Hollywood producer following the squad all day as he hustles to get their story turned into a movie, the Cowboys’ richer-than-God owner, and a Cowboys cheerleader with whom Billy has a one-day almost-fling with.
It is a powerful read. It is an original read. It is a f—-ing FUN read. And if it doesn’t win the Pulitzer (or get super crazy shortlisted) I’ll probably have to punch the Pulitzer committee in the noses (in addition to myself, because I will already be punching myself in the face).
For serious, read this book so I don’t have to punch you too.
WHAT KIND OF BOYFRIEND IS HE: A sweet and tortured army specialist with a lot of hopes and dreams and existential crises on his hands. I mean COME ON, if that’s not sexy, I don’t even know what sexy means anymore.
MY DATE WITH BILLY LYNN’S LONG HALFTIME WALK (read this one on my iPad):
Yay, you’re home from war?
Wait, you’re going back tomorrow?