Last Week’s Reading: Communists! Communists Everywhere!

That time again: some short blurbs about what I’ve just finished reading, as well as a week-themed rating: if Monday is the day we most despise, and Saturday is the day we most look forward to, then this scale represents my rating system:

Monday = “I threw the book across the room (from the free throw line, into the trashcan).”
Tuesday = “I threw the book across the room (then picked it up and reluctantly finished it because I need to know what to complain about most).”
Wednesday = “I (sort of) tossed the book (half-way) across the room (into a bucket of lukewarm water).”
Thursday = “I threw the book across the room (so that I could crawl back to it).”
Friday = “I threw the book across the room (because I saw someone who needed it in their face at that very moment)”
Saturday = “The book threw itself across the room (because I don’t deserve its explosive brilliance).”

I have a lot athletic-like emotions about books, okay?

9781632061157_74a84History of a Disappearance: The Story of a Forgotten Polish Town by Filip Springer
translated from the Polish by Sean Gasper Bye

One would think to use the word “haunting” when talking about a book about the disappearance of a medieval mountain town, But Springer avoids this cliche by focusing almost exclusively on the human memories of the town. From the beginning, when highlighting the 700 year history of the town, Springer draws the reader’s attention to the stone monument on the road between Kupferberg/Miedzianka and Jannowitz/Janowice Wielkie–two stone crosses, one bearing the Latin “Memento”: remember. What begins as a reminder becomes a command as more and more of the town disappears: first a few sons in WWI, then a few more in WWII…then all the German residents evicted as this mountain village becomes part of the region annexed to Poland and occupied by Soviet forces in 1945. The remaining native Polish residents are conscripted to work in the old mines, digging anew when uranium ore is discovered throughout the 1950s. Soon, sinkholes open up under farms, roads, building, pulling the town itself underground. By the 1970s, the entire town is relocated to one crappy apartment complex in a neighboring town. Now, nothing is left of Kupferberg/Miedzianka: its church, manor house, villa, brewery, cemetery and homes, all gone…but for the memories.

Publishing date: April 2017
Publishing house: Restless Books
Rating: Friday – the equity and inequity of memory makes this one all too human

9780802124944_90e361The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Imagine the whole of nothingness. What it means. Its weight. Nothing encompasses everything because it is everything that everything is not. An interrogator tells the narrator, “I can no longer imagine your suffering to be greater than mine.”

Now imagine sympathy. The effort and ability it takes to truly sympathize in the face of nothingness. Nothing calls one to be sympathetic. “I can no longer imagine your suffering to be greater than mine.” In this you have the most human of stories.

I don’t know why it took me so long to read The Sympathizer, (I have one of the first galleys that Grove/Atlantic sent to bookstores–I held onto it for years) but my book club is reading The Refugees later this month, so I decided to pick up the book-I’ve-been-meaning-to-read-but-haven’t-gotten-around-to-it. I’m still stirring this complex, messy, darkly sardonic book in my brain, and I’ll write a longer review of it later this month. In the meantime, I recommend this review by Molly Odintz on the MysteryPeople blog.

Publish date: 2015
Publishing House: Grove/Atlantic
Rating: Saturday – worth all the awards, despite the masturbation into a squid corpse scene.

I love it when two books have an unexpected, simpatico relationship. In this week’s case: communism leading to absolute nothingness. Happy reading!

~jan

Advertisements

LWR: Flaccid Drug-Crazed Lady Killers

That time again: some short blurbs about what I’ve just finished reading, as well as a week-themed rating: if Monday is the day we most despise, and Saturday is the day we most look forward to, then this scale represents my rating system:

Monday = “I threw the book across the room (from the free throw line, into the trashcan).”
Tuesday = “I threw the book across the room (then picked it up and reluctantly finished it because I need to know what to complain about most).”
Wednesday = “I (sort of) tossed the book (half-way) across the room (into a bucket of lukewarm water).”
Thursday = “I threw the book across the room (so that I could crawl back to it).”
Friday = “I threw the book across the room (because I saw someone who needed it in their face at that very moment)”
Saturday = “The book threw itself across the room (because I don’t deserve its explosive brilliance).”

I have a lot athletic-like emotions about books, okay?

9781328663795_8e391Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich by Norman Ohler

Translated by Shaun Whiteside

This is either a clunkily written book or a clunkily translated book. Or both. The organization of the book is confusing, constantly going back and forth between the frontlines and Hitler’s headquarters with little transitional material. The cast of characters for the German war effort is massive. I saw no effort to translate those characters for the English language American publication, so it was confusing for an American reader. The subject material is fascinating, but outrageous. In places where I expected to see citations (in some of the conclusions that required support), there were none. In other places where citations were not needed, they abounded.

I am also philosophically opposed to stigmatizing addiction by associating it with fascist murderers. And with dismissing the Nazi atrocities by juxtaposing them with habitual drug use.

Publication date: March 2017
Publishing house: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating: Tuesday – keep your salt closeby while reading.

9780425213902Female Serial Killers: How and Why Women Become Monsters by Peter Vronsky

Vronsky’s thesis to counter the public perception that women can’t be aggressive killers. An interesting premise, but his lack of compassion does give me pause. Do I think women can be just as aggressive as men? Absolutely, but Vronsky doesn’t exactly address the “how” and the “why” in his title. He is more interested in categorizing the killers than exploring the individual psychology of his title.

Publication date: 2007
Publishing house: Berkley
Rating: Wednesday – good true crime stories, but not analytical at all.

9781631492181_e6682Always Happy Hour: Stories by Mary Miller

If Mary Miller’s last novel was a love letter to adolescence, her latest work is a series of love letters to arrested development. Miller glorifies life’s unevents: the life that happens between life happenings. The stories are connected through first person female narrators who inhabit roughly the same age and economic bracket. Their voices are distinct, but not distinct from one another’s. Miller develops a new archetype: the single female worrier, the insecure young woman who rejects the wisdom of maturity. The stories in Always Happy Hour compose one large emotional landscape, which might be more relatable than event-based narratives.

Publication Date: January 2017
Publishing house: Liveright
Rating: Friday – join the Sisterhood of the Perpetual Happy Hour


Happy reading!
~jan

LWR: Medical memoirs and Italian political horror, Let Me Tell You….

Testing out the waters with ways to add more content to the blog. Working full time with a disability plus all the professional reading that I do for the bookstore leaves me with little time to do as many full reviews here on my personal blog as I would like. So, here are some short blurbs about what I’ve just finished reading, as well as a week-themed rating: if Monday is the day we most despise, and Saturday is the day we most look forward to, then this scale represents my rating system:

Monday = “I threw the book across the room (from the free throw line, into the trashcan).”
Tuesday = “I threw the book across the room (then picked it up and reluctantly finished it because I need to know what to complain about most).”
Wednesday = “I (sort of) tossed the book (half-way) across the room (into a bucket of lukewarm water).”
Thursday = “I threw the book across the room (so that I could crawl back to it).”
Friday = “I threw the book across the room (because I saw someone who needed it in their face at that very moment)”
Saturday = “The book threw itself across the room (because I don’t deserve its explosive brilliance).”

I have a lot athletic-like emotions about books, okay?

Non-Fiction

9781101981443_59740The Tincture of Time: A Memoir of (Medical) Uncertainty by Elizabeth L. Silver

Medicine is like faith, “a collection of interpretations […] rife with conflict.” Doctors interpret data and apply those interpretations to wholly unique circumstances. In this way, medical science is an applied science of a sort. Silver, with precision of language and fullness of thought, chronicles the years she spent inhabiting the uncertain spaces between treatment and trust in this open memoir that tears a heart in two, then mends it to the beating hearts of humanity.

Publication date: April 25, 2017
Publishing House: Penguin Press
Rating: Thursday, for lovers of Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies, and other humanizing medical tales.

Fiction

T9781631492297_a9341he Twenty Days of Turin by Giorgio de Maria
Translated by Roman Glazov

This dark satire aptly invokes the chaos of post-fascist Italy: inexplicable violence from an inconceivable apotheon bulldozes the bodies of citizens; a “Library” which “helped furnish the illusion of a relationship with the outside world: a dismal cop-out nourished and centralized by a scornful power bent only on keeping people in their state of isolation.”; secret individual activity breeds anxiety breeds a shared psychotic insomnia.

Publication Date: February 2017 (out now!)
Publishing House: Liveright
Rating: Saturday, for lovers of psychological political horror à la Roberto Arlt’s The Seven Madmen with a touch of magical realism à la Jorge Luis Borges.

Short Fiction and Nonfiction

9780812987324_1898bLet Me Tell You: New Stories, Essays, and Other Writings by Shirley Jackson
edited by Laurence Hyman, Sara Hyman DeWitt, and Ruth Franklin

I love Shirley Jackson. Consistent with shared American school experience, my first introduction to Jackson was “The Lottery” on my school reading list. Unfortunately, I might have been in a “white British writer canon” phase (ugh. I’ve given myself all the requisite lectures, trust me.) which led me to push Jackson off the radar. Years later, I married a film snob obsessed with The Haunting, which led me back to Jackson. (He hosts a book/film club, and I always push hard for a discussion of The Haunting of Hill House and viewing of the film.) This collection of 50 plus previously unpublished pieces–some of which are unfinished–showcase the drastically different modes of writing from her tall tales of small-town psychology to comic family tableau to line drawings that deliver to the reader a searing view into Jackson’s vulnerability as a writer, mother, and wife. Jackson weaves a spell from your nightstand. Just as she intended.

Publication Date: 2016
Publishing House: Random House
Rating: Friday – to be read slowly, over several months, while taking up space on your nightstand.

Bonus Content!

Last week I also finally caught up on The Adventure Zone podcast. I recently restarted playing D&D again–this time with a nearly all-female bookseller crew (somehow Joe always ends up being the token guy) and the World’s Okayest DM™. It’s really important to care deeply about the people you play with and that might have been why I walked away from fantasy role playing 10 years ago (there’s always that one guy…). I love my fellow players so much because we’re all slinging books together by day (and slingin’ Vicious Words by night).

TAZ was recommended to me by my in-character BFF (and OOC work wife). From a player’s perspective, I’d actually murder all of the McElBoys if I had to play a game with them. Fortunately, from the administrative perspective, all of the participants are on the same page–they all have the same goal: to make a damn fun fantasy podcast. Their personalities (for the most part) work well together to progress a story and even create convincing conflict as players and characters. Even if you’re not into D&D, this is just a great comedy podcast with very funny voices…when they remember to use them.

tumblr_static_9msysolo90088k8ss8g8g4oco

If this post comes out mid-week, it’s because I got caught in a Google spiral of TAZ fanart.

That’s it! That’s my new series, I guess.

Happy reading, y’all.

~Jan