Tuesday, January 31, 2012

reading recap: january.

Thank you, friends, for all the comments on yesterday's post. For now, I'll plan to continue emailing my responses to bloggers who leave their email address, and I'll also pop into the comments section every now and then, especially when readers have questions or discussion-worthy comments. I thought a lot of you made some good points, and since, as Jules mentioned, blogging is, at its best, a way to form community, responding in the comments section might be a fun way to foster further conversation.

Anyway, here are reviews of the three books I read this month; you can see past month's reviews here.

Book: The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest
Finished: Mid-January

I finished the first two books in Stieg Larsson's series early last year, so returning to them this late in the game may have been a mistake. After seeing the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though, I wanted to read the third and final book. It was almost painful. The book is long, sure, but I'm a fairly fast reader, so I thought it would take me a week or so to finish, tops. Instead, it took me the better part of the month. Larsson's writing style is lengthy and detailed; the wordy prose can be, at the least, distracting, and at the most, overwhelming. I struggled to muddle through the story, pushing through only so I could find out what happened to Lisbeth Salander. The different characters' names became confusing, and at one point, I made myself skim through a few pages just so I wouldn't give up on the book completely. Readers who choose to tackle the entire series at once may not have these troubles -- I imagine the story is much more compelling when read one after another -- but for me, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest fell rather flat. I'd recommend it only if you've read the previous two and need to know what happens to Salander, a character who, to Larsson's credit, I continually found both fascinating and complicated.


Finished: Late January

There's a reason I prefer local bookstores to the larger chains, and it has nothing to do with Meg Ryan or You've Got Mail. It has to do with personal customer service. Normally, when I shop, I prefer to be left alone. (This makes shopping at The Gap difficult.) In a bookstore, though, I'm open to help and suggestions, especially if there's a knowledgeable sales staff at hand. While in Seaside earlier this month, my friends and I visited Sundog Books, one of my favorite locally-owned booksellers. I was on the hunt for Jeffrey Eugenides' The Marriage Plot, but the store had sold their last copy earlier in the week. Instead, I picked up a copy of The Tiger's Wife and got into a discussion with an older salesman about The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, which I was currently struggling through. I continued to browse in the Southern writers section, and the salesman quietly handed me Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones. "You'll like this," he told me. "It's just the thing to read after finishing Larsson." Maybe it was just a sales tactic, but it felt personal to me, so I bought the book. I loved it. It's written from the perspective of 15-year-old Esch, a newly-pregnant girl living with her brothers and father in rural Bois Sauvage, Mississippi, just days before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. The language is beautiful, the writing is stellar, and the story will make you hold your breath. Often a good story is sacrificed for flowery, descriptive prose, but this book manages to combine the best of both. Ward is descriptive and flowery, to be sure, but it makes Esch's story no less of a page-turner. Salvage the Bones was heart-wrenching, not just because as a reader, you know what's coming (the book opens 12 days before Katrina hits), but because the poverty of the area makes you feel like you've taken a step back in time, long before 2005. The beauty of the novel, though, is that Ward never makes you feel pity for Esch's poverty. Instead, it's just a well-told story about a girl trying her best to become a mother. Highly, highly recommend.


Finished: Late January

I haven't quite finished MWF Seeking BFF just yet, but I've only got about 50 pages to go, so I think it's safe to say this will be a January read. It's actually our book club's pick for February (we read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close for January), but I bought it a couple of days ago and jumped right in. MWF Seeking BFF is a member of the half-memoir, half-research genre that seems to be popular right now, and Rachel Bertsche is a likable enough narrator. She's witty and pop-culture obsessed, but she's also blunt and to the point; some of her opinions (particularly her thoughts on moms-as-friends) had me doing double takes -- "Did she really just say that?" Bertsche also admits when she's wrong, though, and her growth as a person and as a friend is apparent throughout the story. (Turns out being open-minded is a mark of a good friend.) A journalist and writer, Bertsche embarks on a journey post-marriage and move to find her new best friend by going on 52 friend dates, one a week for a year (though because of follow-up dates for potential BFFs, it easily feels like more). Bertsche tells about each date and the events leading up to it in detail -- I'm a little curious as to whether she tells her BFF-possibilities that they'll be written about in a published work -- and I've got to say: I kind of relate. More than once I've told Jordan that making friends post-college is eerily like dating (something that I just didn't do much of in high school or in college). Bertsche adds research and statistics to her own story, making the book a kind of fascinating "how-to" on friendship. It reads a lot like The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, so if you're a fan of that, you'll probably love this. I'm not quite finished, but I've really enjoyed the book so far, and if you're hesitant to pick it up because you don't fall into the married/white/female category, I'd urge you to try it anyway. I don't think men would understand this book (their friendships are never going to look quite like the friendships of females), but any woman over the age of 21 will probably see a little of herself in Bertsche and her struggles to form new, adult friendships.


Leslie said...

You're such a diligent reader!! I'm always impressed by your recap posts. Salvage the Bones sounds great - I will add that to my to-read list! :) I saw you mention the Marriage Plot. I asked for that for Christmas and just finished it recently. I greatly enjoyed the story, and how it engaged with questions about faith. It was way more R-rated than I anticipated, which was a bummer.

brie. said...

well you've settled my next two book picks - i've struggled through a room with a view, this month, but delightfully also finished Tim Keller's The Meaning of Marriage, I definitely recommend it! As for the Larsson trilogy, I'd say that it was a little difficult to muddle through even when I'd read them almost right after each other. By that point I was at the burnout phase of the whole thing. :)

And funny, a really good friend just said to me this weekend that she thinks finding new friends as an adult woman is like dating. I'll have to get her this book!

Thanks for letting us know what you're reading, it can be overwhelming to find the next book sometimes, it's so helpful to have a guide!

Lauren said...

Having Mississippi roots, I have to put Salvage the Bones on my to-read list!

Are you on Goodreads? Would love to see all that you've read! :)

Annie said...

I'll be adding Salvage the Bones and MWF seeking BFF to my reading list! They both look like really good reads. Are you reading The Tiger's Wife after this? I read it this summer - had never heard of it, picked it up from the library on a whim - and thought it was really good. I think you'll enjoy it!