How can I resist an alphabet book in which P is for Patti Smith? Clearly I can’t, and you shouldn’t either. If you have a child, I definitely recommend this book. I loved the striking, colorful illustrations, and the authors have selected a diverse and inspiring group of 26 women to profile. The biographies are short (one page or so) and clearly written, summarizing the woman’s accomplishments and their importance to American history.
It’s refreshing to see a book aimed at young readers that has such an explicitly feminist viewpoint, and I am envious of the little girls who now have the opportunity to grow up knowing about such figures as the Grimke sisters, Zora Neale Hurston, and Delores Huerta and their important contributions to American history.
This summer I am taking a hiatus from my monthly book review column in the local newspaper, and I am using this opportunity to catch up some of the novels I have skipped over the past few years. When I am planning to write a column every month most of my reading is focused on books that I think I may be able to turn into a column. Many books I want to read end up falling by the wayside, either because they have already gotten a bunch of attention or because they are so long that I feel like I can’t invest the reading time. The first book up was Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which I had been looking forward to since it was published back in 2013.
I am a big fan of Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie series of mysteries and I love historical fiction (especially when it focuses on the lives of women), so I expected to enjoy Life After Life, but it exceeded my high expectations.
I worried that the literary reincarnation gimmick would become tedious, but it was so well done that I loved it. Ursula is such a well-drawn, complex character, and it is fascinating to look at the 20th events of the early/mid-20th century through her many lives and choices. It’s not a short book, at over 500 pages, but I could have kept reading different iterations of Ursula’s life for far longer than that. Maybe reading A God in Ruins will help, although I am disappointed that it does not carry over the reincarnation plot. Life After Life was well worth the wait and more than lived up to all the hype. It’s one of my favorite novels of the past few years, and one I plan to read again someday.
As if the muggy 90 degree weather wasn’t enough to make me wish for fall, look at the books coming out in October!
Bonnie Jo Campbell is one of my favorite writers, and she hasn’t had a book out since her wonderful 2011 novel Once Upon a River. Her new one is a collection of short stories, and given how much her previous collections rocked my socks, I am incredibly excited about this one.
Patti Smith is one of my heroes, and I loved her previous memoir Just Kids, which focused on her early years as an artist in NYC and her friendship with Robert Mapplethorpe. M Train is a follow up to Just Kids which will reportedly focus on other aspects of her life, including her marriage to Fred “Sonic” Smith.
This book seemed like it should be right up my alley: Rural noir, set in my home state of Missouri, written by a Missourian, featuring various down-and-out characters, and it even got positive reviews in both Book List and Publisher’s Weekly. While the book kept me reading with a plot that was reasonably compelling, the cartoonish characters and black and white morality left a sour taste in my mouth.
The story centers on Dale Banks, a Deputy Sheriff in Gasconade County, Missouri (where the author himself resides). Banks and his fellow law enforcement officers struggle to keep on top of the crime that poverty and meth has brought to their once sleepy area. One day, while looking to bust a local dealer, Banks discovers a stash of drug money. Thinking about his family and feeling fed up with the local hoodlums causing so many problems, Banks impulsively takes the money.
Of course this theft opens up a whole raft of problems for Banks, and exposes the various links between the local drug trade and corruption in local politics and law enforcement, which definitely kept me reading. The characters, though, left much to be desired. Both the good guys and the bad guys lacked complexity, with the bad guys seeming almost ghoulish cartoons of familiar stereotypes of “white trash”. The female characters, while all tertiary to the story, are particularly delineated: we have on one hand saintly, pretty, loyal wives; on the other, morbidly obese, sex-obsessed (and sometimes incestuous), scheming, cheating sluts.
What I like about the best rural noir (think Daniel Woodrell here, although others can be great without being quite as literary) is they present complicated characters who may be struggling and making poor choices, but whose motivations make sense to the reader and are easy to empathize with. A Swollen Red Sun totally lacked that kind of complexity and character development, which made the sexism and gruesome violence even harder to take.
Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay
I fell in love with this author after reading her new novel, Untamed State, and now I want to read anything she ever writes. I am super looking forward to this one, which comes out next week.
The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
I love Waters’ signature style of suspenseful historical fiction, often focusing on lesbian relationships. Tipping the Velvet is one of my favorites, and this one sounds like it could be just as good. It takes place in 1920s London and centers on a widow and her spinster daughter who are forced to take a young couple into their home as lodgers.
I find Lena Dunham to be quite funny and smart in interviews, and I am a big fan of her show Girls, so I am really curious to see how this book of essays will turn out.
How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran
This upcoming coming of age novel had me at the publisher blurb: “Imagine The Bell Jar written by Rizzo from Grease.” It takes place in London in the 1990s, and is written by a well-known UK critic and feminist author who’s non-fiction title How to be a Woman made a big splash when it came out in 2012. Also, look at that great cover! I love the 90s-fied take on the classic cover of The Bell Jar.
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: and Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
I’ve heard a lot of hype about this one, and it sounds pretty fascinating. It’s a memoir by a young woman who took a job at a crematory in her 20s and found her calling as a mortician.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler, people! Need I say more? No, I do not.
I’ve been thinking about magazines and newspapers lately, since I am always tempted to add new subscriptions. These are the ones I read regularly, in paper form.
Weekly: Sunday edition of The New York Times, The Economist (only the letters, book reviews, and obituary, though, since they are on the opposite side of the class war), and The New Yorker (recent addition).
Monthly/Quarterly: Oxford American, The Believer, Bark Magazine, and Tin House. And I flip through Make Magazine.
For work: Library Journal, Locus, Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and Book Page.
Also, I recently resubscribed to Ms. Magazine, and I used to always read Bitch, but my subscription lapsed.