This month I read ten books: two for book clubs, one deeply haunting American classic, one recommendation from Eliza, and a lot of YA. I chose the YA in part because I’m doing creative writing research. I also wanted to pinpoint what I liked about a few books I loved when I was younger.
Here are the books I read in July:
Invisible Man (1952) by Ralph Ellison
A nameless black man works hard to become educated and gain success, but is treated as if he’s invisible and devoid of humanity in a deeply racist American culture.
This book was intense. I actually had to take breaks while reading it because it affected me so deeply. The plot was a whirlwind: the narrator seemed to be everywhere important for the time period, which was not always believable (kind of like an intellectual version of Forrest Gump). Still, the points in the plot serve as an allegory for racism in America and paints the breadth of the male black experience in the time period.
As for the writing style, at times it was a little difficult to read, because the perspective of the narrator was so close. Descriptions were very detailed and in the present. There weren’t many bird’s eye views or time fill-in summaries. This added to the intensity of the book and made it easier to empathize, but I really had to pay attention so as not to miss all of the little things that were going on. I can see a reader easily getting lost.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore (2012) by Robin Sloan
Clay Jannon, a Silicon Valley web design reject, takes on work at an old bookstore and must recruit a wild cast of characters to discover the secrets buried in the dusty shelves.
It thought it was a fun, page turning mystery that marries the old knowledge of books well with the new capabilities of technology in its themes. I wasn’t always thrilled with the way women were portrayed, but appreciated the wide variety of creatives and geniuses that filled the pages of this book. I had almost as much fun reading about the characters’ different jobs and skill sets as I did reading about the unraveling mystery. The ending wrapped up a little too neatly, but I personally think it was right for the story. Mysteries can just feel a little too much like a formula to me sometimes.
Aside: the cover glows in the dark. That’s just cool. Jake made fun of me because of how excited I got about it. I had to make us get under a pile of blankets to see because it doesn’t actually get very dark in our room (I can almost read by the neighbor’s floodlight).
Slam (2007) by Nick Hornby
Sam, a British teen obsessed with skateboarding and idolizing Tony Hawk, finds himself on the coming of age fast track.
This is another book for which the main plot is a huge spoiler. Stay away from all reviews and Wikipedia. Let’s just say it’s not about skateboarding, really.
Hornby is one of my favorite contemporary authors. He does so well at helping the reader to really understand people, complete with their flaws, but still makes you laugh. This was certainly maintained in his switch to writing for young adults, but I was a little disappointed by the message, considering the audience. His characters generally move from narcissism and selfishness to a greater understanding of others and acceptance about their lives, but I felt like there was a missed opportunity for Sam to really be able to understand things from others’ (namely girls’) perspectives. It just never happened really, and that was a letdown for me.
There was also a bit of misinformation that never got addressed, which drives me crazy because of the amount of teenagers I know making horribly uneducated choices. I’m not saying it’s a fiction author’s duty to straighten out all of their characters’ misconceptions or anything, but in this particular case it got on my nerves.
This month I also read Diary of a Wimpy Kid on Eliza’s recommendation. I love that she’s into chapter books, staying up late to finish them, and getting other people to read them so she can talk about them. We’re pretty much starting our own mom-Eliza book club in addition to the books that I read out loud to her. This book is geared towards middle school students, but I laughed out loud at the funny stories and cartoons. E and I are both going to read more in the series.
I re-read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, which I talked about in this post on frequently banned books, and Deenie, which I remember really liking in my middle school years.
I went back to the first (I think) fantasy series I fell in love with and re-read The Icewind Dale Trilogy (The Crystal Shard, Streams of Silver, and The Halfling’s Gem). I still enjoy the books, but the characters aren’t developed deeply, there are way too many adverbs, the language tone is inconsistent, and there’s far too much showing rather than telling going on. They’re a fun read, but they aren’t nearly as well written as 12 year old Megan thought they were.
I read Ignore Everybody: And 39 Other Keys to Creativity for L&R Book Club (didn’t love it). I don’t want to say too much because if you’re along pace with the book club you haven’t finished it, but you’ll find me whining and disagreeing over in the book club group about it periodically over the next month. And even if I’m not loving the material this time around, the discussions Amy generates are still fantastic.
Have you read any of these books? What did you think? Make sure to put a big SPOILERS warning in your comment to warn others if you have ‘em.
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