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Lauren has been reading since she was born
To be completely honest, I picked this book up on a whim because I liked the color scheme of the cover. I'm not married, I don't particularly enjoy weddings, and the only toast I'm interested in is the bread kind. But I read WEDDING TOASTS I'LL NEVER GIVE in one sitting! Because it's not just about weddings, it's about how to be and how other people are. I felt like I was given a no-holds-barred glimpse into someone's life and I was fascinated. Plus, Ada Calhoun is a clever, succinct writer and reading her words was a pleasure. Read this book and give it to others (maybe with a piece of toast, just a suggestion), make them read it too!
There is no room for error when it comes to novels as slim as this one. Fortunately, Jens Christian Grøndahl is impeccable! OFTEN I AM HAPPY opens after the death of Ellinor's husband Georg: she feels a mixture of emotions and a need to confide in someone. That someone is her long-deceased friend, Georg's first wife Anna. Ellinor goes back and forth in time, telling Anna about her life now, her relationships with the sons Anna never saw to adulthood, her new home. But she keeps going back to their tangled past and her own murky background. I enjoyed this beautiful, sorrowful, occasionally funny story immensely--this is a book to read and re-read in quick succession!
From the minute I picked up this book, I was sucked in. An artful blurring of fact and fiction, BASED ON A TRUE STORY is an intriguing psychological drama that just so happens to be gorgeously written! Delphine is both the author and the narrator and her keen observations set this book apart. She muses on her place in the world, the nature of womanhood in general, her immediate, insidious friendship with L., and so much more--I was riveted! If you enjoyed SWF as a cautionary tale, if you disavow "squad goals", if you wish more authors inserted themselves in their narratives, then this is the book for you.
This book is not just one thing. It's part scathing feminist diatribe, part tormented confession, part Catfish-style mystery, and it adds up to an incredibly gripping book. Reading it was like falling down the rabbit hole. I picked it up on a whim, expecting a quick read--I wasn't prepared for how close it would keep me! WHO YOU THINK I AM is a novel for people who don't go through life easily, who chafe at the things they can't change and rage against the dying of the light, but who occasionally welcome the distraction of a good book.
I have always worn the label of "feminist" proudly. But, like most labels, it isn't a perfect fit. There are issues I've noticed, things that rankle, things I keep to myself, since my goal isn't to get steamrolled in Jezebel comment thread. For this reason, WHY I AM NOT A FEMINIST is incredibly refreshing. In her short, powerful book, Crispin excoriates the current feminist movement for the very issues that have bothered me, namely the way it has subjugated itself, becoming as banal and harmless as "a kitten with a drop of milk on its nose". She asserts that in trying to make feminism palatable and acceptable to the world, we have rendered it ineffective and useless, more of a buzzword than a force for change. Her words are simple, but radical: she argues for a society where anyone can thrive, regardless of race, gender or socioeconomic status. Rather than trying to work within the current framework, which is skewed towards the white, cis, male, and wealthy, we should tear it down, build something new that doesn't place wealth and power at a premium. Even if you don't agree with everything she says, even if you think this is an impossible utopian dream, even if you're a if-you-just-understood-how-capitalism-works-you'd-understand-why-it's-necessary kind of person, WHY I AM NOT A FEMINIST is worth a read. At the very least, it's a cleansing fire.
I started this book with my windows open. By the time I finished, every possible entry point into my apartment was closed, locked, and blocked with a heavy object. Such is the power of Mariana Enríquez's short, incredibly dark stories! They are a mixture of the realistic and the fantastic: the most terrible parts of human nature meeting supernatural forces that are only debatably worse. THINGS WE LOST IN THE FIRE left me filled with dread, avoiding mirrors and windows out of a fear I can't put a name to. And yet, I loved this book! Everything I've read recently pales in comparison to the raw brutality in these pages.
If the mental image of a man frantically snorting spilled cocaine off his infant son's head doesn't make you laugh, read something else. If, like me, you find that kind of situation grotesquely hilarious, this will be your new favorite book! The stories are a delightful mixture of melancholy and a gleeful sense of absurdity and I frequently found myself laughing out loud at Puchner's turns of phrase. LAST DAY ON EARTH is a collection for the irredeemably strange reader and I loved every page!
We all have a secret self, parts of our personalities that are unknowable, even to the people closest to us. In A SEPARATION, Kitamura stays largely inside the narrator's head, musing on a great many things: the muddled truth that can exist between married couples, the precise pain of infidelity, the myriad tiny betrayals we commit every day. Her prose is perfect: spare and beautiful, and her observations are spot-on. Some of her sentences were so good they startled me out of the story, which might sound like a bad thing, but it really isn't. It just meant I spent a little longer with this book, my mind wandering like the narrator's.
I was initially drawn to this book because of my ghoulish affection for true crime books. But THE SPIDER AND THE FLY is miles away from the cheap paperbacks with tawdry covers that I usually pick up. This is a chronicle of an obsession with darkness by a writer laying herself bare. Claudia Rowe was a reporter in Poughkeepsie when a local man, Kendall Francois, was arrested for the grisly murders of eight women. The details of the case were exceptionally odd and Rowe managed to strike up an correspondence with Francois, playing the Clarice to his Hannibal. Besides the odd circumstances, what sets this book apart is the emotional depth. Rowe writes about how unhappy she was with her life as a younger woman, how she often felt lonely and adrift, how mortified she was by her inability to change her circumstances. She imagines that Francois often felt the same way, but tempers her empathy with moving portraits of the victims: women dismissed by the cops as drug addicts and unworthy of real search efforts. This is a book that lingers and shouldn't be missed!
She started out with nothing, a prostitute who began turning tricks in her early teens. But by the time she was in her early 20's, she was one of the most famous, talked-about women in all of Paris. It sounds like a fairy tale or a Regency romance, but it is absolutely true. Comtesse Valtesse de la Bigne was witty, beautiful, and calculating: she managed to create the life she wanted through sheer force of will. In an era where a woman couldn't even have a bank account without her husband's permission, Valtesse amassed a large fortune, countless works of art, and the respect of Paris' high society. Hewitt does a fantastic job making 19th century Paris come alive through small details: the smell of gaslights, the pinch of a courtesan's stay, all the trappings of luxury the upper class enjoyed. Valtesse was a fierce, smart woman and she deserves to be remembered!
Ottessa Moshfegh is incomparable! HOMESICK FOR ANOTHER WORLD is a collection of stories that are so weird, so darkly hilarious, and so poignant, I found myself veering wildly between the characters' vivid emotions. They are all damaged people who cling to the things that destroy them, who wallow in the ugliness around them, and who view their lives with a sort of detached amusement. Moshfegh's genius lies in her ability to write about those grubby, base subjects in a way that's beautiful, poetic even. Her stories are the gutter and the stars.
Reading FEVER DREAM is exactly like experiencing one: it's vivid, intense, and frightening in a confused, half-seen way. As Amanda tells the story of her undoing to David, time expands and contracts, as disorienting for the reader as for the narrator. She lingers over small details, the ones David tells her are important. Some of these are striking in their beauty, some are a shade off, just wrong enough to raise your hackles. Like Juan Gabriel Vásquez, Schweblin manages to pack a powerful story into a relatively slim book.
They drink too much, they love too hard, they don't take very good care of themselves: the women of ALWAYS HAPPY HOUR do not have their sh*t together. But despite this, or maybe because of this, they are utterly compelling. In a sharp contrast to her characters, Miller's writing is neat and contained and the stories are filled with unaffected, strikingly true observations. This is a collection to linger over!
John Darnielle is a subtle genius at scaring the absolute shit out of me, not with overt violence, but with half-seen horrors, terrible incongruities glimpsed in the periphery. The narrator unspools the story slowly, meandering through a small town and its inhabitants, dropping strange, disarming hints that all is not as it seems. I would find myself getting lost in the story, relishing the small details of Iowa in the 90's, only to come across a sentence that made me profoundly uneasy. It was like peeking between my fingers at a scary movie: I couldn't look directly at it, but I couldn't look away. UNIVERSAL HARVESTER is a discomfiting book, but I didn't want it to end
When a writer is as talented as Zadie Smith, plot is superfluous--just reading her sentences is enjoyment enough. That being said, she crafts one hell of a story in SWING TIME! She takes the reader back and forth, hopscotching through the years and around the world, exploring giant issues like race, culture, gender, and identity. It's a simple, vibrant, compelling story, one that only Zadie could write.
It should have been the perfect summer. Matthew is planning to stay with his wealthy cousin, Charlie, and Charlie’s beautiful wife in their luxurious summer home. He’ll earn his keep by fixing mouthwatering gourmet meals and they’ll wile the days away in a kind of rich person stupor. But somehow it doesn’t turn out like that...THE FALL GUY is the perfect read: tightly paced and filled with murky, unknowable characters. I sped through the book with a growing sense of unease and suspense: who could I trust? And who should I root for? James Lasdun’s writing reminded me of James M. Cain’s classic noir, books filled with dreamy dames, lazy days, and a slow-burning violence. I don’t throw the word “unputdownable” around willy-nilly, but this book merits it!
As a petulant, ungrateful child, my parents would often remind me of how many people had it worse than I did. I blame them for my devotion to schadenfreude: I now derive a particular satisfaction from books about people who have it worse than me. And I loved Mister Monkey! Populated by sad sacks, misfits, and the misunderstood, it is by turns hilarious and heartbreaking, but never ever boring! Each chapter is devoted to a different character, all connected by a cheesy play: a rich playwright, tormented by his lame success, a tiny youth in a monkey costume who sexually harasses his older co-star, the sexually harassed older co-star, and so many more. Francine Prose is at her best in this new book, expertly blending humor and pathos!
It's the oldest story in the world: girl gets pregnant, girl gets stuck, girl is alone. But in Bennett's hands, The Mothers is so much more than that. She writes so movingly about so many shades of pain: not just the heartbreak of losing someone you love, but the gut-punch of realizing you never had them in the first place, the loneliness of realizing they are a stranger and a mystery to you. She writes of the shame you feel when is someone is casually, lazily cruel to you and the powerlessness of not being able to fight back. And she writes of the pain that women inherit, the pain that is our legacy. Her style is simple, her pared down sentences are truth itself, and they cut right to the core of me. Never have I enjoyed such a pain-soaked story this much, but other books pale in comparison. The Mothers will challenge you, but it is not a challenge to read. I can say with confidence that is the best book you'll read all year!
Everyone loves a hot mess, it's why the Kardashians are a household name. And in 1936 the hottest mess of all was Mary Astor. Largely forgotten today, Astor was a beautiful, talented actress who made the mistake of marrying a complete loser. Said loser didn't take kindly to being divorced and he used the salacious contents of her erotic diary to challenge her custody suit. Every newspaper picked up the story and the entire country devoured sentences like, "It all worked perfectly, and we shared our fourth climax at dawn." How could anyone resist this woman? Edward Sorel couldn't: Mary Astor's Purple Diary isn't just a biography, it's his ode to the woman he loved from the right side of the grave.
First sentences, like first impressions, are a test: how interesting are you? Are you worth a second look? And how much do you reveal of yourself? The stories in Cannibals in Love pass the "First Sentence Test" (I'm working on a catchier name and a trademark) with flying colors. They are all caustically funny, chronicling the mixture of angst-y existential despair and galvanizing hopefulness that are hallmarks of my generation (you can guess which one). It was a quick read, but it has stayed on my mind for weeks.
When you are in the public eye, your reputation is everything: it's your word, your identity, your safety net, your undoing. In Reputations, we meet a man with a unique power, a political cartoonist who can make or break (usually break) people with just a few strokes of his pen. For decades, Javier has been unflinchingly brutal in his work and has made peace with the consequences. It takes a woman from his past, a long-buried memory, to make him question his decisions. With his spare, lovely prose and ruminations on power, identity, and memory, Gabriel Vasquez has crafted the perfect read. It's slim, but kept me thinking long after I turned the last page!
When I think of women in the 1950's, the mental image I conjure up is that of a perfectly coiffed and pearled housewife, smiling blankly at her lovely, oppressive life through a barbiturate haze. Margaret Millar was not that bleary hausfrau! She wrote her way through the 40's, 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's, piercing psychological thrillers that defied the stereotypes of how women thought and acted. The Master at Her Zenith is a collection of five of these books and, despite the heft, I couldn't put it down! I loved Millar's acute observations into her characters' inner lives and the way her endings were always just around the corner from what I expected. This is Chandler noir for Gillian Flynn readers!
In the 1950's, our collective vision of the future was all candy-colored household appliances and flying cars. In Children of the New World, the millennial vision of the future is a far grimmer thing. These excellent short stories imagine worlds filled with ever-isolating technology, populated by lonely people in search of a genuine connection. This could have easily veered towards the derivative, but Weinstein's deft touch makes every page feel original and new. I was captivated!
Relatable, uplifting, inspiring: this book is none of these things, unless you are a sociopath on par with Patrick Bateman. Herman Koch writes bedtime stories for misanthropes, darkly funny literature that is sly and clever, with an undercurrent of nastiness I shouldn't enjoy as much as I do. But I really, really do. His narrators are alienated from the world around them and glad of it, all of them filled with disdain and impatience for the company they are forced to keep. Dear Mr. M is a brutal read, a toxic siren song I couldn't resist!
At its heart, this is a simply story, the story of a marriage unraveling. But Foer creates such complex characters, the book ends up being an orgy of inner monologues and hidden vulnerabilities. Everyone who populates this book is a complete, wholly formed person, someone I recognized and cared about instantly. At times I found myself putting the book down, not just because of the wrist pain (worth it), but because I was overwhelmed by a sense of loss so strong, it felt personal. Reading about lonely people who long for connection and fumble their way towards it just broke my heart, in the best way possible. If you are looking for a Rothian exploration of Jewish identity, a map of how a good marriage turns sour, a sometimes-funny-sometimes-not domestic drama, or a speculative look at Israel's future, you will find them all in Here I Am!