Thursday, July 20, 2017

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund

When a lonely teenager attaches herself to the new neighbors, their problems become a part of her, too.

This was a strange story. When it finished I sat for a minute just trying to figure out what really happened in the end. I'm still not sure why the book is entitled, "History of Wolves."

It shifts back and forth from the summer she - Madeline, Linda, whatever her name is - was 14 and babysat for the family across the lake, and to more recent times, as she's still affected by the traumas of her childhood.

We know right away the little kid, Paul, is dead (in the current timeframe). We don't know what happens to him until halfway through the book, and really, the book isn't about that. It's about Linda's needy, strange relationship with Paul's mom, Patra. It's about Linda's strange relationship with a girl from school. Or about her strange relationship with a teacher. Or about how she was born into a commune. OK - so it's about Linda's strangeness? I'm just working through it here.

I listenened to the audiobook, which was well-read by Susan Bennett. The story keeps you going, and it's well written. I'm just unsure about my own feelings about the conclusion.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Addressed as a letter to a friend seeking advice, Adichie gives a brief, powerful primer on feminism in a changing world.

While it's addressed to a new mother on raising her daughter, the lessons are equally important for anyone. We all impact the next generation, and the first steps to change must be our own.

It's an amazing, succinct piece with a lot to ponder. It's probably worth repeated reading and is truly the kind of book you should buy to revisit annually.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Naked Without a Hat by Jeanne Willis

When things get crowded at his mother's house (with the new boyfriend), Will gains his first taste of independence by moving into a rooming house. It's the start of an eye-opening adventure in friendship, employment, and the many flavors of love.

I enjoyed the book and its cast of lovable oddballs. His mom is overbearing, but it's a realistic protectiveness she shows - they're both ready for something new in their lives, but it's hard to let go of the comfortable, usual patterns of life. His flatmates are all wacky in their own ways, but together they form a new kind of family.

Will's holding onto a big secret - and I'm not giving it away here - that left me dumbfounded. I had no idea such a thing was possible (I turned to Google once I was finished with the book).

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

A truly odd woman navigates modern life, awkwardly. It's also a wonderfully weird book about the power of friendship!

Eleanor goes to work, does her job, and then goes home. Her wardrobe and meal plan - actually her whole existence - are designed for simplicity and hardiness. Except for the vodka, which gets her through the weekend.

We don't know much about Eleanor at the start, but throughout the story more information is dosed out in drips and drabs. Some truly startling pieces are laid down almost casually when you least expect it. She's a tough nut on the outside, but that protective shell hides the true core of her story - and things she's been trying to protect herself from, too.

Eleanor almost accidentally makes a friend one day when her work computer goes on the fritz and the IT guy pays a visit. Through that friendship, Eleanor also gains lots of perspective on human interactions, common pleasantries, and social mores. She goes to a party! She attends a funeral! She orders a drink in a pub!

This blossoming throughout the book is funny and inspiring (don't we all feel a bit socially awkward at times?) and offers hope that no one is ever too damaged to move forward.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Martian by Andy Weir

This is a tale of raw, basic survival in a rough terrain. One man, abandoned on Mars.

We read this for the library's book discussion, and many readers were surprised by how much they liked it. It's more about science than about science-fiction. There aren't ray guns and alien life forms; instead it's about one human surviving because he knows how to do advanced chemistry.

Mark Watney isn't about to give up, despite insurmountable odds. Not enough water? Chemistry! Not enough food? Botany! No communication? Rocks!

I have seen the Matt Damon movie, and it's very good. It's not quite the same, but honestly both stand up pretty well on their own (or even in comparison).

I highly recommend this one, even if you're not into advanced science and especially if you don't enjoy sci-fi. It's a captivating story, and you don't have to understand every formula to understand what a creative thinker the character (hell - the author!) is to persevere in these situations.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

O!M!G! Listen to this audiobook! I'm just gonna put that right up there at the top of this post, because it's super important. I am serious. Listen to this audiobook.

This is a strange tale - an experimental novel - told mainly by the spirits that inhabit the Washington DC cemetery where Abraham Lincoln's son was temporarily interred upon his death in 1862. It takes place over a very short time period as the living and dead observe the boy's funeral cortege, the family's grief, and the father's late-night cemetery visit to grieve in private.

There are a lot of opinions, stories, and experiences involved in the novel's narrative, and they're each systematically logged and annotated for your reference. Which is where the audiobook's special nature comes in handy. The library bought an audiobook copy especially because I'd read an article about the 166 narrators they used to record it.

The book is incredible and completely engrossing. Even in some of the more strangely told parts of the story, it's fascinating how each voice brings its own perspective to the events: was the moon full, new, or a sliver that night? How to describe the strange angularity of a most famous man?

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A struggling college English professor finds the jolt of writing inspiration he needs when his estranged mother is very publicly arrested for assaulting a Senator.

The novel juggles several storylines: grown men stunted by their addiction to an online quest game, a childhood friendship's long-lasting impacts, the radical 70's story of his mother, childhood tales of folklore and fantasy.

I really enjoyed the story - the hopping between time periods and characters kept it fresh, yet every divergence presented characters you felt strongly about (sometimes pity, other times irritation and even hatred). The overall theme that everyone's haunted: by the past, by expectations, by a decision made or an action not taken.