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I don’t often read collections of short stories. I probably never would have picked this book up if my 2015 reading challenge hadn’t required me to read a Pulitzer Prize winner. I couldn’t find my copy of Middlesex, and the only edition I have of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is in Spanish, so I was at a loss. I’m trying to cut down my book-buying habit, so I asked my mom if she owned any Pulitzer Prize winners. She did! This one!

I was pleasantly surprised. Of course, I’d heard good things about Lahiri. An author doesn’t get to be a Pulizer Prize winner without some amount of publicity. But I really had no idea what kind of books she wrote or what I was getting myself into. I didn’t even know this was a collection of short stories until I started reading it.

The first one, A Temporary Matter, made me sob. That’s when I knew that I was in for a good experience. Do you know how many books have made me sob over the years? No more than a handful. The story of a couple grieving their stillborn child while telling each other secrets by candlelight – easily the best of the bunch.

My next favorite was probably Sexy, the story of a mistress who, upon babysitting a strangely perceptive young boy, realizes that her lover does not actually love her.

Rounding out my top three would be Interpreter of Maladies: a hired driver tells a rich couple of his “real” job – a medical interpreter. The wife becomes enamored with the idea that the patients’ lives are in this man’s hands; after all, if he were to interpret their symptoms incorrectly, they would not get the correct treatments. Over the course of the trip, the driver falls for the wife and his perfect idea of her, only to find that she’s as imperfect and human as anybody else.

This is not the kind of book that you power through. I read one or two stories at a time, often taking a break of several hours in between. The stories stick with you. They weigh on you. They’re not happy stories; in fact, most of them have rather sad, disappointing endings. But these are not the kind of stories that would work with happy endings. For the most part, they’re brief windows into the lives of unhappy people.

My takeaway from this book? A reminder to be kind. You never know what’s going on behind the scenes in someone else’s life.

Final rating: 


For my 2015 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #18: a Pulitzer Prize winner.

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A couple years ago, I watched Never Let Me Go and was struck by how wonderful it was. I’m not one to read a book after I’ve seen the movie, so I looked into other books that Ishiguro had written. By far, The Remains of the Day was the most recommended and highest reviewed. I bought it, and then promptly forgot about it until… about three days ago.

Though it didn’t take me long to read the book (it’s fairly short), I have to say that I just didn’t quite get it. It’s incredibly well-written, of course. Ishiguro does an excellent job of painting a picture of the English countryside and Darlington Hall, but I couldn’t get past how robotic Mr. Stevens was – and, yes, I understand that this was the point.

Mr. Stevens is your stereotypical English butler. He prides himself on his dignity as a butler, aiding his employer in every way possible, even when he ends up insulting himself or doing something counterproductive in the process. He fails to understand why one would ‘banter’ with one’s employer, devoting several long, tedious pages to trying to determine what situations might call for banter and how one is to determine the appropriate level of banter in a response while avoiding offense. (He also always refers to himself as ‘one,’ sometimes several times in one sentence. It is very frustrating.)

At the beginning of the novel, Mr. Stevens has just received a letter from Miss Kenton (now Mrs. Benn), the former housekeeper at Darlington Hall. In her letter, he feels that she’s expressing regret at the path she chose for her life, maybe even regretting her marriage and hoping for her former job back. He takes a road trip through the English countryside to meet up with her, philosophizing on what it means to be a good butler and reminiscing about the political events his former employer was involved in.

In the end, nothing really happens aside from tangent after tangent after tangent. I felt like the hours I’d spent reading this book had been wasted due to the lack of plot. This book is extremely well-written, but unfortunately, that’s about all I can say for it. Maybe I’m just missing something, but I can’t for the life of me figure out why so many people love this book.

Final rating: ★

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A year or so ago, this book was sitting on top of every “Must Read” and “Most Anticipated” list I saw. I read the summary and saw a few things I like – summer camp stories, old friends reflecting on their childhood. I thought I would really like this book, and, as usual, I ended up wanting to like the book a lot more than I actually did. In the end, all I got from The Interestings was a reminder of why I read very little contemporary adult fiction.

The characters are uninteresting, unlikable. Jules, our hero, is described as incredibly plain, nothing particularly great about her aside from her sense of humor, which we never really witness. Jules is a bitter, whiny person who is constantly jealous of everything her friends have that she doesn’t – from the moment we first meet her until the very last page. Ash, Jules’ best friend, is gorgeous and successful without being very talented, mostly due to her perseverance and her family’s money. She has lofty goals (she wants to be a feminist director) and, as we’re repeatedly reminded, she is absolutely perfect.Ethan, the animator, is described, on nearly every page, as very ugly and very kind. After all these years, even after ending up with Ash, he pines over Jules and what might have been. Jonahis probably the most likable main character, a handsome engineer, son of a folk singer, who gave up music after being used and abused by one of his mother’s friends. He also had a phase where he ran off and joined a cult, but that’s in the past. To the side, we have Goodman, who is very much not a good man – an over-the-top handsome teenager who thinks he can (and actually does) get away with everything. We also haveCathy, an emotional, would-be dancer (if her hips and chest weren’t so big) who is thrown aside after a particularly awful night in probably the first third of the book.

Every interesting storyline is abruptly ended. The best characters constantly take a backseat to Jules and Ash and Ethan and their constant drama over absolutely nothing. The majority of the book has no plot – it’s just these few characters flailing around and trying to figure out their lives. True to life, I suppose, but if I wanted to see someone flailing around trying to figure out their life, I would just look in a mirror.

And yet, despite all my complaints, despite me throwing the book down every few pages and yelling, “THIS IS SO PRETENTIOUS I CAN’T EVEN HANDLE IT,” somehow I kept reading. Somehow I cared about these stupid characters and their stupid manufactured drama. (Did you guys ever think that if you’d just talk it out, maybe you wouldn’t have all these problems? Maybe if you just sat Goodman down and asked him what happened that night, it would be okay? Maybe if Ethan and Ash would just talk about their problems, they wouldn’t feel so isolated? If Jules would just suck it up and realize that she isn’t Ash and isn’t going to have Ash’s awesome life, she might feel better?) I kept reading, little by little, and then in huge chunks, as I came to the end. Somehow, despite everything, I came away feeling more or less indifferent to this book. I would not read it again. I would not recommend it. I will likely not read anything else by Meg Wolitzer. But I enjoyed it, in its own way, and I don’t think it was a waste of my time. I’m just indifferent – and, again, reminded why I don’t read much contemporary adult fiction.

Final rating: 

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People tell boring lies about politics, God, and love. You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question: What is your favorite book?

A.J. Fikry is a grumpy, irritable bookstore owner. His wife has died in a tragic accident, he’s become very bitter, and he spends most of his nights getting drunk and angry. On one such night, he finds that someone has stolen his copy of Tamerlane, a rare collection of short stories written by Poe and valued at approximately $400,000. Shortly after, he finds that someone has left a baby in his bookstore, seemingly with the understanding that he will raise the child.

And thus begins the gradual melting of A.J.’s heart. And yours, too, most likely. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is not what I expected – it was so much more. It’s incredibly well-developed, with beautiful characters and an engaging plot. It has twists that you’ll probably see coming, but that doesn’t ruin anything. It has an ending that’s both sad and hopeful at the same time. And throughout the book, A.J. makes book recommendations!

I adored this book and read it from the second I got home from work until I had to go to bed, only to repeat again the next day. Highly recommended for any book lovers, and anyone who enjoys a good story.

Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy.

Final rating:  ★★

[also posted here]

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I received a free copy of The Biology of Luck via Goodreads First Reads in exchange for an honest review.

I finished this book last night and I’m still not entirely sure how I felt about it. I absolutely hated it, with a fiery burning passion, while I was reading it. Starshine and Larry are obnoxious, pretentious people who embody the worst characteristics of my generation. I could not stand to read about them and literally had to force myself to keep going. That said, the book is very well-written. Appel has a way with words and was able to paint a very vivid picture of New York City to someone like me, who has never been there before.

But how many stars can you really give a book you hated?

I have to deal with a lot of people, and a lot of nonsense, every day. When I come home and curl up with a book, I don’t want to deal with more nonsense. I want likable characters.

I don’t want Starshine, who in one breath says that men are harmless and in another is saying how she’s afraid to be alone with a florist because men are only out to molest her. I don’t want to hear about how she uses her good looks to con lonely bankers into giving her their own money, or how she doesn’t want to work for any business that forces her to wear shoes. I don’t want to hear her complaining about her aunt because it’s no longer pleasant to visit her. I don’t want to read about how she wants to, but doesn’t want to, break up with her two… lovers? Boyfriends? I don’t need to read about how the entire world is in love with Starshine – literally EVERYONE IN HER LIFE.

I don’t want Larry, who hates himself and seriously contemplates suicide several times over the course of a walking tour. I don’t want to hear him rolling around in self-pity because he’s not good-looking, not rich, not good in bed. I don’t want to read about his pretentious friends and their meetings at an upscale McDonalds. Larry seems to almost stalk Starshine, at least through his book, writing about her travels through the city, her encounters with her lovers, all building up to her date with him that same evening. Larry, and his book, were very creepy.

I don’t want to read about unpleasant people. I kept waiting for some revelation that would make them more likable, something that would shed some light on why they act the way they do. It didn’t come. I was both happy to finish this book, and unhappy, because the ending of the book was so entirely disappointing.

In the end, I think I can safely award The Biology of Luck two stars – one for the writing and one for making me care about the status of Larry’s book.

[see my full review]

Subtle Bodies :: Norman Rush

Title: Subtle Bodies
Author: Norman Rush
Read: 9/3/13-9/18/13
Obtained via: free ARC from publisher
Stars: 2/5 (I’m being generous)

After an extensive internal struggle over what to rate this book, I settled on two stars.

I can’t even tell you how much I hated the beginning of this book. So obnoxious. So pretentious. Do people like Ned and Doug really exist? Unfortunately yes, because they are the kind of people I have to deal with at my job. They think they’re smart. They think they’re funny. They use big words to try to confuse other people. They think they’re better than everybody else. Honestly, I get enough of it at work. I don’t really need to read about it when I get home. Maybe that’s a reason why I disliked this book.

I would now like to give you a rundown of some of the vocabulary words used in the book. Exophthalmic. Burgomaster. Miasma. Hinterland. Patrician. More? Okay. Baronial. Weltanschauung. Cineastes. Aoroi. Derisory. The list goes on. At certain points, it seems like Rush just consulted a thesaurus with no regard for common usage. I love words – I have a BA in Linguistics, after all – but I had to step away from this book several times because I couldn’t even handle the vocabulary.

And then the plot. Or the lack of plot, for the majority of the book. Men talking. Men reminiscing. Men sulking. A wife. An ex-girlfriend. Nothing cohesive. The best plot summary I could think of was “Old guys using big words at a funeral.” Honestly, I stopped worrying about the plot about halfway through. I concentrated on Nina, my favorite character, and took the book as a distraction, or just something to read to relax before bed. I enjoyed it much more.

I think this book was probably intended for a demographic that I do not fit.

[Also posted here.]