Where does the reading time go? Back in January, I posted some Tips on Finding More Reading Time. I still have half a year to meet my yearly goal of 50 books. Eons ago, when I fancied myself a book blogger, the reviews I wrote for titles such as Fifty Shades of Grey brought me my first editing inquires. I may have shifted my blogging focus over the years but always enjoy chatting about books and literature in general. I will now be posting reading updates a couple of times a year to generate discussion and reading recommendations.
Station Eleven’s Optimistic Dystopia and More…
In the past, I focused on taking a professional and critical approach to book reviews. At other times, I’ve delved into literary criticism for books like The Color Purple. What follows here are casual reviews as I’ve posted to Amazon and Goodreads for the five books I would be most likely to tell someone to read. I continue to listen to one audiobook a month and have also joined a book club as a way to make time to get my reading done. As always, each cover featured here is an affiliate link. If you click and purchase, I receive a small percentage of the sale.
Though heavily based on Plath’s life, the story of Esther in The Bell Jar could be the story of anyone who’s ever come mentally unhinged. The surprising thing about nervous breakdowns is that the person experiencing the psychotic break is often agonizingly aware of their descent into madness. Their disgust becomes a dependable comfort. They see themselves slipping, but simply cannot muster the will to care. The true beauty of the story lies in how Plath captured the sense of self-loathing and disgust Esther applies to herself and the rather privileged life she’s led. There has to be something more? Or is there? The alternative is to give into the spiral. Those who have never been in such dire depths may write this book off as selfish, but mental illness is all too real.
Only in a Vonnegut novel like Breakfast of Champions would a crazy-looking hack writer of sci-fi be the sane character and the relatively normal-appearing Pontiac dealer be the character who is actually the mentally ill one. How fitting that the crazy person takes the crazy stories of the writer as truth and ends up being the one going on a violent rampage. Just to keep things interesting, Vonnegut once more inserts his authorial voice into the story. Though his style is simple, the implications of the story’s jittery structure is anything but. The author really makes the reader wonder just exactly that madness is in a world where everything can be considered mad.
Rising Strong makes pertinent observations about how to rumble with all the emotional turmoil life throws our way. Time and again we create so-called shitty first drafts of the events of our lives and often continue to live that narrative without revisiting it to make revisions to reflect how far we’ve come. On the other hand, Brown’s book mixes qualitative and quantitative research. A good number of the personal anecdotes don’t tie in as tightly as they should and many tend to go on too long. Overall, this book had some good takeaways, but the reader may find themselves zoning at after the umpteenth semi-interesting story from her life.
The level of writing in Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel this novel is quite beautiful as is the intricacy of the plot. It’s a bit coincidental that the characters in the book in the pre- and post-apocalyptic timeline are all connected to the world-famous actor Arthur Leander who kicks the bucket on stage right before the Georgian Flu wipes wipes out 99.9% of the world’s population. With so many characters, it was a bit difficult to develop much of a connection with any of them, and the titles tie in with the graphic novel Arthur’s first wife wrote did not come off in a satisfying way. At least there are no zombies in the future portrayed in this book, but it is overly optimistic for a dystopian novel for my tastes.
Horror is a genre I don’t normally seek as it can be filled with senseless gory acts, but there is nothing senseless about Eden Royce’s collection of southern gothic short stories titled Spooklights. This is my type of horror. A bit literary, and the shocking bits sneak up on the reader with a slow and delightful burn. I am more likely to read this genre now given the focus on setting and atmosphere. The author captures her native South Carolina well. Royce also handles literary elements deftly. Her work is a pleasure to read because she finds that balance between story and craft.
Have you read Station Eleven? What other books have caught your interest in the past six months?
Are we friends on Goodreads?
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2016
I so enjoyed reading these reviews.
I’ve read and listened to The Bell Jar several times.
I can never get enough of Plath. She and Johnathan Livingston Seagull are the reasons I write today.
I shall check out the other books, too.
Recently, I loved: You Before Me, Nightingale, Racing In The Rain, & Patty Jane’s House of Curl.
Or is it “Me Before YOU?!!”
Kim, I saw you post on FB about Stein’s book. As a dog lover, it ranks up there on my list of sentimental favorites. I also need to read The Nightingale since I’ve heard to many great things about it.
I downloaded a sample of Rising Strong and that was about it. I also didn’t care for all the stories either. I did however download her other book Daring Greatly and really enjoyed that one. Thanks for the other options, Jeri. I have to check them out as well.
Sabrina, thanks for mentioning Daring Greatly. Considering we had similar reactions to Rising Strong, chances are her other book might sit better with me as well.
Someone just commented that my most recent short story reminded them of Raymond Carver who I don’t remember reading. I probably did way back when. So I’ll probably be checking his books out from the library next! I have read Plath and Vonnegut but the others are new for me. Thanks for the recommendations!
Jan, I can see how someone could compare your writing to Carver. My stories have been likened to his and Oates at different times, so that’s not bad writerly company for us to be in 😉 I didn’t care for Vonnegut when I read him in high school, but now I find I really like his style.
The only one of these that I read was Station Eleven. I think I liked it more than you did. Thought it was a really creative story. I found it a bit charming to think of the last people on earth as a band of travelling artists. Breakfast of Champions also sounds like something I would like.
Ken, I read your review of St. John’s book last night on Goodreads. I almost gave it four stars. The writing is indeed beautiful, but the plot didn’t do it for me as much as I had hoped it would. I hope you will give Vonnegut’s book a try. He’s quite entertaining and philosophical all at once.
“The Bell Jar” sounds captivating… I´d definitely read that one…
Great reviews, dear Jeri… Also, I wanted to ask you a question: When you read a book, do you do so as an editor?… In other words, do you mentally edit whilst reading books!?…. or you just let yourself go with the book flow?.
Sending best wishes. Have a great week! Aquileana 😀
Aqui, I tend to read as an editor. That habit can be a blessing and a curse. Mostly, I know when I book is really, really good if I can read it without going into editor mode too much 😉
Jeri — I haven’t read any of these books. But I did just finish Noah Hawley’s thriller, “Before the Fall.” I immediately bought it after the New York Times proclaimed “Noah Hawley’s ‘Before the Fall’ Is One of the Year’s Best Suspense Novels,” and gave it a rave review. I was disappointed. I kept waiting for it to grab me by the throat, but it never did.
Jeannette, thanks for the heads up regarding Before the Fall.. A new books I’ve been wanting to read is Sweet Bitter. Mainly because of my background working as a waitress back in the day.
The only book I read on your list is BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS. I love Vonnegut because his style is so deceptively simple.
The last book I read was caled UNNATURAL TALENT by a gentleman named Jason Brubaker. He is known throughout the webcomic world for creating a story known as reMIND. In TALENT, he shares tips on how to build an audience for your own webcomic. (I am planning on launching one soon, hence why I wanted to read it.)
Unlike a lot of these tomes that PROMISE to show you how to build an audience, but then give you only the tip of the iceberg unless you want to invest in some incredibly expensive course, Jason shows you how he did it right in this book. He also recommends other books for further reading. On top of all this, he has his own blog that describes how he does it all.
I am following Brubaker on Twitter, and he followed me back. Whenever I tag him in a post, he always “likes” it. I emailed him once, and I actually got a reply. He is very gracious and reachable, which is cool that he remembers his roots. Once upon a time, he was a no name indie comic creator like me. I can’t give the man or his book enough praise.
Steve, long time no see! I had not heard of Brubaker, but he sounds like a great author for you to use an example for launching your own work. Good luck 🙂
I haven’t read any of these. Station Eleven intrigues me. One of the books which caught my interest in the last six months in The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.
Donna, I enjoyed The Girl on the Train. quite a lot. I gravitate toward unreliable narrators, so it was a book right up my alley. Some of the end stuck me as a bit too coincidental, but overall I really enjoyed it.
I just finished Leif Enger’s Peace Like a River. Still trying to recover from that book hangover! I finally had to sit down and finish it because I couldn’t get anything else done. He’s the kind of writer that makes me want to be a writer.
Jeri, I have to admit that we do not have the same taste in reading. I am more prone to reading historical novels, John Grisham Books, and Rosalind Pilcher
I especially love the historical novels about Victorian England and Early American Pioneer Days.
Very interesting reviews Jeri. The only one of these books I’ve read is Rising Strong and I’d have to say that I concur with your review. There are a couple here that I am definitely going to check out. Thanks!
So…… on average you read one book a week.
I have not read any of these books. In fact I need to “up my game” in the area of reading. I have allowed the busyness of life to get in the way of my settling down to read books.
Aside from working full-time, being in church ministry and leadership and blogging – I feel I have little time for reading. Perhaps I need to be more intentional about it.
Phoenicia, that’s the case with most things we feel like we don’t have time for. We have to decide to make them a priority and then they will start to become one.
We definitely have different tastes in reading. Aside from Sylvia Plath, I haven’t heard of the other books. I really like your reviews and how you give an overall of plot and character.
I just finished THE BUDDHA IN THE ATTIC by Julie Otsuka, a pick from my book club. I plan to write a short review for it. My e-reader is good for all the free eBooks, but I miss my paperbacks so I ordered a bunch. They’re a bit diverse, but that’s what I was going for. I’m reading THE GUN SELLER by Hugh Laurie. For summer vacation, I hope to read MATCH ME IF YOU CAN by Susan Elizabeth Phillips, THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult, THE BOOK OF SPECULATION by Hope Dellon, and LOVE LETTERS TO THE DEAD by Ava Dellaira.
Denise, I think are tastes do overlap in many area, but not so much from this sample listed from the recent books I’ve read. I think I’ll look into The Gun Seller as a possible book I might add to my TBR list.
I haven’t read any of these books, but I always love Brene Brown. I will have to check that book out. The time I most usually read is right before bed. That problem with that is I usually fall to sleep pretty quickly from the time I start reading. All my life reading has made me sleepy, even if I was reading in the middle of the day. This, of course, posed a huge challenge when I was in school. The point is that I don’t get through books very quickly and I often have to re-read sections because I forget where I am in the book. Having said that, when it is a really good book, I do a better job of staying alert.
Erica, reading can have that relaxation effect. I do best if I read in the living room when I’m not tired. I even bought a special reading chair I can be all cozy in. I’m the same as you though with falling asleep if I try to read in bed. I can also read in the car, but if I’m on the tired side, it becomes a struggle to keep my eyes on the page.
How did we not connect on Goodreads before this? Darn.
That out of the way, one of the books I’ve read this year that has resounded is Jim Beaver’s “Life’s That Way.” An excerpt from my review: “It is hard to read this book because for anyone who has experienced intense grief, his open, Band-Aid-has-been-pulled-off, writing style digs directly into your heart and makes you feel. All over again or anew or still or wherever your heart is in your grieving. You will ride those waves again and identify with his descriptions of loss and courage and succumbing to your emotions over and over.”
Off to update my reading challenge–how did half the year get passed already?
RoseMary, thank you for pointing Jim Beaver’s book out to me. The way you describe his writing style means I would probably readily like his work.
Great review of these books. I have wanted to read a few of them.
Spook Lights and Station Eleven both seem like books I would enjoy very much.
Thanks you for sharing and introducing us to them.
William, Spook Lights is definitely a good read. I knew the author briefly when I was living in Charlotte, though Eden lives in England now.
I was recently reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and recalled her mention of Brene Brown’s creative process. Really makes me want to read her stuff. Also, Breakfast of Champions is one of my all time faves. I struggled to get through Cat’s Cradle recently and really can’t explain why. It’s a short, good book and I had a hard time working through it. Have you ever read Earth Abides? It’s one of my favorite dystopian novels and related to Station Eleven’s virus starter. Thought I’d give it a mention.
I think we’re Goodreads friends already but if not, I’ll be sure to add you. I like the concise nature of your reviews and it makes me want to dive into them but only based on what I’m reading at the moment. Is that how you do it as well?
Duke, I’ve heard of Earth Abides often enough, but I’ve yet to read it. Thanks to your comment I’m going to head over and add it to my Amazon wishlist.
Had to read the Bell Jar, at university I think it was, and was not fond of it. Having said that maybe I would like it now. Recently read Churchill’s memoires and highly recommend reading them. He really knew how to write and understood what was going to happen geopolitically on a global scale. For instance predicted the cold war and the ultimate demise of communism.