This Week, I Read… (#23)

The Blind Assassin

#52 – The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood

I picked this up at a thrift store when I saw paperbacks were on sale 4/$1, and I already had two in my hands. I’d read one Atwood novel before (The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m sure that’s no surprise) but I didn’t like it as much as I expected to–honestly, I found it pretty dry.

Not the case, here.

The Blind Assassin tells three stories at once, and while I’ve praised multiple storylines before, this was an even greater feat, because all the storylines are, in the end, the same story.

Family tragedy isn’t usually so satisfying.

And I have a fondness for forbidden romance and pulp sci-fi, so the novel-within-the-novel was a serious page-turner. (Once I got over the stylistic choice to use no punctuation for dialogue. That threw me for a loop in the first section, but by the end of the book, it read naturally. Not sure I’d ever do it myself, though…)

Though the tale itself is vastly different, this actually hits a lot of the same notes for me that Prodigal Summer did–vivid, lush language; compelling female characters; an aura of mystery around the men in their lives; and a brilliantly crafted narrative.

Looks like I’m starting #readwomensummer off right.

53 - 32 Yolks

#53 – 32 Yolks, by Eric Ripert

As I’m a fan of both Top Chef and Anthony Bourdain’s various television shows over the years, I’m a de facto fan of Eric Ripert. He comes across as brilliant yet laid back, and his mellow sense of humor is the perfect foil for Bourdain’s ever-present snarkiness.

I enjoyed this book, but at the same time, it didn’t seem like it was written by the same chef I thought I knew from TV. Ripert doesn’t hide the flaws of his youth in telling how he became who he is, but the timeline of the book ends well before present-day: he’s only telling the story of his formative years, and the disconnect between then and now was jarring to me. The narrative (to me) lacks his voice, coming across bland and easy.

Perhaps he’s only suffering in comparison to Bourdain, who’s as amazing a writer as he is a personality–the two are so linked in my mind by their friendship that I can’t think of Ripert without the association. After all, Ripert’s never claimed to be a writer, he’s a chef. And English isn’t his first or even his second language (hence the assistant writer.) So I can admit, I could be judging the book harshly.

54 - Island of Wings

#54 – Island of Wings, by Karin Altenberg

DNF @ 20%. I could have overlooked the lack of standard formatting in the text, even though not giving a new speaker a new paragraph drives me batty. It’s so much harder to read, there’s a good reason that’s how novels are these days.

I might have overlooked the constant internal “telling” tone of the story, rather than actually showing what happens.

But I could not forgive the fact that I read 55 pages and only three things happened.

To call this plot “thin” would be an understatement. I read far more bland, repetitive description of how barren the island is and how filthy/ugly/uncivilized the natives are, than I did actual plot.

Oh, and those natives, they must be suuuuuper filthy, because neither main character could go two pages without mentioning it or thinking about it. I understand they’re missionaries out to convert, educate, and civilize those heathens, but this went beyond reasonable characterization straight into insufferability.

I feel no guilt about putting this one down.

55 - More Baths Less Talking

#55 – More Baths, Less Talking, by Nick Hornby

  • Read: 6/7/16 – 6/8/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: BookRiot Read Harder 2016
  • Task: A collection of essays
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I chose this book by default, because we already had it–my husband’s parents are Hornby fans, and undoubtedly this was a gift from them some Christmas past, because otherwise I can’t fathom how it ended up on our shelves.

I knew almost nothing about him, so when I discovered this book was essentially a more formal, high-brow version of what I do once a week (write about the books I read), I was thrilled.

Now, Hornby’s tastes and mine are completely different. I’d only heard of a few of these books, mostly the classics, and the rest were just names on a list. I didn’t know if I’d come out of this experience with a thousand new books I wanted to read, or a feeling of utter boredom because I couldn’t relate.

The truth is, neither. Nothing he said made me want to read these works–in the end, they’re still outside my wheelhouse. But the way he speaks of them, with a dry wit that never crosses into snark, and with genuine interest and fascination, kept me reading straight through.

I don’t want to add any of these books to my TBR, but I will be investigating Hornby’s own works, instead.

56 - If I Stay

#56 – If I Stay, by Gayle Forman

I have mixed feelings about this one, and they split near-perfectly down the reader/writer divide I have in my brain.

If I had read this at seventeen, I would have loved it, 5 stars, pitched it to all my friends.

I had no trouble devouring it now. The writing style is direct and clean, mostly because it leans farther toward the telling side than showing. (Common in YA and common in romances, so while my own taste skews in the other direction, I can give this a pass, because it’s with an eye to simplicity rather than overexplanation.)

The entire plot is tropey as hell, though. A dying “ghost” narrator struggling to decide whether she has anything to come back for? I have seen this before, many times in many media forms, and nothing in the plot surprised me.

On the other hand, the main characters were vivid. Maybe my predilection for musicians is biasing me towards loving both Mia and Adam, but they both felt real to me.

Sadly, though, they’re the only ones who did. The structure of the narrative means half the story is told in flashback, which puts a wash of gray over Mia’s deceased family, because we only see her memories of them. In the present day action, only Adam gets much development–Mia’s surviving family, as well as her best friend, are on the flat side.

Flaws aside, I’ll still probably burn my other generic “book from the library” task from the ReadsTheBooks challenge in order to read the sequel, which looks like it goes interesting places.

Did you read anything interesting this week you want to recommend to me? Do you have thoughts you want to share about anything I read?


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