This Week, I Read… (#38)

91-grave-mercy

#91 – Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers

Okay, it’s not entirely red, but I had it out from the library thinking I’d be done with the challenges already, and I wasn’t. I shoehorned it in.

Too bad I shouldn’t have bothered! DNF around 200 pages in. I’m surprised I held on that long, but it took me a while to put my finger on what it was I disliked about it: Ismae vacillates between being arrogantly world-wise in her observations/assumptions about other people, and internally existing in a constant state of anxiety about how out of place she feels because of her lowly upbringing. I’m not convinced by the narrative that her three years of training have done her any good in that regard, because we’re only told it happens, we don’t see it–those years are skipped right over in a chapter break.

I could understand projecting outward confidence to overcompensate for her feelings of inadequacy, and that’s how it started, but eventually the narrative seems to forget that should be her motivation and we’re just presented with a wunderkind assassin who knows everything instantly about people she just met. I got tired of it.

92-middlesex

#92 – Middlesex, by Jeffrey Eugenides

  • Read: 9/1/16 – 9/11/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016
  • Task: Read a book set in my home state
  • Rating: 2/5 stars

I’ll give this one full credit for an engaging narrator…when the story is actually about him. Because it’s not, for most of the book, and for a story purporting to examine the challenges of life for an intersex individual, well, shouldn’t the story spend more time on him?

I apparently have a strong distaste for the family saga. I’ve seen this narrative structure once already this year in The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender, and I hated it then, too. Why have your readers imprint on a potentially fascinating narrator (because that’s what we do, we become the main character) and then spend half the book detailing everything that’s ever happened in his family’s past, instead of talking about him? At least here in Middlesex, the backstory introduces characters and themes that will later be important in the present, whereas in Ava I still don’t know what the point of the backstory was, or the story-story, for that matter.

Once I got to the part of the book that was actually about Callie’s childhood and Cal’s adult life, I was interested, but with the nagging sense in the back of my mind that the first half of the book had been a waste of my time–I found myself longing for the predictability of a flashback structure, where the present-day story is well, present throughout the narrative, and only the most important bits of history are given, as needed, through flashbacks.

Structure aside, my other quibble is that this book didn’t feel like anything new. In a college history seminar, I actually studied one of the books referenced in the course of the story, about Herculine Barbin, whose memoirs (according to Wikipedia) were a source of inspiration to Eugenides to write Middlesex in the first place. But the story didn’t delve very deep into Cal’s life, being much more concerned about how he came to be than how he lived, so by the end I felt shortchanged.

93-my-life-in-france

#93 – My Life in France, by Julia Child

  • Read: 9/11/16 – 9/15/16
  • Provenance: Owned (paperback)
  • Challenge: PopSugar Reading Challenge 2016
  • Task: Read a book written by a celebrity
  • Rating: 3/5 stars

I’ve never actually seen an episode of any of Julia Child’s television shows, nor have I ever owned a copy of one of her cookbooks. But I am a huge fan everything she made possible–cooking shows and celebrity chefs might very well not exist without her, and if they did, it wouldn’t be the same.

I grew up on Yan Can Cook, The Frugal Gourmet, and Death by Chocolate, all watched when I was home from school for the summer and wasn’t a fan of soap operas; I watched cooking shows instead, and the occasional show on furniture refinishing? I can picture the hosts, but I can’t remember their names, nor what the program was titled. Someday I’ll remember enough to have a chance at Googling it correctly.

(ETA: It’s Furniture on the Mend, I found it.)

Today, I’m an enormous fan of Top Chef, so I recognize the debt I owe to Julia Child, and I’m glad to have read her account of the years she developed her passion for cooking. Her writing style is as warm and vivacious as everyone tells me her television presence was, which made this book a pleasant and easy read, though it had a tendency to get bogged down in endless details. The food details, I enjoyed, since the combination of my own amateur passion for cooking, plus my passable memory for the French I learned in my school days, meant I could follow that. The minutiae about Paris or wartime history, on the other hand, mostly passed over my head.

94-last-words

#94 – Last Words, by George Carlin with Tony Hendra

I didn’t mean to save this appropriately-titled book for the last one in my reading challenge (I know I said it was 93 books, but I forgot to count the audiobook in my total, so it’s really 94), but here we are.

I love George Carlin as a comedian in the entirely shallow way of having seen his most famous bits on Comedy Central, back in the years where they devoted whole chunks of the afternoon to running bits. (I don’t have cable anymore, do they still do that? It strikes me as something they wouldn’t, the same way neither MTV nor VH1 play music videos like they used to.)

I knew almost nothing about him, but I was still sad when he passed, in the way I’m always sad when someone famous, funny and/or awesome passes away. So when his sortabiography, as it’s called in Hendra’s introduction, showed up secondhand, I snatched it up.

It was funny, and informative, but at the same time it felt disjointed and unsatisfying. Some of that is me–I’ve never immersed myself in the history of comedy clubs in the ’60s, so a lot of the names Carlin threw around were simply blank spaces in my mind.

And the rest, of course, is that this book was assembled posthumously from years-old drafts Carlin was working on, plus extensive recorded conversations. Am I glad this book made it out to the public? Absolutely. But you can see the rough edges.


So, that’s all my reading challenge books read! I’ll be back on Wednesday with a breakdown of the PopSugar Challenge, then on Friday I’ll move my book reviews back to their regular spot, after being bumped last week by my book release!

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