March continued my impressive-for-me reading streak in 2019 but March also gave me the first books of 2019 that I really disliked. Good thing there were some good’uns to balance things out.
How I Did
I finished seven books in March. I had set a reading goal of 55 books for 2019 on Goodreads and it’s looking like I absolutely underestimated myself for the year because we’re only three months into the year and I’m almost halfway done with that goal. In fact, if this pace keeps up, I should finish the year at roughly 91 books.
When it comes to my reading goals for 2019, I’m still doing very well on my goal to read more books by female authors than male this year. Of the seven books I read, only two were written by men–and these were the first male authors I read in 2019.
I’m less strong on my goal to read more lesbian, bisexual, and trans books. I did read two books with a lesbian element in them, so that brings me up to three books that count toward this goal in 2019 so far.
What I DNF’ed
I did not finish two books in March (Tangerine and Leading Men), but I got at least halfway through both–which means I am including them in the list of books I read for the year. I may revisit Leading Men at some point if my library ever gets a copy of the audio but Tangerine is no go for me.
What I Read
Here’s my ranking of the seven books I finished in March, from worst to best:
7. Tangerine, by Christine Mangan. This was a DNF, but I got far enough into it that I feel I can render an opinion. And guys, I tried. I really tried. I had high hopes for Tangerine because the jacket copy compares it to Patricia Highsmith. Instead, I found this book to be a mess that is both predictable and heavily–HEAVILY–reliant on one of my most hated mystery clichés: teasing the reader by deliberately withholding information from them. I also didn’t like Mangan’s descriptive style and I found the queer villain character to be a tired retread of an old problem in literature.
6. The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. This would easily have been the bottom book in any month that hadn’t also included Tangerine. I had less problems with the writing itself, but while the premise of the book is interesting (that is that the earth’s rotation has slowed, potentially causing the end of the world), the execution is, to me, mind-boggling. I don’t know if Walker is trying to make a point about how most people ignore the real dangers of climate change, but the ways in which characters do respond to the, ahem, gravity of their situation feels insane. Would society really fall apart based on how to tell time with everything else going on? I know this book has a lot of fans, but I am not one of them.
5. Leading Men, by Christopher Castellani. I was really into this book in the beginning, so it ended up quite a disappointment that I DNF’ed it. In fact, this book inspired me to pull out an index card to use as a bookmark so I could take notes–which hasn’t happened to me in a long time. But the pitch for this book is that it’s a novel about Tennessee Williams and his lover, Frank Merlo, across three time periods: on vacation in Italy in 1953, when Frank is dying of cancer a mere ten years later and hoping to see Williams one last time, and near present-day when an unknown play by Williams about Frank is discovered. That sounds fascinating. Except that the book uses a fictional character named Anja as the bridge between the three sections, and Castellani relies on her so heavily that the book becomes more about her than it is about them. And the sad truth is that she’s a crutch for Castellani. He’s using her to get at truths about Williams and Frank that he didn’t need another character or another plotline to express. Every time the book turned to her, my reading completely stalled. So I gave up.
4. Small Fry, by Lisa Brennan-Jobs. Lisa Brennan-Jobs’ big claim to fame is that she is Steve Jobs’ daughter–a daughter he denied paternity of until a court-ordered DNA test forced him to acknowledge her. Brennan-Jobs spent her childhood stuck between her parents–both unreliable artists in their own unique ways. I have a foster son, and in telling her story, I was repeatedly struck by how similar Brennan-Jobs’ childhood is to that of a foster child, even though she was raised by her biological parents. Here’s the thing: although her story is fascinating, I didn’t feel that it built to anything larger. It just kind of peters out. Even the lack of closure she got from her relationship with Jobs, who died of cancer, could have been used to say something poignant, but it just doesn’t.
3. The Library Book, by Susan Orlean. This book, ostensibly about the 1986 fire that ravaged LA’s Central Library, has the opposite problem of Small Fry. It has poignancy to spare, but it lacks focus and cohesion. In many ways, The Library Book is a love letter to libraries more than the story of the fire, and in writing that love letter Susan Orlean does everything from discuss her own personal history with libraries to run through the heads of the LA libraries one by one to the present day. There’s so much in this book that is fascinating, and the ending felt so relevant to me that I both enjoyed this book and recommend it, but I can’t help but wish that it was tightened up a bit.
2. All That Heaven Allows, by Mark Griffin. This is a very straightforward biography–it promises you the life of Rock Hudson, and that’s exactly what you get. As such, it doesn’t go very deeply into the larger impact of Hudson’s life (outside of the fact that he was the first celebrity victim of the AIDS epidemic), but it’s so thoroughly researched and presented so cleanly that it doesn’t even matter if it doesn’t set its sights any higher. As a closeted gay man, Rock Hudson became the biggest star in Hollywood. Going movie by movie, All That Heaven Allows reveals what Hudson’s life was like, and the heavy emotional costs of remaining in the closet. It’s a great read.
1. Ghost Wall, by Sarah Moss. I compare this book to Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, and really I can’t offer any better praise than that. Ghost Wall is a short book that packs a mean punch. It’s about a girl named Silvie, who gets dragged along on an archaeological expedition of sorts with her mother and her domineering, abusive father, who idealizes the past. On this expedition, they’ve joined a professor and three college students who are trying to live as people did during the Iron Age–or as closely to it as they can, at least (the compromises they have to make and the ways in which they can only imagine how someone else lived are only one of this novella’s strong points). As the story progresses, tension builds–between the central family and between a college girl, Molly, and everyone else. Molly is a determinedly modern lady who’s not very on board with the subjugation of women from the past, and her refusal to get lost in the experience exacerbates the family tensions. Silvie is coming of age and finds herself intrigued (and attracted to) Molly, which only makes things worse. I may not 100% believe the explosive finale of Ghost Wall, but I will be thinking about this book for a long time and will definitely be checking out more of Sarah Moss’ writing.