Reading Wrap-Up for May 2019

Another month down and I’m very pleased with my reading year so far. This is shaping up to be my most prolific year since I started keeping track, and I really hope that continues.

How I Did

I finished eight books in May (one a DNF I got far enough into to count). I had set a reading goal of 55 books for 2019 on Goodreads and I’m definitely going to blow that out of the water at this rate. If I can push myself a bit harder, I might be able to crack 100 books this year.

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 eight books I read in the month of May, half were written by men. In fact, of the 39 books I’ve read so far, only nine were written by men!

Unfortunately, I whiffed on my goal to read more lesbian, bisexual, and trans books/authors. None of my May books count for that, but I’m working on improving it in June.

What I DNF’ed

I DNF’ed the audio version of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden, but I had barely started it when I stopped, so it won’t count for recap purposes. I’m planning to pick up the physical book at some point for a better reading experience. I DNF’ed another book, but I got far enough into that one to discuss it with the books I finished, so here we go:

What I Read

Here’s my ranking of the eight books I finished in April, from worst to best:

8. My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh. Hot garbage. Moshfegh frequently feels like she’s being gross or deliberately unlikable in her writing, but not in a particularly good way. It’s shock and awe purely for the joy of being provocative. I gave her another try after not liking Eileen, but with this book I’m officially breaking up with her after the particularly gross use of 9/11 as a plot point here. I DNF’ed this and will never look back.

You might like this if you like abrasive, unreliable protagonists? Maybe if you’re one of those people who liked A Little Life?

7. Fer-de-Lance, by Rex Stout. I started the month on a reading slump where I couldn’t get into or finish anything. The only good thing I can say about Fer-de-Lance is that it got me out of my slump. I hated it, though. I had been hoping this would be a great new mystery series to enjoy on the side, but I’m going to take a pass. The characters were awful, it was demeaning to women, and the main detective feels like a Hercule Poirot stand-in whose insane flights of logic don’t feel like great detective work so much as Rex Stout trying to make “fetch” happen. It’s never gonna happen.

You might like this if you think Ian Fleming was a cool dude.

6. Green River Killer: A True Detective Story, by Jeff Jensen (illustrated by Jonathan Case). I like mysteries and true crime works that don’t glorify the bad guy at the expense of his victims (more on that in a moment), and this graphic memoir fits the bill. Author Jeff Jensen is the son of a detective who worked on the Green River Killer case in Seattle for twenty years before seeing it resolved, so the book approaches the case from the perspective of his father and the emotional toll the case had on him. Aside from an opening scene that doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the book, it doesn’t glorify anything unseemly. I just wish it dove a little deeper into the father-son dynamic it ostensibly wanted to explore.

You might like this if you like more socially conscious, less sensationalist true crime books.

5. American Prison, by Shane Bauer. This is the account of journalist Shane Bauer’s undercover stint as a guard in a private prison. He was only there briefly, but that was more than enough time for him to witness some horrible activities and to feel himself becoming someone he didn’t like in order to fit in. It’s a great book and certainly damning of the private prison system, and I hate to be blasé about this, but it’s also true that Bauer didn’t teach me anything I haven’t already seen on Orange is the New Black.

You might like this if you found Matthew Desmond’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Evicted to be an important, if disquieting, read.

4. Lie With Me, by Philippe Besson. I had really high expectations for this and I did like it a lot. It’s a story of coming of age, coming out, and first love. I really, really like the way Besson approaches the story through the prism of the present: our protagonist sees someone on the street who reminds him of his first love, and through flashbacks tells us the story. My one problem is that the book is very brief. I love the writing, but I never felt like I got attached to the characters in a way that would have made the love story more meaningful.

You might like this if: I don’t like that the dustjacket compares this book directly to Call Me By Your Name, but if you like that book this does feel like a good follow-up.

3. The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui. I love books where the author tries to reconcile their own past or their family’s past, and this ticks that box in a really beautiful way. Thi Bui was born in Vietnam but immigrated to the United States when she was very young. Her parents survived the Vietnam War but have always born the scars of what they saw and experienced. This book finds Bui wrestling with understanding as she herself becomes a mother for the first time and looks back at how trauma ripples out to subsequent generations. I love it.

You might like this if you enjoyed Maus, Persepolis, Fun Home, The Sympathizer, or just family stories in general.

2. The Five, by Hallie Rubenhold. Jack the Ripper has had an incredible hold on the imaginations of the public, and his sensational crimes have been well documented… or so it would seem. Rubenhold examines the common misconception that Jack’s five female victims were prostitutes and finds that it isn’t necessarily true. The stories that have been told about the five women reflect attitudes toward women in the Victorian era, which unfortunately have not changed as much as we might like in the time since. Rubenhold sets out to give these women their lives back by telling as much of their stories as can be pieced together. In doing so, she paints a portrait of the Victorian era we don’t usually see. It’s profound, interesting, and noble.

You might like this if you like history, socially conscious true crime, or believe in feminism.

1. A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza. I loved this book. The set-up is this: Hadia, the eldest daughter of an Indian-American Muslim family, is getting married. Her estranged brother, Amar, agrees to attend. It is the first time in three years that he has seen his family. With that premise in place, the story weaves back and forth in time to tell the story of this family and how they got to this place. Mirza’s writing is incredible. On the surface, her writing is just gorgeous. Everything flows and is very well described. Underneath the surface, there is so much smart plotting and there are startlingly astute observations. Each character is so well drawn. The things they do, how they feel, and how they react to things feels real. One of the things I particularly like about this book is that most books about estranged families have an inciting incident, and this does, but Mirza understands that it’s usually small cracks in a foundation that cause the most trouble over time–and it’s more interesting that way.

Mirza really captures what it is to be part of a family–how we can be so angry at someone and still have this deep love for them. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book that captured that feeling so profoundly. In my previous review of it, I focused on the final part of the book (no spoilers), which is told from the point of view of the father of this family. I had previously wondered why the father remained elusive when everyone else was getting a moment, but structuring this way was a perfect ending. At many points in the novel, Mirza tells the same story from different points of view so you get a deeper understanding of what’s happening, and going to the father at the end almost flips the script on the whole novel. It made me cry.

In that review, I also didn’t focus on religion, which is a huge part of this book and this family. I also didn’t focus on the difference in expectation placed on the daughters and on the only son. Basically, this book has so many layers and all of them are gorgeous.

You might like this if you enjoy novels about families, novels that raise the everyday occurrences of life to an almost epic scale, or if you’re just a person who has a heart.

Reading Wrap Up May 2019

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