Book reviews: The week with all the balance – two must-reads, two huge misses.

Rumor has it that The Morning News is releasing their Tournament of Books finalists this morning! I tried working my rooster tee into my work ensemble today, but since things are kinda shaky at ThePlaceThatShallNotBeDiscussed, I decided to go a safer route. Which is to say you can imagine both my excitement (PARRRTAY!!!) at the imminent prospect of having a shorter list of books to focus on, and saaaaadpanda that the list wasn’t out when I started drafting my post. Instead of geeking out, I’ll tell you about the books I read this week.

shrillShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West (2016, Hachette, 272 pages, digital copy). I had been hearing good things about this book since long before it was published. Which is why I probably had such a hard time getting my hands on a copy. I jumped when I saw it come up as a deal of the day right around Christmas. (Merry Christmas to me! I got allll the digital books!) West has all the cultural criticism acumen of Roxane Gay and the creativity of Tina Fey, plus the whip smart advantage all my favorite people have of being able to call it like she sees it in such an undeniable way. For those who are seeking to empower their best selves, or maybe just looking for a little hope, a little cultural criticism right now, this is what you need to pick up. As in, I will be buying a full-price copy to loan out to everyone. THAT kind of No kidding, I mean it. 5 of 5 stars.

ihateinternetI Hate the Internet, by Jarett Kobek (2016, We Heard You Like Books, 288 pages, e-loan). I picked this up because it was on the TOB longlist. In many ways, it’s a novelization along the same lines of Shrill – speaking out against the needless hate and bigotry swamping our culture – but it focuses on the Internet as Vehicle Supreme, the inevitability that foiling it will fail, and, well, does it all in third person. I couldn’t find my footing. The entire thing felt hopeless. I have enough hopeless in Real Life right now, Kobek, I don’t need another heaping plateful. It felt gimmicky and cheap as opposed to a sardonic wake-up call that I think it was supposed to be. 1 of 5 stars.

abundanceThe Abundance: Narrative Essays, Old and New, by Annie Dillard (2016, Ecco, 304 pages, digital). This was another Deal of the Day grab, and I was so looking forward to it. Personal essays are some of my favorite indulgences; they can go in any direction and seem so much freer than any other writing – even fiction, at times. I’d read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and thought maybe I’d enjoy Dillard’s non-fiction more. So now I’m left hoping I like Dillard’s non-fiction about writing, specifically, because I still have one of those books on my TBR at home, and nothing else seems to be working for me. Her writing is sparse, and yes that’s a stylistic choice that can work…but not here, and not for me. When I read books about nature, I want to feel connected. It’s especially frustrating for me as a reader if I know the author was there, in that actual scene, and limited themselves to these few words. I feel everything and write so much of what first comes to mind; I have a hard time understanding why people won’t use 50 words instead of 10. Nature writing…that particularly seems to me like the point is immersion itself. How are we so understand the scene if what we get is “The hill was tall and bare.” So the subject matter was interesting, in a fashion, but Dillard’s writing style was rather frustrating for me. 1 of 5 stars.

uglywonderfulthingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood (2016, Thomas Dunne Books, 346 pages, digital). YOU GUYS. THIS BOOK. So many feelings! It’s not going to be for everyone, I get that. (There’s a bit of a Lolita angle that could be read in places.) But for me it was one of those magical reads that I couldn’t suck down fast enough. Greenwood created characters so believable and real that I just couldn’t get enough. It read for me as less Lolita and more of a Bone Gap setting, meets Constellation of Vital Phenomena heartbreak and spectacular, detailed characterization, and the survivory feeling of Homecoming. All some of my favorite books, so you can see how this just blew my socks off. My one hang-up was the way the Wavy-and-Kellen drama stalled a bit three-quarters of the way in. There was a lot of the same-old going on, and I needed either a bit to be excised, or some movement added. Kind of like how The Office was at its best when it was a comedy that used all of its talent for a variety of sketches, before it turned into the Jim-and-Pam show, I liked the story so much better when it showed the resourcefulness of Wavy as she faced all of her challenges, before it settled into the Wavy-and-Kellen show. Not that that kept me from reading as fast as I could, delighting in the sense of foreboding that never once left. 5 of 5 stars.

Okay, have I stalled long enough? Will the TOB brackets be posted…? And whose job is it to keep me sane until they do? HALP!

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