August Reads (2014)

August 2014

I read interesting, moving, frustrating, innovative, and impressive books in August.  I can’t recommend any of them as “must reads” but I hope the descriptions below will turn you on to one or two that sound like a good fit for you.  If you have any September recommendations, I am in desperate need of a book or two that will knock my socks off.

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

I read this book because someone who read my July essay on Brain, Child responded with a recommendation for this title.  Summarizing this young adult book – boy/girl relationship, troubled parent, timely topic, female sidekick with issues – won’t do the book justice.  In this book, Anderson tackles PTSD and its impact on a father and daughter.  Anderson’s writing style is jumpy, but it worked for me.  In fact, the jumps and the disjointed feel of the prose fit the subject matter and kept me turning pages.

Thirty Girls by Susan Minot

This book has no quotation marks!  Is that a thing?  If so, how do we stop it?  Now, on to the substance…

This book promises to weave the stories of Esther (a Ugandan teenager abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army) and Jane (an American journalist traveling to Africa to give voice to children like Esther) together and give the reader “razor-sharp portraits of two extraordinary young women confronting displacement, heartbreak, and the struggle to wrest meaning from events that test them.”  Let’s be clear.  Esther is abducted, raped, and forced to kill.  Jane survived a divorce and is having casual sex with a younger man.  These two women are not equals.  Their struggles are not equivalent.  And, presenting them as such didn’t work for me.

The Last Policeman by Ben Winters

I was excited about the premise of this book – detectives struggling with the pointlessness of solving murders in a pre-apocalyptic United States with approximately six months until the world is obliterated by an asteroid.  I’m a sucker for fiction that uses dystopian settings to shine a light on human behavior.  This was a book with tons of potential, but I finished this book disappointed about what could have been but wasn’t.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

This is a tough review for me.  I was impressed by this book but can’t say I liked it.  Perhaps liking isn’t a necessary part of thinking a book is great.  The writing is solid throughout and masterful in parts.  Messud shines a light on our ability to lie to others and ourselves with great skill.  If someone told me they loved this book, I would totally understand.  I appreciated this book.  I admired this book.  I just didn’t love this book.

Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

This is a short book densely packed with snippets of truth and insight about marriage and motherhood.  The writing style is haiku-like in its deceptive brevity – short sections that pack a punch when you take time to unpack them.  Alas, this reader’s need to follow the narrative arc at a steady pace made me cheat some sections of their due.  I would recommend this book to readers attracted to different literary formats.


2 thoughts on “August Reads (2014)

  1. The way you describe Thirty Girls is EXACTLY how I felt about Sarah’s Key. Did you ever read that one? It jumped from the story of how one girl survived the Holocaust to a modern-day journalist with marriage troubles. The modern story kept getting in the way and seemed all the more trivial compared to Sarah’s story.

    I LOVED Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. I would probably read her newest just for that reason.

    1. I did read that Sarah’s Key, though it was long enough ago that I don’t really remember the modern day story line.

      As for SPEAK, I appreciated the author’s willingness to tackle a tough subject and liked the snarky but accurate high school insights from the narrator, but because the narrator was so emotionally shut down it was difficult for me to connect with her as a reader. If you read this new one, I’m curious to know how you think it compares.

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