The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
We Were Liars – E. Lockhart
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – Jon Ronson
Church of Marvels – Leslie Parry
We Should All Be Feminists – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Alex + Ada: Volume 1 – Jonathan Luna & Sarah Vaughn
Hausfrau – Jill Alexander Essbaum
Continuing in the style of my beloved Nick Hornby, here is a review of my reading month this February. I must say, it was pretty fantastic! Notably, I did begin the month finishing two books I had assumed I would finish in January (and therefore included them in my January in Review) but didn’t. Then I moved straight to We Were Liars in hopes of reading something extremely gripping and fast paced. We Were Liars shook grounds when it released last year. The marketing campaign was incredible; ads, reviews, videos in which nothing about the book was actually said. All we knew were that it was about a family who spent their summers on a private island, and they were liars. If someone asked you about the book, you were to lie. The fact that the book was shrouded in ambiguity drives people like me crazy. So I devoured it in two sittings. I guess I will have to keep up the tradition of not telling you anything about it, but I will say that it wasn’t for me. Having said that, so many others adored it, so don’t let me dissuade you!
Around this same time, my fiancé and I went for a winter stroll around our neighbourhood. I stopped in at a used bookstore to peruse and came across an old mass market edition of The Handmaid’s Tale, which I have been coveting for a while now. I feel toward Margaret Atwood as I would imagine Tibetan mountaineers feel toward Mount Everest. This national wonder is right in my backyard, but it’s still gigantic, mystical but I’m still a little afraid of it. Yes, Mount Everest is scarier than Margaret Atwood (I’ve actually met her before!) but the feeling is still there. What if I end up being the one Canadian who doesn’t enjoy her work? Though, given all the love she receives, I highly doubt this will happen, but I’ve always been a little worried. However, for the $5 I paid for this awesome paperback from decades ago, I am going to finally find out!
I also started an advanced copy of Jon Ronson’s new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Before this, I only knew Jon Ronson as the guy who wrote The Psychopath Test (which I assumed was a test you took to determine if you were a psychopath and which I stayed very far away from because I’m the kind of person who will watch House and then convince myself that because I had a headache that morning, I clearly have an inoperable brain tumour). I was (obviously) very wrong. Ronson is a journalist who I now greatly admire. His previous books include more than just my scary psychopath book (which I confess, I bought this morning.. but it’s March so hang in there). He wrote the book Men Who Stare at Goats (which later became the George Clooney film) and other accomplished works. This book in particular centers around the idea of shame and how we as a community both respond and react to its usage and existence. I loved this book. It was one of the most compulsively readable works of Non Fiction I have ever read. Ronson’s style is approachable, objective and even tender. He researches and speaks with a selection of people who have been shamed for everything from an under-the-breath comment, to a deadly, drunken car ride. He gives them a voice, humanizes them and shows the ways in which lives can be torn apart (and in some cases, put back together) by public shaming; either via a court sentence, or even Twitter. Though I did find the subject matter interesting, I think I more enjoyed Ronson’s writing and character. I was glad that he let his personality seep into the story instead of just blankly delivering facts and impartial commentary.
Next came a very long and crappy week. I hardly read at all, because my mind was elsewhere. I took that Sunday to decompress (and wrote a huge blog on that process here!) I decided the best thing for me was to curl up in bed and read all day. I forgot about my crap week, I cleaned, I baked and then I settled in with Church of Marvels, also an advanced copy, from debut author Leslie Parry. This was the PERFECT book to read all at once (okay, I read the first 30 pages a few days before, but .. most of it!) The first half of the book was mostly set-up. It was delicately written and introduced a group of characters with no seeming attachment to each other at all. I found myself wondering how Parry was planning on working everything together when it hit me like a brick wall. One sentence ..and the entire book changed. I devoured the rest of the book like a crazy person. I read at super speed (for me, at least) to find out what would happen to the characters. I now trust Parry with plot weaving for the rest of her writing career! This book became the most intricately woven, beautifully crafted spider web I’ve read in a long time!
After this, I read a very small book, which is actually an adapted piece from a TEDx talk by the wonderful Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie called We Should All Be Feminists. Besides telling you that this is a powerful little book that packs a major punch (and that you should totally read and watch it), I won’t say much more. This week I intend on speaking about this MUCH more in depth in a separate post!
Next I read Alex + Ada, Volume 1 which is such a promising first volume to a new series. I’ve been looking forward to this comic for ages and read the majority of it on the subway home from work. The story of a futuristic world where artificial intelligence exists in various ways: workers, home helpers and even lovers. Our main character has recently broken up with his girlfriend and is devastated. When his grandmother gifts him an android as a cure for his loneliness, Alex is ultimately frustrated. He can’t look at this woman who is just as real looking as any of his friends, and accept that she has no free will or personality. He can’t stand the way she follows him around the house and laughs only at things he laughs at. Until one day Alex meets a group of people who may be able to “unlock” Ada, and give her back her individualism. I can’t wait for Volume 2!
Lastly, I read the highly anticipated Hausfrau. Jill Alexander Essbaum is a poet. An erotic poet. And it shows. This is a lovely written book, but the emotions you have toward it will be much different. This book is an emotional roller-coaster. Anna is a housewife, who has never settled into her Swiss home, which she left America for nearly a decade before. Though she loves her kids and her husband (or, as she calls it, a “version” of love) she is extremely unhappy. The novel is spattered with Anna’s memories, her thoughts and sessions with her psychoanalyst. Anna begins to have affairs.. many of them. And as her life spirals out of control, you will feel frustration, sadness, empathy, and dread. In creating a character who felt as real as the skin on your own body, this was an incredible accomplishment. It left me .. feeling. And that is the sign of a great book!
And thus concludes my reading month! I read Non Fiction, Literary Fiction, Young Adult, Comics and (what my coworker perfectly described as) a Manifesto. I can’t wait to see how things go next month! (Though.. spoiler: it’s March 1st and I’ve already bought a few things, so there’s that!)