What I’ve Been Reading, July 2019

Ah summer break is here at last, the summer break that will never end because I’ve graduated now, Forever Summer—and I’ve been reading a ton of books!

Kid Gloves by Lucy Knisley — Kid Gloves is the latest graphic novel memoir from Knisley, describing her experience of pregnancy, and everything leading up to it. What’s great is that, in addition to the conception-to-birth pregnancy narrative that we’re all fairly familiar with, Knisley also describes the process of trying to get pregnant, of having miscarriages, and, crucially, her internal state through all of this. Kid Gloves is a very vulnerable, honest book, which spends a great deal of time getting across how Lucy feels about the pregnancy at various stages. Just viewed externally, pregnancy is a pretty dramatic process, but (as Knisley discusses in the book) the experience of the person actually carrying the child is often sidelined in mainstream pregnancy narratives. Not so here.

In addition to her own narrative, Knisley adds in interstitial bits of pregnancy research, trying to debunk some of the misconceptions around pregnancy, and shed light on some lesser known truths. Sometimes this research feels very integral to the personal narrative (the section focusing on miscarriage myths, for instance, spends a lot of time trying to assuage the irrational guilt women who have miscarried often feel), while other sections of research feel kind of inconsequential. Like, pregnancy superstitions or the medicalization of labor might be interesting, but they seem disconnected from the rest of the book in places. Something New had sections like that too, but overall the tone of that book was a lot lighter, so it all felt of a piece.Read More »

What I’ve Been Reading, August 2016

Whew. It’s been awhile since I did one of these, but here goes.

Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor – Lagoon is a book about Lagos, Nigeria, and what happens when aliens arrive there. It’s a sprawling portrait of the city, its people, its landmarks, and the ecosystem it was built around. It focuses most on three individuals—a marine biologist, a soldier, and a rap star, who all find themselves wandering out to the beach shortly after the aliens arrive, and being sucked into the lagoon.

The book has an enormous ensemble of characters, and still manages to have all of them distinct enough that you can keep track. It also does an excellent job of describing the city, which becomes even more important as the book goes on, and parts of the city literally come alive. The story twists and turns without a clear direction, but it’s a lot of fun following those twists, and the book is constantly introducing new and interesting characters and ideas. A testament to how well characterized everything in his story is—it’s been over three months since I listened to it, and I can still remember multiple characters and events that are only mentioned in a single chapter.

Also I listened to the audiobook of it, over the course of the long drive from Iowa City back to Tallahassee, and the narrators (a male and a female) are fantastic.

Seriously though, as I write this description, I keep remembering characters and details from the book, like the guys running 409 scams, and the rapper from Atlanta, and the fantastically entertaining and dislikable preacher. That’s because it’s awesome. Nnedi Okorafor is awesome. Check this book out.Read More »

What I’ve Been Reading, September 2015

Hey look! My first ever review-type post. Maybe I could review these book-by-book, and dedicate entire posts to each, but I don’t feel like it. Here’s what I’ve been reading.

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams – I have mixed feelings about this book. I loved Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and I was eager to see how the story would wrap up in this one. I’m not going to recap what these books are about, because you should already know, and it doesn’t matter.

Like the first one, the book is hysterical, full of wonderful pithy gems and subversive creativity. It’s also full of casual nihilism and comic brutality, which I so enjoyed in the first one. The repeated plot device of mortal peril was tiring though, and the randomness became dull. The characters are very reactionary, but don’t take action on any of their own desires (whatever those are, I couldn’t get a firm sense of it for any of them.) It’s definitely worth a read though, and I’m definitely going to read the next one some time—just not as solid as the first book.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor – This book excels in every way I’d hoped, and in ways I didn’t even expect. The world is one I haven’t seen, complicated, surprising, and beautiful. Attempting to explain it wouldn’t do it justice, so I’ll just name three items found within it: camel racing, eleventh-year rites, and juju. The protagonist is terrific as well. There’s a tendency in fantasy books to have a Strong Female Character—and no matter how well developed, you can sense that the point of her is to be a Strong Female Character who Breaks Expectations. Onyesonwu, the protagonist of this book, is not that. She’s driven, arrogant, impassioned, and incredibly human. The book is in first-person, and her voice and personality are gripping.

The narrative, driven by that character, keeps a good pace, and twists and turns wonderfully. The book is a hero’s journey, but one that rebukes cliches, and feels fresh. On top of all this, the book is unrestrainedly honest. Even in a section of the book where Onyesonwu comes across a wholly different society, one that’s almost utopic, the sorcerer of the town is still a sexist. I adored this book from start to finish, and can’t wait to pick up more from Okorafor.

Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens – Dombey and Son is a difficult book to review, because it covers so much dramatic ground in its 900 plus pages. The books chiefly follows Paul Dombey, his son, and his daughter—Dombey being the head of the firm Dombey and Son—but there are a lot of other characters and subplots. Rather than tell you what it’s about (I’m not sure I could pin it down precisely), I’ll tell you that the book has both a shakespearean cast of characters and shakespearean plotting, wrought epically across 52 chapters, in which the most minor side-scenes and persons all eventually come to fruition.

Dickens’s style is, as with any classic writer, striking. At times it’s incredibly descriptive, at others dryly hysterical, and most often it’s both. The minor characters had me constantly laughing as well, while the major characters were compelling, and thoroughly examined. The treatment of these characters, their development, and the journeys they go on are as emotionally moving as the best written plays. Have I made enough theatrical references? It’s because this book handles characters as well as theatre does, which is as high a mark as saying a book handles action as well as a graphic novel does. There were certainly chapters that dragged, or twists I found a bit hard to buy, but overall I had a great time reading the book.

So, that’s what I’ve been reading. Since I read a ton of books at once, I’ve actually been reading more than this, but this is what I’ve finished recently. Next I’ll probably talk about Little Dorrit—another Dickens book—Foundation’s Edge by Isaac Asimov, and maybe Don Quixote by this obscure guy you’ve probably never heard of.