Brief reviews of books by contemporary authors I read this month — along with photos of what I ate while reading. The list is ordered by the level my enjoyment:
Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang (Lenny, 2017)
“All I had wanted for so long was to be part of a family that wasn’t mine.”
You guys, this book is so good. Sour Heart tells interconnected stories of girlhood as Chinese immigrants in NYC — the raw, unvarnished, gritty stories completely unlike, say, The Joy Luck Club. Four families packed into one room with rats and roaches, volatile mothers who threaten abandonment and suicide, alcoholism, adultery, claustrophobic closeness and latchkey kid loneliness — plus a lot of love and beauty and desire and survival. Pick this one up.
Good Morning, Midnight by Jean Rhys (Constable, 1939)
“One day, quite suddenly, when you’re not expecting it, I’ll take a hammer from the folds of my dark cloak and crack your skull like an egg-shell.”
How have I not read any Jean Rhys until now?! Her dark, dissolute style is my new obsession. Loved this story of a woman who returns to Paris to battle the disappointments of the past and paranoia of the present. The ending is chilling —
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls (Scribner, 2005)
“I lived in a world that at any moment could erupt into fire. It was the sort of knowledge that kept you on your toes.”
I loved this poignant memoir — Jeannette’s parents are so irresponsible, fucked up, and abusive, yet also loving, steadfast, and wise in their own strange ways. The memoir’s also real eye opener that makes you rethink your beliefs about all sorts of social issues: poverty, work, self-improvement — even literacy and reading. I’m now curious about the movie —
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong (Henry Holt, 2017)
“What I want to know is what counted for something and what counted not at all.”
I thought Goodbye, Vitamin would be a rather depressing read — after all it’s about a 30 year-old woman fresh from a bad breakup who moves back in with her parents to help out with her father who has Alzheimer’s — but the novel is actually full of love and forgiveness and humor. It reminded me to enjoy the small serendipities in life — both the ones that bond you to people for life and the ones that momentarily connect you to strangers in the grocery store.
Isadora by Amelia Gray (FSG, 2017)
“The silver tray of his heart holds two brown tincture bottles, each offering their own opiate. The first is marked Desire and the other Virtue; one clouds the mind and the other turns the stomach, but they have the same general effect in the end.”
Aren’t those lines a beautiful way of describing competing wants? I got to interview Amelia about her novel based on the dancer Isadora Duncan’s life. Here’s my full review of Isadora, along with a giveaway —
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (Random House, 2017)
“Doubt will fester as long as we live.”
I picked up Lincoln in the Bardo knowing nothing about it, just because I’m a fan of George Saunders’s short stories — so the novel surprised me and brought up a lot of questions too, namely: Why a slightly goofy, sort of historical yet largely paranormal story about the death of Lincoln’s young son? I mean, George’s stories are so varied — He really could have written anything. I wonder what made him choose this setting, topic, and style over others. Did it somehow choose him, or was this a deliberate decision on his part? Apparently he talks about this a bit on podcast interviews; I’ll need to listen to some of those —
Touch by Courtney Maum (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017)
“All these humans with their disappointments and their desperate hearts, but it’s so much easier, so convenient, to blame emotional distance on a lack of time.”
I think my expectations for Touch might have been a touch too high. I liked it on a conceptual level — this idea of a screen-addicted, increasingly isolated society longing to return to simple human, physical connection — but I found the message a bit heavy handed, and thought the whole instant love thing between the protagonist and the hot younger guy too pat and easy. Isn’t real life — real touch — messier? In a good way?
Happy Gut by Vincent Pedre (William Morrow, 2015)
Among the foods I can’t really eat right now: dairy, eggs, gluten, almonds, and alcohol. That’s what I discovered after doing the Happy Gut program — an elimination diet plus gut health protocol I have mixed feelings about. Full review with all the details of my personal food issues here —