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All the sweet books I read on vacation

19 Oct

fullsizeoutput_1e8eReturning from vacation tends to engender three questions: How was it? Where did you go? What did you do? For me—freshly returned this week from a five-day sojourn to Vermont—the answer to No. 3 is almost always “I read all of the books.”

My vacay book binges aren’t just the byproduct of fast reading. They’re a result of devoting entire glorious days to the task—turning off the TV, hiding my phone, putting on my comfy pants, and settling into a cushy armchair, preferably one facing some sort of relaxing outdoor vista. In Vermont, it was the pillow-padded wicker deck chair of a cabin on Lake Champlain (at right). Here’s what I got done:

PulitzersThe Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
The sympathizer (small s) is the novel’s narrator, a half-French, half-Vietnamese communist double agent stationed in the US after the Fall of Saigon. He’s astute, insightful, and wry, and this book isn’t just good; it’s important. [4 PAPERCUTS]

Funny Girl, by Nick Hornby
In 1960s London, an upstart actress named Barbara just wants to be the next Lucille Ball. She stumbles into an audition that changes her life, and is soon thrown into the spotlight as TV star Sophie Straw, alongside an extremely British quartet of male colleagues (the costar, the writers, and the producer). As with all Hornby novels, I can already picture the movie. [3 PAPERCUTS]

Annihilation_by_jeff_vandermeerAnnihilation, by Jeff VanderMeer
A biologist, an anthropologist, a psychologist, and a surveyor walk into Area X—the jokes write themselves. They are the 12th in a series of expeditions to the quarantined region; past participants have died, disappeared, or never been the same. This book is like Michael Crichton’s Sphere on mushrooms. (Alex Garland’s film adaptation comes out in February.) [3 PAPERCUTS]

Modern Lovers & The Vacationers, by Emma Straub
Two enjoyable family dramas that, fun fact, both have a character who hates bacon. [3 PAPERCUTS]

The Time Traveler’s Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger
I ran out of books on my last day in VT, and had promised myself I wouldn’t read anything on a screen. The cabin had a copy of this one (naturally), so I read it (naturally) and sobbed uncontrollably while looking out at the lake (naturally). The title is kind of self-explanatory—he time travels, they’re in love… you get it—but as books forced upon you by circumstance go, one could do far worse. [3 PAPERCUTS]

Sweetbitter_mini Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler 

The perfect book for my first day back in New York (but not yet back at work). Danler’s debut is a coming-of-age story about a 22-year-old waitress at a fictional version of Union Square Cafe (the OG fancy restaurant of a major New York restaurateur; Danler once worked there). The novel’s descriptions of food and sex and NYC are wonderful, but every character is a terrible person and I would not like to be friends with any of them. [3 PAPERCUTS]

I have a crush on this book

23 Aug

If you ever need a gut-check on the scope of your own fatalism, crack the spine on Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem.

The first in a trilogy, TTBP was published in China in 2008, and translated into English for the first time in 2014. It kicks off in the 1960s, during China’s Cultural Revolution, a period in which academics and scientists were punished (killed, even) for their alleged infractions against Communism. But this is just the tip of the three-body iceberg. What surfaces is a geopolitical novel carrying itself as a sci-fi novel (see: World War Z) that explores what might happen on Earth if and when an advanced alien civilization were to make contact. But like, with lots of physics. Lots of physics. Continue reading

I did not love I Love Dick

27 Jul

30229500When a book’s cover touts it as “the best book about men and women written in the last century,” you nominate it for your book club.

Or at least that’s what I was thinking when I put forward Chris Kraus’ I Love Dick for my own. It’s what I was thinking until about 50 pages in, when I realized I’d made a huge mistake.

I really wanted to like this book. A semi-fictional retelling of Kraus’ IRL obsessions with professor Dick Hebdige, the memoir/novel follows Kraus as she and her husband Sylvère meet an artist named Dick and, after an objectively uneventful dinner, become obsessed with him. They begin writing letters to Dick, which Kraus ultimately presents to him as an art project of sorts. While the Dick obsession eventually takes its toll on Kraus and Sylvère’s marriage, and Kraus and Dick do eventually sleep together, the majority of ILD is devoted to these awkward encounters and ambiguous exchanges, and to Kraus’ increasingly cringe-worthy attempts to get Dick’s attention. Continue reading

Polar bears would write books about climate change

7 Jun

When you imagine a polar bear these days, two images spring to mind. One is the contended and playful bear of Coca-Cola commercials, a bear that dances with penguins and wears a scarf and enjoys an endless supply of glass-bottled soda. The other image is from the real world (or at least the TV series Planet Earth) and it is much sadder. This bear straddles a too-small ice floe that’s bobbing across vast swaths of melted ocean. This bear loses more of his natural habitat every day.

If polar bears could talk, I like to think they’d feel mildly insulted by this binary, and eager to expound upon the diverse array of experiences that truly embody being bear. I think Yoko Tawada likes to thinks that, too, because the ursine characters in her Memoirs of a Polar Bear can expound. They can also perform, live among humans, and write articulate analyses on everything from geopolitics to literature. They author books and speak at conferences and flirt shamelessly with arrogant sea lions.  Continue reading

I read KFC’s chick[en] lit so you don’t have to

10 May

If there’s one thing I love about today’s feminism, it’s the budding objectification of male brand mascots. Sure, the Brawny Paper Towel Man has been sexing it up in supermarket aisles since 1974, but it took another four decades before America was ready to ogle Mr. Clean’s butt. And Brawny bro was just replaced by a woman anyway.

This Mother’s Day brings with it a new addition to the sexy manscot canon (the sexy manscanon?)—a youthful and dashing Colonel Sanders. In honor of moms everywhere, KFC has released a romance novella called Tender Wings of Desire… because apparently Mother’s Day is big for fried-chicken sales. Continue reading

John Douglas is a murder whisperer, and David Fincher is a very smart man

4 May

As mass-market paperbacks go, John Douglas’ Mind Hunter is a joy to behold. The cover features a soft-focus photo of Douglas, a benign middle-aged white man wearing a trench coat with a popped collar. Half of Douglas’ face is overlaid with thin red concentric circles that emanate from the red eyeball of what might be… a dog? Unclear. Bought used, my copy also has a much-broken spine and yellowing pages. It looks like it came from a supermarket aisle reached via time machine.  Continue reading

Three books for the ladeez

28 Mar

Perhaps by chance, perhaps as some sort of subliminal political backlash, I’ve read a handful of books with fabulous female perspectives lately. Let me tell you about them. Continue reading