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I’ve been reading so much lately! I’m going to list everything I can, working backwards. I am almost positive I am missing something, but I can always fill you in later. This list is actually missing five other books I had to read for work, middle grade and YA novels that account for a bit of a gap in adult reading in July.
Tender Points by Amy Berkowitz: I have a relatively new membership to Emily Books, which sends subscribers a “weird book by a woman” every month. This is my genre, so I’m pretty psyched about it. Tender Points is a personal essay with a fragmented structure and poetic cross genre feel. About the writer’s struggle with fibromyalgia, a disease that largely affects women, as well as rape, both her own, her friends’ and broader rape culture, Berkowitz has a very specific, moving yet unsentimental, take on the female body. Placed in literary, historical, medical, artistic and personal context, her narrative is both particular and universal.
Rich and Pretty by Rumaan Alam: in which a dude from Oberlin excels at writing about the friendship between two Vassar girls. I blew through this book and really enjoyed it. It is entirely about the interpersonal relationship between two friends–everything else that happens or exists in the world of the book is to inform that central dynamic–and I think this book proves that one doesn’t need more than that. (Subtext of this paragraph is me wordlessly shouting at every agent/editor/etc. who thinks nothing happens in my stories).
Problems by Jade Sharma: This is the first Emily Book I read and the first one they published on their new imprint with Coffee House Press. I knocked it out in a day, and appreciated a lot about the pace and honesty of the narrative.
A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki: This book is a total marvel. I can’t even imagine how Ozeki wrote it–it seems too complicated, too ingenious, too thoroughly brilliant to have come out of a human mind. A woman in remote Canada finds a Japanese school girl’s diary on the beach and their lives become intertwined, though they never meet. World War II, the tsunami, the dot com bubble, suicide, Buddhist nuns, a lost cat, Alzeheimer’s, and more–it sounds like a lot but everything is just in its place and utterly perfect. A book that defies description and should be read immediately.
The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe: This book is a historical fiction best seller-type, not the kind of book I would usually read, but it is by a woman who was a year ahead of me at Vassar, and since I was headed to the beach for a few days with my Vassar besties, we all decided to read it and discuss. It actually was great. About the first African American woman to attend Vassar in the 1890s–she “passed” and was eventually outed by her deceitful roommate–the story was fascinating in a way that would appeal to lots of readers. The details about turn-of-the-last-century Vassar are probably interesting in general, but were extremely thrilling for us to read about. Some of the traditions maintained a hundred years later, some had disappeared over the years. It was fascinating to read the historical notes at the end and see where Tanabe had taken liberties (the central romance of the book, for instance–not real! The deceitful roommate’s deceit was real, but nothing else about her was) both from a historical standpoint, but also from a narrative one. It was obvious that had she written it just how it happened, the story wouldn’t have had the same page-turner qualities. It took a bit to get used to the style–sort of wordy, Edith Wharton-y, and overly-described–but once I accepted it, it made sense for the book and I really liked it!
Some Possible Solutions by Helen Phillips: These short stories by Helen Phillips are not to be missed. I loved every one of them. She is a writer all her own. Her stories always follow their own logic, and it is a logic no one else could have come up with. Speculative fiction isn’t necessarily my thing, but it is when she does it. I can only hope that she continues to publish books at the rate she is–her novel, The Beautiful Bureaucrat came out just a year ago or so.