The Year of the Book

Book Club has really helped me engage in reading again. It has prompted me to look at all the Indie Book lists. It has forced me into spending time thinking/writing/planning books to read. Deciding what would be good for the group to read vs. what I should read alone vs. what Jerimiah and I should read together, that sort of thing. But mainly it’s helped me read more. I’m already three books in this year, halfway through number four, and about to start my March Book Club book and it’s only March. That’s good for me because that means I will be at five books at the year by the end of the month, and for someone who averages a book a month it sets me up for success. Yay me! I’m not bragging here. I’m not trying to start a competition. Unless you are into that, then yeah, I’ll compete with you in book reading. Not exercising or tracking our food or anything like that. But I will compete on book reading. And you will lose. Bring it, losers!

Okay, whew, sorry I got off topic. I wanted to tell you about the three books I have already read this year and what I thought about them because I dunno, people who read blogs are usually readers, and if you haven’t read these three, very different books, you might want to. Or you might want to steer clear of them, it all depends on whether you trust me or not. Well, do ya? Do ya trust me? No, you’re right. It’s too soon. Read the reviews I am giving first. Now, it’s important to remember that I am WAY behind in books. Some of these books are “old” in that they came out many moons ago, but I’m playing catch up. And I read one of them because a friend told me about it, and I’m not sure how I missed it all these years ago. Also, I am not, nor have I ever been a good reviewer of books. But let’s not worry about that, and just dig in.

  1. The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny

Jerimiah and I read this book together in January as sort of a precursor to book club. He knew he wanted to be part of my book club, but didn’t feel very confident reading the kind of stuff my friend Julie and I were talking about reading. Julie also has an MA in English, so he was feeling a little worried about fitting in considering an MBA doesn’t really set you up for literary success. So I found a book I thought we both might like that isn’t too “hard” to read. We’d just come back from a whirlwind trip to NYC over the holidays (a place we both love immensely) so I thought what a fun theme this would be.

The Nest is set in NYC, and Sweeney does an amazing job of place here. I mean I don’t want to spoil anything, but there were so many parts of the book that Jerimiah and I were both like, “Oh my gosh, I love that place.” Brooklyn plays a huge part in the book, and there are also some great instances of museums you’ve probably been to, Ground Zero, and Central Park. In a sense, it’s a love letter to the city, while showcasing a wholly dysfunctional family. I mean like, you’re gonna feel better about your family after you read this.

Like I said before this isn’t a “hard” read, which is to say it isn’t so much literary as it is just plain fun. Jerimiah appreciated the constant movement in the book. There weren’t any real “laggy” parts, and it seemed like around every corner there was a new surprise. It’s also told in multiple perspectives, namely the four Plumb siblings, with some you will love more than others. Fucking Leo. Ugh, that’s all I’m gonna say about that.

Jerimiah was happy with the end of the book. He liked what he called “a refreshing, unexpected turn.” I was pissed, and Julie (who read it after we did) literally had to skip parts because she was so mad at one of the characters. Two guesses who.

In the end, I’d say read it! It’s fun, and quick, and if you love NYC, or if you want to love NYC or if you have no idea what it’s like to have problems like the wealthy do (raising my hand) it’s like getting a glimpse inside a life you will never know. But again, don’t expect too much. Just fun! (You could argue that the big themes are money and power, but I really, really think there is more to it than that like love, so much love. Good and bad. But you know, you can argue with me if you want to.)

2. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Shit you guys, I’ve been putting this one off. Like I started it a few years back, when it first came out and people we’re talking about it all good and saying things like, “Find out how people really live in the Rust Belt” and that sort of thing. Julie heard about it too, but never read it. We had both opted for Tara Westover’s Educated in lieu of this book, and we were both like, “Yeah, that was a good decision.” But because we wanted a book we all at least knew about to start off book club, we went with Hillbilly Elegy. And it did give us a lot to talk about, namely how it was kinda bad, in the grand scheme of things.

I have to be honest here, when I first read the title, the whole title, I was a little like, hmmm. The claim that he could write a memoir of a whole culture kinda didn’t sit with me well. I’m a CNF writer, y’all know this, and yet I would never claim to write a memoir of an entire culture, because well, I don’t think it can be done. A history, sure. A anthropological examination, yeah. But a memoir? Mmmm. Again, fight me if you want to.

So right away I flipped to the back of the book to see his picture, and I didn’t like him. I know, I know, that’s fucked Missy. But I just got this really uppity vibe from him, and it only got worse. Like in introduction he basically humble brags the whole time. Oh, poor J.D. he joined the Marines and became very successful, then poor J.D. got into Yale Law School. Oh, poor J.D. got out of this cycle of poverty, aggression, and fear, and is now living in San Fran with his wife and two doggies, talking shit on his hometown. Oh, poor J.D. Seriously, I’m maybe not the best person to talk about this book.

BUT the actual memoir part, his life growing up in his family, was pretty compelling. It was more the stereotyping and political shit that I didn’t like. Especially the way he would suggest the problems, but have no solutions to them. Typical Republican, if you ask me. But I’ll let you figure that out on your own.

When I posted this to my FB account on Book Club night, with my beautiful charcuterie board I made to accompany our first meeting, I had some people who actually live in this area, the Kentucky/Ohio/Pennsylvania Rust Belt area, comment to tell me that they HATE him there. So that kinda made me happy. Cause they should. Should you read it? Sure. Yeah. It’s an “important” book, to some people. Or you know, skip. Read Educated instead. Or The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. Janesville, maybe, by Amy Goldstein, or even Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh.

Oh, but I did just see that there is a book out tilted: Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy and that book IS on my list.

3. Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem

I legit just found out this is being made into a movie, or was already made into a movie, or a series, or something. I only found out because when I was looking for this pic to steal from the internet it took me a long time to find the copy I read, because there is a new, fancier one out with the movie people. Then I got sidetracked, but not enough to learn about what is actually happening, just enough to be all, “The hell?! I just read it, give me a few years before I see the movie.” But in reality, I’m actually super pumped about the movie, cause even though I didn’t think I’d like it, I did.

This is a classic detective novel, which if you’re like me, you’re all what? Why? Hear me out, there is a very interesting character, well cast of characters, in this novel, mainly Lionel the “Human freakshow” who is an orphan with Tourettes Syndrome. For real.

This is ANOTHER book set in NYC, around real places that you may recognize, though to be fair, this is a seedier NYC, than what most of us are used to. But it is still really fun, and still the city plays such a lively part that you are sucked into it immediately.

The storyline is just complex enough for you to be all, “Wait, did I miss something?” and then figure out what you missed, then get back on track. It’s fun because Lionel is telling the story, but we are often taken off track into his actual mind, the one riddled with Tourette’s. It takes a few tries before you’re like, oh I get it. At least it did for me. Better readers might not need that extra time. That being said, it isn’t the world’s most complex story (see detective story above) but there are some common themes to work with, and some surprises that will keep you being like, “The hell, man?!” I’d actually be willing to read more from Lethem.

There you have it, my not so helpful review of books. But come on, you guys don’t come here for my real thoughts on literary shit, you come here for the fart jokes and country music references. And that’s why I love you.

On deck for book club this month is Crossing to Safety, another oldie that slipped by me, by all of us actually, and I’m super psyched for it. I’m also reading, How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas C. Foster, because some of my high school English teacher friends live and die by it, and I wanted to see what it was all about. So far, so good! Not a lot of new stuff, but he’s insightful and funny as hell, and I’m finding that I’m teaching Jackson (and Jerimiah) some of the “tricks of the trade” as it were, by using his examples. I can see why high school teachers (and students) love it!

So I dunno, go forth and read today. And no judging on what you read, as long as you don’t judge me either, assholes.

M.

PS… Book club is on the last Friday of the month, come join us for wine and maybe talking about the book!

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