Reading Lately: April 2019


Wallflower at the Orgy

Nora Ephron

This was the first collection of Nora Ephron essays I read, and while it was fine it didn't live up to my expectations. My favorite movie while growing up was 'When Harry Met Sally', and as a young woman trying to understand my own femininity and place in the world I thought Ephron would be perfect for me. Instead her essays felt dated and boring - I found I didn't connect much with her magazine habits and beauty trend adventures. I wasn't completely turned off, and can see the great writer beneath the fluffy topics. She's sharp and confident, and able to describe the things you know intimately but could never quite find the right words for. As you'll see this didn't turn me off of Ephron altogether, but it's not what I'd recommend.

I Feel Bad About My Neck

Nora Ephron

Ah, this is the Nora Ephron I expected. While still a collection of essays this set was much more reflective and autobiographical. Ephron discusses everything from beauty standards to food trends to finding an apartment in New York, and while her references and tone felt dated I loved reading about a passionate, working mom who wasn't victimizing or complaining, but observing and appreciating (but also without being goody-goody? I think only people from New York can pull this off). I feel like I'm describing it very well, so I'll just say: if you like WHMS, give this one a go.

Author's Note: I've also got Ephron's "I Remember Nothing" in my queue, but it'll have to wait until May

The Library Book

Susan Orlean

Very overrated. I had high hopes for this one - I thought it'd be a mystery for us library lovers, a thrilling profile of the man who set the Los Angeles Central Library on fire and why, as well as a love letter to libraries themselves. It was both those things yet was very unsatisfying. I found Harry Peak was not an interesting or compelling villain, and that gushing about libraries was more like trying to convince me libraries were great. I kept thinking "I already agree with you where do you think I got this book?". Don't believe the hype - listen to My Favorite Murder instead, or show your support for libraries by getting a different book.

Conversations with Friends

Sally Rooney

Goodness gracious I had a severe case of overhype this April. Maybe it's me, or maybe there just weren't that many new books to gush about....regardless, I thought this was the worst of the overhyped reads, and perhaps also the most hyped. Everyone is talking about Sally Rooney, and I do not get it. Her characters are moody and don't make sense, their interactions are brief and tense. The book felt grey and depressing, the novel equivalent of a mid-January day. I suppose that's the appeal, but it's not for me. I'd see the movie if they made it with Saoirse Ronan, but besides that I think this is it for me and Rooney.


Candice Carty-Williams

What I liked most about this book was how it snuck up on you. Throughout the book Queenie finds herself in increasingly terrible situations, and often centering on her being an overweight black woman in the UK. It begins with a breakup with her loving boyfriend, and spirals from there to getting raped (and not feeling like she could say no to a man she was flirting with) to having a miscarriage and losing her job. Told from her perspective though the reader understands every decision she makes. This book helped me understand what it's like to be a woman of color, and how the things we judge people for (how could you have a miscarriage and not know the father?) are in reality nuanced stories and could easily have happened to us. I loved that Queenie never felt sorry for herself, yet how she called out racist and sexist policy and behavior when she saw it. This book changed how I see the world and understand blackness in the UK/US - can't recommend highly enough.

Happy City

Charles Montgomery

Life changer alert: this book has completely changed my life. It's not an earth-shattering, ground-breaking kind of book but definitely the right book read at the right time. As Eli and I move back to Portland we've been thinking about how to 'shape' our lives there. This book focuses on the design of cities and how city planners can help make their residents happier, but throughout are things residents can do to make their cities and communities happier. Reading this really drove home that Eli and I don't want to own a car (see what I did there?) and that we should structure our lives in Portland around not owning one. It got us thinking about how we spend our time and our money, what things are important to us, and what our goals are (not suburbia!). On top of all that, the book was well-researched and well-written, and held my interest the whole time. Highly, highly recommend (especially if you're moving or have another big change ahead in your life!).

So Lucky

Nicola Griffith

I'm not usually one for sad books, particularly at such a stressful time in my life. This one captivated me though, and the first-person descriptions of having multiple sclerosis were vivid and haunting. I loved the main character's voice and perspective - the everyday battle against her own body, and not wanting to be a victim but still needing help. Her narrative gave me empathy for people with MS and other illnesses, and helped me see that people aren't defined by their illness or disabilities. I also loved the narrators disorientation, and thought the first-person perspective of fear and helplessness (even when it wasn't due to her MS!) was visceral. This was also a great audiobook! A tough topic, but 100% worth reading.

George and Lizzie

Nancy Pearl

This book didn't really come together for me until the end. It was pretty ho-hum, a perfect slightly-boring antidote to my crazy-hectic-moving-to-Portland life at the moment, but nothing to write home about. It's a slow burn, but all the low-lying conflict in the book builds to a crescendo at the very end that makes the characters and this long-winded story rewarding. It shows the complexity and variability of relationships over time well. It's about coming to terms with your past in order to be happy now, and about living in the Midwest, and about what it means to have a happy marriage. I thought this would be another disappointment on my list, but by the end I was riveted! Tentatively recommend, if you can make it 5/6ths through a boring read.