Reading Lately: February 2020

03.18.2020

I'm writing this March 22, 2020, and February feels like it was years ago. In retrospect it was a blissfully tactile month! We visited Cancun for my birthday, which was fantastic despite being very different than we had expected. The best part was when we got back spring felt within reach - the worst of winter behind us. Little did we know the world would shut down in mere weeks. Here's what I read, in blissful ignorance:

Things You Save in a Fire: 5/5

Katherine Center

This is the modern romance I always hope to read but never quite get. The heroine, Cassie Hanwell, is a firefighter who through personal and professional circumstance has to leave her friendly Texas firehouse for an openly sexist, old-school new gig in Boston. Highly accomplished characters tend to be annoying and unrealistic - practically every high school graduate in literature seems to go to Yale or Harvard regardless of how smart they actually are. But Cassie is genuinely inspiring, both in her smarts, her calm during emergencies, and her physical strength. She renewed my belief I could someday do a pull-up (someday...in the future), at the same time being genuinely likable and flawed. She's the absolute star of the book, and her crush on a fellow Boston firefighter is downright adorable.

RIYL: American Ninja Warrior, 'Miss Congeniality' before the makeover scene

Nine Perfect Strangers: 4/5

Liane Moriarty

If you've read and loved Liane before - particularly her grittier works, like "Big Little Lies" or "The Husband's Secret" - "Nine Perfect Strangers" may be a bit disappointing. It has so many hallmarks of Moriarty's work: the upper-middle class Australian setting, the complex and underestimated characters (particularly women), the 'dramatic' final scene, though more of a whimper than a bang. Luckily what I love about her books are the fabulously compelling characters, which this had in spades (well...twelve of them at least. "WHY NOT NINE?" You'll see). While NPS was a slow burn, I was strung along wanting to know what would happen to the secretly lonely romance author, the just-dumped soccer mom, and most of all the crazy Russian guru. Despite the lack of plot there's mounting tension from the first chapter that keeps you guessing until the climax, which honestly for me excused the disappointment of that important scene. It's a great read, better if you don't compare it to the author's other novels.

RIYL: Articles about Goop or Theranos, crystals, "Little Fires Everywhere"

The Authenticity Project: 4/5

Clare Pooley

Another ensemble, multiple narrator read, my favorite part of "The Authenticity Project" is that the plot never went quite where I expected. It starts out like so many saccharine, feel good novels, and then morphs into something entirely different by adding layers of complexity and nuance to each character. Even the most sympathetic cast members are deeply flawed in the end, and those who claim "authenticity" find it much harder to practice than preach. This book also has a much more optimistic view of millenial culture than some of it's Brit-fic contemporaries, which makes it less exasperating and more balanced. It's hardly a 'must-read', but you won't regret reading it if you panic-buy it at the airport.

RIYL: Less (The book, not the word), The Lido, 'Love, Actually', journaling

I Like to Watch: 3/5

Emily Nussbaum

While the prose of Nussbaum's essays is delightful, the content is sadly hollow if you haven't seen (or closely watched) the TV shows she discusses. This seems obvious in hindsight, but given I grew up watching TV about 10 years after Nussbaum our cultural references and holy grail TV shows are just slightly off from each other. For example, 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' was the show that changed TV for Nussbaum, while I didn't see it until I was rewatching old shows on Hulu earlier this year. Needless to say it had a different impact for each of us. I think if you watch a lot of TV, and are either 30+ or were allowed to watch The Sopranos before you were 10, this book will scratch itches you didn't know you had. It'll make you rethink the shows you love, give you a new perspective, and put the show in it's cultural context. But if you're not? Your time is better spent watching 'The Good Place' (EVEN IF YOU'RE A BOOK PERSON NOT A TV PERSON TRUST ME).

The Bromance Book Club: 3/5

Lyssa Kay Adams

I'm starting to think I don't like romance novels. But if I don't like romance novels, what do I like? This book made me question who I am.

While chick lit rarely claims to be realistic, this book is pure fantasy. It's not unpleasant but it is distracting, like a superhero movie with bad CGI. When baseball all-star Gavin Scott learns his wife (and mother of his 2 daughters) has been faking orgasms for years he's understandably upset, though more about his ego than about her. The fight breaks their already strained relationship, and the rest of the book follows him trying to fight his macho instincts and win her back. In general I like the arc of rebuilding a broken relationship more than the hate-to-love trope, but the characters weren't especially likable and the whole book reeked of gender norms. The worst part of the book was it's conceit: a group of male pro-athletes who read romance novels and teach each other how to treat women based on those romance novels. The bit wouldn't be so bad if it was written more honestly, and less like an Adam Sandler movie- Isn't it soooooo ridiculous to think of grown men reading romance novels? Hahaha ūüėź.

I may be harshing the mellow too much - this book was below expectations, but overall was a perfectly vanilla modern romance.

The Nature Fix: 3/5

Florence Williams

This book is a very long, citation laden way of saying "Go outside". It's central question is captivating: why is nature so good for us? But the dearth of answers is unsatisfying - we only know all the ways in which it's good for us, but it's hard to determine precisely why. For example we know, ‚ú®scientifically‚ú®, that the smell of eucalyptus and lavender are calming, but can only guess at why those plants cause that reaction in our brains. I'm all about the message of the book, and about making access to nature a right and not a privilege. But honestly, I read this a month ago and cannot tell you one thing I remember from it.

A Walk in the Woods: 3/5

Bill Bryson

After loving The Body: A Guide for Occupants and Shakespeare: The World as Stage by Bryson, I felt betrayed by A Walk in the Woods. Firstly I do not care for Katz, Bryson's ill-prepared and impulsive companion, at all. I do not understand why Bryson tolerated his irrational decisions, lack of endurance, or very presence at all. More than Katz, this book is missing what I love so much about Bryson's other books: fascinating stories doused with his own brand of insight. The book felt two-dimensional compared to "The Body" or "Shakespeare", merely an account of what happened instead of a commentary on nature and the human spirit. You're better off reading the appropriately more famed Wild by Cheryl Strayed.