Reading Lately: October 2019
October was a crazy month. I ran the Portland Half-Marathon, spoke at Puppetize PDX, started a DnD campaign (not as DM, just playing!), and of course went to a pumpkin patch. Everything we did was fun, and the weather in Portland was gorgeous. It's been a beautiful, wonderful, spooky October, and I'm admittedly sad to see it end. I'm also looking forward to Thanksgiving and more time with family though, so can hardly complain. This month's books were, overall, not great. I've maxed out my holds at the library and books are taking FOREVER to come in now (fuck publishers), so I'm ending up with books that happen to be available a bit more. Anywho, here's what I read:
Jane Steele: 4/5
Despite not having read Jane Eyre (which the novel is inspired by and frequently references) I found I connected a lot with this book, and mostly with it's heroine. Jane Steele, as her name suggests, is a strong-willed and righteous murderer - though she only murders horrible men who have wronged the women in their lives! So...it's kind of ok. She's like a 19th century English Dexter, although a bit more sympathetic. What I liked about Jane was how strong her relationships in the book were - her complex friendship with her best friend Clark, her protective instincts toward those who help her, and ultimately her love interest. Jane reads like living in the mind of a real person, with doubts and convictions and feelings all expressed throughout the book. It was fun to live in her crazy and curious world for a while, and I'd definitely read a sequel!
Okay, Fine, Whatever: 2/5
Honestly...this title feels appropriate. I wanted to like this more than I did, especially after reading about how hard Hameister takes criticism (I'm sorry!). But the book just didn't resonate with me. As someone with very mild anxiety I thought I could connect to someone overcoming their fears, and in Portland OR no less. It turns out Hameister and I don't share the same anxieties or coping mechanisms, and throughtout the book I mostly just thought "Oh thank God I'm not her". Don't worry, she gets a happy ending, and the book isn't as much of a downer as I'm making it out to be. If you are experiencing anxiety, or evaluating making a change in your life, I think this book would be more meaningful. It just wasn't for me.
This was a sweet but forgettable rom-com read. Nina Hill is an almost-great character, a cliche bookworm who struggles with her love life. What I liked most about Nina was what a strong network of female friends she had. From coworkers to her trivia team, Nina was introverted without being isolated. I also liked that the conflict in the book was both realistic....and towards the end a bit silly and off-the-rails 🙂. If you're looking for a palate-cleanser or an easy read, this is a fun one.
How to Bake Pi: 3.5/5
I loved the thesis of this book, my only complaint was that it was hammered home a few too many times. And for good reason, since most of us spend our entire childhoods learning that math is rigid, and strict, and hard. Cheng aims to break that misconception by demonstrating how math is creative and fun, how it's about breaking the rules of math and seeing what happens (like with imaginary numbers). She attempts to rebuild our understanding of what math is from the ground up using metaphors and real-world scenarios, and illustrates her points beautifully. This is a fantastic book for a teen or pre-teen wondering why they need to be in math class, or for anyone looking to add a little more math to their day-to-day.
The Dutch House: 3.5/5
There's a lot to like and appreciate about this book, but not a lot to love. This is classic Ann Patchett: a deeply human story about a perfectly normal family that, when you examine closely, isn't so normal. Her characters and their relationships are so rich, described exclusively through 'show' and not tell which gives them quirkiness and specificity that's downright delightful. I also love the span of her book - you get to be with the characters as they develop and change from childhood, a sort of built-in character growth that isn't forced. I have mixed feelings about how little plot there was - I liked the smaller mini-stories through the book, and that the focus was so heavily on the characters, with the entire "plot" spoiled halfway through the book. With all that's to like about the book though, I didn't find myself deeply invested in the characters. They were fine, but I wasn't dying to read each next page. I guess that's how many of Patchett's books are, but it still keeps this one from being a 5 star.
RIYL: Commonwealth, HGTV, Family dramas
This book was not intended for me. Firstly I've never listened to 'Wait Wait Don't Tell Me', so while I vaguely knew Peter Sagal I was hardly a fan. Secondly I'm already an avid runner, and the book was intended for this looking to get into running. The book is part memoir about a person I'm not invested in (who assumes you are invested in him - you did pick up his book afterall), and part argument for why you should start running, which...I already am. So, I didn't get a lot out of it. Also I found out about 2/3 of the way through that he's remarried to someone who is 18 years his junior, and while I know that love is love and I'm sure she's great or whatever it just creeped me out and I couldn't keep listening. Call me judgmental, you're not wrong. Anyway, I'm not sure I'd recommend this book to anyone. I'd say you should read Born to Run instead.
Pretend I'm Dead: 2/5
I learned when reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation that I'm not particularly drawn to novels about sadness, or drugs, or poverty, let alone all three in one book. I could only stomach about half the book before giving up. The reality of the book isn't very pleasant to live in, and while there are plenty of uncomfortable books that are worth powering through and considering deeply I didn't feel like I was getting anything out of reading this. That's not entirely true - I think it gave me some understanding of what it's like to be poor in America, to deal with mental illness and have no support system. But...then a book I wanted to read more (Waking the Witch) came in and I gave up on this one. I'm sure I'm a worse person for it, but also a happier one.
Eight Hundred Grapes: 3/5
This was definitely a small step up from the last novel of Dave's I read, Hello Sunshine. I appreciated that the central conflict of the book isn't just "Will she get the guy?", but was about her career and direction of her life. The heroine was relatable and imperfect, and the story did a good job of exploring the messiness and complication of real life without having such a heavy "novel facade", which I think tends to skim over those details. Her parents relationship in particular resonated with me, as it was neither a fairytale nor a nightmare but a regular old marriage, full of compromise and heartache and love. I doubt I'll remember much about this book a few months from now, but for a short time it was a good book to escape into.