The Books of July


You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me: A Memoir — Sherman Alexie (2017)

A com­pli­cat­ed book on a com­pli­cat­ed sub­ject. Many slight chap­ters made up of short essays, sto­ries, and poems.
This is a reflec­tion on life with a com­plex woman and the haz­ards of moth­er­ing and being moth­ered. Alexie’s moth­er Lillian … she what? Had demons? Don’t we all. Her demons inter­fered with her abil­i­ty to moth­er. And Alexi’s demons, so very close to those of his moth­er made it hard for him to be moth­ered. It’s a two-way prob­lem between moth­ers and chil­dren: shar­ing the alco­hol a bipo­lar demons. And then there’s crush­ing pover­ty — the finan­cial and spir­i­tu­al and cul­tur­al of reser­va­tion life. In some ways it’s a tough book to fig­ure out. There is the par­tic­u­lar to the Alexie’s expe­ri­ence (and his moth­er’s.) More broad­ly, it is also about the haz­ards to fam­i­lies of liv­ing as a reser­va­tion Indian. And even more gen­er­al­ly to the expe­ri­ence of being Indian. But at both its heart and its out­er lim­its it is about the prob­lem of being a dys­func­tion­al child of a dys­func­tion­al par­ent. We live and learn, some times late in life, and then we mourn the things that were and the things will nev­er have been.
* grief can be a clear lens *

Vinegar Girl — Ann Tyler (2016)

I used to like Tyler’s work but some­how the voice in this is too? Common and pedes­tri­an. This retelling of Taming of the Shrew did­n’t win me over because I did­n’t like Kate. Really did­n’t like Tyler’s Kate. She is a bum­bling, aim­less, preschool assis­tant with­out a per­son­al­i­ty. She’s so bland that I can­not begin to care about her. On top of that the voice and the sto­ry (which I nor­mal­ly love) did­n’t pull me in at all.
* some­times the orig­i­nal is best left alone *



The Art of Racing in the Rain — Garth Stein (2008)

Ayrton Senna name check aside I had a bad feel­ing about this book when I read the Kindle pre­view. But the dog as nar­ra­tor thing might be inter­est­ing and there is rac­ing… so I start­ed it. At 15% of the way through there’s already a nice lady with brain tumor thing going on. Leading inevitably to a trag­i­cal­ly moth­er­less lit­tle girl and all of that. Not to men­tion it turns out that the dog is an aging beast with a mar­tyr com­plex. So I stopped to check the reviews, so much praise, until I hit on a cou­ple of poor reviews with spoil­ers. (Yeah I some­times read the spoil­ers.) Rape alle­ga­tions? Child tak­en by CPS? ON top of the already quite melo­dra­mat­ic sit­u­a­tion. Really? This is look­ing more than iffy. I just can’t.
* I don’t read to be manip­u­lat­ed by amateurs *


Adventures of John Blake — Philip Pullman and Fred Fordham (2017)

Graphic nov­el about a boy trapped on a haunt­ed ship that is shut­tled back and forth through time seek­ing the knowl­edge and a cer­tain item that will allow them to con­trol their path. The crew is made up of sailors col­lect­ed along the way. From an ancient roman to the John Blake, a mid-20th cen­tu­ry son of a sci­en­tist who may have invent­ed the device that allows time trav­el and that set the haunt­ed Mary Alice on its course. It’s an enter­tain­ing, quick read. Don’t expect Pullman’s mar­velous prose to show up. It’s a graph­ic nov­el and the con­ven­tions are dif­fer­ent. The illus­tra­tions are nice but not ter­ri­bly imag­i­na­tive. Which, I think, is a good thing. I’m tired of Extraordinary Illustrations that make fol­low­ing the sto­ry difficult.
The plot goes along. There’s a mod­ern tech­nol­o­gy vil­lain and the end result is a nice vic­to­ry for John and his mod­ern com­pan­ion Serena.
I can see this as the script for an action-adventure with teenagers. I might actu­al­ly go to see it.
I’m look­ing for­ward to Pullman return­ing to prose with his next book sup­pos­ed­ly set back in the world of Oxford and Lyra.
* cross­ing gen­res to good effect *

Outlander — Diana Gabaldon (2005)

Historical Romance with Time Travel. Yes I cap­i­tal­ized all of those words. Set in 18th Century Scotland and oth­er parts of Europe as the saga goes on. It does help a lit­tle to know what’s going on but you can get along even if your grasp of English his­to­ry is weak. (You can read all about the pol­i­tics of the time in wikipedia is you want to.)
So (Girl) Claire falls through a hole in time (in a henge) and ends up stum­bling into an English Patrol where bad things are threat­ened. She is then res­cued by a Scottish raid­ing par­ty. Bad things, but not quite so bad, are threat­ened. She doc­tors one of the mem­bers of the par­ty and we meet (Boy) Jamie Frazer going under the name McKenzie. An out­lawed man. The sto­ry goes on in sweet­ly pre­dictable ways — Claire is threat­ened. Jamie res­cues her. They are forced to mar­ry, but lat­er fall in love. Jamie goes off to try to find some­one to help him get out from under his death sen­tence. Claire is threat­ened Jamie res­cues her (a few more times) until in the last huge set piece of the book Claire must res­cue Jamie from an English prison. Then all decamp for France. This should be a spoil­er but you can tell from the begin­ning that the two pro­tag­o­nists are going to sur­vive and that the pat­tern of dan­ger, res­cue, dan­ger, res­cue, sex, dan­ger, sex, res­cue, sex is going to go on for a long time.
The sex scenes are fre­quent, pret­ty well writ­ten, and occa­sion­al­ly very dis­turb­ing. If you have a prob­lem with rape cul­ture (and 18th cen­tu­ry Scotland/England is a pret­ty damned rapey place) — then you might want to skip this.
There are anoth­er dozen or so books in the world. Eight direct­ly in the series and a hand­ful that revolve around oth­er points.
So… will I run out and read them all now? No, the books aren’t that good and are a bit pre­dictable. I’d get bored if I read anoth­er one right away. But lat­er? The next time I need some­thing to shore up a long week­end at the beach or a dead­ly dull air­line flight? Yeah, I prob­a­bly will reach out for the next book in the series.
* at least at the end it’s the hero­ine doing the rescuing *

The Nakano Thrift Shop: A Novel

- Hiromi Kawakami, A.M. Powell, trans (2017)
Weird lit­tle nov­el about a thrift shop in Japan and the own­er, his sis­ter, and the two peo­ple who work there. A small, inmate book. I kept want­i­ng some­thing amaz­ing to hap­pen but it did­n’t. In a way it was an all day toy train wreck. I can’t not love it though. The way in which the pro­tag­o­nist (Hitomi) stum­bles through her aim­less twen­ties. Not quite reach­ing the unreach­able boy she works with. And the par­al­lels between her unsuc­cess­ful run to love and her boss’s dal­liance with the high-powered antique deal­er and his sis­ter’s dal­liance with the soon to be deceased. Really they are all in love with some­one they ought not to be and it just does­n’t quite work out for anyone.
* var­i­ous states of mis-shapen love *

The Moth: 50 True Stories — Catherine Burns, ed. (2013)

50 short mono­logues from var­i­ous Moth events and broad­casts. Just what Moth is well explained the three intro­duc­tions. (Yes, three.) True sto­ries of one sort and oth­er. I’d esti­mate that most of them ran 5 — 10 min­utes live/on air. Some real­ly effec­tive sto­ry telling. If you’re a fan of essays you’ll rec­og­nize a cou­ple of the sto­ry­tellers but most are aver­age peo­ple recount­ing some not so aver­age event in their lives.
* good short mono­logues — refresh­ing sto­ry telling *


No Planets Strike — Josh Bell (2004)






Alamo Theory — Josh Bell (2016)

A cou­ple of mind expand­ing col­lec­tions. The first, No Planets Strike<?em>, is raw and unnerv­ing, what with Ramona, and the gen­tle hand­ed holy father, and zom­bies. The sec­ond, Alamo Theory, is more accom­plished and pol­ished but… it lacks the mar­velous ner­vous­ness that the first one had. Both con­tain work that is some­times ran­dom in a care­ful­ly plot­ted way designed to throw the read­er off the scent. Both of these col­lec­tions are very son­ic; It’s good to read them out loud but I would say essen­tial for Alamo Theory. Also note that Alamo Theory was pub­lished by Copper Canyon and is a square book — a for­mat that allows Bell’s ling line lengths enough room to breathe on the page and a decent type size. No Planets Strike suf­fers from a lot of crowd­ing and very small font. 

* I like bad boy poets, though they are a bit less thrilling as they grow up *