|Difficult Women by Roxanne Gay
Most of the women in these stories lead isolated lives. Because they have been mistreated in the past or they tend to mistreat others in the present. In an interview, the author states, “I am drawn to isolation because I have always been quite lonely. I was shy and awkward as a child so it was hard to make friends. I’m still, in many ways, that same person and I’ve also often lived in rural places where as a black woman I am isolated for several reasons” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Gay’s writing is honest. Here characters endure through anger, bitterness, frayed hope, tiredness, and right-on-the-tip-of-my-finger dreams. Sometimes their endurance is their greatest achievement. Check out her other title, Bad Feminist in the HCCC collection.
|My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Book One by Emil Ferris
The late 60’s Chicago: A ten year old girl walks you through her life in pictures and words. Ferris love of odd-balls shows through her characters’ quirks and flaws. “Ferris uses all this to explore the idea of monstrousness, from the small-scale cruelties of schoolyard bullying to Nazi death camps. Along the way, Karen learns to see a difference between what she calls “good monsters” who are scary because they’re, quote, “weird looking and fangy” and so-called “bad monsters.” They’re scary because they want everyone to be scared so they can control them” (NPR). I don’t usually like graphic novels. They take away too much from my visual imagination. But I really enjoyed this one and am looking forward to Book Two.
|The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Farber
A novel of Victorian London showing the seamy side of life. Our heroine. Sugar, is a prostitute looking for a way up in the social spheres. She latches on to a ne’er-do-well, William Rackman (played by Chris O’Dowd, who I adore, in the British TV mini-series) who has inherited his father’s fortune, made from the manufacture of perfumes and soaps. Sugar implicates her way into the Rackman’s household only to feel sympathy for William’s wife and child; enough that she transforms into their benefactor, saving both from the overbearing male head of household. It’s not a new story; women coming together to overcome male domination. But, these characters have an authenticity and freshness, with just the right touch of weird, that made them intriguing. Read it, then catch the Netflix series.
The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters
By Tom Nichols HM851.N54 2017
Very enjoyable book about how younger people are so terrible! Just kidding! This book looks at how faith in experts has eroded with particular emphasis on the academy and, for lack of a better word, “wiki-culture”. I’d really recommend this for anyone who A) works as a teacher or educator and B) anyone who is a student and C) is in anyway tangentially related to education…meaning that everyone at Hudson County Community College should read this.
The Devil is A Part-Timer! By Satoshi Wagahara PN6790.J34H379513 2015 V.1
Used by the Library’s book club in Spring 2017, this is the first in a series of Manga about The Devil (or some ultimate evil, but maybe not the Christian approximation of the Devil) and his adventures in the mortal realms. As the title suggests the Devil gets a part-time job and contends with the day-to-day rigmarole teens/young adults experience. This also exists as a pleasing anime.
Arrival Directed by Denis Villeneuve PN1997.2.A674 2017 (DVD)
Not since E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial have I wept at a movie about aliens (I was also a wee lad when I saw E.T.). It’s not the aliens themselves that made me weep, but rather the humans and some of their shenanigans. The premise of the movie is that aliens arrive on earth and then human governments freak out in different, slightly jingoistic, ways. I would recommend this to anyone, even people who don’t like sci-fi or spaceships or whatsits. //jms//
|Barkskin by Annie Proulx
I usually enjoy Proulx’s writing very much. Her earlier novels, The Shipping News and collection of short stories, Close Range: Wyoming Stories (including Brokeback Mountain) were a joy to read. But, this 717 page story is heavy handed from the start. The plot follows English and French settlers to the early Canadian region. These newbies force out indigenous people, cut down timber, spread disease, inflict the concept of individual ownership and more, all in the name of entitlement and progress. Eillima T. Vollmann, in a NYT review, agrees that the novel could be a little less preachy: “Annie Proulx is on the side of the angels. We need more writers like her to hammer home the message that we had better stop mistreating one another and our planet. Unfortunately, hammering is just what she does …'” I thought I could stick with it, but skipping to the middle and end pages, I felt that the “hammering” did not ebb. With relief, I moved on to another book in my stack.
|The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
Author Catton was awarded the 2013 Man Booker Prize for this novel. The 826 pages takes some dedication to wade through, but at heart it is a love story. Catton uses astrological signs to divine purpose in events. But if you don’t understand the moon and the stars device, it’s OK. The story is still engrossing. A review by Bill Roorbach of the NYT’s Sunday Book Review notes, “The setting, circa 1866, is the gold rush town of Hokitika, in the wild southwest of New Zealand, a place where the Maori had long sought greenstone. A type of jade, as a quick Internet search reveals, and holy. It took European settlers to notice the unholy gold, great chunks of it wedged between boulders in the Hokitika River, and more buried everywhere. The town is only a few years old, but already there are mansions on the hillsides. And a jail in progress. A busy courthouse. And a newspaper. Ships coming in and out of a treacherous harbor daily, sometimes foundering. Saloons in hotels alongside brothels and banks.” It’s a doozy of a 832 page read and it’s sometimes difficult to keep all the characters straight. It’s currently being filmed by the BBC for a TV drama. Can’t wait to see it. Just the images of New Zealand will be captivating.
|Every Last One by Anna Quindlen
Mary Beth Latham is a happily married mother of three, two sons and one daughter, all very different from each other but part of a loving, vibrant family. The daughter is also loved by a boy she has known since childhood. But Ruby Latham wants to move on. Unfortunately, the troubled boy doesn’t want to let her go. This novel, like all of Quindlen’s works, is well written and deals with emotions that we all have to some degree, whether loneliness, envy, or self-doubt. When a violent and terrible tragedy happens, the aftermath of rebuilding a life is articulated with pathos and regret. Quindlen’s subtle details made me cry while wanting to read more. A review by Nancy Robertson of The Washington Post describes part of the plot: “As Mary Beth moves through shock and grief in the aftermath of great upheaval, hidden aspects of her life come to light. She’s forced to face what she fears most and somehow try to keep on going. Quindlen succeeds at conveying the transience of everyday worries and the never-ending boundaries of a mother’s love.” Other titles by the author can be found in our collection, all of which I recommend: Still Life with Bread Crumbs, How Reading Changed My Life, and One True Thing.
|Everybody’s Fool by Richard Russo
Pretty much everything that Richard Russo writes, I enjoy. It’s easy reading but has enough insight to make the characters come alive, and his stories are funny and down to earth. This one is the sequel to his earlier novel Nobody’s Fool. The characters are about thirty years older, with Sully still drinking hard and playing shenanigans on his friends and neighbors. A good review by T.C. Boyle of the NYT reads, “The book is droll and affecting, not only in its masterly depiction of the workings of an inbred small-town society, but in its portrait of Sully, the nobody’s fool of the title, “a case-study underachiever” who is “divorced from his own wife, carrying on halfheartedly with another man’s, estranged from his son, devoid of self-knowledge, badly crippled and virtually unemployable — all of which he stubbornly confused with independence.”
|Queen of the Night by Alexander Chee
I wanted to like this book but…it’s too long, the same events happen over and over again, and the writing, while historically detailed, left me cold. The plot would have made an excellent story if Chee’s heroine was more engaging. I read about the protagonist’s exploits, being raised in the Midwest, losing her parents, joining the circus, touring Europe, becoming a prostitute, gaining world-wide recognition as a opera singer, having love affairs with dangerous men, etc. All that would have been great if I cared about her. But the repetition of emotions and events kept me far from intrigued. Don’t know why this book got such praise and is on the best seller’s list. In a New Yorker review, Joan Acocella states, “The title is taken from “The Magic Flute,” and in an afterword Chee says that he meant his book to be a novelistic ‘reinvention’ of Mozart’s creation. Actually, it is far more indebted to nineteenth-century opera—“La Sonnambula,” “Lucia di Lammermoor,” “Il Trovatore,” “Faust,” and “Carmen” are all invoked, sometimes at length.” Maybe that’s why I thought it was agonizingly boring. I’m not an opera fan. Enough with the singing, get on with the story.
|The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen PS3614.G97S96
The Sympathizer is part spy thriller, part political satire, telling the story of the fall of South Vietnamese government and the protagonist’s experiences in American exile in Los Angeles, through the eyes of an undercover communist agent. The book explores life between two worlds and revisits the Vietnam War in literature, film, and the wars we fight today. It has been said that it is one of the few books about the Vietnamese war told from a non-American viewpoint.
The Pulitzer committee, who awarded this year’s prize to the Vietnamese American author, praised The Sympathizer as “a layered immigrant tale told in the wry, confessional voice of a ‘man of two minds’ and two countries, Vietnam and the United States.”
|Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor PS3565.C57W5
Wise Blood follows a young war vet, Hael Motes, sent home after an injury. It becomes apparent that the true injury is to his faith. Having come from a fire-and-brimstone religious family, Hazel rejects Jesus. He starts the “Church without Christ” in a back-water town and meets up with a street-wise kid named Enoch Emery along with a preacher named Asa Hawks and his daughter Sabbath. From there all hell ensues. This is dark humor and low comedy. Not to everyone’s taste. I found her other novel, Everything that Rises Must Converge, similar in it’s southern religioua and racially tense themes.
An Inconvenient Woman by Dominick Dunne
This novel revolves around the affair between a married man who is an highly influential member of Los Angeles high society, and Flo March, a diner waitress and aspiring actress whose life is transformed by the illicit relationship until she finds herself embroiled in a murder plot. Lots of juicy 1990’s detail make this a fun read. Dunne is a good writer who will keep you hooked on the details. As a journalist, Dunne specialized in celebrity high brows interacting with the judicial system, penning many articles for Vanity Fair and covering the O.J. Simspson trial.