reading recap: february 2018

I’m pretty sure I’m out of that slump and funk now, by the end of February. I had a great month of reading, much better than January. Almost all of these were audiobooks. Since I knew the end of my membership to my library back home in Kansas City was ending in February, I wanted to capitalize on using it as much as possible. I was pretty pleased to get some highly anticipated new releases, as well as discovering some new gems I hadn’t heard of before.

My favorites were easily Dark MoneyOtis Redding, and Broad Strokes, with Shark Drunk close behind. I’m happy I stuck with writing up posts after finishing books here throughout the month too!

Other bookish stuff… I started The Left Hand of Darkness for my Best Friends International Book Club and quickly DNF’d. It’s just not for me. I have trouble getting into high sci-fi fantasy in general, and I could barely follow the story. I didn’t know who was who or what was happening most of the time. Anthony, my book club buddy, DNF’d too, saying, “So many words I don’t know how to say, let alone keep track of. And the narrative voice doesn’t resonate with me; I can’t understand where I am in almost any given sentence.” Some people have the right kind of mind for elaborate, made-up words and worlds, some don’t. Our first-ever BFIBCDNF! I also bought two new Singaporean small-press books, SQ21: Singapore Queers in the 21st Century and The Infinite Library.

Right now I’m reading Homegoing (for BFIBC and the TBR Pile Challenge), The Summer That Melted Everything (TBR Pile Challenge), and SQ21.

Otherwise, I’ve been spending time drawing and trying to get out of the apartment more. I went to see the Museé d’Orsay impressionism exhibit at the National Gallery of Singapore last week, which was fantastic, saw the amazing  Black Panther movie, and also bought a new bass!! It’s a Fender American Elite Jazz Bass. I’m in love.

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mini-reviews: you should have left and the strange bird

I’m definitely out of my reading slump! These two novellas came through my library holds on audio at the same time, and they’re short enough that I was able to listen to both in one day while drawing.

You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann is a taut, unsettling psychological horror novella. Kehlmann handles classic haunted house, ghost story, and existential madness tropes well—a creeping dread is palpable here. Easily read in one sitting, too—the audiobook is just about two hours long. A couple and their 4-year-old daughter stay at an AirBnB in the mountains for vacation, but they’re also there so the husband (our narrator) can work on his screenplay. You spend the entire book in his head, as strange things start to happen (they easily get lost in the house, optical illusions and issues with depth perception abound, doors appear in places there wasn’t a door before, phrases mysteriously appear in his notes, etc., and then the nightmares start), all the while something is up with his marriage. People online have compared it to House of Leaves and The Shining, and I’d agree, although this is much, much shorter! [Listened to audiobook in February 2018.]

Jeff VanderMeer is an author I like to follow. I enjoyed his Area X trilogy (so excited for the movie adaptation of Annihilation!) and loved Borne last summer. I saw The Strange Bird on my library browse and borrowed it right away. This adds a chapter to Borne, from the perspective of another of the Company’s hybrid creatures, the Strange Bird. She is part bird, part human, part… other stuff(?). The biotech lab where she was created, the Company, has devolved into chaos and she, as well as other experiments, have escaped. The sky and land are full of creatures and technology and debris making this near-future world a very dangerous place to be, where humans are now struggling to survive. I do think you need to read Borne first, as that book does all the world-building and set up for The Strange Bird. I kind of wish I had read it on paper or ebook instead of listening to the audio, though—the narrator read in a tortured tone that could be a bit much for me at times. There isn’t quite the level of mystery and tension I felt while reading this one as I did with Borne, but it’s a great expansion of this imaginative setting. [Listened to audiobook in February 2018.]

fire and fury

I had to see what the hype was all about, of course. I mean, he tried to have Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff banned! Edited from Goodreads:

With extraordinary access to the West Wing, Michael Wolff reveals what happened behind-the-scenes in the first nine months of the most controversial presidency of our time in Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House. Never before in history has a presidency so divided the American people. Brilliantly reported and astoundingly fresh, Fire and Fury shows us how and why Donald Trump has become the king of discord and disunion.

Well, it’s not great. The book or its subject matter or the state of the Union. But that’s not to say I don’t think this book is worth reading… at least maybe as an act of protest and dissent since he was trying to squash its publishing and have it banned. And while we still are allowed to read <eyeroll>. I’m fine with having borrowed it from the library instead of purchasing a copy.

Reading Fire and Fury affirms that it’s both exactly as bad as and worse than we think it is inside this administration, even if just half of the content of this book is true. No one is qualified for any of these positions, least of all Trump himself. Everyone is trying to keep their jobs and avoid prison; attempting to reign in Trump, which is impossible due to his unpredictable behavior; sucking up to him while simultaneously badmouthing him behind his back; pushing their own agendas; and fighting amongst themselves. It reads like a sensationalist piece of tabloid gossip, so it’s shamefully entertaining in that way, but there’s nothing new or revelatory as far as what’s covered in the book. If you’ve been paying attention, you know about all the scandals and tweets and disfunction. But there is a little more backstory to some of these scandals that I hadn’t heard before. Wolff is preoccupied with Steve Bannon, painting a somewhat sympathetic portrayal (which was unsettling to me), and much of what we read is based off interview(s) with him. There’s also a lot of focus on Ivanka and Jared’s roles and actions taken in the last year. Mike Pence is conspicuously absent…

I do believe it’s worthwhile to have a piece of concise documentation on this part of American history… but maybe this book is a little too rushed, too “unauthorized,” too speculative. I experienced this on audiobook, so I’m not sure if there was a reference list in the back or not. I’m hopeful that in the future after we’ve overcome this horrid moment, a more reliably factual account will exist.

Listened to audiobook in January–February 2018.

reading recap: january 2018

I’m seeing a bunch of memes this week saying that this January was the longest month ever… but I feel just the opposite! I’ve been down lately—I have a touch of seasonal affective disorder right now… yes, even here in a sunny, tropical locale—so I’ve had the hardest time sticking to my usual routines and being able to focus on anything much, let alone reading. I did manage to get through four fantastic books, though, and started a few more:

AND I’m really proud of myself for catching up with (almost) all my reviews over the past few months! So you can see the linked titles there will bring you to my reviews of those books. I had a year and a half worth of reading I hadn’t written posts about here on the blog, and now I’m only behind on one (waiting to read another 1–2 I have on the same topic so I can bundle them together in one post), and The Power from this month I have drafted to go tomorrow. Progress!

Anyway, although I thought all four of these are incredible and I highly recommend, if I have to pick favorites I’d say The Last Black Unicorn and The Power. Tiffany Haddish is an incredibly funny comedian and I’m sure I’ll be a fan forever now. Her memoir strikes a a nice balance of both the difficult and good times of her life, while being thoughtful and entertaining the whole time. I didn’t realize it until I finished, but The Power is just what I needed this month. I’ve been in a slump and I’m still figuring out what the problem is, but reading a fictional novel engaged my imagination and attention better than anything else in a while. It’s a creative reversal of societal gender roles and expectations, and a look at how unequal distribution of power (and how it’s wielded) can effect humanity… hmm echoes of what’s happening now in many parts of the world.

I also thoroughly enjoyed Thank You for Your Service. It’s a potent, compelling book that chronicles the struggles of (mostly recent) veterans and their families due to time served at war. And Women & Power connected many dots for me as far as exactly how deeply rooted in history misogyny is, specifically in ancient Greek and Roman literature and art.

Besides starting and finishing these four, I also started Fire and Fury, the new barn-burner on the current executive administration in the U.S.; Dark Money, my first pick for my TBR Challenge 2018; and Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life just for fun. Anthony and I also chose our next book club read, The Left Hand of Darkness to honor the life of Ursula K. Le Guin, and I’m a few chapters in but I’m afraid this one might be lost on me… we’ll see. Next up in February I’d like to choose books by black authors to honor Black History Month, so I have HomegoingPushout, and We Were Eight Years in Power in my sights.

How is your reading going so far in 2018?

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the last black unicorn

First book of the new year! I was so excited to get The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish through through my library app on audio. Edited from Goodreads:

From stand-up comedian, actress, and breakout star of Girls Trip, Tiffany Haddish, comes The Last Black Unicorn, a sidesplitting, hysterical, edgy, and unflinching collection of (extremely) personal essays, as fearless as the author herself.

Growing up in one of the poorest neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles, Tiffany learned to survive by making people laugh. If she could do that, then her classmates would let her copy their homework, the other foster kids she lived with wouldn’t beat her up, and she might even get a boyfriend. Or at least she could make enough money—as the paid school mascot and in-demand Bar Mitzvah hype woman—to get her hair and nails done, so then she might get a boyfriend. None of that worked (and she’s still single), but it allowed Tiffany to imagine a place for herself where she could do something she loved for a living: comedy.

I admit I never heard of Tiffany Haddish before November, when I was hanging out with my friend in Kansas City and we watched the recent episode of SNL she hosted. She was incredible and it was one of the best episodes of SNL I think I’d seen in a long time. Haddish is sharp and hilarious, and has an interesting perspective on her place in the world as a black woman and as a black woman in comedy.

Experiencing this book on audio with Haddish narrating is definitely the way to go. Her excessive energy and observant nature make her an extremely engaging storyteller. The parts of her life she recounts here are ridiculous, laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes cringe worthy, and sometimes frustrating and serious. Her childhood was bleak, full of neglect, abuse, and disappointments. She has been plagued by abusive, troubled romantic relationships, and encountered plenty of misogyny as a comedian. But through all this, she has retained her willful spirit and remained true to herself.

If I have a minor complaint, it’s that this doesn’t exactly read like a memoir, with the stories sometimes feeling rushed and the structure of the book could be considered choppy. It’s more like a collection of stories from her life rather than a linear narrative. But oftentimes celebrities don’t go into as much depth as you’d like them to in their memoirs. I can see how readers may be sensitive to her handling of a differently abled coworker (about whom she felt positively, but still) and there are some instances of stereotypes about black women in the book. But overall, Haddish is a comedian to watch for sure. She was delightful to listen to and learn more about, and I can’t wait to see Girls Trip! I’m sorry I missed it this summer when it came out!

Listened to audiobook in January 2018.

sing, unburied, sing

Jesmyn Ward has become one of my new favorite writers. Her work is eloquent and powerful, and she deserves all the awards and accolades she’s received lately for her latest book, Sing, Unburied, Sing. Edited from Goodreads:

Jojo and his toddler sister, Kayla, live with their grandparents, Mam and Pop, and the occasional presence of their drug-addicted mother, Leonie, on a farm on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi. Leonie is simultaneously tormented and comforted by visions of her dead brother, which only come to her when she’s high; Mam is dying of cancer; and quiet, steady Pop tries to run the household and teach Jojo how to be a man. When Michael, the white father of Leonie’s children, is released from prison, she packs her kids and a friend into her car and sets out across the state for Parchman farm, the Mississippi State Penitentiary, on a journey rife with danger and promise.

I initially had trouble getting into this book. I agree with some of the criticisms I’ve seen online—it’s a slow-moving burn, too much vomit (sorry, ever-so-mild spoiler), and I wasn’t entirely convinced of the ghosts until about halfway through. While an alternating first-person narrative doesn’t typically bother me, I found Jojo and Leonie’s voices a little too similar in tone. It too me far too long to get through; I started in October and didn’t read it at all in November (I was traveling… I barely read anything when visiting family!)

Ward’s esoteric, delicate writing as well as an excellent ending that made everything click for me ultimately made Sing, Unburied, Sing one of the best books I read this year. She builds tension describes situations and scenery so vividly you can easily become wrapped up in the story (at least, I did when I finally committed and settled into reading the rest of it this month). The characters were heartbreaking in their struggles and suffering, from Leonie’s addictions (to drugs and Michael) to Jojo’s protective instincts and loss of innocence, to Pop’s burdens as patriarch of this family and as an older Southern black man with his own personal demons. Ward powerfully illustrates many of America’s ills (specifically those that have historically and disproportionately effected black Americans)—poverty, parental neglect, disease, racism, incarceration, addiction, premature death, violence—with a multi-generational, mixed-race family in the deep South and a good dose of magical realism. It’s a Southern Gothic tragedy, one that is all too typical (ghosts notwithstanding) and familiar these days.

Read in December 2017.