Thursday, April 30, 2015

What I've Been Reading: April 2015

I've been reading a little bit of everything this month, from memoirs to dystopian fiction, and lots of good stuff! April started off with a bang, as I read David Vann's latest novel, Aquarium. I loved it so much, in fact, that I couldn't keep it to myself. You can read my full review here.

And then?

They Cage the Animals At Night, by Jennings Michael Burch. This was my book club's selection for our April meeting, and I have to admit, I dawdled with it until the eleventh hour this month, because the subject matter was hard for me. I know kids often read this in middle or high school, though I hadn't, and I'm still just sort of sad about it. Burch's mother attempted to raise him and his five brothers on her own after his father walked out on them, but suffered from several nervous collapses and while recuperating, the boys were split off--some farmed out to other families, others (Jennings included) often wound up in orphanages. The memoir follows Burch's experiences through several of the homes during his childhood, the good and bad, which I found deeply moving. I'm glad I read it, but it was not an easy read for me.

The Country of Ice Cream Star, by Sandra Newman. Longlisted for the Folio Prize as well as the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction (alongside Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, which I coincidentally also read this month, reviewed below), The Country of Ice Cream Star is one of the most unique and challenging books I've read in some time. And perhaps the challenge was its uniqueness. It required me to read for general information and feel instead of for detail, because the language (a lexicon established by short generations of children altering the language over eighty years since the collapse of civilization) is so different. But brilliant. Ice Cream Star and her tribe live in an exotically feral Massachusetts, in a world where no one lives past age 21, and the hints of a cure to the ailment of "posies" are only rumor until Ice Cream's older brother, only 18, becomes ill. Ice Cream, with the help of a stranger, leads her tribe of Sengles on a desperate journey in hope of saving her brother's life. This is unlike anything I've ever read, and I highly recommend it to those who aren't afraid of a challenge.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, by Jan-Philipp Sendker. This was another book club selection, this time for May's meeting. I figured this time I would make sure to read it early! When Julia's father, a successful New York lawyer, disappears without a trace, neither Julia nor her mother have a clue as to what happened, until they find an old love letter he wrote to a woman in his native Burma. Determined to find out why her father has abandoned them, Julia heads to Burma seeking answers, only to find a whole history of her father that she never knew existed. A beautiful love story, and one I look forward to discussing with my group.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. This is one of the best novels I've read so far this year (right up there with Aquarium, though very different). Admittedly, I listened to the audiobook, which was also incredible. This is my introduction to St. John Mandel, and I can't wait to go back and read her other work now. It's a National Book Award Finalist and was also nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction , AND the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Oh, and it's being adapted for film. Now, about the story itself. It begins on the cusp of the end of civilization as we know it, and the story follows several characters back and forth through time, between the years before the collapse and then twenty years after the collapse. It is suspenseful and told with a keen eye for detail, full of a terrible beauty while exploring themes of art, fame, and memory. I strongly recommend it, and I know I'll be rereading this in years to come. It's too good not to come back to.

The Thunder of Giants, by Joel Fishbane.  The year is 1937 and Andorra Kelsey - 7'11 and just over 320 pounds - is on her way to Hollywood to become a star. Hoping to escape both poverty and the ghost of her dead husband, she accepts an offer from the wily Rutherford Simone to star in a movie about the life of Anna Swan, the Nova Scotia giantess who toured the world in the 19th . Told in parallel, Anna Swan's story unfurls. While Andorra is seen as a disgrace by an embarrassed family, Anna Swan is quickly celebrated for her unique size. Drawn to New York, Anna becomes a famed attraction at P.T. Barnum's American Museum even as she falls in love with Gavin Clarke, a veteran of the Civil War. Quickly disenchanted with a life of fame, Anna struggles to prove to Gavin - and the world - that she is more than the sum of her measurements. This was inspiring and perfectly balanced. Often, books which are told in parallel stories tend to be stronger in one story-line and weaker in another, but this was not the case. Highly recommended for fans of historical fiction. This could also be a great pick for book clubs.

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