The Saltwater Book Review Summer Reading Challenge

I was thinking the other day about how I have an increase in desire to read during the summer months. I think this is for two reasons: it’s something that’s nice to do in either air conditioned spaces or outside, and there is the nostalgic factor–do any of you remember the summer reading lists we used to get in school? Good times! (for nerds.)

I decided to create a challenge for myself, and anyone else who wants to join, to get me to read with more variety this summer. You’re welcome to read books from the same categories as me, or make your own categories or amount of books as you would like. The point of this is to have fun reading.

I’m giving myself from June to mid-September to finish this challenge, just so I don’t feel so rushed.

THE SALTWATER BOOK REVIEW SUMMER READING CHALLENGE

assignment 1: Read 4 Classics Written by Women

For this category, I am planning to read To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Beloved by Toni Morrison, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and one wildcard pick that I will choose when the time comes.

assignment 2: Read (or finish) 2 Young Adult Series

I plan to finish the Legend series by Marie Lu, plus one more series. I would really like suggestions for this, as I’m having trouble thinking of another series to read, so please recommend me one in the comments!

assignment 3: Read 1 big short story collection

This is mostly because I have a lot of these that take up space on my bookshelf, and I never seem to want to make time to read them. Right now I am deciding between The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Conner or Collected Stories by Tennessee Williams.

assignment 4: Read/Watch 1 book-to-movie adaptation

I’m not sure about this one– maybe Silver Linings Playbook? Ideally this would be both a book I’ve never read and a movie I’ve never seen. I may change my mind on this one.

Extra Credit: Read 5 books that have been sitting around on my shelf for forever, unread. (This is just because I really need to do something about my overcrowded book shelf.)

All together this is 11-16 books, which is doable in 3.5 months at the current pace I’m reading, allowing for the fact that I will want to read other books, too. If you’d like to participate in this challenge, feel free to skip categories or reduce the amount of books as needed. Or, if you’d like to make your own assignments, PLEASE DO, and please let me know about them!

And follow me on Goodreads! I am making a bookshelf for this challenge called SWBR-summer-2015, so you can track my progress. You can also talk to me on there if you’re doing the challenge as well.

Happy reading, and don’t forget to wear sunscreen. Seriously.

Advertisements

Short Stories, Literary Bros, and My Girlfriend, Margaret Atwood: May 2015 Round Up

#bookstagram
#bookstagram

I recently listened to the New Yorker Fiction podcast episode where Gary Shteyngart reads Lorrie Moore and immediately went to the library to take out Self Help, Moore’s first short story collection. I really admire writers who get famous off of their short stories. There’s no money and very little readers to gain from being a writer of short stories, but the fact that we’re still talking about writers like Lorrie Moore with such reverence shows that there is still something magical about a story that can be life-affirming, funny, and sad all in one sitting.

I liked Self Help a lot, but it’s very much a collection by a young writer. One of the stories is called “How to Be A Writer”–about a young woman being a writer. If I never have to read another story about a writer being a writer, I’ll be happy. It just screams I’M A WRITER WITH NOTHING TO WRITE ABOUT. Otherwise, I can’t wait to read more from Lorrie Moore; she seems to be a foreshadowing of my favorite newer short story writers, like Aimee Bender, Miranda July and Aryn Kyle, and I think I have a lot to learn from her.

After that I read the short story collection Tenth of December by George Saunders, which I resisted for a long time. There was a lot of hype surrounding this book when it first released. I read the title story for a writing class in college and I just hated it so much. Re-reading it now made me realize that I was wrong–“Tenth of December” is a good story. I think my annoyance back then was that it was just that: a good short story, and yet people were talking about how George Saunders was the best living short story writer of our time like it was pure fact. Blergh.

If you haven’t noticed, lately I’m into reading books mainly by women–and I think this was a medicinal measure to cure me of the yuckiness I was feeling in the book world; it was getting to me that male writers get titles such as greatest and genius a little too easy while so many women writers are being overlooked. Many women writers can write just as good a short story collection as George Saunders (I’m discussing one of them right above!). I’m tired of taking writers like Saunders so seriously all the time while all of my favorite writers (women) get called quirky.

What I realize now that I didn’t realize in college is that none of that–none of the hype, the think pieces about diversity in publishing, my own personal annoyance about LitBros, et al–have anything to actually do with George Saunders’ writing, which is good. I should stop comparing every short story writer I like to Miranda July (A very “Quirky” writer), but No One Belongs Here More Than You is basically my favorite short story collection, and Tenth of December reminded me of it in some ways. The joy in both collections is seeing the banal turned extraordinary, or the extraordinary turned banal, see: “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” my personal favorite from Tenth of December. (A close second is “Victory Lap”)

Saunders’ work seems to focus a lot on class anxiety in America, but in a way that is funny just as often as it is tragic. I recommend it to anyone who may be new to reading short story collections, because the writing style is very conversational.

When I was at the library picking up a copy of Self Help I stumbled upon a beautifully designed indie-published book called Ancient Oceans of Central Kentucky by David Connerley Nahm. The book is about a woman named Leah, whose brother went missing when they were both young. It goes in and out of past and present, and although it seemed full of potential, I didn’t love it. I reviewed on Goodreads:

Untitled

 

Ain’t it a shame.

I needed something short and sweet after that, so I reached for some YA: Legend by Marie Lu, which I reviewed here. I will be reading Prodigy soon.

I’m reading Life Before Man by Margaret Atwood at the moment. It’s not my favorite Atwood. It’s about a love triangle between some miserable 70s hipsters who work at a museum. How many douchey hipster men has Margaret Atwood dated? I feel like we could swap some stories. At this point in my Atwood reading adventure I am just antsy to get through the 70s and reread The Handmaid’s Tale. I loved it when I was in high school, and you all know how I feel about dystopian. I am getting impatient to get to it, but next up after Life After Man is Bodily Harm, which I guess I will write about in next month’s round up. At this point I feel like I have traded my relationships with douchey hipster men for a monogamous relationship with Margaret Atwood. It’s an improvement.


 

Hey, thanks for reading. How’s the Goodreads challenge going, you ask? Not great, Bob.

Untitled

Just kidding, it’s fine, except I’m four books behind and that is crazy to me since I feel like I’m reading a lot. I wanted to get ahead a little bit so I could spend some time later in the year reading longer books, like The Stand or Game of Thrones both of which have been wearing holes in my to-read pile but are just too damn long. The biggest mistake I made in 2014 was choosing to read IT by Stephen King as my one long book. That book was a clusterfuck, and I won’t get that month of reading back. It’s such a commitment, you guys! #goodproblems

So, what did y’all read this month? Feel free to write to me in the comments, by email at saltwaterbookreview@gmail.com, or on Tumblr if you have any books you NEED TO DISCUSS!! (I know that feel.)

A review of LEGEND by Marie Lu // a plea to the YA Dystopian genre

9275658

When I sat down to read the first chapter of Marie Lu’s Legend on the train, the thirty-something man sitting next to me on the train felt compelled to tell me that what I was reading was “a fantastic book.” I felt vaguely skeptical of him because I picked up Legend for one reason: I wanted some easy book-candy.

Everyone has a genre like this, right? Maybe for some people it’s superhero comic books, or romance novels, or Twilight. I don’t judge, because for me, it’s YA dystopian. When the weather gets warm I just have this feeling like I don’t want to read anything unless it’s about some teenage girl with a funny name who lives in a futuristic society where the government, is like, totally mean.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of gleaming brilliance in the YA dystopian genre. The most brilliant thing about it is how excited it makes teenagers to read and to discuss totalitarian governments in conjunction with love triangles. You also can’t beat the genre as far as the recurring theme of the strong female main character. That being said, I’ve read very little that even can hold a candle to The Hunger Games trilogy, which may still be book candy but it’s book candy that still makes me super excited, even a year after finishing the series. (TEAM KATNISS FYI). I am also a conflicted fan of the book Divergent–conflicted because while I was excited about the first novel, the series itself was a disappointment to me. Last summer I tried to read the Matched series and couldn’t even finish the second novel because of the poor writing and one-dimensional characters. Then there are a slew of novels with premises that seem a little too flowery, and classics like the Uglies books and The Giver, which were actually published when I was a child/teenager and thus I’ve read a long time ago. Now that I am an adult just looking for some anti-government light entertainment, I find myself constantly poking my head into the Teen section incognito, scanning the books and wishing that one day I will meet a series that will live up to The Hunger Games.

But, The Hunger Games had something that Divergent, et al, does not have: mainly, a skilled, experienced author. And although there is a love triangle in The Hunger Games that many readers feel passionate about, it’s not the main focus of the novels, and it certainly doesn’t sacrifice world building to spend long paragraphs on how the bad the characters want to kiss each other’s faces.

So, my plea to current and future writers of YA dystopian: don’t just copy Suzanne Collins. LEARN from her. Don’t let the excitement about romance make you forget what is most quietly successful about books like The Hunger Games and Harry Potter, the thing that makes them last on our shelves: it’s the world-building.

I have high hopes for YA literature. I don’t want it to just be a graveyard for lesser writers to make careers from. YA dystopian in particular is an interesting genre to me because it has the ability to start conversations about politics, power, and humanity–and! you guys! That’s totally the JOB of good literature!

I say this in my review of Legend because although I liked it, it didn’t live up to the standards set by my train companion, bless his heart. It was exactly the book candy I was looking for, and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the trilogy, it just didn’t surpass my expectations of sheer, fluffy entertainment–and this is what I am always hoping for when I read a YA book. I’m hoping that something will surpass my expectations of it, because I know that when I read a YA book that does that, it will be a book that will have a longer shelve life than the average YA book. (See: John Green’s Paper Towns, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson)

As mentioned above, Legend unfortunately suffers from some sort of kissing disease. I flew through the novel, but I ended up with some nagging questions about the world that Lu has written. I found the concept of government-created plagues and class warfare interesting, but there was so much that went unexamined about the world. For instance–what, exactly, happened in the United States to make “The Republic” and “The Colonies” two different states? (I’m still hoping that the next books in the trilogy will go into this more.) I couldn’t actually get a clear image of my head of how the rich sections of the Republic looked different from the poor sections–it’s not at all like how I can clearly see the difference between the Capital and the districts in The Hunger Games, for instance.

What disappoints me so much about this is that I really felt that the world building in Legend was clearly sacrificed for the relationship building between the two characters, June and Day, who, surprise surprise, really spend a lot of time pondering and agonizing over their own sexual tension.

Maybe my adultness is clouding my thinking, but guys, come on! You’re fifteen, and the world is way messed up. There will be time enough for kissing when the government is overthrown.


Thanks for reading! If you’ve read the Legend series, please comment below and tell me what you thought (no spoilers!!!). And I’d love any suggestions for good YA reads, dystopian or otherwise. Follow me on Goodreads for more reviews and to see what I’m reading now.

Creepy kids, lit babes, and how to write about your escape from a burning building: Monthly Roundup, April 2015

1 2 3 56

I kept meaning to post my April roundup, and now, embarrassingly, it’s the middle of May. So let me dust off my Goodreads history and see what I read last month.

WRITING THE WRITER

I started the month with a writing ‘how-to’ book which I picked up randomly from the library, called Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives by Louise DeSalvo. I can’t remember why I picked it up, but I think it had something to do with the fact that I have had a pretty rough winter, and I am also trying to create a steady, permanent writing routine for the first time in my life (I can make a post on that later if you would like to hear more). A lot of my fiction is personal, I suppose, but never autobiographical. When I try to write autobiographical fiction, it just ends up boring and whiny. I tend to instead borrow bits and pieces of feelings, places, and characters from my experiences, but narratively speaking, it’s mostly invented. Anyway, I’m in a weird time in my life, trying to heal some past wounds while also trying to build a writing career with no starting-off point except my own stubborn belief that this is what I’m meant to do. I thought this book could help me turn my own personal brand of unhappiness into something that I felt was good enough to merit readers. Unfortunately, I found myself not relating to most of the text. I think it’s aimed much more towards memoirists or, at the very least, writers of purely autobiographical fiction.

One thing I absolutely hated was when DeSalvo would bring up ‘confessional’ type writers, such as Sylvia Plath, who were apparently Doing it Wrong. I felt it was kind of tacky how DeSalvo brought up the personal nature of Plath’s writing only to say that Plath wasn’t viewing her work as a form of healing so therefore she committed suicide. That felt very simplistic and diminishing to me, and totally dismisses how powerful/healing so many readers have found Plath’s work. DeSalvo also wrote a lot about her creative writing students, and this was sometimes laughable. ‘My one student who was raped, my one student who was homeless, my one student who escaped a burning building’, etc and so on. Did she ever have students who didn’t have traumatic pasts? How did they do in her class? It seemed to me that her brand/style of teaching writing is aimed entirely on memoirs of traumatic experience. This is fine, I just couldn’t really find a use for it myself.

It also made me wonder about different types of teaching that goes on in creative writing. Some teachers will really play up the emotional aspect of writing, while others will say that all that matters is the quality of the work. DeSalvo is writing from a place that says that our writing has more purpose than just being good work. I think she believes that good work will come if we make healing ourselves with our writing our main goal. I disagree. There’s a place for emotional, healing writing, but writing that you give to others to read and react to is usually a different kind of work–sometimes they intersect, but I wouldn’t expect to make a narrative out of my journals and have people get anything out of reading them. But, again, that’s just the kind of writer I am; there is good reason why writing a memoir at my age is not something I will even consider. I need to look outside of myself in order to write stories that are worthwhile. All this is just to say that this book isn’t for me, but writers of memoirs might get something out of it. I wouldn’t recommend it to writers of poetry, because her writing ‘program’ is aimed towards the turning of painful experiences into narratives in order to heal, and I know that personally, focusing too much on narrative doesn’t really work when I’m writing poetry.

Next I read Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood. The title refers to a novel-within-the-novel written by the main character, who is a writer of romance novels under a pen name, and is currently on the run after faking her own death. I would describe this as a mostly comic novel, and I liked it a lot although it’s not a favorite. I’m really enjoying reading Atwood’s novels in chronological order–I’ll make a post on this later.

LIT BABE ALERT: Junot Díaz

I broke my current streak of reading only women to read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz, and ended up with a crush. (This is the real reason I don’t like to read men.) After I finished this novel I went right on youtube and watched a bunch of interviews with Díaz, consumed with lust/admiration. What a babe. I don’t have much to say about this book except it was excellent, weird and stubborn and unapologetic in all the best ways, and reminded me that I want to learn Spanish. Now I’m back on Duolingo and learning a lot. Reading improves your life!™

THE MONSTER YOU RAISE

After that things took a creepy turn in April when I read We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, who wrote “The Lottery”. I loved this novel so much. It’s very American gothic, and it gets under your skin while somehow being so delightful to read. I think it’s basically I Capture the Castle meets American Horror Story, which of course means I recommend it to EVERYONE. So great. It’s basically about two sisters who are shunned by their whole town because of an “accident” that had poisoned their entire family years before. It’s so good, definitely a must-read for anyone who loves books with unreliable narrators and psychologically disturbed characters.

I somehow read two novels in a row about young characters who are accused of killing their families. How cute. Is there a genre for this? Anyway, I read Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, and I must say, Flynn is becoming one of my favorite contemporary writers. Her books are just so entertaining; I fly through them. I definitely recommend them for anyone who is in a reading slump, or wants to get back into reading–all three of her novels are impossible to put down. The main character of Dark Places is a mentally unstable woman, in true Flynn fashion. When she was a child she escaped from the murder of her entire family except her brother, who was accused of the crime and is currently in jail. Like with Sharp Objects, much of the story felt like it was for pure shock value, but the writing is so crisp that I can’t help but feel that Flynn almost always gets away with it.


That’s it for April. In total I read five books. If you’re wondering where I’m at in my Goodreads 2015 Challenge: I have read a total of 27 books to meet my goal of 80 for the year. Goodreads tells me I am 2 books behind, but that’s fine for me. Because we’re halfway through May already, I can give you some spoilers for next month’s roundup: so far I have been reading mostly short story collections, and gasp! Two books by men. Other than that I am really enjoying making an effort to read women this year, although I have noticed that the books I am reading are written by predominately white, Western authors. I am going to try to make an effort to change that this summer, so please feel free to give me some recommendations, and as always, hang out with me on Goodreads to see what I’m currently reading.

Tumblr’d

Untitled
out of the navy blue abyss

I haven’t been on WordPress for a while because I decided a few months ago to blog solely on Tumblr.

I have done monthly roundups. I have reviewed the following books: Wild by Cheryl Strayed,  The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood, Yes Please by Amy Poehler, and…is that it? I thought I blogged more than that.

I figured more people are on Tumblr, so it’s easier to have a conversation there. I was right and wrong. There probably are more people on Tumblr, but it’s not easy to have a conversation there, or even read more than two paragraphs at a time there. I’ve had a personal Tumblr since 2009, so I don’t even know what I was expecting, really. It’s very easy, on Tumblr, to simply reblog quotes and pictures and call that “blogging”, but that was really never the vision I had for this blog. I loved Tumblr once upon a time, but now I am getting old and cranky. So, back to square one on WordPress.

I started this blog a couple of years ago when I was still in college, and now I am wondering what about it keeps me locked in. I’m not entirely invested, don’t get me wrong, this is not my Main Thing; if I were I would post more often — but this blog has taught me a lot of things, namely, that I’m not good at book reviewing, and I’d like to get better. Also, I’m not good at blogging, and I’d like to get better. And, most importantly, it is one of many things over the past few years that has helped me realize that stories are my passion and I need to find ways to express that however possible, in a million ways a day. I need to be writing and reading stories, I need to be talking about them, I need to be teaching them/preaching them/cherishing them. Stories, true or false, are how human beings make meaning out of an indifferent world. I want to tell a story about that.

The Saltwater Book Review is simply a piece of this love I have, even if it’s no good and no one reads it. What I need for this blog is simply a space that feels like my own, and Tumblr, for all its charms, can’t ever feel that way. It’s a community collage, and that’s wonderful, so I will still re-post things to Tumblr, and I will still reblog quotes and pretty book covers stylistically placed next to lattes, but I know that if I leave this blog entirely on Tumblr I will lose interest, distracted by a gif of Taylor Swift, dancing.

On that note, I have been reading a ton and will be updating a bunch soon.