Recent Reads

In which I take a two-week summer vacation and read a bunch of trashy horror novels.

The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron

A problematic book. Many have argued about whether or not it’s racist, and it surely is, but I still think Styron mostly did a capable job of inhabiting his character and writing him as a full person. The stuff with the girl is offensive nonsense, but I think that’s more down to Styron’s misogyny than his racism. It’s not a bad book, but it’s not one of the better books I’ve read about slavery. 

Should you read it? No, read anything/everything by Toni Morrison instead.

Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen

These novella-length stories are dense and complex and absorbing. After I finished each one, I wanted to think about it more, and to read what other people have said about it. I also read what Isak Dinesen said about them, and so I read that about “The Monkey” she said, “sometimes a lot of time is saved if men just overcome convention and rape a woman.” (I’m paraphrasing.) And so then I thought, maybe I’ll just enjoy these without reading what people have said about them!

Should you read it? Yes, these are interesting and enjoyable.

The Bell by Iris Murdoch

I was disappointed not to enjoy A Fairly Honorable Defeat, the first novel I’d read by Iris Murdoch. I loved The Bell, though! It has everything I like — intentional living communities, nuns, academics attempting unsuccessfully to grapple with religion, unmanageable women, British people attempting to ignore conflict, carefully orchestrated public events that go terribly. The climax is sort of clumsily forced, and you can see the author’s scaffolding (and her struggles with that scaffolding) more than you should be able to. But I don’t really mind that.

Should you read it? Yes!

The House Next Door by Anne Rivers Siddons

A clever horror story, in which a small community of very privileged and well-meaning people are introduced to other people’s trauma and fail spectacularly at dealing with it. Siddons’s metaphor is very clear, but at the same time, she doesn’t hammer it home too clumsily. She strikes just the right note with the various characters — their reactions and rationalizations were all very real (the women much more than the men, who were kind of absent, but that was fine). It’s not quite creepy enough for people seeking a horror story, and it’s not interesting enough for people seeking literary fiction, so I’m not sure who I’d really recommend it to. I read it in a couple of hours and enjoyed it well enough. 

Should you read it? If you’re looking for a creepy plane read, it’s enjoyable and quick.

I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Atmospheric but too overt for my tastes, and it fell apart in the end. 

Should you read it? No.

The Red Tree by Caitlín R. Kiernan 

Interestingly written and original, but something about it felt off to me, and I eventually realized it’s because the book is entirely humorless. Neither the characters nor the writing have a drop of humor anywhere in them. I don’t mean they aren’t funny; I more mean that the writing is missing any indication of an awareness of the basic absurdity of the human condition. Nearly every writer does have this awareness — every other book I talk about here has it, on some level. If it’s nowhere to be found, it’s sort of like reading a book by an alien. 

Should you read it? No.

Come Closer by Sara Gran

I really enjoyed this one — it’s dark and short and real and open to interpretation, which is just what I like most in horror novels. 

Should you read it? Yes.

Hell House by Richard Matheson

Silly, boring, old-fashioned, and sexist. 

Should you read it? No.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

Well-written, but the second half doesn’t really build on the premise and the treacly ham-fisted ending about what it all means made me groan aloud. 

Should you read it? No.

The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins

At first, this seemed like just my sort of thing (I love 19th century British lit), but unfortunately, it was about 1/3 too long, and suffered from a couple of old-fashioned problems: the twists are too obvious, too heavily telegraphed in advance, and too laboriously explained once revealed for a contemporary reader to put up with, and there’s a delicate child-woman (two actually, but we only have to spend a lot of time with one). Nothing annoys me more than a delicate child-woman. 

Should you read it? No.

Fuzz by Ed McBain

A dumb dime novel about a goofy police force in the 60s. I have no idea why it was on my shelves. 

Should you read it? No, watch some Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

The last time I reviewed an Ian McEwan novel, I said that his novels always feel very accomplished and solid and well thought out and not that interesting. This one was similar, except slighter than some of the other ones of his that I’ve read. The ending especially felt tacked on. I couldn’t stop thinking about how much more interesting this same topic would be if any number of other writers had taken it up. That’s not to say this was bad exactly. It just didn’t feel very emotionally real to me. 

Should you read it? No.

The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon

Although Rippon’s main purpose here is to examine the current data on male/female brain differences, the scope of this book is broad, and it’s really more of an overview on what we’ve learned so far about brain development as a whole. The information is interesting, but Rippon is not a writer and it shows — this drags, it’s sort of strangely organized overall, and the writing is very bizarre in places. I wish it were more focused and compelling. 

Should you read it? You know what, yes. It’s maybe not the very best book on this topic, but I’m so sick of everyone endlessly parroting old wives’ tales about how our brains work. Everyone needs to immediately go read five books on neuroscience that were published in the last five years. (Including me.)

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve tired of the Aimee Bender school of vaguely feminist magical quirkiness in short story writing, but Link is better than most. I enjoyed a few of these quite a lot. 

Should you read it? Nah.

Point Counter Point by Aldous Huxley

Started out clever (I enjoyed the party scene introducing us all to the characters and especially the bit where the self-conscious working class ginger fell down the stairs in front of everyone), but quickly became really tiresome. The problem with novels of ideas is that they often end up reading like a college student wrote them, especially when they’re a bit dated. 

 Should you read it? No.

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

I’m still not into hardboiled detective novels and am not going to be, but Raymond Chandler is a much more clever and interesting writer than Dashiell Hammett, and I thought this was a lot more fun than Red Harvest

Should you read it? If you are into hardboiled detective novels, yes.

Sanctuary by William Faulkner

Faulkner is a great writer, I think, but like many great writers, I frequently will hit a passage that makes me think, oh, he is actually a terrible writer who has fooled us all into thinking he is a great writer. There are many such passages in Sanctuary, but to be fair, Faulkner himself considered this novel a potboiler. The worst thing about it is the clumsy, offensive handling of sexual assault, sex work, and race. Basically, he was well out of his lane here, and it shows. 

Should you read it? No, but read The Sound and the Fury if you haven’t yet.

The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner

Entertaining as far as it went, but Weiner didn’t really have much to say here.

Should you read it? No.

Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing by Lydia Peelle

Ah, the rare story collection I actually really enjoyed! Well, mostly, I enjoyed “Sweethearts of the Rodeo,” which is a near perfect short story. The rest were ok. 

Should you read it? You do not have to, because the best story is online for you to read right here, and I recommend you do so!


  1. I’d read about this all day:
    > intentional living communities, nuns, academics attempting unsuccessfully to grapple with religion, unmanageable women, British people attempting to ignore conflict, carefully orchestrated public events that go terribly.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Always a pleasure to read these posts! I’d recommend Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

    On another note, have you read Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace? That would be worthy of an entire post!


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