The final batch from 2019 (I read 70 books last year [not counting work books], if you’re curious)!
The Passage by Justin Cronin
This was so bad. Just so, so bad. The plot is well-worn and entirely predictable, the prose is boringly utilitarian and entirely absent of any style or voice, it’s absolutely stuffed with cliches, and all of the characters sound so alike that it’s easy to read several pages thinking you’re in a different one’s head (and it doesn’t even matter). There’s a government conspiracy accidentally bringing about a worldwide epidemic that turns everyone into zombies. There’s a Chosen One in the form of a little girl with powers and a white trash background. There’s a creepily well-adjusted neighboring group of survivors who seem at first to be welcoming, but there’s something off. There’s a magical negro.
Should you read it? No. Read Station Eleven and watch the first four seasons of The Walking Dead.
Cunt by Inga Muscio
The stupidest work of feminist writing I’ve ever read, and that’s saying quite a lot, as I’ve read Naomi Wolf. The meat of it is hard enough to choke down, but it’s made even more indigestible by the fact that its white author frequently apes an African-American patter through parts of it, in an attempt to sound, I guess, like she has a personality.
Should you read it? If you currently consider The Vagina Monologues to be daring and relevant, you might be blown away by this. Otherwise, read Wetlands.
The Pharmacist’s Mate by Amy Fusselman
I read this book at exactly the right time, and it made me feel seen and much less alone, and is thus very meaningful to me.
Should you read it? It’s possible that you can only meet the right book at the right time if you read a lot. It happens to me quite a lot, and I always feel extremely blessed when it does.
You Are Not a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett
I really enjoyed this collection – particularly the first and last stories in it. Not all of the rest were equally compelling, but overall, I felt that Haslett wrote these particular stories because he wanted to write them and enjoyed writing them, and not because he needed to publish a book of short stories (which is usually the feeling I get when I read contemporary short story collections).
Should you read it? Sure.
A Perfect Spy by John Le Carré
I’d never been interested in spy novels, but I figured I’d give at least one Le Carré a shot, and I’m glad I did. I thought this was really interesting to read. It’s not actually a spy novel; it’s primarily a Bildungsroman about a man who is a spy.
Should you read it? Probably not.
The Treatment by Mo Hayder
This is a crime novel about a pedophile with a micropenis who believes that women have caused his impotence and must be neutralized with urine, and whose M.O. is to perpetrate a home invasion and then force fathers to rape their sons so that he can masturbate while he watches and then bite the little boys. It’s…a lot. And it’s all very stupid. The twist doesn’t work at all, because Hayder’s just like “he forgot he had done these things because he’s….schizophrenic? That’s how that works, right?” Then there’s the embarrassing stereotype of a gay partner whose dialogue is literally, “I’m just a dyke dykily dykeing in my suit jacket and buzzcut, not liking lipstick or understanding women because I’m a dyke, isn’t it hilarious how sometimes people think I’m not a dyke when I’m a dyke?” But the worst part by far is when our protagonist straight up rapes his girlfriend (who is suffering from PTSD from previously being violently raped and nearly killed) right in the middle of the book! It’s horrible and makes no sense, and then later, his girlfriend is cool with it and apologizes to him for not going to therapy for her PTSD, so we just move on! And this book is written by a woman! What the actual fuck.
Should you read it? HELL NO, watch Mindhunter, or read Tana French or something, I don’t know, there are so many options right now for people who like this kind of thing that don’t suck as much as this.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
Haha just kidding, like my white ass is going to say shit about Audre Lorde, I know better than that.
Should you read it? My opinion is irrelevant on this matter (but yes, we should all read Audre Lorde).
Kim by Rudyard Kipling
Do you have whiplash yet? This was cute in parts, and not as racist as I expected, but I still could have skipped it.
Should you read it? No.
Ordinary Love & Good Will by Jane Smiley
I love the way Jane Smiley writes. Both of these novellas were good, but Good Will especially blew me away.
Should you read it? Read Good Will and also The Greenlanders. I just love The Greenlanders.
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
A few days ago, a good friend texted me and said, I just started this book and the main character really reminds me of you! And then in a bit she texted back, and was like, oh shit, I’m sorry, this is awkward!
This was a cute and enjoyable read, and Eleanor and I admittedly do have some similarities, but it’s ok, I’m completely fine!
Should you read it? Sure.
Pictures From an Institution by Randall Jarrell
This was considered an extremely witty novel in 1952; today, though, I was mildly entertained by about three lines and otherwise entirely bored throughout.
Should you read it? No.
The Overstory by Richard Powers
The Overstory is one of the big books of the year, it won the Pulitzer and everyone loves it, so it will come as no surprise to anyone that I didn’t care for it all that much. I had forgotten that I’d actually read one of Powers’s books in the past, and I absolutely detested it. I liked The Overstory much better than I liked The Echo Maker. Although Powers is still reliant on the bookending-story-with-pages-of-nature-description cliché (trees rather than cranes this time), it’s much better integrated and less Wikipedia-ish here, and overall, the prose did not strike me as overtly bad this time, but just sort of flat and boring. The novel is told in sections from the perspective of a wide variety of different characters who all sound…exactly the same. And although they change and grow over time, and experience a lot of intense situations that call forth different emotions, nothing in the text reflects any of this change; the story just marches dutifully forward line after line, constant and steady as a dripping tap. Imagine the fun that a writer like David Foster Wallace would have had with a book like this! Well, Wallace would never have written a moralistic vitamin of a novel, but putting that aside, every section of this would have had a different tone and voice, he would have experimented with style and rhythm, there would have been energy to it, playfulness, variety. But Powers’s voice, style, rhythm, and tone never vary the tiniest bit. His sentences throughout are the exact same length, and they rise and fall in the exact same cadence over and over and over and over, for 500 pages. It’s like the fictional equivalent of listening to house music, or eating an entire loaf of plain bread at one sitting (either one of which I would rather do than re-read The Overstory).
Should you read it? Probably, everyone else thinks it’s brilliant.
You Are Here: A Portable History of the Universe by Christopher Potter
I am a sucker for laymen’s introductions to physics and quantum mechanics, and this was one of the most fun and interesting such intro books I’ve read yet. I tore through it, and it made me want to read more about each of the concepts it touched on. I’m not sure how accurate any of it is — Potter isn’t a physicist himself, and this does not seem especially well-researched — but it sure is amateur-friendly!
Should you read it? If it sounds of interest at all and you’re stupid like me, you’d probably enjoy it.
The Magic Barrel by Bernard Malamud
These were ok. I like Malamud better than Singer. The best story in this collection by far is “The Last Mohican.”
Should you read it? Nah.
Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart
This was every bit as racist as I thought Kim was going to be, and stupid besides.
Should you read it? No.