My rating system:
10 – life-changing, an all-time favorite
5 - average for what I read
1 – terrible; why did I finish it?
A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline – This was a wonderful piece of fiction. Based on the painting “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth, the novel tells Christina’s life story. It’s done with sensitivity, with heartbreaking details, and realism. Christina suffers from an unknown illness that makes it hard for her to use her arms and legs, and she struggles with other people’s pity and attitudes. I found it very hard to put down, and even better than “Orphan Train” by the same author. Grade: 8
Hunger by Roxane Gay – How is this book so good? There are many memoirs out there but none like this. There are many books out there about women struggling to deal with the aftermath of rape, struggling to love their bodies and deal with pain, memoirs of people just telling you the truth of their lives and letting you inside their heads. There are many memoirs by people who ultimately do not triumph. But none are really like this. I can’t say quite why Gay’s book is so outstanding, but her writing itself is a cut above the prose in almost any other memoir. There are many gobsmacked reviews on Goodreads, here’s a bit from one of them: “It is not a memoir that asks for our pity, or tries to manipulate the reader, it is simply a woman's truth.” And “I was glued to the pages, completely rapt, as the author used words to create a plethora of emotions and reveal things about the world we live in.” Sorry for quoting from other people’s reviews; I do that when a book is too awesome. Grade: 9
And now, a digression…
Given the above two books, and “Saga” on the last book report, how am I supposed to enjoy any other books now? The struggle is real, nothing’s measuring up now! Here’s a rundown of books I started to read after the above but couldn’t finish.
There was a book about women pirates – well-researched but didn’t hold my interest; it just skipped around from one similar story to another until they kind of all blurred together. A young adult novel about a gay teen – great topic but bogged down with uninteresting details, and the writing (especially the dialog) was embarrassing. A book meant to inspire people to become their own superheroes but was really an excuse for the solipsist author to talk about her amazing self. (Blech). A book of essays which started out strong, full of incisive observations and strong cultural commentary, but after a few good ones the book got filled with the author’s reviews of books and movies - books and movies which I’d never seen or read (and most I’d never even heard of), so I just couldn’t relate or see a good reason to keep reading. A work of fiction that involved talking animals, and sorry – I hate talking animals, your book has to be otherwise amazing in order for me to read it if it’s got talking animals. A work of fiction narrated by a character who is a drug addict – it was immediate, sexy and daring, consisting of mostly brief paragraphs, snippets of her day. Not bad, but again it got very repetitive and plus I knew exactly where it was going and just wanted off that ride.
There are always books that I start but don’t finish; I am the first person to say that life is short and I’m not going to force myself to finish anything I don’t wish to. But dang, I’ve outdone myself lately with giving something the ax if I don’t love it! I guess each book just has too much great competition. And there are more good books below!
Okay, back to the book report. Here was another good one:
I Will Always Write Back by Caitlin Alifirenka, Martin Ganda, and Liz Welch – A true story told in chapters that alternate between Caitlin’s perspective and Martin’s. Caitlin is a well-off young student in the US, and Martin is an impoverished student in Zimbabwe. Both of their schools unroll an optional pen-pal program, they are matched to each other, and develop a friendship through their letters. Although Martin doesn’t write about it directly, it eventually becomes clear that his family is impoverished, his entire country is struggling, and even being able to afford postage to the US is becoming a problem. Caitlin and her family want to help. Definitely a heartwarming story that reminded me that one person can make a difference in this world. Grade: 7
Believe Me by Eddie Izzard – A memoir by the renowned comedian. I loved hearing Eddie’s coming out story (he is trans), but oh man the book needed better editing. It’s way too long and has so many details. (Like a whole chapter about him playing football as a kid. There wasn’t anything special about it. He just played some football when he was a kid. If I ever write a memoir, I won’t include how I took piano lessons as a kid since it didn’t really impact my life that much). Only the obsessed fan will be able to make it through the whole thing. I also expected a memoir by a comedian to be, well, funnier. I think Rachel Dratch did the perfect comedian memoir: it was hilarious, it was broken down into the most intriguing parts of her life, there’s no filler. So, full disclosure: I didn’t read the entirety of Izzard’s book. But his parts on coming out were good. And as meh as the book was, it did inspire me to YouTube some of his performances and they are great. Skip the book, re-watch some of Eddie’s performances instead. Grade: 3
Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues and the Heroes Who Fought Them by Jennifer Wright – Another fantastic book! The author makes a very grim topic readable, and truly at times hilarious. And yet it’s full of insight and research and just fascinating stuff about human history that we should know. Did you know that just about 100 years ago, a flu swept the US, killed more Americans than the number who died in the Civil War, no one really knows what caused it, what stopped it, or if it might strike again? And since World War I was going on, journalists were heavily censored and couldn’t even warn people to stay away from public places! Each chapter of the book covers a plague, like the one above – how people handled it, what we should know, just the interesting stuff. And I can’t say again how funny the writing is; I think I’d read anything she wrote. Grade: 9