Once again I’ve found myself doing a lot of reading, but not a lot of reviewing. I’ve gathered up my thoughts on the last five books I’ve read and dropped them off here for your reading pleasure. Unfortunately, the results were not outstanding and I could use a solid recommendation to re-start my TBR. Let me know what you’ve got!
Featured Image – Abacos Libros y Cafe in Cartagena, Colombia
Reviewed below: An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine, The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature In A Men’s Prison by Mikita Brottman, The Kid Stays In The Picture by Robert J. Evans, The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton, The Muse by Jessie Burton, BONUS – S-Town Podcast
The Best: An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
The Worst: The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature In A Men’s Prison by Mikita Brottman
A Short Review of Short Reviews
click the links below for my full-length Goodreads reviews
An Unnecessary Woman – Rabih Alameddine
Goodreads – 4/5 – The Unnecessary Woman is a beautiful and intelligent story told from the point of view of a character that I feel is part of an often silent population in literature. Aaliya Sohbi is 72 years old and lives alone in her Beirut apartment translating classic works of literature that only she ever sees. She is intelligent, proud, and strong, and her story and the story of Beirut is captivating. While I did find the ending to be somewhat abrupt I thought it was a powerful story and would definitely recommend this book, especially to other lovers of literature.
I talk more about this quote in my review, it’s one of my favorites:
I long ago abandoned myself to a blind lust for the written word. Literature is my sandbox. In it I play, build my forts and castles, spend glorious time. It is the world outside that box that gives me trouble. I have adapted tamely, though not conventionally, to this visible world so I can retreat without much inconvenience into my inner world of books. Transmuting this sandy metaphor, if literature is my sandbox, then the real world is my hourglass—an hourglass that drains grain by grain. Literature gives me life, and life kills me. Well, life kills everyone.
The Maximum Security Book Club: Reading Literature In A Men’s Prison – Mikita Brottman
Goodreads – 1/5 – I would give this book zero stars if possible. I have never read something so cringeworthy and embarrassing in my life. Mikita Brottman is an Oxford-educated university literature professor in Baltimore who takes on a two-year project running a book club at a men’s maximum Security prison. The premise seemed interesting and like it could be a very worthwhile project, benefitting men who need an outlet for their minds in a very bleak situation. Instead, Brottman’s writing felt like she was conducting some kind of perverse psychological experiment for her own benefit, choosing dark literature that she is passionate about and attempting to illicit a reaction from men in their own very dark situation. It felt more like Brottman was taking advantage of the situation these men were in to attempt to make herself feel like she is not as privileged as she is.
The Kid Stays In The Picture – Robert J. Evans
Goodreads – 1/5 – I have a soft spot for old Hollywood glam and I love a good memoir for an insider take on the fabulousness of Hollywood before social media and the Kardashians. Robert Evans produced some of the best films ever released and had friends and girlfriends amongst the most famous stars of all times and I was curious to see how he lasted so long in a cut throat business. Unfortunately, while I know he made it through to 86 years old today, I am bit confused as to how. The stories were choppy and I truly missed the part explaining how anything got done when people were constantly calling, screaming, and then hanging up on one another. I was disappointed, both in the quality of the writing and in learning that Evans could not be more misogynistic if he tried; looking back it’s obvious my expectations were much too high.
The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton
Goodreads – 1/5 – The Miniaturist has been on my TBR for quite some time before I got around to reading it, and I was thoroughly disappointed with what I was expecting to be a great book. The story has a great premise, a potentially magical or enchanting mystery, and a setting I was previously unfamiliar with, so many components to an exciting and enjoyable novel. Unfortunately, at almost every turn I was disappointed and, honestly, the mystery was never solved and I am still confused at the point of this story. The idea behind The Miniaturist had a lot of potential, but it was lost in the author’s efforts to make the story seem mysterious, dark, and dangerous.
The Muse – Jessie Burton
Goodreads – 3/5 – Despite reading Jessie Burton’s first novel and feeling extremely disappointed, I decided to move on to her second and see if there were any improvements. I am happy to say The Muse easily outdid The Miniaturist and I was pleasantly surprised. While The Muse is not my new favorite book, it was well done, the mystery (almost) full fleshed out, and the story kept me intrigued and turning the pages. I am still waiting for an author to prove that contemporary fiction has more to offer me, and while this wasn’t it, I will continue trying.
click the links above for my full-length Goodreads reviews
Past Reads & Fictional Places is a list of all of the books I’ve read so far in 2017, as well as what I read during 2016 in Thailand. Reviews Archive is a list of all of the reviews I’ve written on GoodReads if you’re ever looking for particular thoughts on any past reads (ctrl+f to search the page for specific book).
Just a brief note to those choosing to read this review, I am writing this as though you’ve already listened to S-Town in it’s entirety. There are spoilers and I’m not spending much time reviewing the “plot line” if you want to call it that.
This is obviously not a book, but it’s a story nonetheless, and one I dedicated a good number of hours to. I was expecting true crime and got something much more strange, unexpected, confusing, and overwhelming. S-Town has been the talk of many a town since it’s release, though what the podcast is actually talking about is kept rather hush-hush. We know there will be a small-town murder investigation and that we will learn a lot about life in a small southern town; we know there will be a story, but we don’t really know what the story is.
The producers do tell a great story, and they really do talk about John B.’s life as if it is a story, even though it obviously isn’t. The first two episodes are more what I was expecting: tales of life in a very small, very conservative southern town and anecdotes about the people who live there, the investigation into the “murder” and all the potential people involved. It is the later episodes that really caught the outpouring from the can of worms that opened after Brian Reed went down to investigate and was taken in by John B’s charm. As you listen past episode two, you come to realize the podcast is really just broadly about the man that is John B. and how he “made an insurmountable challenge out of living,” as one of his clock-restoring friends describes it.
I’m quoting this article from Vox to explain more about the intricacies of S-Town and how it is not just about small-town southern life but about the current, global state of humanity: “the series also turns unfailingly outward, asking us again and again to connect the dots of John’s life to the long-term, looming impact of global issues like climate change, and to see his isolation partly as a product of human existential crisis in the face of uncaring societal apathy.”
There are so many interesting points made throughout the podcast and it’s because of John B.’s unique passion for very, very specific topics that listeners are forced to think outside their mainstream-media-fueled-boxes. I do think John B. would’ve wanted the world, or at least NPR listeners, to pay attention to the issues that Reed brings to light in the seven episodes. Just the description above is exactly what John is discussing in his manifesto, without the concise wording the Vox article offers. We should be worried about climate change, we should be concerned about the lack of moral outrage in so many various situations that are now our reality in 2017, and we should be more compassionate, educated people on the whole. But the podcast gets so much deeper than that, going deep into John B.’s sexuality, his past relationships, mental illness, and possibly a fetish or possibly an act of self-harm that is discussed in the last episode, that I highly doubt John B. would want to be public knowledge.
I enjoyed this podcast and I felt it illuminated a lot for me after listening, as a result of personal reflection and reflection on a sector of society I’m not very familiar with. But there were moments I felt incredibly uncomfortable as well and questioned if I was even supposed to be learning about any of the things being discussed by Reed after John B.’s death. We have no way of knowing though, and I can’t yet decide for myself if the decisions made here (to expose all of this information) are going to ultimately be for the better of so many listeners as to make it worth it, or if I just listened to something that I was never meant to hear. It just seems as though there isn’t a lot of responsibility taken by NPR for what they share with their listeners, we aren’t warned that John B. really hasn’t okayed this story, because he didn’t know it was going to come out. And a lot of what we learn in the end is truly speculation, was he depressed or did he have a rare disease caused by mercury poisoning that, in the end, shaped who he is and his thought processes? We have no way of knowing and we are left with a lot of unanswerable questions.
In reference to the article quoted above, I definitely recommend reading this Vox story as well. The author, Aja Romano, has much more articulately expressed what I just went through here. Glad to know someone else was on the same page as me!