Reading Wrapup: Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon April 2017

4 May

I was down in Philadelphia for the NFL draft on the day Dewey’s actually took place, so I did it exactly 1 week early on April 22nd. I usually just include readathon books in regular wrapups but then they end up being impossibly long, so I decided to split it up this time around! This was a good readathon for me: I only read for about 11 hours (maybe 12? I took a really long break to go for a walk & make dinner) and I didn’t wake up early or stay up later than usual. But I got 7 books read, and 1,186 pages! I mean, I mostly read short things (does Fuku Fuku even count?), but I also hit a lot of goals. I got 2 Man Booker International books, 1 Bailey’s, and 1 Hugo novella off my list, along with 3 physical unread books I own. 2 of them even count for the Read Harder challenge. So they all met goals, which is great! I was hoping to get to both of the Hugo novellas I had to read, but oh well, still a successful readathon.

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Our Numbered Days, by Neil Hilborn. How do you review poetry? I always find it such a daunting task, because poetry is a lot more personal than novels. What we like and what we don’t like won’t always be easily defined, and a great poem for me will fall entirely flat for someone else even if we think we have the same taste in poetry. That said, I absolutely adored this collection. It reminded me a little bit of Melissa Broder and Sam Pink (my favorite modern poets): dark, twisty, emotional, and charged with passion. Many of the poems are about depression and OCD, so I felt a very close personal connection with them that neurotypical readers probably won’t have.

Fun as meditation, meditation being
doing exactly what you want to do
at the exact moment you want
to do it. When I say “I am having fun”
I am also saying “I can’t imagine
being anywhere else.” So suck it,

depression. I don’t need you, I have
not needed you, and even when I don’t
mean it I will say I’m having fun
and I don’t want to be anywhere else.
I will wield my joy like a broadsword
or a fucking nerf gun. I will have
fun like my life depends on it
because it does.

Lipstick Rating5 Full

 

 

 

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Swallowing Mercury, by Wioletta Greg. MBI longlisted. This was an enjoyable but ultimately forgettable novel about a young girl growing up in 1980′s Poland. It’s an interesting mix of those traditional coming of age elements (discovering sexuality, testing the relationship between parent and child, figuring out what it means to be an adult) with the fall of Communism in the background. For example, in one chapter we have the excitement of a girl getting her first real, grown-up dress, tempered with the knowledge that her mother had to purchase such lovely fabric on the black market. These historical details are very much in the background and don’t dominate the narrative, but they do make an important framework. Because of this, I really suggest reading the translator’s note at the back of the book before reading the novel (novella?) if you aren’t familiar with Polish history. It has almost no spoilers, and provides a lot of context that would have otherwise gone over my head.

The writing is sparkling and beautiful. Wioletta Greg is a poet first and storyteller second, which is pretty clear here. There will be absolutely dazzling sentences about decidedly mediocre characters & plot event. Language alone cannot carry a story to greatness, which is my main takeaway here. Coming of age is a genre I usually greatly enjoy, but everything here lacks depth and connection.

It’s really more a series of vignettes or short stories. We get snippets of Wiola’s life, but none of it feels connected. She gets a cat in one chapter, the cat dies in the next, and that’s it. No more mention of the cat except in very brief passing. It basically goes “oh I am happy I have a cat! Oh no, now I am sad there is no more cat. Anyway here’s what happened with my aunt soandso 2 weeks later.” Many of these chapters really could stand alone as short stories, which is not a compliment. It all feels disconnected, both from the reader and from itself.

I feel almost entirely neutral about Swallowing Mercury. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. I’m sure a few weeks from now I will have trouble even remembering the details of the story, if you can call a series of life snippets a story at all. However, if you like slice of life style fiction this might be a lot more up your alley.

Lipstick Rating 3 Full

 

 

 

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Liquid Status, by Bradley Sands. The blurb for this compares it to Blake Butler, especially There Is No Year, which is right on the money. This is a strange, bizarre little novella about a family that becomes trapped in their house after the grandmother dies in the living room. Things get very strange very quickly: after the door disappears, the first thing that happens is the grandmother turning into a Slip ‘n Slide. And that is one of the least out there things that happens in the pages of Liquid Status.

I gave this a good rating, but it might actually be a little too Blake Butler. The influence is clear, and a harsher reviewer might even call it derivative. But there’s a humor here that you don’t find in Butler’s writing. The bizarre events have an element of comedy to go along with the horror, and I actually laughed aloud at some passages. But it’s missing the hallucinatory power of Butler’s language, and at the end I was left a little more puzzled than enraptured.

Bizarro is a genre I do enjoy when done right, and I sadly find that most things in the genre are misses for me. I want there to be some reason behind the strangeness, a meaning the reader can at least try to eke out. Writers like Jeremy Robert Johnson do this very well, and of course Blake Butler (though personally I would never classify him as bizarro), and I think I can safely add Bradley Sands to that category. I did want a little more from Liquid Status than I got, but in the end I’m very glad to have found a new author to follow.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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The Dark Circle, by Linda Grant. Bailey’s shortlisted. The last of the Bailey’s books I plan on tackling! I haven’t read the whole longlist (though I might eventually get to Barkskins), but I do think 13 out of 16 is pretty good. My main goal was to get to the entire shortlist, and this is the last of those 6 I had unread.

The name does make it seem like this will be a more moody and dark book than it actually is. While the plot, which centers on two twins who end up in a tuberculosis¬†sanatorium before a cure is discovered, it certainly not sunshine and rainbows, it’s got a strongly positive core. There is a large and diverse cast at the sanatorium: men and women from all walks of life, and while their lives are far from pleasant they form strong bonds and friendships.

This is not the type of book I would normally pick up, but I found it quite enjoyable. It was basically everything I wanted from The Ballroom. The writing is beautiful, the setting is slow and atmospheric, the cast of characters is very strong. However, I did not find it particularly memorable. While I’m certainly not upset that I read it, it’s also not a book that will stick with me down the line.

Lipstick Rating 3 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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The Unseen, by Roy Jacobsen. MBI shortlisted. Oddly enough, the things I loved about The Unseen were things I had issues with in Swallowing Mercury. They both have short chapters and most of them could stand alone as short stories. The Unseen is about a family on an isolated island in Norway and we get snippets of their daily life throughout quite a few years. And while some of the chapters were almost stand-alones, there was more connectivity on The Unseen and I felt like the characters were significantly more engaging and sympathetic.

This is a dark, desolate book. The lives of all the characters are very harsh, and there is little for them to live for other than their family. The island they live on seems to be actively working against them: for example, the father decides to build a structure on their property, and it is almost instantly blown down during a harsh storm. Yet he keeps trying, constructing the bones of the new structure again and again until he gets it right.

There is a level of futility beneath the surface here. Everything seems to go wrong at the most inopportune moment. Life on the island seems almost hopeless, and yet our family keeps trudging forward against the current. It’s poetic in a way, but also depressing. However, I really enjoyed the bleakness and felt like it was delivered amazingly well. While of course this is a book in translation, Jacobsen can spin a beautiful sentence and tell a mesmerizing story.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

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Fuku Fuku Kitten Tales Vol 2, by Konami Kanata. It’s a cute manga about kittens, what more could you want? While the stories here do not have the depth of emotion you find in The Complete Chi’s Sweet Home, Part 1, they’re sure to please any cat lover. No one does feline faces and emotions like Kanata Konami: they’re so perfect and adorable! And, of course, very relateable for any cat owner.

Lipstick Rating 4 Full

 

 

 

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A Taste of Honey, by Kai Ashante Wilson. Hugo Novella Nominee. What a pleasant surprise this was! I honestly only read it because it was a Hugo novella nominee, and I am so glad I made that choice. Everything about this sparkled. The setting, the character, the stories… I’m in love!

A Taste of Honey tells the story of Aqib, who lives in a very homophobic society. It’s a fantasy setting, of course, but a unique one. Instead of generic European medieval lands, this is African fantasy. The setting is lush, vibrant, and captivating. Aqib works in the royal menagerie, which involves things like taking a tame cheetah out hunting and teaching pink bears to dance. There is also magic, of course, since this is fantasy… but it’s very strange magic. In fact, it’s basically math. And, in a clever twist on the ‘women are the most magical gender’ trope, math is now considered “women’s work.” I say now because there are some hints that this is perhaps Earth way in the future, after an apocalypse that poisoned the planet. There are also all kinds of other witches who do things like talk to birds and lift 10 times their body weight, but it’s also implied that this is connected to opening some part of the brain with, you guessed it, math! We even have math-powered god beings. Wilson manages to squeeze a huge amount of world building into a very slim volume.

At the beginning of the story, Aqib falls in love with the visiting soldier Lucrio. It’s forbidden for them to be together of course, and while this is a fantasy novel it’s also a romance. It’s told in a non-linear fashion, but each section is dated (either by Aqib’s age or by the days he & Lucrio spent together) so it never gets confusing or convoluted. It’s very easy to follow all the threads, and there are a lot of them! The ending was completely unexpected and actually left me a bit teary, which is saying a lot. Wilson managed to make me care so deeply about these characters in well under 200 pages.

Lipstick Rating 4 And 1 Half

 

 

 

If looking over this list has taught me anything, it’s that I have very strange taste in books.

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