June Reading Wrap Up

The month of June offered a pretty terrific mix of books to read, both in new releases and me finally settling down with some “meant to reads.” I spent time with two of my favorite authors, Jonathan Tropper and Dan Chaon, plus cemented my love for Ruth Ozeki. I found three new authors and started the beautiful Americanah, which I’ll undoubtedly review in July.

June 2014 Reads

Here’s my June reading list, best to worst.

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki — already reviewed

We Are Called to Rise by Laura McBride – already reviewed

Among the Missing by Dan Chaon

I love best Chaon’s ability to tap into our innermost insecurities for examination. From the insecure widow looking for comfort from an inflatable torso in “Safety Man,” to a survivor wracked with unspeakable guilt in the title story. He doesn’t cross the line into magical realism but his stories retain an other-worldliness that appeals to me. It’s the stuff of deepest fears and imaginings, our dreams and nightmares, and even our everyday weaknesses. All of these stories somehow hinge on a seemingly random twist of fate.

“It’s not like it ruined my life, I was going to say, but then I didn’t. Because it occurred to me that maybe it had ruined my life, in a kind of quiet way–a little lie, probably not so vital, insidiously separating me from everyone I loved. ”

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez — already reviewed

Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement – already reviewed

Everything Changes by Jonathan Tropper (audio)

Not his best work, but any Tropper is good reading. The story felt familiar — Zach is a 30-something Jewish guy with serious father issues who faces a life-altering crisis. Drama, humor and fist-fights follow. It’s the standard Tropper mix but I’m OK with that. Sometimes I want something familiar and not too challenging. I like that Tropper’s protagonists, for all their self-pity, are smart, acerbic and disarmingly self-aware. (Scott Brick is a great narrator for Tropper’s work.)

“Somewhere there’s a therapist alone in his office staring wistfully at the door, just waiting for a patient like you.”

China Dolls by Lisa See — already reviewed

The Last Days of California by Mary Miller

It’s a great premise — a family trapped in the car together as they drive from Alabama toward California to witness the Rapture, which is scheduled for Saturday. The narrator is a 15 year-old girl, insecure in comparison to her bombshell sister and in search of life’s meaning before it all ends. Religious fervor. Coming of age. Sexual awakening. Family drama. These are all components I love, but it never quite came together.

“Why didn’t I feel things the way others felt them? It wasn’t that I didn’t care about people. It was more like I couldn’t really believe they were real.”

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James – already reviewed

Bark by Lorrie Moore

I really did not like this story collection despite the quality of the writing, which is often brilliant. Once again, I have finished reading Lorrie Moore and wondered why her work does not appeal to me at all. Instead of feeling engaged and satisfied and moved, I feel like I’ve just gotten off a roller coaster. I went for a crazy ride, zig-zagged and looped, but in the end I got nowhere and have a slight headache. I know Moore has passionate fans, some of whom are my good friends, but I saw none of the humor or tenderness or truth they find in her work.

“Rage had its medicinal purposes, but she was not wired to sustain it, and when it tumbled away, loneliness engulfed her, grief burning at the center in a cold blue heat.”

Best Book Quotes of the Week

Best Book Lines Quotes, past and current.

 

From Julian Barnes, The Lemon Table

“Geese would be beautiful if cranes did not exist.”

Julian Barnes would be the crane of literary fiction writers in this example. Not sure why my Goodreads review of this collection is suddenly getting some “likes” but I’m thrilled to be taken back this simple, but beautiful thought. I loved this collection of stories and I’m thinking I may need another Barnes fix.

From Laura Moriarty, The Chaperone

“The young can cut you with their unrounded edges…but they can also push you right up to the window of the future and push you through.”

Another old Goodreads review that popped up this week. I still haven’t figured out why this short review remains one of my most liked , but since I’ve been thinking a lot about how my sons are too quickly maturing from boys to men, this quote resonates with me. I give them much credit for pushing me right into the future.

From Ruth Ozeki,  “A Conversation with Ruth Ozeki” at the end of My Year of Meats

“I want to write novels that engage the emotions and the intellect, and that means going head to head with the chaos of evils and issues that threaten to overpower us all. And if they threaten to overpower the characters, then I have to make the characters stronger.”

No surprise that she perfectly describes why I love reading her books so much. Her books engage me on multiple levels with just the right amount of chaos, strength of character and story resolution.

From Lisa See, China Dolls

“Dreamers are born to be disappointed.”

This is such a melancholy thought and it’s the one that underlies most of the novel. It’s the flip side of my usual “dare to dream” approach to living. It just made me think.

From Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are

“Let the wild rumpus start!”

My favorite Goodreads quote of the day this week. I read it and felt a whirlwind of emotional recall. I remember reading it repeatedly as a child and then sharing with my own sons. This book captured all our imaginations. (And, it’s a great quote to start the weekend!)

 

Looking for more great quotes?

Check out: Thursday Quotables at Bookshelf Fantasies or Every Day Has. You can also find bookish quotes on Book Quotes Hub.

 

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention.

Book Review: My Year of Meats – 5 stars

My Year of MeatsRuth Ozeki writes with such precision and honesty that I found myself walking alongside her main character Jane Tagaki-Little, completely immersed in the story rather than viewing it objectively. I had to keep reminding myself that this was Ozeki’s first novel, because it’s so fully formed and well-written.

Jane is a documentary maker who lands a job producing a television series for Japanese housewives called “The American Housewife” sponsored by the US Beef Conglomerate. She travels the country in search of families who exhibit American wholesomeness and values and can also provide a tasty meat recipe. (It’s really a great premise.) Across the world, Akiko is a bulimic Japanese housewife, watching and being moved by these shows. Opening each chapter are the words and poetry of a 1st Century female writer Sei Shonagon.

Given the alternating viewpoints, the mix of verse and prose, the author’s tendency to switch from first person to third person and a jumble of faxes thrown in, this could have been a hot mess of a book. Instead, it’s a work of art.

Both of these women are on a journey to find themselves which provides the emotional backbone for the novel. Akiko’s story seems to unfold in real time while Jane is writing with some self-awareness as she is looking back on “My Year of Meats.”

“It changed my life. You know when that happens — when something rocks your world, and nothing is ever the same after?”

While Jane’s assignment starts out as just a job, she grows immersed in the lives of the families she chooses to profile. She struggles to balance her desire to tell the truth with her need to serve her client, the show’s BEEF-EX sponsor, personified by Akiko’s husband. As she delves into “meaty” stories, she uncovers disturbing truths about the meat industry, which lends a very disturbing (almost sickening) undertone to the novel.

Ozeki clearly points out in the author’s note that this is a work of fiction, but it feels very much like the truth, complete with bibliography and footnotes. Issues of hormones, fertility, abuse, agriculture and culture all come to the forefront, but Ozeki resists the urge to preach.

“I chose to ignore what I knew. Ignorance. In this root sense, ignorance is an act of will, a choice that one makes over and over again, especially when information overwhelms and knowledge had become synonymous with impotence.”

Ozeki takes this novel from sharp-witted and playful to emotional and honest seamlessly. Her writing shines in the descriptions of each of the families Jane profiles, adding layers of richness to the main story.

“Each sojourn into the heartland had its own viscosity – a total submersion into a strange new element – and for the duration, the parameters of my own world would collapse, sucked like a vacuum pack around the shapes of the families and the configurations of their lives.”

This is my second Ozeki read. Last year I fell in love with A Tale for the Time Being. I will now actively seek her out. I am officially a super-fan.

Highly Recommend.

W…W…W…Wednesday

I’ll tell you mine and you tell me yours. Happy to return to this meme hosted by Miz B at Should Be Reading.

www_wednesdays44

I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

BarkWhat are you currently reading? Finally picked up Lorrie Moore’s short story collection, Bark. I have to admit, I wasn’t a fan of The Gate at the Top of the Stairs, but wanted to give her another shot in story form. She’s a sharp writer, but I’m not loving it after the first two stories.

 

 

 

The Last Days of CaliforniaWhat did you recently finish reading? Just finished The Last Days of California by Mary Miller. There’s much to love in this southern, dysfunctional, road-trip novel. It’s a great premise — a family trapped in the car together as they drive from Alabama toward California to witness the Rapture. Religious fervor. Coming of age. Sexual awakening. Family drama. These are all components I love, but it never quite came together. The threads of this story could have been like the novels of Wiley Cash or Kevin Wilson, but it pales in comparison.

 

My Year of MeatsWhat do you think you’ll read next? My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki. I absolutely loved A Tale for the Time Being so when I saw this title on the recommended shelf at my library, I had to pick it up.

What are your W…W…W… titles?