I am doing some awards reading, which is always tricky because I need to keep quiet about it but I also log all my books so it's a weird tension. But lucky you, that means I will have less reviews in the What I'm Reading Right Now section, which is probably good since it has started to get pretty long as I've been pulling out of slump mode.
Awards reading is not really important but also I am always irked when awards go to what I view as a bad book. Awards also have a history of being conservative, of going for safe choices, of leaning heavily white and male. So I like to keep my finger in the pot a little bit.
However, awards reading is the only time I have to take on reading that I didn't choose. And that is really not my favorite. It is probably why it's better for me not to work in publishing. My enthusiasm for reading dips substantially when I do not get to make my own choices or read based on my own pleasure. I know that I read so much that people consider it a personality trait. It doesn't always feel that way to me, it is integrated into my life like anything else, but when it gets commandeered, I feel it deeply.
So a few weeks where I will be a bit out of sorts while I get through. I also have to go out of my routine since the amount of reading I have to have done by the deadline is more than I would usually get done in this time period. Enjoy a few weeks of shorter newsletters.
The New Release section is going to be short for some time. A very long list of books came out in January, but I have only a handful for February, March, and Aprill.
If you are looking for a unique horror novel that really stands out, I cannot recommend String Follow enough. Both deeply dark and ultimately optimistic, it is very much about the horrors of real life. It has an unusual narration, where it's clear there is some kind of malevolent force moving through groups of teenagers in a small midwestern town. But this malevolence also feels very real, wrapped up in all the awful indignities and the overwhelming emotions of being a teenager in a world where the worst can happen at any time.
Lots of the big content warnings you usually see if novels about teenagers dealing with the "issues" of the present, including suicide, school shootings, parental neglect and abuse, sexual assault, etc.
One of the subgenres starting to show up more and more are stories starting to examine the nuances within the #metoo movement and how it has reshaped the world. A particular trope of so many stories, the professor who sleeps with students, is no longer something we humor but something we look at as inappropriate professionally and troubling in the power dynamics it creates. In this story, our protagonist (not the titular Vladimir!) is a professor herself as well as the wife of a professor who is now suspended for having relationships with his students.
Our protagonist is in her 50s, trying to adapt to the new social norms of her students, and trying to adapt to her own aging. The titular character is a new professor, a younger man who shows unusual interest in her, and who she becomes obsessed with.
This didn't quite bite as much as I wanted it to and goes a bit off in the last third, but it has so much to play with before that that I think it's worth a read anyway.
What I've Been Reading
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Shelves: Historical Fiction
I love narratives about narratives, stories within stories, and Trust is an excellent example of the genre that is also one of the most straightforward. I know some readers dislike a feeling of manipulation or bait and switch when they find one narrative to contradict the other, but while those things happen in this book, the book also isn't interested in pulling the rug. It is quite clear about what each section is, and it illuminates as you go.
I do want to provide one important note: it was a good thing I saw the accolades for this before I started because at first I wasn't sure what the big deal was and it's very possible I would have put it down. The first part does feel rather like Wharton, a story of a prestigious and tragic wealthy family in New York. The second part had me once again going back to confirm that everyone loved this book, because I was immediately wrinkling my nose at the tedious, self-involved memoir of a man in finance, who bore a strong resemblance to the man in the first story. But I powered through and I wanted to let you know that you will be rewarded for doing so. The second part is supposed to be that grating and it will be worth getting through it.
I admit that I do not read many books by cis men these days (my excuse is hilariously the same excuse of the many cis men who read almost entirely cis men--that I let my interests guide my reading) and when I do I have noticed more books with female protagonists as they begin to reckon with patriarchy, though sometimes it is just acknowledging rather than reckoning. This frustrates me more than it pleases me. Plenty of women write about women like this, it is unclear what these men are contributing or what they're trying to say. I would much rather see men grapple with their role in patriarchy directly, but I rarely do. And then this book came along. It is a book about capitalism, the financial system, and wealth, but it is also a story about how men become the heroes of these stories. This book is very smart in how it engages with patriarchy and misogyny, showing us not just the wealthy exploiting the work and care of women. It also uses the voices of men and, ultimately, women as well. The echo of a man telling a woman's story put up against the work women do to tell men's stories bounce back and forth off each other like two mirrors held parallel. I was so satisfied by the end, this is exactly the kind of interesting writing that I have been wanting but mostly not getting from men writing literary fiction.
Not a puzzle box, really (after all, the table of contents tells you the four parts and their authors) but still giving you the pleasures of new context making the story deeper and richer as you go.
There were some elements of the final section that were too clear for my liking, I would have liked them weaved in in a way that fit the rest of the prose and style. Felt a bit clunky for how expertly done the rest is. But that is also me being a devoted reader of puzzle box stories looking for subtlety and surprise. By the final section you already suspect what you will read, so it is not really a surprise after all.
Release Date: Available now!
Shelves: Audiobooks, Nonfiction
These days when a new tv documentary shows up, I've learned that it's usually better to just find the book. Especially if there's a good one out there, it'll answer more of my questions and give me a fuller picture. So that's just what I did when I heard about the Beanie Baby documentary, since I knew this was a recommended look at the phenomenon.
This book does a great job at putting the BB craze in context of other panics, booms and busts throughout history. It zeroes in on how things started and gives you a good idea of how people started collecting and how people got rich or lost it all.
It is also a detailed look at Ty Warner, whose eccentricities created several of the elements that made the phenomenon happen in the first place. It's not a very sympathetic portrait, but that happens when no one really has much nice to say about you and you won't comment on the record.
This is just about right in terms of length and detail. I did the audiobook which I breezed right through.