Friday, March 25, 2016

Monthly Wrap Up: February 2016

Just as in January, I managed to complete six books in the month of February: three audiobooks, two eBooks, and one traditional printed text.  While I am pleased with the amount I read in February, I wasn't, for the most part, enchanted with the texts themselves.  Since I didn't enjoy a lot of what I read last month, I feel like I ended up sliding into a reading slump that I am still trying to shake off.  Why is it that a crappy book (or a series of crappy books) can throw off your reading mojo for weeks?  Life's mysteries never cease to amaze me!

In any event, here is what I read in the month of February:

|1| A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
[My GoodReads Rating: 3/5]
A Tale for the Time Being is a novel narrated by two characters separated by time and geography: Nao, a California-raised teenager living in pre-2011 tsunami Tokyo; and Ruth, a Canadian-American novelist living on a remote island off the coast of British Columbia.  Ruth finds a diary and some trinkets inside of a Hello Kitty lunchbox on a beach near her home.  The diary is written by a fifteen year old Nao, a girl who is struggling to find her place in Japan after living most of her life in California.  Ruth, who is struggling with writers' block and feelings of isolation, connects to Nao and her narrative.  The novel bends genres and blurs the line between writer and reader.  Despite its unconventionality, I found the book deeply engaging although I ultimately gave it a three our of five on GoodReads because the ending felt a bit rushed.  Had more time been taken to resolve the intricacies of the plot, A Tale for the Time Being would have been a solid 4/5 read.

|2| The Dumb House by John Burnside
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
I wrote a full review of The Dumb House a few weeks ago [you can read that here].  I won't go into detail here, but suffice it to say that though I found Burnside's prose to be startlingly beautiful,the plot was too horrifying for me to bracket.  The novel is a lyrical and intoxicating trigger warning in protracted form, hence the two star rating.

|3| On the Road by Jack Kerouac
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
A lot of people in the book-blogosphere adore Jack Kerouac's On the Road, I am not one of them.  Loosely based on Kerouac's own experiences, the novel is about a collection of hipsters who cross the country, moving from odd job to odd job, from lover to lover, and back again.  At the hear of the story is Kerouac's analog, Sal Paradise, and his fascination with the freewheeling Dean Moriarty.  What bothered me most about the novel was a pair of common complaints: the treatment of women and the romanticized portrayal of poverty.  The female characters in the novel are one-dimensional sex objects that are easily disposed of by the male characters.  No amount of geographical wistfulness or deference to the "coming of age" genre could makeup for the unease the status of women in Kerouac's novel caused me.  Similarly, I was off-put by the choice to be impoverished that some of the characters made.  In lieu of continuing their enrollment at elite schools or capitalizing on their profitable connections to friends or relatives, many of the characters chose to travel the country ostensibly on their last dime.  The only types of people who can make that choice of their own freewill are those that are privileged: you can only travel on your last dime if your last dime isn't your last dime.  Romanticizing poverty is the auspice of individuals who have resources to fall back on and to cast poverty as a choice that is easily reversed is an insult to the millions of people who struggle to break the cycle. Okay, rant over.  

|4| Chu's Day at the Beach by Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by Adam Rex
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
Chu's Day at the Beach is another installment in Neil Gaiman's series about the adventures of the titular panda cub.  I listened to this an audiobook on a down day.  While I enjoyed the story it lost some of its magic in audiobook format.  I'll probablt read this book again in the future, but in print . . . and probably to my pug!

|5| Sad Monsters: Growling on the Outside, Crying on the Inside by Frank Lesser 
[My GoodReads Rating: 2/5]
Sad Monsters is a collection of short stories about the fraught emotional lives of monsters and other mythical beasts. Lesser used to be a writer for The Colbert Report. On paper, this book had the makings of a hilarious read: a great concept and an author with a sterling comedic pedigree.  In execution, however, the book was lacking.  I didn't laugh out loud or laugh at all, really!  I read this as an ebook, but the format wasn't the issue; it just wasn't funny.  As a result, I gave Sad Monsters a 2/5 stars primarily on the basis of concept.  Other than being a great idea, there is little to recommend the book in any format.

|6| Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
[My GoodReads Rating: 4/5]
The best book that I read in February was Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.  In this novel, the title character, at the prompting of his girlfriend, tracks down his high school group of friends.  During his first years of college, Tsukuru's friends inexplicably exluded him from the group.  This break and the emotional fallout from it had a profound impact on Tsukuru's life.  The novel follows Tsukuru as he tries to piece together this traumatic mystery from the past.  Anyone who has ever struggled with being inexplicably excluded from their friendship group while growing up will empathize with the titular character.  I gave this book a 4/5 on GoodReads.

What did you read last month?  Let me know on Twitter @thelexicondev .

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