Reading Roundup: September 2020

The Last Flight by Julie Clark

This is one of the few thrillers I've read that isn't about murder and gore. It also focuses on two women, both of whom are smart and capable. The suspense in the book comes from watching them figure out how to save themselves, and I spent the whole book not knowing what happened next. If you want an exciting mystery that won't creep you out too much, this is a good one.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

This book will make you both sad and angry--which is what it should do. I was vaguely aware of the problem of affordable, stable housing, but until I read this book I didn't know the great difficulties that some people face when trying to find (and keep) a decent place to live. I also learned a lot about the intersection between stability in housing and poverty, and admit that I am privileged enough to be shocked and the relatively small amounts of money that impact people's ability to successfully manage their own lives. Although Desmond writes a bit about possible solutions, this book is more focused on the problem. I hope he writes more in the future about this issue; he's skilled at taking a complex problem and focusing on the human elements.

Sex and Vanity by Kevin Kwan

I had a lot of fun reading this book, and it took me until halfway through to realize that it was a retelling of A Room With a View. It's been a long time since I had read that book, but a quick look at Wikipedia confirmed that Kwan has done an excellent job of reworking it for our time. In some parts of the book, the name-dropping made me tune out a bit since I know nothing about New York society and I don't care. I also thought that the critique of racial hypocrisy could have been a bit stronger. Despite that, I've been recommending this book to anyone I know who wants something completely ridiculous and fun to read right now.

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez

Although I was familiar with some of the studies in this book, many of them were new to me. This is a fascinating overview of the ways in which women are often overlooked and undervalued in the world, and the reasons behind them. I like that she uses examples from all over the world and from all types of societies and cultures, since bias can affect everyone if they are not constantly guarding against it.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

I read this expecting a fairly cute chick-lit book about a quirky person. Instead, I read a book about someone who has poorly adjusted after a childhood filled with trauma, and whose maladjustment leads to her being rejected by most people around her. While it ultimately ended on a positive note and I didn't hate reading it, this book is definitely not just a 'feel-good' read.

Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir by Natasha Trethewey

This book is not lengthy, but it is packed with images and emotions. I felt like I got to know Trethewey intimately; not just the facts of her life, but her feelings and interpretations of them, and how those changed over time. This was a powerful memoir and one of the best I've read.

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

I decided to read this poetry collection after reading Trethewey's memoir. Poetry is often very personal, and understanding more about Trethewey's life helped me feel the emotions in her poetry more deeply. This collection was published about a decade before her memoir, so I also found it interesting to see images and phrases that continued through in her writing.

You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz

I kept waiting for something to happen in this book, and while a few things happened as the plot moved forward, the pacing is rather slow. One of the themes of the book is the self-deception of the protagonist, and while this is an interesting theme for a book, it's difficult to read so much from the point of view of a person who is seeing and understanding so little. I kept waiting for a breakthrough or some new awareness that would open up the story a bit, but the little bits that came through were not enough to keep my interest.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Every time I read another book by Ware I think that I should just stop. Then I want to read a mystery, and Ware's books keep showing up in recommendations, so I try again. This is another book where the protagonist makes it really difficult to keep reading. She is completely unaware of her surroundings and ridiculously insecure, and doesn't change much as the book goes on. I kept reading mostly to find out how things would end, and although I wasn't fully satisfied, I was a little surprised that the main character managed to get herself together enough to survive.

The Bear by Andrew Krivak

Although this book covered many of the themes of The Road, it was much more pleasant to read. That doesn't mean it was happy, just that it was much less gruesome. Krivak's strength as a writer is describing nature, and the setting really shines in this book. I'm not sure if it's a fable, or an exercise in magical realism, or an exercise in showing why the Earth itself is much better than most of the humans living on it. Either way, I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it to anyone.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

This is one of my favorite new books. It is a romance and has a few of the tropes of the genre (and a bit of explicit content, although that aspect is not excessive), but also is a lot more than just a boilerplate romance. I liked that both the lead characters had a fair amount of baggage, and that they had to work through it together to make their relationship work. I also really enjoyed the book's thoughtful look at writing and the publishing industry. More than anything, this book was both meaty and fun, which is my favorite combination in a read.

Movies

Holes

It's been a while since I last watched this movie and I'm glad the kids chose it for our movie night. It's an excellent adaptation of the book (which I think shows that a good movie has to start with good source material), and it's got great performances from all the actors.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

I should probably watch the Marvel movies in order, but I really liked the first Spider-Man with Tom Holland and wanted to follow up before I worked my way up to this one. I had a great time watching this. I didn't know much about the plot and didn't anticipate the twists in the plot. The love story was cute and believably high-school level, and I liked the tension between Spider-Man's duties as a superhero and his desire to just be a teenager. 

Jurassic Park

I decided to watch this with the two older kids in order to improve their cultural awareness. They laughed at the old-school technology and were truly mystified by some of the gender politics (like Laura Dern's portrayal of a woman scientist who is weirdly flighty and incompetent). After nearly an hour of no dinosaurs, they both said 'this is a little boring' right at the moment things got scary and stayed that way for the rest of the movie. In the end, we agreed that this is a fairly significant movie for a number of reasons, but not one we all want to watch multiple times.

Comments

Th. said…
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We also just watched Jurassic Park! I'll post my list tomorrow, but, spoiler, I think we liked it more than you did.

I am curious how you found Laura Dern's character incompetent, though? I don't think that's a complaint I've ever heard before.

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