All the Dirty Parts

Title: All the Dirty Parts

Author: Daniel Handler

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: Many people will know Daniel Handler by a different name – lemony snicket.  Please, please do not go into this book thinking that this is in any way a continuation of lemony snicket’s writing.  This book is marketed as an adult book, but I would park it somewhere at the extreme end of young adult – very late teen, if you will.  Here’s why late teens and adults should take this book for a spin.

The narrator of this book, Cole, loves sex.  He also loves masturbating.  And he is not shy about talking to the reader about it.  This book is presented in small, choppy chunks of thought.  Sometimes it’s hard to tell just who is talking, and sometimes changes of subject are hard to follow.  I loved that about this book, because it adds to the frenetic atmosphere that is adolescent sexual discovery.

Cole warns us early on: “There are love stories galore, and we all know them.  This isn’t that.  The story I’m typing is all the dirty parts.” And Cole describes all the dirty parts all right, of a string of sexual relationships that feel casual and fun to Cole.  Like many kids, he experiments sexually, and the reader watches Cole struggle with his identity as a young sexual man. We meet a young lady who seems so different from Cole, and watch their relationship develop as well.  It’s all written in those short bursts, and it’s decidedly consumable.  And explicit.  Cole really wants us to understand his life and how much he enjoys having sex.

During the course of storytelling, I watched Cole hit an apogee, and I watched his orbit decay.  He’s a complicated character, who reminds me slightly of a dirty, but not mentally ill Holden Caulfield.  He wants to tell it to you straight.  He doesn’t realize how emotionally immature he is, until he does…

I consumed this short novel (144 pages) in the course of an afternoon, when I had meant to space it out over a few days.  If that’s not a recommendation to pick up, I don’t know what it!  I will be suggesting this book to some of the men I know, seeing if they can find themselves within the pages, and to some women, who might recognize Cole as well.

All the Dirty Parts

The Enchanted

the enchanted
From amazon.com

Title: The Enchanted

Author: Rene Denfield

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: This book was lovely magical realism at its finest.  I felt transported, and at the end of the book, I felt changed.  I listened to this on audiobook, his stop, and bought a print copy to share with friends.  I really feel this book.

This is the story of men on death row, and the lives that radiate from that seemingly-forsaken place.  The narrator, referred to as Arden at points in the story, watches but does not speak.  Alternately, we see what life is like for a newly-arrived boy only serving a bit of time; for York, who refuses to fight on appeal to save his own life; for a variety of prison staff in this corrupt, vividly disgusting hellhole; and for Arden, the Lady whose job it is to save York, and the Fallen Priest.  Incidentally, the Lady shares her line of work – indigent defense of death row inmates) with the author.

All characters deal with more than their fair share of problems in their lifetime, but the title refers to an altogether unique and magical setting – the prison itself is alive.  Is in enchanted, and the narrator often refers to it as “This enchanted place.”  No enchanted place could be more heartbreaking.  I don’t want to share the stories of abuse, mental illness, and depravity that are contained in these pages, because you must read them yourself to understand how deeply everyone has been let down in this story. The setting will help you to understand, as it is its own character.

This books is about death row and prison: the corruption, the politics, and mental health issues.  This book is about humanity: love, vulnerability, and the act of moving on or moving forward or moving beyond. Its ending, while perhaps not happy, is one of the few truly beautiful endings I’ve come across in a while.

I will unreservedly recommend this book to all.

The Enchanted

Norse Mythology

norse mythologyTitle: Norse Mythology

Author: Neil Gaiman

Read harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥♥♥ /5

Why: First of all, I love Neil Gaiman.  I picked up this book because I love Neil Gaiman.  This is a slim book containing Norse mythology (as the title may suggest).  It is not new information and the stories contained within are not Gaiman’s stories.  So why did I read this, and why is it worthy of 5 stars?

First, Gaiman is uniquely positioned to write this story.  His extremely well-reviewed novel American Gods borrows heavily from Norse mythology.  I knew that he would treat the topic with respect, as he has shown a deep interest in it.  Additionally, Gaiman is in my opinion one of the best story tellers in the 21st century.  From adult novels like American Gods to children’s tales like Fortunately, the Milk, Gaiman has shown himself to be singularly adept at weaving a tale.  Norse myths deserve such tales to be told.  And finally, I love Norse mythology – my father, who I adore, has a tattoo of Odin on his bicep.  So, what else was to be done than devour this quick read?

This collection of short stories is peak Gaiman, with beautiful turns of phrase, simple syntax, and clever bits to smile at if you’re paying attention to what you’re reading.  I can’t recommend it enough for that reason, since any book of mythology has a penchant toward being dry as it is shoved full of details (sorry, Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, but it’s true), and Norse mythology itself has a tendency to end of a little bloody and violent, so some dry humor helps the medicine go down.

I will recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  I recommend it to you, without hesitation.

I’ll leave you with some Thoughts of Thor: “I’m not happy about any of this,” said Thor. “I’m going to kill somebody soon, just to relieve the tension. You’ll see.”

Norse Mythology

The Princess Diarist

"The Princess Diarist" by Carrie Fisher.
“The Princess Diarist” by Carrie Fisher. philly.com

Title: The Princess Diarist

Author: Carrie Fisher

Read Harder Challenge: No

Star Review: ♥♥♥ /5

Why: I read this book before Carrie Fisher’s unfortunate passing, but during a Renaissance of excitement for her as Star Wars regained some of its popularity in recent years.  I am a Star Wars fan but not a fanatic, so I was interested in this book but with not a lot of real information about the period of time Fisher would be discussing.

Fisher describes the time she spent filming Star Wars, with lots of appearances and descriptions of people known well in the world – her mother, Harrison Ford, you know, just a few names we know.  She gives a run-down of her acting career before Star Wars.

I sought out this book having hear Carrie Fisher speak on podcasts like The Nerdist, but haven’t read anything from her.  I was glad to have listened to the audiobook, narrated by the author, and I thought the content was mildly interesting.  I gave it fewer stars than perhaps would be expected for two (interconnected) reasons: first, I was just not that interested in this time in her life (being a fan and not a fanatic), and two, I found her self-deprecating tone too much by the end.  Of course, I prefer self-deprecation over ego or over-confidence!  But I find the tone for a well-to-do white person can be hard to balance, and it wasn’t working for me by the end.

I am glad for the experience of this book but will probably only find myself recommending this one to folks who show interest Carrie Fisher’s life in detail, rather than as a moment in a cultural landscape.

The Princess Diarist

Here Comes the Sun

herecomesthesun_approvedTitle: Here Comes the Sun

Author: Nicole Dennis-Benn

Published: 2016

Read Harder Challenge: Yes – A book where all point-of-view characters are people of color, a debut novel

Star Review: ♥ ♥♥ ♥ /5

Why: Nicole Dennis-Benn’s book is much talked about, and extremely well-received, especially for a debut!  I knew I had to read it this year or I would lose the opportunity to read this book within the lovely cloud of excitement it’s generated.  I’m glad I did!

The main characters of this literary fiction novel are struggling – with the choices they make, the reasons they make them, and the impact that they have on themselves and others.  Meanwhile, Jamaica is its own character (figuratively speaking – this is not magical realism!), and is dealing with the same crises as well.  It’s an extremely poignant read as it follows Delores, her two daughters Thandi and Margot, and the connections they have made to an interconnected, messy, and very real conclusion.

I started this book finding it hard to wrap myself around it.  I recently read a quote (don’t ask me where) about how literary fiction is supposed to increase readers’ empathy because it drops you into someone else’s life, whose experience can differ from your own.  I felt this book doing that, but I also found myself combating my poor habit of impatience and speed-reading.  The beginning of this one, like many literary fiction novels, sacrifices plot for character development and I was definitely wavering somewhere in the beginning third on this one. As this book explored its themes of identity, race, self-determination, and love, I felt myself more drawn in.

One thing this book did that I generally enjoy is having all the disparate plots come together for the conclusion of the novel.  All characters are sympathetic in their own way, but none are loveable. To see the way they impact one another is the reason we get to know them, rather than to encourage or hope for their growth as people.  As expected from someone who teaches writing and has participated in several writing workshops, sentences are beautiful but a bit self-aware.

Overall for me, this book was impactful, but not quite as deft as Ngozie or Zadie Smith in its exploration of similar themes.  That knocked off a star for me, though it’s nothing to be ashamed of since I consider them masters in that regard.  I will certainly be recommending this one to friends.

Here Comes the Sun

Orhan’s Inheritance

Title: Oorhans-inheritance-paperback-400x600rhan’s Inheritance

Author: Aline Ohanesian

Published: 2015

Read Harder Challenge: Yes – A book set more than 5,000 miles from my current location.map-data

 

 

Star Review: ♥ ♥ ♥ /5

Why:A young man comes back to his home in rural Turkey to bury his beloved grandfather.  When the will is read, the house that they all care deeply for is left to a woman whose name no one appears to have ever heard before.  Orhan travels to California in the USA to meet this woman and get her to sign the house over to his family so that they don’t fall apart in the black hole left behind by his grandfather.  As they speak, secrets are revealed and the past comes into focus, much as all of the characters attempt to keep it out.

This book tried very hard to be relevant and in keeping with the zeitgeist when it comes to these types of books.  It reminded me very much stylistically and in some ways content-wise of Khaled Hosseini’s books and any of a number of literary fiction books set in Europe during Nazi Germany’s rise and fall.  This book explores ideas of identity, forgiveness, memory, and loss.  In particular, this one tells the story of a forbidden romance between a Turk and an Armenian.  It felt like it may have been more relevant as a story a few years back, and this may just generally be my ignorance – but isn’t Armenian genocide at the hands of the Turks not an accepted fact nowadays?

Regardless, stylistically there were moments of brilliance in the writing of this tale.  The main frame of the story itself I had guessed early on.  Overall, I wouldn’t re-read it, but I’m not upset that I read it in the first place.  I’d recommend it to folks that like the works of Khaled Hosseini or enjoyed All the Light We Cannot See, for instance.

Orhan’s Inheritance

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_coverTitle: The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Author: Neil Gaiman

Published: 2013

Read Harder Challenge: Could Be (Fantasy novel)

Star Review: ♥ ♥♥ ♥ (+½) /5

Why: Neil Gaiman’s writing has captivated me since I read American Gods many years ago.  I actually haven’t read nearly as much of his work as I would have thought, having yet to venture into his comic books such as the well-received Sandman series. That being said, I always have high expectations going into any Gaiman story, this one being no exception.

A small boy all grown up comes to visit a friend and remembers suddenly how they separated years prior.  The ensuing pages chronicle his memories of a lodger’s suicide unraveling an evil menacing the world. The boy’s mistake when he was young puts an otherworldly friend to sleep … or something like it.

What I love most about Gaiman’s writing is that it’s like what he seems to be as a person – both British and a complete weirdo.  In this book, as in much of his writing that I’ve read so far, there’s the sweetness of a pure child-oriented fantasy world, mixed with the grittiness that makes of every day life, and the taste of wrongness that exists in subtle horror.  Gaiman’s genius lies in his unveiling of a story, and in his turns of phrase.  He takes a reader on a journey from unknowing to understanding and it’s truly a thing of beauty to witness or, even better, be caught up in.  The way Gaiman writes makes me half-smile more than half the time I’m reading.  I can’t recommend going on this particular journey with Gaiman enough.  I left this one thinking about the nature of youth, good and evil, magic, time, memory, and guilt.  Not bad for under 200 pages.Read it now!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane