September Book Reviews
New vlog reviewing books I read in September. Full transcript (and fancy picspam!) under the cut.
This is going to come as a shock to you – but I like books.
I also like talking about them.
So without further ado – let’s talk about some books I read in September.
My first read last month was actually non-fiction. It was Fat: An Owner’s Manuel, which is the first full-length book from kickass blogger, Ragen Chastain. If you don’t know Ragen, she blogs at Dances with Fat, which is one of my favorite places in the entire blogosphere. She blogs about fat acceptance – the idea that fat people deserve all the same human rights – and Health at Every Size. (Health at Every Size is an approach to eating, exercise, and overall wellness, which rejects the notion that “thin” automatically equals “healthy” and “fat” automatically equals “diseased.”)
This book is about those same concepts, and it is fantastic. I give it the full five cookies. It’s an incredibly quick, accessible read because it’s built of short essays (like two to three pages short), and the tone — just as it is on her blog – is humorous and conversational, even when the subjects are deep and meaty. It’s a powerful read about why body acceptance is vital on the personal and political levels. It also full of straightforward tips on how to start practicing that acceptance for yourself – like specific information on how to respond to body-snark, how to deal with airplane discrimination, how to take back exercise, all kinds of stuff. It’s a paradigm-shifting intro to these ideas if they’re new to you, and a handy, inspiring refresher if they happen to be old hat. And people, the eBook is name your own price. What more do you want from me?
….And now back to my regularly scheduled comfort zone: fiction.
For most of the summer and fall, I’ve been rereading the Harry Potter series aloud with my girlfriend – who previously never read it. Never. Like ever. [MMax engages in deep, meditative breathing, to help her process that.] In September, we read Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince, and Deathly Hallows. This was actually a really interesting portion of the series to reread. I’ve read most of the Harry Potter books 1000 times; I reread each of the previous books whenever a new was released, in addition to just, occasionally, re-reading the lot of them. But I did that prior to the seventh book, so I’d actually only read Deathly Hallows once. I actually think rereading the sixth and seventh book without all the hype or hope, without all my theories and expectations, helped me appreciate them more. I liked Deathly Hallows a lot the first time through; this time I seriously loved it. I thought it was smart, the campground scenes seemed necessary, I don’t know, it was like a whole new book. Also, I read my girlfriend the Shell Cottage scene — [sobs uncontrollably] — I inflicted that upon her – and she still loves me. So that’s good. And these books are still really fucking good as well.
(5 cookies for Order of the Phoenix and Deathly Hallows. 4 for Half-Blood Prince.)
While we were reading Harry, I also reread Ethan Frome. This was a library book and I’ve returned it, so in lieu of the Vanna White act, here’s a tragic winter scene.
That should do for the cover.
I picked up Ethan Frome because I read it when I was, like, 12 or 13, and I remembered very little except, like, this dude and his wife and this town and depressing. I thought it might be one of those books that leaves a more lasting impression when you’re older, but I read this book less than a month ago and my memory is already reverting to – this dude and his wife and this girl and New England and depressing. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the prose is beautiful and if you’re an English major and you like to be all “I see what you did there with the blatant use of symbolism” – go for it. It’s quick, it’s decent. It’s just not great. I read a book called Gourmet Rhapsody in August — it’s by Muriel Barbery – who’s known really well and rightfully so for her brilliant book The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Anyway I read a review of that book on Goodreads that said “the orchestra is still warming up” – which I think is a fabulous description of this novel as well. Like Barbery, Wharton goes on to write some incredible novels. This one is like a demo track. She hasn’t quite learned how to rock it out. Yet.
(3 cookies. Ah, ah, ah.)
Still in classics mode, I followed Ethan up with Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Again this was a library book, so in lieu of covers, I offer you this Bad Audrey Hepburn impression.
You know, that’s a really terrible choice on my part. I haven’t seen Breakfast at Tiffany’s since I was 13 or so, but as I understand it, the film and page versions have very little in common, except for, like, their titles and… racism. No, seriously, the movie has Mickey Rooney wearing a buck-tooth prosthetic and playing a caricature of a Japanese person. While the book has a band of “Negro savages” who literally jump from behind a shrub “like savage members of a jungle ambush.”
[There’s a pause while MMax visibly dies inside.]
So, yes, I admit it. You need a certain amount of stamina to slog through elements like those, but if you have that stamina, read it now. This book was recommended to me roughly 11 years ago – so y’know ON IT – and I’m kicking myself for waiting. Capote just does brilliant things with words. He writes at that intersection of beauty and sadness and he does it so well. He also has this way of creating dialogue that’s incredibly natural and yet, like, reveals who the speaker is on another whole level.
[A moment of silent, sighing appreciation while MMax feels her heart explode.]
So yeah. 5 cookies. With a side of whiteness fail.
[MMax toasts the viewer with a glass of milk.]
Also, if you can get the edition with an additional three short stories , the last one is “A Christmas Memory” – the only Truman Capote I’d read previously and probably one of the few perfect short stories ever published.
Not to oversell it or anything.
Finally, after reading all those classics for a month, I needed my usual contemporary YA fix, so I settled on Suite Scarlett – a Maureen Johnson novel about a 15-year-old who lives in a failing New York hotel and, um, has adventures.
Like a lot of Maureen Johnson books, Scarlett takes something that sounds fantastically better than your boring life in your boring town – a trip across Europe, a cruise, or – in this case – growing up in a New York hotel – and reveals some of the “less ideal” aspects of that too-good-to-be-true set-up. Regardless, presuming you aren’t actually the personal assistant of an eccentric actress – Suite Scarlett will still offer a hearty dose of escapism. It’s a “fun” read – and I think I would have liked it better if I’d read it quickly. It’s a “candy” book, a beach book, not on par with Name of the Star, which is by far my favorite of the MJ novels, but entertaining enough. My main issue with this novel is that it’s too tidy. The stakes aren’t especially high and the problems are solved pretty snappily which might work in a middle grade novel, but at this level, it ends up compromising the complexity of the characters and their lives. It just feels a little too easy.
The perk is that this was published years before Name of the Star, which means MJ’s trajectory is going in the best possible direction. Up.
Speaking of getting up, (oh yeah! transitions) — it’s time for me to get up from this couch because that is officially it for September.
Now onto October, when – despite the stack of books on my nightstand, I want to know what you’re reading – because…
[insert footage of rain on MMax’s porch]
…Oh my! It’s readin’ weather!