Tuesday, September 24, 2013

the books of summer

It feels like each time I sit down to review a stack of books, I'm watching an awards show. In this case, it was the Emmys. I'll try not to let them influence me and severely depress you. 

Best audiobook

Where'd You Go Bernadette, Maria Semple

This book had my heart the moment it started. The narrator had the perfect quirky voice -- think Paula Poundstone or Joan Cusack -- to lead me on this weird, wonderful journey. I always find it refreshing when a book takes place in our actual, current universe, and this one references so many things that actually exist: Ted Talks,  Microsoft, etc.

"I'm going to let you in on a little secret about life. You think it's boring now? Well, it only gets more boring. The sooner you learn it's on you to make life interesting, the better off you'll be."

Best memoir in essay form

Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls, David Sedaris

Sorry, Aisha Tyler. You just can't compete with David Sedaris. (Also, Aisha, real talk: I just couldn't finish your book.)

“Their house had real hard-cover books in it, and you often saw them lying open on the sofa, the words still warm from being read.” 

Best sequel

Revenge Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger

I thought Revenge Wears Prada would be a quick palate cleanser and I would roll my eyes through most of it. Well... yeah, it was silly. And yeah, it was probably only written to  revive a cash cow. And yeah, there's a character named Clem. But, it made me smile. DEAL WITH IT. (Also, Meryl Streep was acting out the story in my head. Never a bad thing.)

Strangest biography

Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953

I found out later that this glimpse into Sylvia Plath's year as a guest editor at Mademoiselle Magazine was written by a poet. THIS MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. Because, nothing in this book made sense. It was basically a biography written in poetry. It was mildly interesting. And made me want to work at a magazine and re-read The Bell Jar. So there's that.

Best love story

Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell.

A chubby redhead and a Korean kid who loves The Smiths fall in love. Hearts melt. 

“Eleanor was right. She never looked nice. She looked like art, and art wasn't supposed to look nice; it was supposed to make you feel something.” 

Worth the slow beginning

The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan

For some reason, it took me a week and a half to get past page 7 of The Engagements. But I didn't give up, and by the end I was delighted and satisfied and slapping myself on the forehead for not figuring out how all the stories tied together (this book tells the story of several relationships and their corresponding diamond rings in, for lack of a better term, Love Actually style). The desire to slap yourself on the forehead is the sign of a fun read. 

Also, I appreciated the based-in-fact story arc about the "A Diamond is Forever" campaign. J. Courtney Sullivan (Dear J. Courtney, can I just call you Courtney?) is good at weaving in a bonus historical trivia lesson; in her last book, Maine, it was the Cocoanut Grove fire.  

Best overall

Open, Andre Agassi

YOU GUYS. I have never been quite so persistent about a book before, but ask my co-workers -- I could not stop talking about Open, Andre Agassi's autobiography. I'm not sure why it captivated me so much, but I have three theories. 

One: Hearing the behind the scenes of inspiring people -- even when you already know the ending -- is equal parts inspiring and infuriating (infuriating because I'm already past my prime to be a professional tennis player) 

Two: the constant, repetitive narrations of tennis matches was as soothing and pleasant as actually watching a tennis match. If you passed me in traffic while I was listening to this book, you may have seen me idly moving my head from side to side. 

Three: I hit the climax of the book the week I saw Hanson, so that may have activated the weird teenage obsessive part of my brain. There were about two days where I was completely swooning over vintage Andre. 

“Big dreams are so damn tiring.” 

Other notable positives: 
Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
You Are One of Them, Elliot Holt
AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Orphan Master's Son, Adam Johnson
Girl With a Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier

Notable negatives: 
Freud's Mistress, Karen Mack/Jennifer Kaufman
The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, Elizabeth Silver
The Next Best Thing, Jennifer Weiner 
Another Piece of My Heart, Jane Green 

Notable mehs: 
The Smart One, Jennifer Close


  1. Hang on, tell me more about your underwhelming experience with Aisha Tyler's book. I have it on my "want to read", because I have always thought she was funny. It is not?

    And I read "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" a while ago, and it was fine, I liked it, whatever. But since I finished it it has grown on me quite a bit. Probably because of what you said- it takes place in our universe. Given my penchant for British historical fiction and the current climate of other-world novels, it was like a well-written breath of fresh air.
    And I used to swoon over Andre Agassi. Nothing wrong with that.

  2. I read Where'd You Go, Bernadette? over the summer too and loved it! Definitely quirky and fun. I've been looking for a new book to start...maybe I'll pick one of these!

  3. I love David Sedaris. I think by now I must have listened to all his books (I like them on audio since he narrates his own stories), but I keep finding new ones to try!

  4. Your book award shows are my favorite. I'm adding Eleanor & Park and Engagements to my list (helpful to know when to push through a slow start!) for sure; just finished and loved Bernadette but now I really wish I had listened to it... you had me at any mention of Paula Poundstone. I did love that real-world feel of it too. The constant references to the "4th-most watched TED talk" cracked me up.

  5. Oh, and I read Open a while ago and really enjoyed it too - my big beef though was that Pete Sampras is my true tennis idol but Andre's book was WAY more entertaining than his, which made me feel like Pete lost the match or something...

  6. I've been wanting to read Where'd You Go Bernadette so I'm glad to hear you liked it. I'm reading a Jennifer Weiner book right now as a guilty pleasure, Little Earthquakes. It's about a bunch of women who are pregnant/have babies, which I just did, so it's fun for me.

  7. That's a lot of reading for one summer! I wish I had the time to do that! (:

  8. Words can not describe how angry I was when I found out that Devil Wears Prada was a book first (I prefer to read books before watching their movie adaptation). So thank thank thank you for enlightening me to the sequel. I'm purchasing and reading it asap!

    1. I think The Devil Wears Prada might have been one of the few instances where the movie was better than the book! I think that's an unpopular opinion though... I know a lot of people who hated that movie. (but still, it was probably better than the book.)

  9. Okay, you mentioned a book earlier this summer but I don't remember the title right now. It was about a couple in Nazi-Germany. I wanted to read it and even checked it out at the library, but then life got in the way. Would you still recommend it?

    1. hmmm... I haven't read any WWII love stories this year (surprising because that's basically my favorite genre...) but I wonder if you're talking about a book my in laws gave me -- Every Man Dies Alone? It's still sitting on my nightstand - it looks great, but it's taunting me with its ginormousness. Proof I've been reading too many e-books and audiobooks: I'm worried my wrists won't be able to handle more than 400 pages.

    2. That's it! I won't lie, that thickness terrified me. Probably another reason why it went back to the library.