Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hated but Love to Discuss

The original topic of this edition of Top Ten Tuesday (as stated on the website that sponsors it) is “Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Anything/Much About.” Well, I’m changing this one a bit. I refuse to let my reading memory fail me, my handy dandy moleskine notebook in which I catalog and write down everything makes sure brain erasure never happens. I will, however, change this one to “Books I Hated but Love to Discuss.”

Most of the selections I’m about to list here have been reviewed here at some point as a one star or a no star rating. Reasons for a one star review is obvious, but a no star rating is usually reserved for books I did not finish (DNF) or, in one case, because the subject matter of the book presented itself in such a way that I simply refused to rate it. I do however, think that all the books that I don’t like (and yes, even you don’t like) are open to discussion. It’s the American way, right?

Anywho…in no particular order:

  1. Tampa, Alissa Nutting. This is a controversial book about a female middle school teacher who teaches for no other reason than to seek young male students to fulfill her sexual desires. The author goes deep into her mind, with long (long!) passages that describe her deviant ways. While I didn’t like this book (reading it requires bathing in Dettol afterward), it raises an important point about how society views a female sexual predator vs. a male.
  2. Peach, Emma Glass. Very short novel about the aftermath of a young girl’s sexual assault. Written in a very experimental style, so weird and trippy that I can’t even tell you what the hell happened in the last 50 pages. I’d love to get some other people’s perspectives here. Hmm.
  3. Today Will Be Different, Maria Semple. Page 7 tells me why I hated this book and didn’t finish it (“one normal day of white people problems”). Other than that, just some rich lady bitching about her life for 250 pages. No thanks.
  4. Mexico: Stories, Josh Barkan. A book of short stories all about violent, narco-criminal Mexicans who kidnap and kill Americans. Entitled “Mexico” but these are not the stories of Mexico or Mexicans, these are the fears of privileged white Americans who watch too much Fox News.
  5. A Beautiful, Terrible Thing, Jen Waite. Pretty bartender meets another bartender, marries him, and has a kid. He cheats on her and suddenly she becomes an expert on psychopathic relationships. Not sure why this story warranted 200 pages, or even a memoir at all. We’ve all been cheated on, ma’am, move to the back and take a number…
  6. Inside the Criminal Mind, Dr. Stanton Samenow. Leave it to Dr. Samenow, people who smoke marijuana on the weekend are in the same category of deviance as Jeffrey Dahmer. He also disregards addiction as disease pathology, when about 40 years of research into the topic will tell him differently. Dummy.
  7. Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked, James Lasdun. Was he being stalked by his student or not? Beats the hell out of me. What I’m mad about is that out of 250 pages, only about 50 deal directly with this story. The rest is a paper wash. Jesus.
  8. Universal Harvester, John Darnielle. Another trippy book. I wish I could tell you what it was about. Hmm.
  9. The Incest Diary, Anonymous. A recent review on a subject that is so disturbing that I had to include it here. Some people actually do like this book, I’d love to talk to them about why they feel that way.
  10. Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston. A YA book about the aftermath of a sexual assault. It’s a brave book, but also one that I found grossly unrealistic in how it deals with the subject. I’d love to hear more opinions on how other people viewed this one.

Ok, lemme get back to work. Yeah, I’m actually blogging at work. Go me!

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Review: When They Call You a Terrorist

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Review for "When They Call You a Terrorist: a Black Lives Matter Memoir" by Patrisse Khan-Cullors (2018)
Review: 4 out of 5 stars

Ahhh, this is a good book. Even though it is about the life of one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, there is sooooo much more than just BLM rhetoric here. It begins with Cullors’ childhood in Los Angeles, growing up poor and constantly harassed by law enforcement. Her single mother works multiple jobs and never quite gets by, and without much adult supervision, both of her brothers eventually end up in the prison system. One of her brothers, whom she spends multiple chapters describing the plight of, was severely mentally ill and systematically abused by the prison system. It is tragic and harrowing, anyone who reads this book will come away with a detailed understanding of Cullors’ rage at law enforcement, the justice system, corrections, and pretty much every institutional system in America.

The author herself is bisexual (she describes herself as queer). She spends a lot of time discussing the fact that Black Lives Matter was founded by three queer women and is a mostly women and LGBTQ-headed movement–though the way it is conveyed in the press, you would not know this. There is also a discussion of the full agenda of the movement, which encompasses far more than just an end to police violence against people of color. In addition to the rights of Black citizens, Black Lives Matter stands for economic justice, health insurance, prison reform, educational reform, ending domestic violence, an end to the abuse of immigrants and unfair deportation, and so on.

Regrettably, much of what Cullors and the Black Lives Matter movement has worked for in the last few years has been undone in the past few months by the current president and his administration. This is lamented in the last part of the book. It’s not an ending, however, but a call to action, hope for the future.

Once again, this is a timely read and great book.

[A digital copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Stay With Me

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Review for "Stay with Me" by Ayobami Adebayo (2017)

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Yejide and Akin, a married Nigerian couple, are two college sweethearts desperate to have a child. After years of trying to conceive and undergoing dozens of traditional remedies for their infertility, cultural expectations and familial pressure eventually lead Akin to take on a second wife. It doesn’t go well, and what follows is a severe, tragic desperation that takes hold of both characters. The majority of this novel is the sheer length to which Akin and Yejide go through to fulfill their desires.

I really can’t tell you any more than a basic summary here because this book’s got more twists and turns than an episode of the Jerry Springer Show. For me, the astounding number of unexpected events is one of its greatest weaknesses–there were just too many secrets, too many curve balls. I would even go so far as to say that the number of ‘reveals’ here had the opposite effect of moving the novel forward and watered down some of the major themes that the author was obviously trying to convey (political instability, class divisions in modern African society, etc). Also, I did not like the ending, after all that I’d read it just seemed a little too convenient for plot’s sake, a little too deus ex machina-ish to me.

Still, I won’t go lower than 4 stars here. Despite some of the flaws, this book is still intensely readable. I can also say that I learned a lot about Nigerian culture (food, songs, stories, cultural beliefs) in the process, without feeling like I was reading a textbook. Adebayo is definitely an author to watch.

Top Ten Tuesday #1: Bookish Resolutions

To flex my blogging muscles a bit I’ve decided to follow a weekly feature for now. I may not do a Top Ten Tuesday posting every week because I honestly don’t see myself answering all the topics they’ve got posted over at thatartsyreadergirl.com. Also, I may not always give ten responses so this isn’t truly a Top Ten, per se. In the meantime, however, I guess it’s fun to take a departure (whichever way it’s taken) to peek inside my head a bit.

I don’t really make resolutions, but I do make changes in my reading habits fairly consistently. Here’s a few:

  1. Read the myriad of books I already have. About 90% of the books I review here come from the library. I have about another 100-300 books sitting on my shelves here at my home, unread. Most of them are tagged as ‘Want to Read’ on Goodreads, but I really should get with it and just stay out of the library and clear them off and read them. Even if I wanted to buy a new book, I’d have nowhere to put it. Sheesh.
  2. Continue to mine sources (other than bestseller lists) for great books. I follow some really swell book-friendly IG accounts, plus I get newsletters from sites like Electric Literature, Signature Reads, and NetGalley throughout the month on titles coming up. Buzzfeed Books is also cool too. Whatever I do, I prefer the less-traveled corner of book recommendations.
  3. Continue to extol the virtues of DNF. I realized a long time ago that one way to make reading more effective is to realize when you’re not having fun doing it. If a book doesn’t make an impression on me within 50 pages, I will usually stop reading it with absolutely no apologies. This isn’t high school, I’m not doing a book report. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is simply too much to read out there in the world without stressing myself out over reading something that bores me to tears.
  4. Follow more book blogs on WordPress. I see ya’ll following me and I appreciate the love. I will try to follow more of you guys, I promise. I just rarely have a chance to sit down at my computer and scroll through to find sites I like. When everybody’s reviewing the same 12 books over and over, finding ones that stand out from the pack can be a daunting task, you know?

I think that’s it for now. I told you this isn’t a Top Ten so much as it is just a chance for me to have you get to know me better. I hope it’s working.

Love, KWS

Review: Mean

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Review for "Mean" by Myriam Gurba (2017)
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

This is a doozy of a book. It’s a non-linear narrative, opening with a violent account of a woman being raped and murdered in a park. Gurba then switches to a host of different topics that are seemingly unrelated to the first but yet still interesting: growing up as a mixed race Chicana, having a family member with mental illness, discovering her identity as a lesbian. Later in the book we discover that the attacker referenced in the first part is the same that would go on to sexually assault Gurba as a college student.

There’s a lot of wordplay in this book, particularly around the occurrence of rape. I don’t like it.

God is like rape. Rape is everywhere too. Rape is in the air. Rape is in the sky… p.98

Gurba writes about ‘meanness’ as a kind of armor worn by women of color out of necessity. She isn’t trying to censor herself or make the reader comfortable with her descriptions and I get it, I really do. But it’s still unsettling nonetheless.

The writing’s decent here. Three and a half stars.

Review: The Wolves of Winter

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Review for "The Wolves of Winter" by Tyrell Johnson (2018)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

“The Wolves of Winter” is a post-apocalyptic tale that takes place in a not-so-distant future in which most of the world has been ravaged by nuclear war. Shortly after, a deadly flu virus breaks out that kills the rest of the remaining population. Lynn, 12 years old at the time, escapes with her mother, father, and older brother to the Yukon wilderness for safety, where the flu is of a weaker strain. She eventually loses her father to the disease and takes up with her remaining family, living a mostly peaceful existence for several years until a mysterious stranger, Jax, wanders into their homestead. Jax brings a dangerous, government sponsored agency on his heels called Immunity which seek to capture him at all costs. Lynn is enthralled with Jax, who she comes to trust in discovering her personal connection to the flu epidemic.

I liked this book alright. I’d call it a PG-13 version of Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” minus the cannibalism and much of the gore. Even though Lynn is in her early twenties, this book had a YA-ish kind of feel to it. I’m not sure if the author intended it that way, though the character of Lynn sure seems like she was originally intended for a YA novel. For one, Lynn falls girlishly hard for Jax despite their almost non-existent chemistry (cue pop music and the hallway locker scene). Second, she requires rescuing–a lot. Whether it’s in a snow storm or a tent encampment or in a fight with baddies, Lynn is constantly being dragged to safety by someone. It’s annoying.

The other characters are rather bland as well. The Immunity agents never rise above stock villainy, complete with descriptions of their wolf-like sneers and general menace. I also had trouble keeping up with the good-guy male characters because they’re so much alike you don’t remember who is who after awhile. And then there’s the dialogue, which at times, just seemed kind of clumsy. The action takes forever to get going, but once it did, this book was surprisingly readable.

Not bad for a debut. I’d definitely give this book a chance, particularly if you like sci-fi inspired, dystopian reads as much as I do.

[Note: A free digital advance copy of this book was provided to me by the publisher, Scribner, and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir

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Review for "The Rules Do Not Apply: A Memoir" by Ariel Levy (2017)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Much-hyped memoir of Ariel Levy, a NYC-based nonfiction writer who, like most of us gals, has been inundated with the feminist mantra that she can have it all–a happy marriage, a career, a family, success. By her late thirties she’s married and accomplished most of what she wants career-wise, but remains childless. Then surprisingly, she finds herself pregnant at 38. However, on a trip to Mongolia in her second trimester, she loses her baby in a devastating miscarriage. Later on when she returns home, she loses her marriage as well.

The writing here is good but I admit that my review is tainted because I didn’t care too much for Ms. Levy. For the insightful feminist that she claims to be, she came off as superficial and just plain selfish in the last half of the book. She readily admits that she cheated during her marriage, yet she’s awfully cold and unforgiving toward her wife, who she discovers was lying to conceal her alcoholism. She also writes with disdain toward people with money, but reminds us several times that her ‘baby daddy’ (her words, btw) is a wealthy man who takes care of her. And Levy’s final meditation behind the whole “you can have it all” premise of the book? We don’t always get what we want, and we’re all going to die someday.

*slaps forehead*

Isn’t this something you learn as a child?

Levy is damn near 40 years old when she finally figures out that the Universe is no respecter of persons and she cannot die with all the toys that she wants. I am certainly sorry for the loss of her baby, but her sense of entitlement to a illusory world of privilege is one that I simply could not relate to.

I had not heard of the author before this book. Honestly, I don’t think I would be upset if I did not hear from her again after this. The story was all over the place and as I said before, the writing was good but there are better memoirs out there. Read at your own risk.