New Year's Resolution: Read a Book a Month
January: The Power by Naomi Alderman
The Power has been in the zeitgeist as it should be with the recent news headlines of sexual abuse in the media.
The Power's clever plot revolves around woman developing a new skill, namely the ability to shock and send electrical impulses in the same manner as, say an Electric Eel.
Reading this as a man is especially enlightening. Although I vaguely know it's hard to be a woman in society this book really drives the point home. One Woman get the upper hand over men with their new found power the tables start to turn. From woman now raping men, to controlling what jobs they can hold and being automatically discounted due to their sex. The question is asked throughout the book, what exactly are men good for anyway? Throughout history, men have been the ones starting ware and oppressing those weaker than themselves. The women in the book decide they do at least need men to procreate but only about 10% of them. The rest of the male population can be eradicated. This too is a clever take on the male dynamic, as men, given their biology can in fact impregnate 100's of women.
What I liked about the Power is that it forced me to see the world as a woman must. From having men take credit for your work to the simple act of being able to walk alone at night without being afraid. Men are typically stronger physically and because of this the world has been shaped largely by men with women having to fight hard for their place in it.
Had this book been written 5 or 10 years ago I am not sure it would have resonated as strongly as it does today. Because the allegations against the President and numerous public figures falling to sexual harassment charges this is a perfect time for this story.
Women should read it for the thrill, men should read it to educate themselves and help them open their eyes to what is so commonplace that we often don't notice it. Sadly to be born a woman even in 2017 is to have to work harder and be smarter than your male peers to achieve the same status. Would women treat men as badly if they had the upper hand? The Power seems think so.
February: Little Fires Everywhere
A bohemian single mother and her teenage daughter move to Shaker Heights, a step-ford wives suburbia. They end up renting a duplex from an A list suburban, all american family, consisting of the uptight Mother, overworked, professional husband and their four kids.
Little Fires Everywhere was one of the most popular books of the year for good reason. It's an interesting study in suburbia and the American family.
March: The Relive Box by T.C. Boyle
The Relive Box is a collection of short stories which reminded me a bit of the hit show, Black Mirror. The stories are interesting and troubling.
The title story, The Relive Box is a mechanism that allows users to relive past memories by sitting in a chair and using retinal technology to immerse oneself into past experiences. Humans being human, most individuals use this technology to relive their past sexual conquests. Much like today's technologies of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram we find that the users of The Relive Box start abandoning their current life in exchange for reliving the past over and over again. For the main character is becomes an addiction, removing him from the present and hurting those around him.
All of the stories are well written and thought provoking, from a town that has run out of water, to a another village that is overrun with an ant infestation.
This short story collection moves quickly through a plethora of interesting premises. Although, as with most short stories the ending are abrupt and do not provide much in the way of closure.
However, the excitement of reading each new chapter and learning the premise was well worth the abrupt endings. Short stories are quickly becoming one of my favorites genres.
April: The Only Girl In the World by Maude Julien
The Only Girl in the World is not a happy book by any means. It's the true account of Maude Julien and her experience of being raised by a controlling father who was a lunatic.
Her father adopted a young girl from a poor family promising to educate and care for her but forbidding her from ever seeing her family again. He then raised this child and married her once she was of age. This women ends up giving birth to Maude.
Maude is raised like she is in training to be some kind of super soldier or spy. She is given cruel tests of paid and torture such as sitting alone in a dark, rat infested basement all night to overcome her fear.
The story is hard to read and bleak but a bit uplifting in that the author seems to have escaped and built herself a normal life. This is quite impressive given the hardships she has to endure from her Father and her complacent Mother.
My only gripe with the book is some of the detail, which is purported to be from the author's personal experience from a very young age. I find it hard to believe some of the detail to puts in the book can be more than educated guesses as memories from that far back in one's childhood are unlikely. To be fair some of the more troubling occurrences certainly would have burned themselves unfortunately into her memory, but not some of the more mundane issues she remarks on.
I enjoyed the book and it put into perspective some of the slights we may remember from our own childhoods regarding our parents missteps. Your parent forgetting to pick you up from soccer practice one evening pales in comparison to what Ms. Julien endured.
May: Grit by Angela Duckworth
Grit or the ability to stick with things when they get tough is the topic of this interesting read.
Duckworth uses good examples including West Point cadets, the culture of Pete Carrol and the Seattle Seahawks and Olympic athletes to show how grit is as important as intelligence or talent in determine success.
The good news is that grit can be learned. Duckworth describes how she uses it with her own children. She has a rule that they must always be involved in something that challenges them, whether is be playing an instrument, a sport or a chess club. The grit part of the example is that they can't quit if things get hard until there is a natural stopping point, such as the end of a sports season.
We can all learn a thing or two from Grit about how to delve into a challenge and stick it out.
June: Belichick And Brady by Michael Holley
Unless you live in, or come from New England, chances are you hate the New England Patriots. Understandable given their dominance over the last 18 years.
The Patriots have now been to eight Superbowl's winning 5 of them. Brady at the age of 40 is breaking his own records and showing no signs of slowing down.
Belichick And Brady covers the ups and downs of the Patriots, from the consistent winning to the controversies of Spy gate and Deflate-gate. As a fan of the Patriots I put some stock in the claim that Spy gate pushed the envelope on the rule book. Deflate gate on the other hand would have been a big nothing burger had it existed without the shadow of Spy Gate hanging over it.
Belichick and Brady is full of interesting facts and provided a good overview of the Patriot's dynasty. That said, if you're not a Patriots fan there's not enough to likely hold your attention.
July: Righteous by Joe Ide
Righteous is the second book in a series about a private investigator named, IQ. IQ lives in a rougher part of L.A. and uses his impressive intellect to solve crimes around the neighborhood, big and small. Sometimes he's paid in cash, other times in baked goods or whatever the customer can afford.
IQ has a good heart and wants to help out his struggling neighbors where he can. The main plot point around book one in the series, IQ and book two in the series, Righteous revolves around the murder of IQ's older brother who raised him.
You can think of the IQ series as Sherlock Holmes in the hood. IQ even has a Watson type sidekick in the character, Dodson.
Book one deals with a case of an interesting rap star and book two deals with a trip to Las Vegas and the Chinese Mob.
The series is a fun, light read and fits right into the detective genre. Book three of the series Wrecked has an expected release date of October 2018.
August: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
The Mars Room reminded me of Orange is the New Black. The novel chronicles the stories of several San Francisco residents that are involved with the prison systems, from prisoners to guards to teachers.
The lives of the prisoners are richer than one would imagine given their predicaments. There is a hierarchy within the prison and alliances are made and broken among the inmates. The novel also discusses the difficulty of sexuality within a women's prison from the butch lesbian to the transgender inmate how removed his own genitals.
The book makes it clear that prison is not somewhere anyone wishes to end up. Also the upbringing of many of the characters show how they were almost destined to end up incarcerated.
As one of the characters states, she considers her time out of prison as vacations and fully expects to return each time she is released.
The book is fascinating and educational and shows the hopelessness and frustration for far too many Americans that are locked up, many sentenced to multiple life sentences.
September: Mrs. by Caitlin Macy
Mrs. is about the New York Elite. About the hedge fund managers and their impeccable wives. Mrs. brings you inside the lives of people who take going to Ivy league colleges for granted and the poor at those making $150,000.
After reading Mrs. I felt like living the lavish lifestyle of a New York elite would be exhausting. The preening and impressing. The need to get one's prodigy into elite preschools.
The novel does show how even the super rich deal with common emotions and tribulations. One chapter about a child's birthday party where few guests arrive is heartbreaking, tender and redemptive all at once.
Mrs. is a well written and a fascinating look into a world most will never experience and that's likely a good thing.
October: You Think It, I'll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
You think it, I'll say it is a compilation of short stories focusing on a woman's perspective in each story.
The stories are highly readable and entertaining. On the surface the plots are mundane but the characters are so well drawn that as the reader you can completely relate.
From a petty volunteer at a homeless shelter, to a successful architect frustrated with the election of Trump each story draws you in and transports you into the body of the protagonist.
If you're a women you will relate to the stories, if you're a man, you may learn something about being a woman in the modern day.
November: The Woman in the Window By A.J. Finn
Like Hitchcock's Rear Window with an agoraphobic. The Woman In The Window is like watching a movie but in written form.
The protagonist can't leave her swank apartment after the death of her husband and child in a horrific car accident. She spends her days drinking too much and playing on-line chess. She also participates in a chat board of other agoraphobics around the world.
Mystery enters the plot when she thinks she sees a murder occur in the apartment across the street.
The Woman In the Window is well paced and keeps things interesting but the story itself isn't novel.
December: Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton
An aspiring writer attaches herself to a Manhattan Socialite who is on hiatus from Yale. Parties, sex, lavish spending and opulent apartments abound. The novel has a good twist that adds to the enjoyment.
The day in the life of a socialite aspect is intriguing enough but with the added criminal plot twist we get a more suspenseful and entertaining novel.
Being young and wealthy in NYC is at times enviable and at other seems utterly exhausting and pointless. Ultimately the lifestyle was fun to read about but made me glad I didn't have to live it.
13th Book: We Begin Our Ascent by Joe Mungo Reed
We Begin Our Ascent follows a rider in the Tour De France. The protagonist is not the star of the racing team but a worker bee so to speak. He works to position the star of the team for either a stage win or a high placing in the overall race.
As a fan of the Tour this novel was a disappointment. The plot is thin and the racing insight very pedestrian. The author wastes a rich topic by writing a mundane story with little more Tour insight than could be gleamed in a brief article.
14th Book: Back Talk by Danielle Lazarin
In the era of #metoo, the short stories in Backtalk brings forth, clearly, the frustration and rage inherent in being a woman. From a mother raising three boys, to a 24 year old who is the only child of a second family marriage the reader is pulled into the challenge of being these women.
Like many short stories they are thin on plot but strong on character. Most of the stories make for compelling and interesting reads even when there isn't much going on than humans interacting honestly with other humans.
Lazarin is an insightful writer who allows us to peer into the human condition through her deft storytelling.
15th Book: Calypso by David Sedaris
Calypso in my opinion is one of the better books Mr. Sedaris has written in years. It has his typical humorous essays of his observations of how people swear in other countries to the relaxed dress code of today's current airline passengers.
What makes Calypso different than some of his other works are some of the more raw serious observations such as the sadness of his father's aging, his sisters suicide and his Mother's alcoholism.
Few writers capture the humor, sadness and ridiculousness of the human condition as well as David Sedaris. I for one hopes he keeps observing and writing for years to come. To be a friend of Mr. Sedaris must truly be an entertaining joy.
16th Book: Something In The Water by Catherine Steadman
Catherine Steadman is an actress best known for her appearance on Dowton Abbey.
Based on Something In The Water she is also quite a good suspense writer.
Something In the Water begins with a mysterious burial taking place in the woods. Steadman ties back to this plot point near the end of the book. Her characters are interesting and well formed and her plot tics along at a good pace.
The most interesting premise is how the protagonist's husband can go from friend to enemy so quickly and adeptly.
Something In The Water isn't deep but it's a good beach read and keeps things interesting from start to finish.
17th Book: My Year Of Rest And Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
It's about a young woman who chooses to spend a year of her life sleeping by knocking herself out with sedatives. She gets the sedatives prescribed by a nut case of a shrink who pushes pills on her with reckless abandon.
The story holds your attention more than you would think given the protagonist spends most of her time asleep. She does wake for about an hour day to eat etc. and we learn that she also goes around in a black out state during her sleeping periods.
The book has a clever premise and the writing holds the reader's attention well enough. I'd give it a grade of B minus.
18th Book: Wrecked by Joe Ide
This is the 3rd in a series about the detective, IQ. IQ is a private investigator in the hood. He solves crimes for the locals and is often paid in pie or the patron paining his house. IQ isn't big on finances.
This is your typical detective novel. It's well written though and the characters are good. One funny and clever shtick in the book involves one of the minor characters, a local petty drug dealer that converses in illogical big words. For example, "For Crossing my personality which of your digits shall I repudiate and reconsecration for you displeasure?" There are several points of this type of dialogue in the book and for this reason alone its worth the read.
Wrecked is a fun, quick novel. Also it's not required to have read the first two in the series, you'll miss a little but not much if you just jump in at the third installment, Wrecked.
19th Book: Big Game by Mark Leibovich
Mark Leibovich by trade is a political reporter in DC, but he is also an avid life long football fan. His team of choice as is mine, the New England Patriots, otherwise known as the Evil Empire. Like Leibovich I am not a band wagon fan but became a Patriots fan growing up back in New England. Prior to 2000 the Patriots were the Jets of their days, meaning it was hard to be a fan as the playoffs were always a pipe dream at the start of the season. But then came Belechick and Brady and all of that changed. The rest of the country became rightfully sick of watching the Patriots winning.
With Brady at 41 years of age they continue their winning ways and should, with the help of their notoriously weak division slip into the playoffs once again to take another run at the 6th ring.
The Big Game spends a lot of time with the Patriots but the overall theme of the book focuses on whether or not it's in decline. Specifically is looks at the growing problem of concussions, a President that targets their players are unpatriotic ingrates and is led by a Commissioner that''s only mission is to placate the mega rich owners of the 32 teams.
If you're a fan of football then this is an interesting read, if not, don't bother.
20th Book: Dark Places By Gillian Flynn
Gillian Flynn is best know for her novel, Gone Girl. Dark Places was actually written before she hit it big with Gone Girl. Like Gone Girl, Dark Places centers on a female protagonist that is very damaged by a traumatic event during her child hood.
Dark Places is part detective novel and part a study on what it means to be human and struggles with all of life's disappointments.
Gillian Flynn is a great writer and Dark Places kept my attention throughout. There are no weak or slow portions of the book.
Grade: A -
Book 21: Lake Success By Gary Shteyngart
Listened to the audio book which is good practice for focusing and mindfulness. In short, it's easy for the mind to wander and lose track of the story and I was surprised how often I had to keep refocusing myself on listening to follow the plot. That said it's nice to be able to listen to a book commuting or running as it's easy to make quick work of a novel in a few days while going about your normal business.
Lake Success is about a Hedge Fund Manager, one of the elitist one percent everyone is always complaining about and blaming for the downfall of civilization. In this case, the protagonist, Barry adds fuel to that argument. He is clueless, self absorbed and generally a despicable human being. He has an autistic son who he is ill equipped to bond with and only his money is any help to the child.
Barry makes tons of money losing other people's money and he spends much of it on ludicrously expensive watches. One watch he pays over $7 million dollars for at an auction.
The other characters in the story aren't much better, the spouse clearly married him because of money but doesn't respect him as a person.
Barry decides to take a Grey Hound Bus trip across the country to visit and old girlfriend from Princeton. Of course Barry went to Princeton because characters of his ilk only fall forward. To illustrate this the story covers how he got a slap on the wrist for insider trading and quite easily start up another hedge funds making $35 million dollars without really trying.
All in all Lake Success is a good, entertaining read that showcases some of the shallowness of being an American in modern society.
Book 22: The Outsider By Stephen King
The first half of The Outsider plays like a normal detective novel, although a very good one. The second half then moves on to King's standard supernatural fare. Partly I wish he had stuck with the detective story throughout but that said, as with all of King's books, the characters are all well drawn and captivating.
The Outsider kept my attention and is a very good book all around.
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