After months of quietly DNFing books from previous TBRs, my will to take on a Summer 2017 TBR (and reading in general) is has finally come back to me. Still, these past few months have proved challenging—between writing in my off period, to relocating for the umpteenth time—I was just about ready to throw in the towel on reading until I got my shit together.
Audiobooks, thank God, have been a cheerleader in my efforts to climb this mountainous stack of unread books. (But my friends, you will keep my unholy secrets hidden, won’t you?) Truthfully, I have read more than eight books since the year began, though most, if not all, have been pending review. Finding the motivation to write a compelling analysis has been laborious, especially since I’ve been loading them all (upwards of 500) into storage over the past few weeks. I am pooped, to say the least.
Despite my propensity to procrastinate every book-related task in my life, here’s to things looking up for me as I get settled into my new place. With that, my reading list is nothing short of books I’ve been wanting to read for years:
The Secret History, Donna Tartt
Synopsis: Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.
Thoughts: I’ve been wanting to read The Secret History for a while and it’s been on my shelf for maybe two years (which may or may not be contradictory). Anyway, I’ve heard some mixed things about Donna Tartt and her writing, most of which draw on the fact that she dedicates too much time to detail. I don’t know how true of a statement that is but I do know that this book is thick AF (and not in a good way). Still, the better things people have said about its mystery elements has gained my interest.
Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward
Synopsis: In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.
Thoughts: I’ve sworn devotion to this woman, and I plan to read all of her works before the year is over (only three more to go, including this one). Unlike the others I’ve read so far, this will be my first time reading a memoir by her, and if I can be honest, I’m not a fan of all memoirs. Nevertheless, I am loyal and I am certain this book will be nothing short of greatness. I trust every word she says, and with two of her books already under my belt, it makes it all the easier for me to dive into Men We Reaped with fearless assurance.
Sad Girls, Lang Leav
Synopsis: School is almost out for Audrey, but the panic attacks are just beginning. Because Audrey told a lie and now her classmate, Ana, is dead. Just as her world begins to spin out of control, Audrey meets the enigmatic Rad—the boy who could turn it all around. But will their ill-timed romance drive her closer to the edge?
Thoughts: If I can be honest, I did not intend on reading this book. Three years ago, I tried reading Lang Leav‘s poetry but I barely made any progress. That’s not to say there’s something off with Leav’s writing, I wasn’t in the mood for poetry then. Just the other day, though, I noticed the cover of Leav’s book Sad Girls through a stack of others at a Barnes & Noble. Then the name hit me: “Lang Leave.” A flashback helped me remember the name, but the premise—a classmate dead at the hands of another’s lie—is what really made me want to pick her up again.
You Are Not a Stranger Here, Adam Haslett
Synopsis: An elderly inventor, burning with manic creativity, tries to reconcile with his estranged gay son. A bereaved boy draws a thuggish classmate into a relationship of escalating guilt and violence. A genteel middle-aged woman, a long-time resident of a psychiatric hospital, becomes the confidante of a lovelorn teenaged volunteer.
Thoughts: So earlier this year I listened to the audiobook version of Bonnie Jo Campbell‘s American Salvage, and it was one of the most effective collections of short fiction I’ve read this year. I applaud Campbell’s ability to pull at the ugliest features in a person and somehow bring out its beauty in doing so. Once the readings were over, the speaker suggested lovers of American Salvage read Adam Haslett‘s You Are Not a Stranger Here.
Unbeknownst to me, Haslett’s collection was up for the National Book Award back in 2003 and so was another work of his called Imagine Me Gone. Any writer who’s been eyed for such a prestigious prize not once but twice in their career totally deserves to be read, and I am anxious to see how I take to Haslett’s stories. I’ve heard on more than one occasion that they are heart-wrenching, which is right up my alley.
Shelter, Jung Yun
Synopsis: Kyung Cho is a young father burdened by a house he can’t afford. For years, he and his wife, Gillian, have lived beyond their means. Now their debts and bad decisions are catching up with them, and Kyung is anxious for his family’s future.
A few miles away, his parents, Jin and Mae, live in the town’s most exclusive neighborhood, surrounded by the material comforts that Kyung desires for his wife and son. Growing up, they gave him every possible advantage—private tutors, expensive hobbies—but they never showed him kindness. Kyung can hardly bear to see them now, much less ask for their help. Yet when an act of violence leaves Jin and Mae unable to live on their own, the dynamic suddenly changes, and he’s compelled to take them in. For the first time in years, the Chos find themselves living under the same roof. Tensions quickly mount as Kyung’s proximity to his parents forces old feelings of guilt and anger to the surface, along with a terrible and persistent question: how can he ever be a good husband, father, and son when he never knew affection as a child?
Thoughts: I’ve been really loving stories written by Asian writers lately. The last of which was Han Kang‘s The Vegetarian (working to review at the moment) and before that was Celeste Ng‘s Everything I Never Told You (which was recommended by Joce of squibblesreads). This book, too, was another one suggested by Joce, and from the reviews I’ve read of it so far, it seems Jung Yun might have penned quite a thriller in Shelter and so I am excited to see how it unfolds.
Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith
Synopsis: With allusions to David Bowie and interplanetary travel, Life on Mars imagines a soundtrack for the universe to accompany the discoveries, failures, and oddities of human existence. In these new poems, Tracy K. Smith envisions a sci-fi future sucked clean of any real dangers, contemplates the dark matter that keeps people both close and distant, and revisits the kitschy concepts like “love” and “illness” now relegated to the Museum of Obsolescence. These poems reveal the realities of life lived here, on the ground, where a daughter is imprisoned in the basement by her own father, where celebrities and pop stars walk among us, and where the poet herself loses her father, one of the engineers who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope.
Thoughts: I’d been thinking of getting back into poetry, and since there’s already so much buzz surrounding Smith as it is, I thought to pick up her collection, Life on Mars. It won the Pulitzer for Poetry in 2012, and she’s been heralded a fearless writer for her perspectives on life and the human existence. The last time I really read anything of hers was in college, but I think I’m ready to take the full plunge into our newest poet laureate‘s work by reading her anthology this summer.
Not That Kind of Girl, Lena Dunham
Synopsis: “There is nothing gutsier to me than a person announcing that their story is one that deserves to be told,” writes Lena Dunham, and it certainly takes guts to share the stories that make up her first book, Not That Kind of Girl. These are stories about getting your butt touched by your boss, about friendship and dieting (kind of) and having two existential crises before the age of 20. Stories about travel, both successful and less so, and about having the kind of sex where you feel like keeping your sneakers on in case you have to run away during the act. Stories about proving yourself to a room of 50-year-old men in Hollywood and showing up to “an outlandishly high-fashion event with the crustiest red nose you ever saw.”
Before I begin, here is something that got me tickled:
Thoughts: I tried reading this book some years ago when I hardly knew who Dunham was. I remember hearing that name all over the Internet headlines at one point: Lena Dunham Says This and You’ll Never Believe What Lena Dunham Has Done This Time! As hard as I tried to get into her writing, I couldn’t relate to this woman; and after eight or so chapters, I soon realized that I wasn’t “that kind of girl” after all. The kind, in fact, that could tolerate such an exorbitant amount of pretension and self-righteousness. To be fair, I hardly knew her then: Lena, creator of Girls and my soon-to-be creative muse. Now that I see that she’s grown on me, I think her memoir is worth a second shot. Though, I make no promises. (LOL.)
Human Acts, Han Kang
Synopsis: Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalized country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma.
Thoughts: The Vegetarian made me an immediate fan of Kang’s writing style and I’m certain Human Acts, the author’s sophomore follow-up, will be no exception to her undeniable brilliance. Kang is one of the only writers I’ve read to write about gory details with such accuracy and unyielding precision that it both makes a reader uncomfortable and unable to pull away from her stories. The Vegetarian was, in fact, a brutal depiction on composure and endurance but it was so tastefully written that I could not put it down. I sure hope Human Acts releases the same power.
Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, Jon Krakauer
Synopsis: Missoula, Montana is a typical college town, home to a highly regarded state university whose beloved football team inspires a passionately loyal fan base. Between January 2008 and May 2012, hundreds of students reported sexual assaults to the local police. Few of the cases were properly handled by either the university or local authorities. In this, Missoula is also typical.
In these pages, acclaimed journalist Jon Krakauer investigates a spate of campus rapes that occurred in Missoula over a four-year period. Taking the town as a case study for a crime that is sadly prevalent throughout the nation, Krakauer documents the experiences of five victims: their fear and self-doubt in the aftermath; the skepticism directed at them by police, prosecutors, and the public; their bravery in pushing forward and what it cost them. These stories cut through the abstract ideological debate about acquaintance rape to demonstrate that it does not happen because women are sending mixed signals or seeking attention. They are victims of a terrible crime, deserving of fairness from our justice system. Rigorously researched, rendered in incisive prose, Missoula stands as an essential call to action.
Thoughts: I own quite a few of Jon Krakauer‘s books already, but this will be the first I tackle. From what I’ve read so far, Missoula carries the pace of a well-performed episode of Law & Order: SVU;: it’s thorough to the tee and gives a lot of intrigue on the justice system, which is especially helpful to those who may not be as privy to the subject. I am just about finished with it, and oh boy do I have A LOT to say.
Have you read any of the books on this list?!
Tell us which books you’re most looking forward to reading in the comments below!
Be sure to keep up with the Paperback Paris Team’s monthly TBRs!