I managed to finish Read Harder before my semester started! Three comic books and 11 audiobooks were a large part of why that was possible.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
#1 – Published posthumously
Even though this novel was published posthumously, it is very much a first novel. I can see what Austen is trying to accomplish satirically, but her writing style is still in development. This is my least favorite Austen story by far. Catherine was obtuse, silly, and annoying with her “everything is a gothic novel” goggles. While I know her growth from that fantasy world into reality is the point of the story, it is a somewhat tedious journey for the reader.
The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale
#2 – True crime
I really enjoyed this book. It was both interesting and a fairly fast read (always a plus in a nonfiction book). I liked how she presented Robert, and Nattie, laying out the facts as she could find them. She did offer some conjectures, but those were grounded more in child psychology than personal opinion. My opinion is that the home life of Robert and Nattie was somewhat volatile, and that unpredictability and volatility of his mother while their father was at sea was the underpinning for why Robert killed her. His life after his verdict doesn’t lead one to believe he was psychotic. I am glad that Summerscale included an epilogue. It gave Robert’s story closure, and the gave readers the suggestion that some of his later decisions were made with the potential to atone for killing his mother when he was a child.
Before the Rains by Dinah Jefferies
#5 – Set in a BRICS country (India)
The story started out well – I loved the descriptions of India – however, as it progressed, Eliza became more annoying. While I am aware that romances require some amount of suspension of belief, I have a hard time doing that when the romance in question goes unquestionably against the societal norms of the time. A relationship between British widow and an Indian crown prince is not out of the realm of possibility, but it becomes so once marriage makes its way to the table. Eliza turned into a pouty child when the reality of Jay becoming the Raj happened, even though she was fully aware of the political implications and complications of their relationship, i.e. he couldn’t marry her or there was a good chance the British could find away to take his power away from him.
Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans De Waal
#6 – About nature
This was an interesting look at how humans test other animals for their capacity of intelligence and social behaviors. In general, humans tend to see themselves as superior to all other animals, and see their intrinsic intelligence as less than ours because it is different. When conducting experiments, we tend to take a human-centric methodology and claim animals are less intelligent instead of looking at how animals behave in their natural habitats and build experiments from those observations. Are We Smart Enough… was definitely eye-opening, creating good starting points for thinking about what constitutes intelligence.
Everfair by Nisi Shawl
#9 – (Post)colonial literature
I had a hard time finishing this book, and if it wasn’t for a challenge, would have DNF’d it. The concept was ambitious with a huge amount of potential, but the execution of the story lacked cohesion. Each chapter represented a jump in time (ultimately covering approximately 30 years), focusing on a different character. The problem with this format was that there was a lot of information skipped over that was somewhat important to the flow of the narrative. I found myself confused because significant life events and the why behind changes in character dynamics were ignored. For a novel about the evils of colonialism, this kept everything at a superficial level, which is bad. Either the scope of the novel should have been whittled down, focusing on a smaller time frame or fewer characters, or the novel should have been significantly increased in length, allowing for depth and development of characters and events.
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
#13 – Oprah book club selection
Daughter of Fortune is a slow book, meandering through the plot. This style of book is hit or miss, but it works in this case. Even though it was a book I could put down, I was still absorbed in it when I was reading because of how Allende uses and molds words. I liked the different characters’ stories, and even though it broke up the overall narrative, each story related to either the plot or the characters’ relationships with each other.
White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg
#14 – Social science
Many Americans live under the illusion that we have never had class distinctions in the US, that our country was founded with the idea of equality. However, that is not the case, and the idea of such distinctions were shoved under the rug in order to fit in with an edited narrative of our history. There have been class distinctions from Plymouth and Jamestown, and those distinctions – especially with regard to how the poor were perceived and treated – have continually played a part in historical events and how America was shaped. This is not the history you learned in school, but it is definitely a history you should know and highly relevant to our current political climate.
Super Extra Grande by Yoss
#19 – Genre fiction in translation
I bought this book for my husband several years ago when he was in a “reading translated science fiction” stage. He enjoyed the differences in perspective and writing style. I agree that there is a difference, and it was refreshing. The technological advancements in SEG were imperfect. Meaning, humans and several other alien civilizations had the ability to travel via wormhole, but didn’t necessarily have any other super-fancy technology that one would expect (like overcoming disease). In addition to the main story, there was a fair amount of digressions that related to the main character’s life, the functioning of his universe, or about other alien species. I also liked the social and political commentary that slipped in along with the story, such as comments on humans achieving interstellar space travel before we solved our political/racial issues and how that put humans at a disadvantage in the greater scheme of the universe.
Such Small Hands by Andres Barba
#20 – Book with a cover you hate (British cover)
This was a creepy book. The tone and flow of the words made the story feel surreal and detached. It was not an orphanage horror story, but instead was about a young girl’s need for love after the loss of her parents. Neither she nor the girls at the orphanage know how to deal with their unexpressed emotions. Barba did an amazing job capturing the girls’ contradictory behaviors. There are no wasted words, and even though the book is short, it is complete.
Seven Seasons of Buffy: Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Discuss Their Favorite TV Show edited by Glenn Yeffeth
#22 – Essay anthology
I watched the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie when it first came out, but have only seen a handful of episodes (none of them in their entirety). I was never on the Buffy train because at that time in my life, I wasn’t really watching tv. However, I have recently had a desire to rewatch the movie and then give the tv show a go. After reading Seven Seasons of Buffy, I will definitely get the first season from the library – after this semester is finished, of course. It was interesting to see how varied the authors’ perceptions were of Buffy’s characters and their relationship dynamics. There were many different interpretations of story arcs, characters, and the Buffy world as a whole.
Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
#23 – Female main character over age 60
I liked the story, but it’s definitely not as good as And Then There Were None or Murder on the Orient Express. The plot felt somewhat weak and predictable, and there were no really good red herrings. I also had issue with the narrator pronouncing Lettice (leh-TEESE) as “lettuce”.
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
#24 – Assigned book you hated/never finished
I read this play for an English 101 class when I was 19, and I absolutely loathed it. I was completely disgusted by Willy Loman’s selfishness. Fast forward 18 years, and I still loathe this play. Loman is a repugnant braggart and adulterer. He has emotionally beat down his wife, tacitly encouraged his sons to steal and blow off their education, and turned his head away when he was told of teenage Biff’s treatment of girls and women. Actually, Willy, Happy, and Biff are all guilty of treating women like objects. If anything, Death of a Salesman encapsulates the entitlement middle class white men believe is their right. Loman lives in his own version of reality, won’t take personal responsibility for his actions and decisions, and is incapable of listening to anything he deems a criticism of himself or is contradictory to how he perceives himself. I have absolutely zero sympathy for his situation and his inability to achieve the American Dream.