Books: Summer 2018 Edition

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Side note: None of the pictures are really of all the books I read, since some were library books, and I loaned several out! So my apologies in advance for lackluster images. I will try to do better.


I have been reading a ton this summer. One reason is that it’s summer and I’ve been trying to slow down and enjoy myself. The other reason is that I’ve rediscovered the New York Public Library. I already had a library card from when I was in college, but at that time I had only used it for ebooks. There’s a branch of the NYPL right by my office, and this summer I’ve learned the magic of placing holds on books and picking them up at my branch. And because it’s free and I have no self-control, I’m taking out many books at a time and trying to devour them before they’re due.

I’ve also been borrowing audiobooks from the library with the Overdrive app. I listen to the books while I run, primarily thrillers. They hold my attention and typically aren’t very literary, so I don’t miss reading from the physical book.

The only caveat is that more popular books have longer hold times. For instance, I’m somewhere around 500 on the list to get a copy of Crazy Rich Asians. The good news is that there are plenty of books I need to read in the meantime.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

In my last book post, I wrote about how disappointed I was with Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Eagan. I loved the beginning and the setting in World War II New York, but the end of the plot didn’t work for me. Immediately after, I read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, a book that my mother has been trying to get me to read since high school.

This book is, essentially, what I wanted Manhattan Beach to be. It might not have had the same mob-esque mystery, but it was such a beautiful story of coming of age, as well as a perfect portrait of New York. It’s obvious why this book is such a classic.

In Cold Blood 

I had this book in my Amazon cart for years, and finally pulled the trigger this spring. This book was truly chilling. I thought it was a complete work of fiction until recently when I found out it was actually all true.

The story begins with a family slaughtered in their house. We immediately know who did it, but the book aims to determine why. The killers truly were cold-blooded, and it’s eerie to get such a clear look into their sick and twisted minds.

I also feared that the prose of this book would be trying, since it was written a while ago, but it read just like a modern novel, if not better.

The Year of Magical Thinking 

I have tried really hard over the years to like Joan Didion. I really have. But I just cannot get into her work. I appreciate her writing style, but it always just feels like it goes nowhere.

The Year of Magical Thinking is brilliant in its depiction of loss, but the whole time I was just waiting for something to spring out and capture me, but nothing did. Perhaps it didn’t speak to me because I haven’t lost someone as close as a spouse like Joan did, but the whole thing just felt meandering.

I finished this book while in Italy, but I left it in the hotel room in Amalfi. It just didn’t do it for me. I’m sorry.

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Beautiful Boy 

Soon to be a movie starring Timothee Chalamet and Steve Carell, this is one of my favorite books of the year.

I am infinitely fascinated by addiction and mental illness. Perhaps because I suffer from mental illness, and I’m always conscious of how thin the line is between those who suffer from addiction and myself.

Beautiful Boy is a father’s memoir of his son’s meth addiction, countless rehabs and recoveries, and relapses. The book illuminates how much of a sickness addiction really is, and how it consumes a family. The author, David Sheff, does a brilliant job sharing his and his family’s story, as well as his quest for more information on addiction. This aspect not only illustrates all the information we don’t have on how drugs impact the minds and bodies of addicts, but also how little information there is about recovery. There is little consensus on how best to treat addiction, and even little on how long a stay in rehab should be.

I found the book moving, breathtaking, as well as illuminating. I cannot wait to see this movie this fall.

Tweak 

On the flip side, Tweak is the memoir from David’s meth-addicted son’s perspective. While Nic is definitely not a writer of the same caliber of his dad, Tweak was an interesting read in other ways.

To begin, while Nic’s father had some idea of what exactly Nic was up to when he disappeared or went to rehab, Tweak shed a new light. It also revealed how tormented Nic was all his life. While his dad always called him a well-adjusted, talented, beautiful boy, Nic told a darker story.

Tweak is a good read in companion to Beautiful Boy. It’s a rare look inside the mind of someone who has been battling addiction for the better part of their life, but if you’re going to read one versus the other, I’d read David Sheff’s book. His talent for storytelling is unmatched by Nic’s book.

I’ll Be Gone in the Dark

Simultaneously one of the best and most disturbing books I’ve read. Definitely the best true crime book I’ve ever read.

In I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, Michelle McNamara — wife of comedian Patton Oswalt — weaves the unbelievably creepy, true story of the Golden State Killer, and how he managed to evade police for decades. This faceless terror raped countless women in the Bay Area in the 1970’s, and killed at least 13 people. He wasn’t caught until APRIL 2018, after the book was published.

Two things stood out to me about this book. One, it was written like a thriller. Many true-crime books get bogged down in details and facts and references, losing some of the horror of the events. Michelle McNamara managed to do both. I couldn’t put the book down. She portrayed the GSK so well, in fact, that I am still terrorized by the thought of him watching victims silently in their windows for months, or hiding in their closets, wordlessly watching them for hours until the victims fell asleep and he could pounce. I couldn’t be alone in my apartment for months.

The second thing is that, although Michelle died tragically before she could finish the book (and before she could see the GSK arrested), her editor, husband, and collaborators did an amazing job piecing together her remaining research, noting where they were unsure about facts or leads, and completing the story of this twisted man.

I highly recommend this book. After I found out the GSK was arrested, I became obsessed with poring over details about his life, trying to determine just how close Michelle’s search was.

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Motherless Brooklyn 

I bought this book when I found out they were filming a movie based on it near my apartment. Days later, a fire in one of the townhouses they were using killed FDNY fireman Michael Davidson, and halting production.

Motherless Brooklyn tells the story of something of a mobster’s crony who suffers from tourettes. The narrator recalls his past, where a maybe mobster picked him out from the yard at the orphanage he was living at in Brooklyn, and put him to work, doing odd tasks like quickly unloading one truck full of music supplies into another, or simply watching people for hours on end.

The book itself is an excellent mystery. It is smart and witty, and produces a fascinating portrait of New York’s underworld, its misfits, and the endless desire to belong.

Killers of the Flower Moon

This book has been on my list for years, and was the first one I took out from the library. I loved it. I mentioned above that true crime sometimes gets bogged down in details or is a bit dry. This one is a bit drier than I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, but was riveting nonetheless, and had twists and turns that couldn’t be better if they were from the author’s imagination.

This book recounts a series of murders on the Osage Native American Reservation. While the tribe had been driven off of their original lands by the Westward Expansion, their relocation landed them on land fertile with oil. Because of this, the Osage Indians were some of the wealthiest people in America at the turn of the century. This also made them a target for people looking to increase their own wealth.

The story also follows J. Edgar Hoover and the creation of a centrally run investigation unit: the FBI. This part wasn’t as fascinating as the murders themselves, but was central to the story of how the murders were solved. It was honestly mindblowing that there wasn’t such a standardized way of solving crimes prior to this.

This story and its telling actually reminded me of a book I read last winter, Devil in the White City. Another meaty mystery, almost too wild to be true, but true nonetheless.

The Female Persuasion 

I loved Meg Wolitzer’s previous book, The InterestingsWhile her writing isn’t anything stellar, her ability to depict relationships — both romantic relationships and deep friendships — spoke to me, especially when I read it, a time of both deterioration and solidification of many of my own relationships.

The Female Persuasion was not that. There were aspects that I truly connected with — the sense of feeling alone in a new place, a burning drive to be better and succeed, the highs and lows of a long-distance relationship in college — but the story just left a lot to desire for me.

That being said, the plot felt forced, trying too hard to be relevant, especially in the #MeToo era. I think the story would have been far better if that part was absent. I don’t need a novel to help me understand feminism and be current. Additionally, the end of the story was way too buttoned up with everyone living too happily ever after. I’m the first to say I love when loose ends of a book are tied up, but they can be done so messily. Endings are rarely happy, and I appreciate ones that aren’t.

Only Girl in the World 

This is an English translation of a French book, so I was expecting some of the storytelling to be lost on me, but this was excellent.

It is the memoir of Maude Julien, a woman whose father sought to develop her into a “superior being” through shutting her off from the outside world, with rigorous coursework taught by her mother, and special lessons taught by himself. A veteran (maybe?) of World War II, Maude’s father wanted to teach her the skills she would need to survive another Holocaust.

These lessons included locking a 6-year-old Maude in the basement at night with rats at her feet to “contemplate death,” to learn handfuls of various musical instruments, and to wake herself up before dawn each day without an alarm.

The book was riveting, Maude’s fight for survival reminding me of that from The Glass CastleThe one thing I wished for more of was on Maude’s escape and eventual recovery. The book ends with a short chapter on her life after her father, but the mental struggles she must have overcome in order to recover must be just as horrific as the ones she initially endured.

The Nightingale 

This book has been on my radar since it came out in 2015. I always considered it, then decided on something else. I never really considered myself a WWII romantic. When I posted a picture on my Instagram last week, I received more replies than on probably any other post, with people raving about it.

loved this book. It enveloped me, weaving the tale of two sisters, struggling in Nazi France during WWII. I was captivated as their separate journeys unfolded, and blown away by how absolutely beautiful the story was.

The book also illustrated how awful war is on everyone. We have heard a lot about how traumatic wars have been on soldiers, but until recently, few narratives highlighted how everyone suffered, especially women back home, and what heroes they were. The Nightingale is based on the true story of two sisters who actually did help downed Allied soldiers out of Nazi territory during the War, making it all that much more impressive.

I read this book in a few days, sneaking in a few pages here and there as often as I could.. Highly, highly recommend.

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Audiobooks

As I mentioned above, I’ve been listening to audiobooks more now. While I listen primarily when I run, I’ve also listened while commuting, or while doing other things, like folding laundry or cleaning. Anything I’d do while listening to a podcast is perfect for books.

Black Chalk

When I was searching for books similar to one of my all-time favorites, A Secret History by Donna Tartt, Black Chalk showed up continually.

This book was pretty much a knockoff of A Secret History. While the plot of the story kept me interested, it also seemed way to sensational and didn’t blow me away. Also, several of the characters were so underdeveloped, it was disappointed. Ultimately, I found myself underwhelmed with this one.

Ill Will

This book was something else. A ton of interesting stories from different viewpoints — a family murdered, a series of missing college boys, drug addiction — and yet, none of them led anywhere. It seemed like they were all veering on the edge of coming together in one tumultuous end, but instead, almost every question remained unanswered.

It was a wild ride, and definitely held my interest, but it ended in a half-thought out mess.

Give Me Your Hand

Give Me Your Hand follows Kit Owens, a PhD vying for a prestigious spot on a team researching PMDD, who feels her hopes dashed when Diane Fleming is recruited to the lab. Not only does Kit feel like Diane threatened her spot on the two-person team, but Kit knows Diane. They had been best friends in high school until Diane unloaded a shocking confession to Kit.

I really enjoyed this thriller. It unfolded slowly, twisted and turned with mysteries within mysteries. Every time I thought the mysteries were on the cusp of being solved, the book turned another corner. I will say, though, that the ending was satisfying and the loose ends tied up in a good way.

You Will Know Me

I actually have a hard copy of this one on my desk at work, but downloaded the audiobook when I needed something to accompany me on a 7 hour Amtrak up to Rochester.

Give Me Your Hand is by the same author as You Will Know Me, Megan Abbot. In some ways, they are very similar, but wildly different in others.

You Will Know Me, told from the perspective of a promising young gymnast’s mother, centers around an apparent hit-and-run that resulted in the death of a local man, intertwined with the gymnast’s quest to qualify as an elite athlete, and ultimately make it to the Olympics. The story of this one felt like it had maybe one too many twists, but I still enjoyed it, although I also think that it could have benefited from more of the gymnast’s perspective, maybe because I’m just interested in gymnastics on the whole.

I will say that I did not love the audio recording of this one. The woman made a weird voice for any female other than the narrator, and made the narrator’s son have the most irritating lisp. However, it did not keep me from finishing this in a matter of days.


I’m currently diving into Lolita, with All the Ugly and Wonderful Things waiting for me at home, and The Woman in Cabin 10 queued up in my Overdrive app for this week’s runs.

For more on what I’m reading, check out my “I’m reading” highlight on Instagram, and my Goodreads account.

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