Tuesday, February 2, 2016

book report #7

*Bangkok 8 (John Burdett) - I was all set to love what I thought would be an action-packed mystery thriller, but was honestly a bit disappointed when it turned out to be a fairly exhaustive look into Thailand's rampant prostitution and drug trade pampered with transcendental Buddhism, meditation, and some surprising sexism. It took me a long time to get into this book - but once I realized what it was (a very real look into the darker side of Thailand) and what it wasn't (a noir detective novel) I grew to appreciate it. It did not, however, have me booking my next flight to Bangkok.

*The Clasp (Sloane Crosley) - I'm a huge fan of Crosley's essays and short narratives, and I was really excited when this novel showed up as "available" on my library queue. And while I think it was missing a bit of the sardonic and witty observational humor that so beautifully peppers her essays, it was nevertheless an entertaining and interesting story about three friends who reconnect over unusual circumstances. It bordered on wacky caper at times, and I honestly think she should have taken that energy even further. I appreciate that Crosley wanted to stick to a more serious coming-of-age narrative in which al the characters made significant emotional shifts by the end of the story, but sometimes a book about a treasure map should just be a book about a treasure map.

*Big Magic (Elizabeth Gilbert) - a quick and easy read that's best suited to those who need a creative boost. Gilbert imparts a lot of wisdom and instruction to those looking for inspiration and guidance in honing their craft, and even though most of what she says isn't going to change one's life, it's still interesting to read another take on the creative process, especially from someone with such a wide and varied career as Gilbert's.

*Swamplandia (Karen Russell) - a fantastical and haunting hero's journey through the murky swamps of Florida. I was surprisingly enchanted by this book - I don't normally love stories about tortured childhoods and terrible fathers, but there was something so beautifully innocent and painful about the Bigtree family's descent into hell and their struggle for redemption that I spent more than a few nights staying up too late just to read another chapter.

*Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott) - I clearly needed some creative inspiration towards the end of last year, as I read this, Big Magic, and Ann Patchett's This is the Story of a Happy Marriage nearly back-to-back. All three should be required reading for anyone who aspires to write even one good sentence, but Lamott's book leads the class. I found myself referring to passages in conversations with other creative minds before I even finished the book, and have applied many of Lamott's suggestions to both my writing and overall daily life since reading it.

*My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante) - a vintage Italian soap opera spread across four books (this is the first of the series) that is sweeping, heartbreaking, addictive, and uncomfortably relatable. Set amidst the dingy and rough neighborhoods of post-war Naples, the characters in this world are cruel and closed, but that's exactly what makes the reader want to dig even further into this terrible yet all-too real world of Ferrante's. I was "assigned" this book via my book club, but was really excited to read it, as it's been on my list for quite some time AND it counts as one of my ten foreign/translated works that I'm attempting to read this year. The downside? Each of the four novels are hundreds of pages long and I'm now in a committed relationship to read them all. If you need me, I'll be over here reading quietly for the next three months.

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