The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest by Stieg Larsson
The third part of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo saga. Resumes after the events in Played With Fire and concludes that story.
I really liked it. As I read I was constantly feeling like What just happened? Seriously? Where did that come from? and Ooh, smart!
From all of that, you should understand that it kept me on my toes and guessing about how everything was going to work out. I really didn't know, and didn't even have many good guesses. It was clever and engaging and I very much enjoyed it.
Again, I recommend it with the caveat that you have to be ok with violence, language, and sex.
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
A true-crime novel about a multiple murders that occurred in Western Kansas in 1959. Four members of the Clutter family were murdered in their home by two men who had been paroled from the Kansas Penitentiary. The story begins with the family and the murder and then follows the work of the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to find the men, their capture, trial, and sentencing.
It's a fascinating story. It is so brutal and the murders are so cold about it that there is just something that draws you in to the tale, even though it is terrible.
Capote has an interesting way of keeping himself out of the story, but there are a few moments when I realized how often he must have interviewed these guys and how much time he actually spent with them. It's kind of amazing. And I found myself almost more interested in that than in the actual story -- why did Capote get so interested in this story that he didn't have any real ties to, and how did the researching go, how much time did he really spend with these guys? And none of that is in the book at all.
It's a fascinating story. Through some of the middle, I got a little bored because I didn't have any sympathy at all for the murderers. In fact, I really didn't like them at all, so I didn't want to read about them anymore. But I really liked the ending. I think it was a nice way to end and have kind of a tribute.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
A distopian world in which the premises are based mostly on Biblical readings of the roles of women. For some, not fully determined, reason, the birthrate has plummeted. There are suggestions of nuclear fallout being the cause, but also women are blamed. So the government is taken over, the society is restructured, and roles for women are redefined. Our narrator, who we only know as Offred, is a Handmaid like in the Biblical stories of Sarah who gives Hagar and Leah and Rachel who give their handmaids to have children when they can't.
A fascinating and horrifying look at a distopian future. It's an interesting commentary on how women are valued/devalued by society, both today and in this possible future. It's got a striking commentary about the current situation for women, and also a striking commentary about how women are treated and used in the distopia (Gilead).
The structure and telling of the story is also interesting and I particularly like how Atwood/the narrator embeds a discussion of how stories are told, how we discuss them, and how our memories are actually recreations.
I'm glad I finally read this one, it will keep me thinking for a while. I definitely recommend it (of course with the usual caveats about violence, sex, and language).
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
In this autobiography, Angelou begins with her memory of being sent to live in Arkansas with her grandmother when her parents get divorced. She then tells the story of her life until she is sixteen years old.
Things seem to all come together and happen at the same time for me. So when my Lit class was reading The Catcher in the Rye, I had just finished reading Out of Africa, which Holden mentions reading. Then the last two weeks we have been reading To Kill a Mockingbird, and Harper Lee worked as a researcher on In Cold Blood, which I read for book club and one of my students presented on. So at the same time I was reading this, one of my students presented on Angelou's poem by the same name. All interesting intersections.
On to the book itself. It dragged a bit in the middle, enough that I actually thought about not continuing with the book. But I ended up liking it. Angelou is forthright and it's an important perspective. She has moments within the narrative where she ponders life and blackness and why things are the way they are that are poignant and touching, but also thought-provoking.
I recently heard a student comment about Latino writing that it is not his experience so he doesn't like it and just isn't interested, and I was disturbed because I think the beauty of reading and literature is that we get to experience other people's experiences/lives/point of view. And this book allowed me to do that.
I recommend it (always with the usual caveat).
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
A journalist returns home to her small Missouri town to investigate the murders of two little girls.
I wanted to read something less heavy and serious, so I picked up this because I'd been thinking about Gone Girl while I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series.
Warning! This is super dark and quite disturbing! Super, super dark.
I'm not completely sure what I think of it. It was riveting. I read it in three days and it moved super fast, because those three days were days I didn't have a lot of time to read. The violence against female characters was horrible and disturbing. But one of the things that bothered me was that I didn't feel as horrified as maybe I should have, and I decided that was because the characters didn't really fit their actual age, so it made the horror harder to see.
I was irritated by the main character's poor decisions. I understand why the events happened and why those decisions were made, but that didn't keep me from thinking she's an idiot. And it didn't keep me from not liking her very much.
And there weren't as many turns as I thought there would be, or as I expected from the writer of Gone Girl. I knew fairly early who the killer was.
Final thoughts: If you are looking for something super dark and disturbing to read, go for it!
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
Gregor wakes up one morning to find he has turned into a giant bug.
Kim read this in her short story class and it is on my list of books to read, so I got it.
What a weird little story. Gregor ruins his life and his family's life by becoming a giant bug. I get the commentary and why this is important, but really? It's weird. I managed to feel a little bad for the characters, but not a lot bad. There were a lot of interesting things to think about, but mostly this made me think of the children's book Imogene's Antlers.
Which is a hilarious take on sort of the same problem.
If you are trying to feel well-read and this is on your list, go for it. It's short and easy to read.
Candide by Voltaire
A young man Candide is cast out of the home he has been taken into and where he has been raised and goes on many adventures.
Another weird little story.
The point is optimism versus pessimism versus you create your own destiny. So Candide has been trained by a philosopher who believes that everything happens for the best. But in his adventures many trials and bad things happen to Candide, so he questions the philosophy and almost begins to agree with a friend who is a pessimist. But the conclusion is that we have to create our own happiness.
It's a lovely message, but the way to get there was totally bizarre. And yes, I am going to judge Voltaire out of his time period, but it is a totally weird idea to have characters go to El Dorado and find an ancient Incan land untouched by foreigners where they serve European food and live in European style houses and wear European style clothes.
Again, if you are trying to feel well-read and this is on your list, go for it. It's short and easy to read.
A closing thought that is slightly separate from the reviews. I don't know if you noticed, but almost everything on this list is about, or contains a lot of violence toward women. What is up with that? Why is that what I am continually reading? I'm trying to choose a happier book for my next one. If you have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.