I’m planning to recap Great Strides 2014 later this week, but I wanted to offer up my monthly reading update before we get too far into June. I’ve managed to keep my pace up, reading 5 books and listening to 1 audio book. Not too shabby! I usually read at least one graphic novel, but that didn’t happen this month. I also find it interesting that I read more nonfiction than fiction this go around. But I’m getting ahead of myself – here’s the breakdown:
1. Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Mystery)
Short version: A journalist investigates the curious death of a daughter of a filmmaker clouded in mystery.
The verdict: 3.5 out of 5 stars. The story is long and complicated (which isn’t a bad thing!), so if the one sentence sum up doesn’t appeal, keep in mind that there’s so much more to it than that. Pessl is amazing in the way she layers the story. She included media pieces (pages that look like message boards, online articles, text messages) in a way I haven’t seen done before. (Plus: there’s an app you can use to scan the media sections and go into a real online worm hole! Pretty cool!) I thought the plot for the most part was very well done, and I loved the constant references to the films that Cordova made and the film sets. The lives of the characters were very deep and well thought out. If the book would have been 100 pages shorter (it’s 600 page), I might have rated it higher. Toward the end, I had grown sick of the characters and the way things weren’t coming together. (Not going to lie, I was also getting kind of freaked out by all the devil talk.) But then Pessl goes and writes a perfect ending! I was conflicted after I finished it. Usually I know immediately what I want to rate something, but this one gave me pause. Now with a little distance, I’m tempted to raise the score, but in the end, I think 3.5 is fair. If you are a mystery person, you’ll love it! If you are a mystery wuss with a short attention span like me, you’ll probably think it’s just ok.
2. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit: The Astonishing Rise and Spectacular Fall of a Serial Imposter by Mark Seal (Nonfiction crime drama)
Short version: The story of a con-man who deceived everyone around as he climbed America’s social ladder.
The verdict: 3 out of 5 stars. The story is, as it’s billed, astonishing. “Clark Rockefeller” manages to live in ritzy neighborhoods with all the trappings (cars, membership in private clubs, multiple residences) even though he doesn’t work, never finished college, never pays taxes, and isn’t who he says he is. For 30 years, he lied about his identity a la The Talented Mr. Ripley. It’s crazy to think someone could pull off such a thing in this day and age. Not to mention, he may have murdered a few people and gave the most ridiculous TV interview ever on the Today show. (You can watch it online if you’re curious.) Still, the book itself was just okay. Some of the things the writer hits on are repetitive and honestly boring. (He points out 20 different times that Clark doesn’t wear socks. Was this to prove it was the same man despite the different names he used? It was just a weird thing to reiterate.) There’s no big takeaway at the end, no resolution (the book was published while court proceedings were still underway), no closing ‘a-ha!’ moment. It’s an incredible story presented in an average book.
3. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (memoir)
Short version: Mindy shares stories from her youth through today and imparts her wisdom with wit and charm.
The verdict: 4 out of 5 stars. Normally, I wouldn’t pick up a book like this thinking it would be too fluffy for my taste. While, it was a little fluffy, but that was exactly what I needed. Mindy is a awesome and a little bit of a mess. She’s so smart and sharp and also socially awkward. I couldn’t help but relate to all her uncomfortable encounters, and I’ve since dubbed her “Indian Me.” We get to hear terribly embarrassing anecdotes (recent and old) along with pictures as well as random funny stuff that she threw in because that’s her style. I also appreciated the times she spoke directly to teenage girls with sage life advice. She’s saying what I’d say if I talked to teenager girls, which I make it a point to never do. Really, this book just made me happy. That alone warrants a very high rating.
4. Paper Towns by John Green (young adult fiction)
Short version: A high school senior embarks on a quest to find his flighty former BFF, which culminates in a last minute road trip with all the trappings of road trip hijinks.
The verdict: 3 out of 5. My trouble with John Green at this point is that I read his best books (The Fault in our Stars and Looking for Alaska) first, so each subsequent book has been less impressive. I hadn’t even planned to read this one until a friend suggested it. Whatever that friend really connected to wasn’t there for me. It was just meh. I was annoyed by the manic pixie dream girl trope and some of the unrealistic choices of the characters that seem to happen without consequences as a convenience to the writer. I also feel a nagging annoyance at the fact that this book surely could not pass the Bechdel test. For such a popular and talented writer, I’m convinced that he could do better.
5. I feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron (memoir)
Short version: Random blurbs on topics ranging from rent prices in NYC to cooking to haircuts in Ephron’s distinct voice.
The verdict: 3.5 out of 5. Because this book was a compilation of musings, there wasn’t any plot to speak of. That didn’t bother me, but some of the vignettes were more interesting than others. I couldn’t completely relate to the things Ephron wrote about, but I still enjoyed her style and it was a quick read.
6. Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin (memoir)
Short version: Steve Martin’s mostly serious retelling of the events of his life with an emphasis on the years he worked as a stand-up comedian.
The verdict: 4 out of 5. I listened to this on CD during the drive to Dallas, and it was perfect in audio-book form. It didn’t hurt that Martin narrated the story. If you’re looking for funny, this isn’t it. Instead, it’s a peak into how he got so successful (hint: lots of struggling and years of being broke as a joke). He revealed less than flattering things about himself and his life, and it helped me understand and like him. (The relationship with his father was especially telling.) Martin views his work as his craft, and at the end of the book, I was left with a feeling of respect for him.
Total # of books read so far this year: 30
Total # of pages read so far this year: 8,856