Book Reviews: Quarter One

Digital display of 15 books which represent a 2019 Readings Challenge so far.Read Like a Freak

This year I committed to read 60 books. Much more ambitious than my goals of years past, my recent addiction to audiobooks and a two hour commute are the only ways I’m likely to make this happen. That said, I do tend to be quite a book freak. My boyfriend told me about an article he read regarding breaking your phone addiction by always carrying a book with you. That way, when you had the undeniable urge to check social media and scroll through your phone notifications, you could just read a book instead!

My response: “What do they think I’m doing on my phone?”

At any given time, there are no fewer than three books in my Kindle queue. I tend to keep a nonfiction book to read while I’m at the gym, an audiobook to keep me entertained on the way to work, and a juicy novel to read before bed or marathon on my patio when a nice day comes along.

If you don’t have a Goodreads account already, I offer my plug. It makes keeping track of my “Want to Read” and “Read but forgot because it was so boring” more manageable. See a book I like while out wandering? Saved to my list. Starstruck at the bookstore because I want them all? Let’s stick to what I already need.

Every year they encourage you to participate in a Reading Challenge to help you meet your reading goals. In this, my first quarter, I’ve finished 14 15 books and am actively working on two more. I’ll likely finish these by the actual end of quarter, March 31st, but I’m going to be very busy in those weeks. Instead, I’ll give it to you now – my top three favorite books for this year (so far).

Top Three Books of 2019

1. Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami

I first met Murakami with The Wind Up Bird Chronicle which, at time of reading, I liked, but nine years later can’t recall a single detail for you. From there, I admired 1Q84 every time I perused bookshelves, putting it off and putting it off because it’s just so big. And then! The library magically had it available right before I went on vacation to Spain. Voila! The perfect time had presented itself.

Many books I read are good books. Fine books. Perfectly decent, enjoyable books. Few books carry me to the rarefied atmosphere of heaven leaving me biting my fingers and moaning with pleasure because the book is just so good. 1Q84 got me there.

Next year, color me again favored when a copy of the newly released Killing Commendatore was available right before I went on vacation to the United Arab Emirates. Obviously it was fate. Published nearly a decade after 1Q84, Killing Commendatore didn’t quite bring me to the same level of transcendence. At times, it got close. Murakami’s books appeal to me because he weaves the nitty-gritty real of human experience with just a twinge of surrealism to move things along in a way you don’t expect. There’s “How the story would play out in our world” which is predictable and probably not quaint. Then there’s “How things play out in Murakami world” where somehow he takes drudgery and remorse and produces a happy ending. It’s impossible, it’s artful, and it’s delicious. Killing Commedatore doesn’t disappoint in this lineage of fantastic storytelling, offering a narrative of a painter estranged from his wife and the strange encounters which bring them back together.

2. Becoming by Michelle Obama

My favorite audiobooks are autobiographies. I love to hear people tell their stories with their own voices -literally and figuratively. Thrillers -too intense. Non-fiction -often too boring. But biographies? Nice and steady with the added benefit of already knowing what happened.

I feared how much of the book would relate the story of Barack and the surrounding White House years. I am pleased to say it was minimal. Becoming fully answers my questions about Michelle Obama, primarily, “How can someone carry themselves so gracefully in the face of so much hate?” Michelle openly discusses the slew of hateful comments that have come her way, maintaining a dignity I can only hope to possess one day. Stand up to your bullies, but don’t stoop to their level.

On the way, you get all the bonus features. How you, a young woman with a bright future, can be dropped at college by your steady boyfriend only to realize you’re going to break up because you have more important things to do for now. How you, a successful woman in your own right, can step aside from your own goals to support your husband. And, how you, loving your husband so much, can still secretly hope he fails because your life will be easier without the politics of the White House. But ultimately, you hope he succeeds because your annoyances will be the benefit of a nation. All these lessons on how to be a superb human being and more brought to you in Michelle Obama’s Becoming!

3. Slutever by Karley Sciortino

It feels a little like sacrilege to write about a book called Slutever right after discussing the grace and dignity of Michelle Obama, but eh. Humans are a complicated mess.

I developed a crush on Karley Sciortino after watching the Netflix show Easy. In the episode called “Side Hustle” Karley plays a burgeoning writer supporting her career by being a call girl. Not far off from her real life as you’ll learn in her book. You watch her go on her various dates leading up to a cross connection when her new writer friend brings along her longtime friend -a client- to a stand-up comedy session. But everyone hangs out and has fun because this is the modern world.

In Slutever, she’s funny and unapologetic about her exploits without labeling them as salacious exploits. Her perspective is much more “Alice fell into Wonderland and here we are now.” I liked her character, and thereby her, for a scene in Easy in which she engages with a panicking client. He’s an emotional wreck and she’s calmly trying to help him sort out and cope with his feelings. Finally, I think we’re starting to change the dialogue in which how we see men and women. It’s not that men are tough and inherently detached while women are unable to separate feelings from facts and keep intimacy as a “Business only” transaction. It’s that people are people, and they have complicated wants and needs that may seem crazy but are more understandable that you may assume. Just like the Kinsey Reports discovered, people are up to far more than they let on.

Slutever is no different, playing with stereotypes and exploring human nature in all its shades. It’s fun to be able to walk in these shoes without having to explore them yourself, and Karley makes the journey delightful.

Honorable Mention

These books didn’t make my top three. but I’ll still give them a shout. A+ for wit, witticism, creativity, and maybe even all three.

  1. An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  2. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  3. Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple


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