Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Month in Books: December

I realize December isn't quite over yet, but I don't think I'm going to finish another book in the next seven hours. I had kind of an end of the month reading push this month, mostly because we had a week off from work, but also because I was very close to a big number of books read this year and wanted to see if I could meet it. We'll get to that tomorrow, when I talk about the best books I read all year.

Today, though, these are the books I read in December and what I thought about them:

1) Hollow City continues Ranson Riggs' story of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children, picking up minutes from where the first book ended. The children, driven out of the protective time loop that shields them from the world, attempt to flee the army of evil chasing them while also trying to find someone to aid their injured protector, Miss Peregrine. Accompanied by Jacob, the boy from present day Florida who joined them in the last book, they find themselves in WWII London, trying to evade bombs and capture at the same time. Unfortunately, things are not what they seem, and at the end of the book they may be in worse trouble than ever. I like the story in these books, but really don't feel anything about the photography, which is supposed to be one of the things that makes them special and wonderful.

2) They have a lot of troubles at the university in The Land-Grant, but they don't seem to have an editor, something that this meandering novel with too many pointless subplots badly needs. There was some brief chatter on campus when it came out, because the author is a professor here and this novel of bureaucratic absurdities in higher education might be about our school (the stadium on the front cover is definitely our football stadium), but really this could be any large public university in the SEC. This book is also a really good example of why I haven't written a book about work when everyone says, "You should write about your job!" This book was barely interesting to me, and I work here. Why would someone outside of work be interested in this at all? There's a discussion I hear whenever a movie like For Your Consideration comes out that the American moviegoing public isn't really all that interested in movies about making movies, but that Hollywood keeps making them because moviemakers like movies about themselves, and I wonder if something similar is going on here, where the only people who got excited about this book did so because it's sort of a book about them.

3) Ransom Riggs concludes the story of Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children with The Library of Souls, a convoluted but fast moving story of sacrifice, betrayal, friendship, and death. Will Jacob and his friends rescue Miss Peregrine and save all of the peculiar children all over the world? Or will Miss Peregrine's evil brother, Caul, kill them all and ascend to power as the ruler of the world? Other than a minor nitpick about someone dying off panel, I enjoyed this. I actually went straight from the last book to this one, but finished a Kindle book on the treadmill in between.

4) I finally go around to reading the last book in VC Andrews' Dollanganger family saga, Secret Brother. At the conclusion of the previous novel, there was a last chapter shocking reveal that the newly rebuilt Foxworth Hall was actually owned and built by elderly, wheelchair-bound Cory! Somehow Cory, the twin who dies in Flowers in the Attic, survived and became rich, unknown to his family, but how? What happened? In "Secret Brother", we are introduced to Clara Sue, a teenager whose little brother, Willie, is hit by a car in the opening pages. Rushing to the hospital, Clara Sue and her grandfather discover that a second little boy the same age as Willie has just been left in the hospital emergency room by an unknown man. This second boy is near death, malnourished, and suffering from arsenic poisoning, and in the aftermath of Willie's death Clara Sue's grandfather begins paying the poisoned boy's expenses, then moves him into their house, and then names him William. Is Clara Sue's grandfather trying to replace the grandson he lost? Will the poisoned boy recover from his amnesia? And will Clara Sue forgive them both for pushing the memory of her brother away?

I have two problems with this:

A) V.C. Andrews already had a character named Clara Sue, Clara Sue Cutler in the "Dawn" series. It's a distinctive combination name, and the editors should have changed it.

B) In "Flowers in the Attic" Corrine informs the children that Cory died on the way to the hospital and was already buried, and that she was the one driving him to the hospital. Later, toward the end of "Petals on the Wind", Cathy doesn't actually say she found Cory's body (at that point it would be skeletal or mummified) in a hidden room in the attic because Corrine cuts her off right when she's building up to it, but that's strongly implied. If we're willing to believe that witnesses at the hospital mistook Corrine for a man when she dumped Cory out of the car (which is possible), and that Corrine somehow had a change of heart and left Cory to receive medical treatment knowing he could recover and destroy her after she'd been poisoning him for months (not likely), there's still the problem of whose body Cathy found in the attic a decade later.

That's a lot of continuity problems for a book that they pushed out to try to milk some of the publicity from the Lifetime series of movies based on the original ones, and on top of that this book wasn't even that good. On the other hand, these couple of paragraphs are probably the deepest intellectual thought that anyone's devoted to V.C. Andrews in several years.

5) My friend Lucy Snyder's newest collection of short stories, While the Black Stars Burn, was interesting and sometimes disturbing. I'd read one of the stories in another collection, but there's a sequel to that story right after it in this book, so reading it again was still interesting since I wouldn't have remembered the character otherwise. There's one story that maybe I shouldn't have read while I was eating, due to some disturbing food-related imagery, but that was still a good story that I just happened to read at the wrong time. Even worse, I was reading it at chili's, and you know how reading there usually works out for me.

6) My friend Leo bought me Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life for my birthday. It was challenging to read in some places because it resonated with my own life in some ways, but deeply moving. It made me cry on the treadmill twice, so I finally just went on a three hour reading binge to finish it. I'm a little disappointed that I didn't see the main twist coming, but I was so under the spell of the story that the possibility never entered my mind even though I've guess the same thing correctly in movies I've never seen. This was a very absorbing book, and worth the read. It's hard for me to sum up all the things I felt while reading this, but it's still sticking in my head several days after finishing. I'm already thinking about possibly rereading it, but need to give myself a little time before I do.

7) Wayne Gladstone's Notes from the Internet Apocalypse started off as interesting satire. When the entire world suddenly loses the internet, Gladstone wanders a New York City reeling with shock. People physically poke each other in coffeehouses. Gangs of YouTube Zombies surround cats and try to force them to perform tricks. But there's hope: a psychic information dealer named Jeeves has announced that there is an internet messiah, and he will return the internet to the world. The bad news is that the Internet Messiah might be Gladstone, and he has no idea where it is. As quirky as this started out, by the end it dissolved into a mess, and I won't bother with the sequels.

8) During my "cleaning out the bookshelves" project, I came across a copy of Harry G. Frankfurt's On Bullshit, a tiny little book that I forgot I owned but which many people were talking about when it was published in 2005. Ten years later, it isn't really as shocking to see a book on a table in the bookstore with profanity on the cover, but the philosophical discussion of the nature of bullshit and the purpose it serves in our society is still an interesting read.

That's it for December. It may not seem like I had a big reading push, since that's a pretty average number of books for the month (especially with that last one being a novella), but 3 through 8 were all completed in the last eleven days of the month, so that has to count for some kind of effort.

Anyway, come back tomorrow and I'll talk about the best books I read all year, and reveal the year-end total.

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