Monday, February 29, 2016

The Short Month in Books: February

February tends to be one of our busiest months at work and that, combined with it being the shortest month of the year, means that I got very little reading done this month. It's been unseasonably warm most of the month, so I've been doing a lot of outside walking instead of on the treadmill, which cuts into my kindle time, and I've been walking at lunch and not eating out a lot, which are the other two main times when I read. As such, my total for the month is really small, and the extra leap day didn't really help.

1) In Carol Goodman's River Road, college professor Nan Lewis is driving home from the English faculty department party in a blizzard when she hits a deer. Unable to find the deer or to get her car up her unplowed driveway near campus, Nan leaves the car overnight, only to be awakened in the morning by the Sheriff. Someone ran over beloved student Leia Dawson and left her to die in the snow, and the police are certain it's Nan. Nan's own daughter was killed by a drunk driver years ago at the same place in the road, but Nan only had a couple of drinks, right? And she wouldn't leave someone to die, right? Especially not a good girl with no secrets like Leia, right? Now Nan has to clear her name even as dark secrets from Leia's past rise up around her.

I like Carol Goodman's books, but they very rarely leave much of an impression after I've finished them. I've even reread a few, and they're fine and entertaining when I'm reading them, but the minute they're over they tend to slide right out of my mind.

2) People have been telling me for a few months that Jessica Knoll's Luckiest Girl Alive is "so good! Just like Gillian Flynn!" There's even a blurb right on the cover that compares the two, but there's a difference here: this book does feature a damaged, hard to like, non-traditional female lead struggling through the rest of her life after a terrible tragedy in her youth, but the flashbacks also show us that she was terrible and hard to like before tragedy even befell her. The tragedy may have sharpened her, but she's annoying to read about before and after, and the story itself basically boils down to a Lifetime movie, all the way down to the last minute reveal and comeuppance at the very end. I guess it's sort of interesting to read about someone who is both the victim and the victimizer throughout her story, but when I was finished I just kind of shrugged and moved on. There wasn't really anything to think about or ponder over like a Gillian Flynn book.

This might be ok for a vacation read? Like if you were on the kind of vacation where you don't want to think about anything?

3) I haven't read any of Philip Roth's work since I was in college, and I'm not sure how Indignation ended up on my reading pile, but I enjoyed it. The year is 1951, and Marcus Messner has transferred to college in Winesburg, Ohio, to escape his paranoid, controlling father, a Kosher butcher in Newark, New Jersey. With the threat of the Korean War hanging over campus, Marcus is at war with himself, pressured to make the right friends, date the right girl, and think the right thoughts in an environment that doesn't tolerate dissention. This was a short, turbulent read.

This is the second best book I read all month, for what it's worth. It was an interesting portrait of college as it no longer exists, and presents some social issues for your brain to chew over.

4) In Lafeyette in the Somewhat United States Sarah Vowell takes us on a trip back to a time when the US begged for France's help, when Freedom Fries did not exist, and when the patriots of the Revolutionary War welcomed the aid of a French general who was below the current legal drinking age. Following Lafeyette's journey through the US both during the war and later, when he came back to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the victory and spent a year being celebrated by everyone in the US, Vowell gives an amusing picture of the way the war is remembered today contrasted with the way it actually was. This was an entertaining, informative read.

This was the best book I read all month, because Vowell is adept at combining the past with current events in a way that lets the reader see exactly how one flowed into the other without the sense that you are reading a textbook. She also has a very dry sense of humor, and I appreciate being educated about the Revolutionary War through the lens of her getting the reenactors at Colonial Williamsburg to break character or a description of how hard it is to find a monument that now stands in the corner of someone's front yard. Her books present American history in a way that entertains Americans.

So, yeah, I read a grand total of four books this month, but I have less than 10% of a book left on the Kindle.

I promise to read more in March.