Friday, March 3, 2017

Books 9-12: Three of Them Were Supposed to be Really Good

When I decided for New Year's that I would post about books as I finished them this year, my original intention was that those posts would be interspersed with regular blog posts, and this wouldn't just be a whole bunch of book reviews in a row. So far, that's not working so well, so I need to concentrate on that a little more before this blog just turns into endless book reviews. Waiting for myself to do something exciting, and then not doing anything worth writing about, also means that I may end up with stacks of books to review, like I have now.

Clearly this idea needs some fine-tuning.

In the meantime, here are four books, three of which were gifts from my parents:

9) Gold Fame Citrus, by Claire Vaye Watkins (whose name makes me think of Claire Voyant, the 1940's Black Widow and also the first female character in comics to have both superpowers and a costume), was one of those books that everyone said was so good but when I read it turned out to just be ok. It tells the story of Luz, who at birth became the California Department of Conservation's mascot, the symbolic innocent victim of the state's growing drought. Now, in the near future, the state is completely dry and mostly evacuated as most of the American Southwest is swallowed by a growing Sahara-like desert that swallows entire cities. Luz and her partner live in an abandoned mansion in the Hollywood Hills, scavenging and surviving on her modeling fortune until the day that they accidentally end up with an abandoned baby. Now, forced to care for something instead of being cared for, Luz and Ray make a desperate gamble to cross the desert to Kansas City to make a new life for their new family, despite the patrols, bandits, blistering heat, and rumors of a strange missionary who can find water in the sands and commands a cult of desert dwellers.

There are interesting ideas here. Given our current times, any exploration of imminent dystopias and the ways that humanity will behave in the face of social, economic, or environmental collapse is probably of value, and there are also interesting thoughts on the nature of right and wrong, truth and illusion, and sacrifice. At the same time, the ending felt flat to me, and I wished for a better resolution.

10) I picked up Robert Trachtenberg's When I Knew at the Library Book Sale last summer, and it's been sitting on my coffee table ever since. It's a series of one or two page vignettes by gays and lesbians explaining when they realized that they were gay or lesbian, and sometimes what that meant for them and their family. I thought it was cute and interesting.

In case you missed it, I wrote about my coming out story a few years ago, which can be summed up like this: a quiet night under the stars with a boy who had great abs, leaves on his jacket, and OH SHIT I'M GAY. Someone asked me a few weeks ago what I would say to that first boy if I had the chance to talk to him now (because of Valentine's Day, everyone was talking about their first loves), and after thinking about it I realized the answer is "nothing". I'm not mad at him anymore for not being in love with me the way I thought I was in love with him, and I doubt he thinks of me at all. Twenty-one year old me probably wouldn't believe that, but forty-one year old me can't even imagine how we would begin a conversation. "Hey, how did the rest of your life go? Do you still have good abs?" What would we really say after that? Just because I'm not mad at you anymore doesn't mean I want to know you, either. I tried that once and it didn't work out so well.

11) I don't remember which friend said, "I think you'd like this book", but whomever told me to read Jen Mann's People I Want To Punch in the Throat gave out some really good advice. I was wary of reading another blog collection after Let's Pretend This Never Happened, because that one, while funny, was also exhausting (although that blog is probably really funny when you read each entry a few days or weeks apart), but I decided to just dive into this anyway and I'm glad I did. A consistently entertaining rant against suburbia, carpool moms, classroom moms, PTA moms, book club moms, cheapskates, Pinterest crafters, people who do their kid's homework for them, and various other everyday offenders, this book made me want to be friends with the author. Knowing that she would immediately put me at a distance for a while, the way I do with new people who try to befriend me, made me want to be her friend even more. I'll be looking for the rest of her books soon.

Also, everyone who got a look at the title asked me about what I was reading. Servers at restaurants, people in the elevator, coworkers, everybody who saw the name wanted to know what it was about and if it was any good. I told them it was.

12) Drew Magary's The Hike is another one of those books that everyone said was so good but when I finished it I wondered if I missed something. Again, it wasn't bad. I don't feel like I wasted a few days of my life reading it, but at the same time I found it underwhelming. I probably would have had more fun going on a real hike instead.

This tells the story of Ben, father of three, who drives to a strange hotel in northern Pennsylvania for a business meeting. Arriving early, he decides to go on a hike on the hotel grounds which immediately turns into a multi-year quest to get back to his family, complete with zombies, giants, talking animals, magic potions, weapons, smoke monsters, and impossible choices. Why is this happening to him? When will it end? Will it end at all? And will his family be the same when he sees them again?

And why did everyone think this was so good?

Either way, the book I'm reading now seems interesting, but they all do in the first thirty pages or so.

I guess we'll see.

1 comment:

Mrs. Splapthing said...

Joel, I am so with you on disappointing endings.... the last several books I've read, I've really enjoyed, but hated the ending. It's like authors get bored, or pressured to finish for a deadline, and they go for the "easy out" - which makes the reader sigh and roll their eyes.