I was feeling pretty good about this month until I realized I read 2,047 pages and finished six books last month ;___; It’s always a trade-off, though. There never seems to be enough time to do everything I want to do. However, this was still a productive month: I managed to read three books, DNF’d a couple others (#shame), worked on splitting my novel into shorter chapters – I mean, some of those fuckers were straight up 62 pages and that’s just unacceptable – and started stockpiling finished blog posts so I can start posting more regularly!!! (Until I run out of content, of course.) The stockpiling hasn’t been completely smooth and actually resulted in a full-on Twitter meltdown yesterday afternoon while I was in the middle of writing the Jane Eyre review I started probably last year, but the technology hasn’t glitched since, so I’m cautiously optimistic.
June Reading Stats
- Dear Child – Romy Hausmann
- The Cat Who Saved Books – Sōsuke Natsukawa
- The Diary of a Bookseller – Shaun Bythell
- The Book of M – Peng Shepherd
- The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness – Kyung-Sook Shin
Total Pages Read: 1,280
I don’t know if I should really count The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness as a DNF because I barely even made it to page 5 before it defeated me, but I did in fact start it and then give up, so I’ll leave it where it is. I’m not sure what went wrong, but part of it was the length of the chapters, which are more like sections, combined with the fact that I already know there are elements of the author’s style that I don’t like. I am currently about halfway through The Court Dancer, also by Shin, and the writing isn’t my favorite. The chapters and the writing style added up to a book that feels very dense, even though it’s technically not that long, and I got tired long before I got to page 5. I might try again later, but for now it’s going back to the library.
About That Other DNF
The Book of M
This is not an official rating because I didn’t finish the book, but I was on track to give it 3.5 stars when it made me lose the will to live. I’m sorry. I really tried with this book, but for some reason it didn’t occur to me when I picked it up that reading post-apocalyptic plague fiction in the time of COVID was maybe not the best idea. And I want to preface this DNF by saying that the book is not bad by any means, but it really did not land for me, and it’s so fucking depressing that I didn’t make it past page 113. I would say it’s a little too on the nose, but it was published in 2018 and well before any of us had ever heard of COVID, so maybe Shepherd is just psychic.
The Book of M is set in a world ravaged by a peculiar plague called “the Forgetting,” which has caused those afflicted to lose their shadows, along with their memories. This is a problem because the people who lose their memories also gain the ability to reshape the world at random, and apparently without control. This can have relatively harmless consequences, such as a deer with wings in place of antlers, but it has also killed people who trapped themselves in their own houses when they forgot that doors were a thing. How the disease spreads is unclear, but it’s been a few years and people with shadows are now rarer than those without. In the middle of this desolate land are Orlando “Ory” Zhang and his wife Max, who have been living in an abandoned mountain resort just outside of Arlington, Virginia. They arrived at the resort for a friend’s wedding and never left, because the plague began to escalate during the wedding. They’ve managed to get along for the last two years, but Max lost her shadow a few days before the beginning of the story, and is starting to lose her memories as well. To prevent herself from becoming a hazard to Ory, Max leaves their shelter on a day when Ory is scavenging in Arlington and sets out west, using the tape recorder she took with her to narrate her journey. The story also follows Mahnaz “Naz” Ahmadi, an Iranian archer living in Boston, and a man with retrograde amnesia, who is variously known as Patient RA, The One with a Middle but No Beginning, The Stillmind, and The One Who Gathers.
There’s not much to say at this point. I wanted to love the book because the cover is gorgeous and I absolutely do judge books by their covers, but that doesn’t always work out. I can’t even say I have any strong opinions about the story or the characters, because so much information got thrown at me that my predominant emotion was confusion. I normally don’t mind stories that ease you into the world without telling you everything up front, but in this case there were so many tiny threads that were obviously going to be explained later, and I had no way of determining which ones were important enough to remember. I never got invested in the story, which was still getting off the ground at the point that I DNF’d, and I didn’t get attached to any of the characters, who didn’t strike me as particularly memorable. I could’ve done with fewer non sequiturs, such as this one:
“Blue,” he said as soon as her drowsy, dream-heavy eyes fluttered open and met his own. He waited, breathless, for her to speak. It was their test, their way of telling whether or not she still knew who he was.
“Fifty-two,” she whispered back.
They met at a football game.
Um. Is this supposed to mean something to me? I didn’t get far enough to learn the significance of “blue” and “fifty-two,” which are used liberally throughout Ory’s chapters and Max’s recordings, but I’m assuming they’re associated with football. The problem is that if a book just randomly tosses little factoids at me, I am 100% not going to remember them, which rather negates any purpose they might have had. I also think it could’ve lost a few scenes without consequence, because I really did not need a whole scene where Ory was washing his nutsack. Still struggling to figure out the point of that one.
Overall I thought the concept was interesting and the writing was pretty good, especially given that this is a debut novel, but the set-up was a tad too long and too opaque (I wasn’t anywhere near the main plot at page 113), and I eventually realized that I was dreading the prospect of reading more. The book isn’t the longest I’ve ever seen, but it’s so dense that it seems far longer than it probably is. Dread is a death knell to reading, so I’ve given up for now, though I may revisit the book later, after COVID settles down – if it ever settles down. This is another book I’m glad I didn’t buy, but I’m worried that I might have a similar experience with The Cartographers, which is also on my list.
WARNING: Moar spoilers.
Current rating: 4.5-5 stars. I fucking love this book. This is the kind of book that has the potential to be either mega depressing or mega hilarious, and so far it’s trending towards the latter. The story is predominantly narrated by two Russians, who are trying to get away with espionage and murder in Silicon Valley, and one Chinese American Millennial, who is trying to catch them (or, at the point where I currently am, figure out their game). And I have to say, as a Chinese American Millennial myself, the American liberal work culture is Spot. On. Based on the two Bill Browder books I read earlier this year, the Russian parts don’t seem far-fetched either. There are so many things that Wang just got right, and it’s wonderful. I’ve been having such a good time with this book, and I can’t wait to see where it goes. At the rate I’m going, this is probably going to be my first finished book for July, given that I got released from work a few hours early and am starting to think that reading all afternoon sounds like a really good idea. I might even get crazy later and DoorDash it for dinner. It’ll be wild.
The Court Dancer
Current rating: 3.5-4 stars. I want to finish this book because it is interesting and it’s based on historical events, but I’m not entirely sure how I feel about it. It relates the story of Yi Jin, a court dancer from the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1897), who marries a French diplomat and moves with him to Paris. So far I think I like it? I’m on the fence about the writing, mainly because Shin has an irritating habit of inserting ellipses to indicate pauses during a conversation, such as here:
—No, Your Majesty. Lady Attendant Suh, she went to the legation…
—What of her?
—What of Lady Attendant Suh?
I don’t know why, but I really hate the ellipses and they’re kinda ruining the book for me. I still have the second half of the book to go, so we’ll see if I change my mind.
Miscellaneous Reading News
One of my coworkers pointed me to the Longreads Queens of Infamy series this week and holy shit this is everything I never knew I needed <3 I’ve only read one so far because, well, they’re long, but I highly recommend the Boudicca episode. I’ve been a Boudicca fan for a while, so naturally this was the first one I read, and it did not disappoint. My favorite part:
She was dressed in a colorful tunic and cloak, her outfit completed by a giant fuck-off gold torc. Her voice was harsh, unfeminine…At least, this is how historian Cassius Dio described Boudicca, a British tribal queen, over one hundred years after her death – every civilized man’s worst nightmare.
For some reason this appears to be the kind of thing my coworker associates with me, to which I said thank you for noticing. I feel so seen. I am indeed every civilized man’s worst nightmare. 😀