January Miscellany

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I am sure by now you are all aware that I do a reading challenge called 20 Books of Summer.

You might also know that I have only successfully completed 20 Books of Summer ONCE in the four years that I have done it.

Imagine my surprise then to discover that this month I have read a whopping 19 books. In a month. Without much effort.

How does that happen? I’m surprised at myself but am realising now that I really have no excuse for not completing 20 Books of Summer ever again.

I have been reading quite a few books in preparation for Reading Ireland Month 2019, but here is a round up of my non-746 reads in January.

Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now by Jaron Lanier

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I like Jaron Lanier – he’s the Silicon tech insider turned anti-social media guru, warning us, with first-hand experience, how social media and devices are making us more unhappy. I was looking forward to reading this, but, to be honest, there was little here that I didn’t already know and clearly nothing that made me delete any of my social media accounts. I also found his constant use of the acronym BUMMER to describe the six evils of social media, a little bit wearing after a time. I do not doubt that, having seen social media from the inside and from its inception, that Lanier’s points aren’t valid and well meant. They are. It is just that this book is slight and skimmable at best.

The Best of Crimes by K.C. Maher

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I’m not quite sure why I requested this book from Netgalley – I’m fond of an anti-hero and I like books that don’t shy away from the dark side of human nature, but I really didn’t get on with this book at all. The premise is that a young, handsome wealthy banker befriends one of his daughter’s classmates who is his neighbour. Circumstance conspire to have them both at home over a period of months with no other family around (literally half the book is written to facilitate this premise) where they develop a deep ‘friendship’. The adult is clearly sexually attracted to the thirteen year old, but guess what? He does not act on his feelings. Therefore, he is a good guy. And we have a happy ending.

I’m sorry, but I cannot get behind a book that is asking me to applaud a grown man for grooming a thirteen year old girl but then not doing anything to her. It doesn’t help that the girl is described constantly as long-limbed, doe-eyed, silken haired – every youth cliché you can think of. I am not sure what this book was trying to say and I’m not sure I care.

 French Exit by Patrick deWitt

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I adored The Sisters Brothers, deWitt’s Coen-esque romp through Western territory and was very much looking forward to his new novel about a wealthy but dysfunctional mother and son who flee to Paris to escape their money troubles at home in New York. “My plan was to die before the money ran out,” says 65-year-old Frances “But I kept and keep not dying, and here I am.” Frances and Malcolm set off on a cruise liner to Paris, armed with €170,000 in cash in a bag and a strange cat named Little Frank, whose importance will be slowly revealed throughout the book.

This is an amusing and sharp tragicomedy, which gathers up inventive and enticing characters but then does not seem to know what to do with them. Having said that, I really enjoyed this slight but dazzling story, which exposes the darkness that haunts even the most glamorous of lives. deWitt, it seems, can turn his hand to any genre with wit and style.

 Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill

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I very much enjoyed Offill’s book, which charts the highs and lows of a marriage through fragmented prose, broken paragraphs and references to other literature. This is an exploration of the domestic, told in a unique style – emanating humour and intelligence at every turn. Offill is particularly good on the mundane aspects of parenthood and the needs of mothers to work (in this case to be an ‘art monster) versus the bringing up of small children. Recommended.

 Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton

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Show me a novel referred to as a modern-day Talented Mr Ripley set in contemporary New York and I’ll show you a happy reader. This book ticks all my must read boxes – references to Patricia Highsmith, New York setting, louche wealthy twenty-somethings filling their time with decadent parties – and I must say, I enjoyed it very much.

Louise, an aspiring writer, is living in Brooklyn, just about getting by juggling jobs and living in a rundown apartment. By chance, she meets Lavinia, a trust fund girl on a sabbatical from Yale who is writing an over-wrought novel, partying in vintage clothes and getting MORE POETRY!!! tattooed on her forearm. Louise is enthralled and as Lavinia takes her under her wing, she becomes immersed in Lavinia’s world to an alarming extent, before matters take a nasty turn.

Like Tom Ripley, Louise is enough of an empty vessel to leave her actions questionable. She is not above stealing money from her glamourous benefactor, but is she an intentionally violent person? What makes Social Creature so interesting is not so much the plot, which is good, but at times veers into caricature, but the examination of how much of our lives is lived through social media. If anything, Social Creature made me question my online life more that Jaron Lanier’s book as it questions how much we really know what is going on in someone’s life behind their social media persona.

 

Have you read any of these? Do any appeal to you?

 

Monthly Miscellany

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Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

34 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Loved both Dept. of Speculation and French Exit, although the latter not as much as The Sisters Brothers which is an all-time favourite. You’ve sold me on Social Creature. And congrats on that reading score!

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  2. I’m glad you weren’t convinced to delete your social media!! I also adored Social Creature, and I completely agree with your comment about how it makes you reevaluate your real life/online balance. Even though that book’s trajectory was rather predictable, I still found the second half haunting, and Louise was just a ridiculously good protagonist.

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    • What I loved about Social Creature was how everyone thought they knew each other because they were interacting on social media when in fact they didn’t know anyone at all. As you say, plot wise it was predictable but I loved the milieu.

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  3. 19 books in a month. Well done! I’ve read 12 and I’ve been on the road travelling and haven’t always had the energy to read. I loved French Exit, but agree it felt like deWitt didn’t know what to do with those characters once he got them to Paris! I wasn’t a fan of Dept. Of Speculation but understand I’m in the minority with this one. Love the sound of Social Creatures…will look out for it.

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  4. French Exit is on my TBR list, and Social Creature is now too, thanks to your review.
    I read Dept of Speculation years ago and very much enjoyed it – looking back on my notes, I described it as ‘pithy’.

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  5. I’m glad to hear the Lanier didn’t tell you much that you didn’t already know. I have been feeling that I *should* read this book in order to be a responsible social media user, and as a parent whose children use social media. But how realistic is it that I will suddenly just drop everything when I actually get a lot of enjoyment out of it?
    French Exit was a fun read, wasn’t it? It’s made me want to go back and read his other books.
    Btw, 19 books is amazing!! I don’t think I’ve ever read that many in a month. Looking forward to March! 🙂

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  6. Just doing one or two things “less” can add up to more reading time in short order. That’s been my experience too. I added an app to my phone two years ago to track the TV shows I watch (partly to monitor my sense that I was reading less but also partly because I was constantly forgetting which episode I’d seen most recently in a series) and that has really helped “create” more reading time. I have no intention of giving up movies/shows, but I do want to prioritize reading and seeing the numbers helps me keep things in what feels like a balance to me (meaning, in favour of the books!). All your reading looks appealing to me, and the only one I’ve read is the Patrick deWitt – so clever, yes! Do you know about the film for The Sisters Brothers? It’s apparently very well done.

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