#29: I Don’t Know Where You Know Me From by Judy Greer
I read most of this memoir on the plane to California and then sitting in the car outside my brother’s house in Los Angeles as I waited for him to get home from work. I kept reading about Greer’s LA and I’d think “Hey! That’s where I am!” with a weird excitement. Because, yes, I was in LA. And yes, Greer’s memoir spends a lot of time describing various parts of LA that she’s lived and worked in and far far too much time describing the same traffic I was experiencing. (I get it; traffic is terrible.) But I also couldn’t help coming away from each chapter of this book thinking “Hmm. I really wish I got to know something about Greer other than what movies and commercials she’s been in.”
Because this book tended to skew toward a list of credits and only skimmed the surface on her background as a human being living on planet Earth who happens to make a living as a character actress. I wanted to know more about her career of playing the best friend and less about whose best friend she’s played. And maybe I wasn’t latching onto the tone. Maybe this would have been leagues better on audio. But as memoirs written by comedic actresses go, I’ve read far better.
#30: Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill
I wanted so badly to read this book all in one sitting. My grandparents and great-aunt and uncle were coming over to my parents’ house the afternoon I started reading this and as soon as I hit the 25% mark on Dept. of Speculation, I was kicking myself for not saving this one for the flight home. This book is so lovely and heartbreaking and is packed with gems like this:
And that phrase - ‘sleeping like a baby.’ Some blonde said it blithely on the subway the other day. I wanted to lie down next to her and scream for five hours in her ear.
See? See why I didn’t want to put it down? Offill’s portrait of a marriage is simultaneously potent and poignant and her portrayal of the inner workings of a writer is so god damn spot on it made me want to throw copies of this at anyone who’s ever looked at my playwriting career as a “hobby.” I highly recommend this book. But do yourself a favor and carve out a few hours of uninterrupted reading time. This book deserves to be devoured in one sitting.
#31: Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Laura recommended this book in January, asking if it was too early to call something her “favorite book of the year.” I should have picked this up months ago; between her rave and the Alex Award there was no reason I shouldn’t have. But for some unknown reason I kept taking myself off the holds list at the library. It only took me a few chapters to start kicking myself. Why did I keep putting it off? This book didn’t deserve all those canceled dates.
They segued into a more general piece about AIDS. As usual, they started out with footage of some kind of sweaty nightclub in the city with a bunch of gay men dancing around in stupid leather outfits. I couldn’t even begin to imagine Finn dancing the night away like some kind of half-dressed cowboy. It would have been nice if for once they showed some guys sitting in their living rooms drinking tea and talking about art or movies or something. If they showed that, then maybe people would say, “Oh, okay, that’s not so strange.”
Tell The Wolves I’m Home may have a difficult to remember title, but the book itself is absolutely unforgettable. It follows fourteen-year-old June in the months following her favorite uncle’s death. It’s 1987 and her uncle — an artist and, it seems, the only adult who takes June seriously — has died of AIDS. And it’s then when she starts discovering the family secrets her mother has been hiding from her. Secrets that really shouldn’t be secrets at all. I highly recommend this one.
#32: Where She Went by Gayle Forman
This book made me feel a multitude of emotions. One minute I wanted to punch the protagonist, the next I wanted to cry. Gayle Forman writes these wonderful companion pieces — the first book from the female protagonist’s perspective, the second book from the male protagonist’s perspective. As in the case of Just One Night/Just One Year, I was a much bigger fan of the female-driven book of this duo. But unlike Forman’s other set of companion novels, I felt something for Adam’s journey in Where She Went. I wanted to punch him sometimes, but that urge to punch him came from a desire for him to do better. I cared about him.
If you’re a fan of If I Stay and want to see how things turn out for Adam (and are in the mood to experience a range of emotions — anger, frustration, joy, sadness), I definitely recommend picking this book up.
#33: The Commitment by Dan Savage
I really loved this memoir. There were days when I walked home instead of biking, just so I could get some extra reading time in. I almost bumped into my neighbor on the sidewalk because my head was buried so deep in this book. To be fair, my neighbor kind of jumped in front of me. She meant it as a joke.
It was Savage’s story on Episode 293 of This American Life that urged me to go out and request this book from the library. But the story he tells of his six-year-old son’s disapproval of his dads marrying is just the beginning of the complications that Savage and his now-husband Terry Miller ran into as they were planning their 10th anniversary party. Because even if gay marriage was legal in their state, they didn’t want to be married. They said. Family had a funny way of changing someone’s mind. In the case of this book, we all know the ending. But it’s the journey, it’s the storytelling that makes this such a great read.
#34: This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki
I wasn’t too crazy about this graphic novel. I read it quickly on a Metro to and from a place I can only describe as “very Virginia.” We were definitely there — all 45 minutes of public transportation of it all. And usually I would welcome something that I can devour in a few subway commutes. To me, that’s the very definition of a great trip.
But while I’m working on expanding my reading horizons to include graphic novels and comics, I’m not psyching myself into thinking that I’m going to love everything I read in this new-for-me genre. I will say this: the illustrations were lovely and everything seemed really well plotted. But several main characters felt surface level and and unexamined. When the real meat of the story came out — a narrative that I would have loved to have seen explored for pages throughout the entire story — it came and went in a two page spread.
#35: The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith
I wasn’t too thrilled with this book. The characters spend most of the book apart and while the reader is supposed to believe that they’ve been thinking about each other and learning about each other the whole time, I’m not convinced. Over the course of a year, these characters barely speak with each other. One of them seems incapable of picking up a phone and resorts to one-line postcards that may or may not make it to the other character (they both move from city to city with little to no reason), while the other broods when emails aren’t returned. Even though she knows that he’s moving from city to city. Even though she knows his family couldn’t afford internet access even when they were in one place. The whole novel leads up to a halfway believable homecoming. (If “leads up to” means “on a whim, an unbelievable decision — unbelievable based on the financial situation of one of the participating parties — leads to.”) They kiss. Blah blah blah. I wouldn’t recommend it.
#36: Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins (audiobook)
I had forgotten how much I loved Anna and the French Kiss because, frankly, the title made me forget. In the year or so since reading Anna…, I’ve avoided Lola and the Boy Next Door for the same reason. But in an effort to try audiobooks again, I checked this one out from the library. And my headphones didn’t leave my ears for two straight days. Perkins has a gift for writing strong teenage women with flawed POVs while still having the reader root for these confused (and simultaneously strong willed) protagonists.
Lola is tamely rebellious in a dating-a-boy-her-dads-don’t-like kind of way while also dealing with the very real and dark reality that that “boy” her dads don’t like is actually, at 22 years old, a “man” who sings her name as “Lolita” right before they become intimate. And oh my god this book has so little to do with the actual “boy next door” of the title (he’s a different boy — a terrifically sweet and smart boy that I nearly had a crush on) and so much more to do with making adult decisions when you’re still a teenager, the emotional implications of statutory rape, the more than meets the eye quality of homelessness in the United States, and fantastically fleshed out gay parent characters. The title of this book is the absolute worst.
Also, I’ll admit that I doubted Perkins’ ability to write past the beginnings of a relationship for her characters, but the moments where Anna and St. Clair’s story was woven into this one totally erased those doubts.
I get most of my books from the library, but if you’re interested in owning any of these books for yourself please consider purchasing from the Book Depository. This blog is a proud affiliate of the Book Depository, an online bookseller that provides free worldwide shipping. All thoughts expressed above are my own and not endorsed or solicited by the Book Depository. It’s my own little “F*ck you!” to Amazon.