Danielle Mohlman

Often mistaking books for boyfriends. Always writing plays.

August 2014

#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 YearI 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. 

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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.

July 2014

#24: Pointe by Brandy Colbert

After reading this book, I’ll probably read pretty much anything Anna recommends. I picked it up because of the ballet aspect; I took ballet from first grade through college and was never skilled enough, disciplined enough, or graceful enough to graduate to pointe. But whenever a ballet-centric anything emerges in pop culture, I’m all over it. I’m still mourning the cancelation of Bunheads. And I’m way off topic. 

Pointe is not only one of the best books I’ve read this summer, it’s one of the best books I’ve read this year. And I’m not just talking about YA books. This novel handles twists and intricacies in such a beautiful and shocking way. It’s unexpected in all the right ways. I highly recommend it. 

#25: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

I’m going to sound like a broken record because this book was so good. It took me several chapters to get on board with the privileged private island mentality of the family in this novel. Everyone was so rich. And everyone felt so sorry for themselves. I thought the two were deeply connected and brought the book to a friend’s pool over the July 4th weekend. And my reading experience went a little something like this: Okay they’re hanging out at the beach with their family all summer OH MY GOD. Me filling in the “oh my god” would be a spoiler. In fact, anything other than saying “Trust me. Read this book.” would be a spoiler. Because today — several weeks later — I’m still nursing a book hangover. I highly recommend it.

#26: California by Edan Lepucki

Man, July was a great reading month for me. I wrote a lot about California while the reblogbookclub was discussing it, but most of my posts were related to the themes and marketing/distribution of California rather than the book itself. I struggled with how to describe this one to friends as I was reading it. “It’s a more believable Hunger Games!” I’d say. A dystopian novel for an adult audience. I talked about California so much, Jeremy would poke fun by quoting a now-corrected typo on one of my posts about the novel: “This book good.” 

California focuses on young couple Frida and Cal, living in the American west coast in a not-so-distant future. Their America has depleted its resources and Frida and Cal are living off the land and whatever they can trade with August, the self-described “last black man on earth” and the source of all tradable goods (as far as the couple can tell). Things get complicated when Frida discovers she’s pregnant — how else do you fill your time in a world without electricity? — and she and Cal go wandering in the wilderness for something better than their current situation. And watching them navigate this is well worth the read. 

#27: Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast

I wasn’t familiar with Roz Chast’s work before reading this graphic memoir, but she’s definitely an artist I want to keep my eye on. In Can’t We Talk…, Chast chronicles her parents’ move to an assisted living home and their eventual deaths. I really admire graphic memoirists because they share both the joy and the pain of their life with with painfully clear intentions. With graphic memoir, there’s no hiding behind beautifully constructed prose. The ugly truth is out there in full color. Things are exaggerated for effect, of course. But that’s to be expected in any memoir, especially one that has a comic edge to it. Chast takes on a painful and often delicate subject in this memoir, but her execution is great. And once you’ve read Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?listen to the Slate Audio Book Club episode on the memoir.

#28: Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Landline was definitely the lightest read of all my July books, but I was already in a vulnerable place when I picked this book up and I plowed through it in a day in a half with more than a few tear stains on the page. There’s a definite overuse of parentheses throughout this book and the protagonist seems to hang onto a lot of her college naivety well into adulthood and parenthood, but there was still something charming about this novel. And Rainbow Rowell’s pages-long passage on almost kissing is so beautifully poetic and heartbreaking. That sounds hokey, I know. But it’s true. 

June 2014

#21: The Vacationers by Emma Straub

I really loved this book. It was everything I needed a June book to be — a smart, fun read filled with shifting perspectives of multiple generations. I devoured this book in a week and have been recommending it to all my vacationing friends this summer. Not that this novel needs to be accompanied by sand or read en route. What it does need is air and lots of it. It needs motion, it needs destination. The Vacationers is a travel companion in itself. And it didn’t matter that I was only taking the Metro from one side of DC to the other. It didn’t matter that I was reading it on the stoop outside my work, that my biggest adventures were my lunch breaks. The novel made me feel like I was going somewhere. Like I was on a much needed vacation.

My dad’s never been much of a reader, but he’s been listening to audiobooks on his commute to and from work for the last few years. I bought him the audiobook of The Vacationers for Father’s Day this year so that we could have a mini book club. Straub’s been a favorite author of mine for a few years and I wanted to share her writing with him. Buying him the book on audio was a risk — he’s definitely someone who’s swayed by gendered marketing — but he finished the book in record time and was eager to talk about it after he had finished listening.

My dad’s a hard sell. Which is to say: If you love books and warm weather, The Vacationers is what you should be reading right now.

PS You should totally be following emmastraub on Tumblr.

#22: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Another amazing book. Adichie’s epic novel uses the first meet, separation, and homecoming of Nigerian-born Obinze and Ifemelu as a skeleton to tell the story of these two ex-pats — one living in America and the other in England. Ifemelu’s story is captivating — taking the reader from those first days of college and the (sometimes terrifying, always degrading) undocumented odd jobs she had to work in order to pay tuition and rent to the beginnings of her blog (“Raceteenth or Various Observations About American Blacks (Those Formerly Known as Negroes) by a Non-American Black”) to her eventual return to Nigeria to start a new life there.

I’ve seen and listened to a lot of criticism that points out that Americanah feels like a series of blog posts. I have to say that I really enjoyed the candid tone of the novel. And if candid relatable writing makes something feel like one long series of blog posts, I’ll take it. Adichie’s commentary on race was incredibly spot on and as honest as it was amusing, whether it was in the form of an Ifemelu blog post or through the third person lens of Obinze.

One of my favorite things about this book were the excerpts from Ifemelu’s blog throughout the novel that serve as a shift in tense — we’re jolted from third person to first person using simply a line break and a change in font size. The shifts in tense reminded me a lot of Junot Diaz’s writing style — free of the constraints of a singular tense, yet structured just enough to not lose the reader. I highly recommend this book.

#23: Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

I’m a big Nina LaCour fan. Huge. But after I read this novel, I didn’t know how to feel about it. I kept switching between four and three stars, wanting desperately to put it somewhere in the middle. (Why must you make me choose, Goodreads?) If I had to put it on a scale, I’d give it a 7 out of 10.

And maybe I just had too high of expectations after reading The Disenchantments and Hold Still. I liked the book enough. I liked the fact that it was about an out to everyone lesbian teen. I liked that it was about an ambitious teenager working as a film production intern — that it was about a teenager with artistic aspirations and ambitions fully supported by her parents. But I couldn’t help but be distracted by the dialogue from the film Emi is working on. (The dialogue was forced — leaving a lot to be desired.) And I was especially distracted by the title of the film she’s working on throughout the novel (Yes & Yes). And as I turned to the last page of Everything Leads to You, I couldn’t help but wonder if I would have loved it — really loved it — if I wasn’t a playwright or if I skipped over the film dialogue. Or if I read it after I read The Flamethrowers instead of after I read Americanah. Because there was a lot I liked about this novel. But the weaker elements definitely watered down my reading experience.

May 2014

#18: The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

I enjoyed this book, but I enjoyed it in a way that made me rush through the Sandro chapters and trudge through the rest of it. I started reading it because everyone loved it. But I didn’t love it. I liked it okay, but I didn’t love it. And I really wanted to love it. The novel is told mostly from the lens of “Reno” — nicknamed by someone she has a one night stand with. That’s right, we never learn her real name. Reno’s perspective is an interesting, albeit passive, one. An aspiring artist who seems to just have things done to her rather than doing anything. And — as if young Reno doesn’t have enough rendering her meek in New York — she’s thrown into a country where everyone around her thinks she doesn’t speak the language only a few short months after getting involved in a situation that renders her literally immobile. The disappointing thing is that the novel doesn’t explore this — it barely even acknowledges it.

#19: The Museum of Intangible Things by Wendy Wunder

I wanted this book to be better than it was. Two girls run away from home. One of them owns a hot dog stand. The other one builds sprawling exhibits in her parents’ house in order to teach her young brother about the intangible. But one thing that is suspiciously left out of every marketing and jacket synopsis is that one of the girls suffers from mental illness — specifically from bipolar disorder. And that’s what it feels like: suspicious. Wunder’s portrayal of bipolar disorder comes off as flippant and poorly researched. It romanticized the mental illness, creating something for the reader to lust after. I can’t take ownership and go so far as to say it was “offensive,” but if Wunder described a panic attack in the same style and using similar vocabulary, I’d probably have much stronger words to share. Words with sharp edges. If you’re looking for great books that deal with mental health issues, check out anything by Matthew Quick, Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower, or Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. And if you have a book you love that focuses on a character with bipolar disorder (YA especially), please send those suggestions my way.

#20: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

After I saw the trailer for the film adaptation of this book, I knew I had to read it. I was a Gayle Forman fan already — I knew going in that she works wonders with her female young adult characters. This book dives into the metaphysical in a really awesome way, exploring what what happens in that delicate space between life and death. Hang on. Go watch that movie trailer again. This book is amazing. That’s all you need to know.

April 2014

#11: Don’t Get Too Comfortable by David Rakoff (audiobook)

I’m a podcast junkie, so I started toying around with audiobooks this month. My friend Tim suggested I give David Rakoff a try since he knew that (a) I love This American Life more than most things and (b) that I started loving This American Life too late to fully appreciate the scope of Rakoff’s talent. As Tim predicted, Don’t Get Too Comfortable was a welcome introduction to the audiobook world. Read by the late Rakoff, the collection is incredibly on-point, though a bit meandering. But you gotta love anyone who characterizes a certain daughter of a certain terrible former-President as a “Girls Gone Wild human ashtray.” 

#12: Wonder by R.J. Palacio 

I know that this novel was targeted to the juvenile reader, but I still loved it beyond comprehension. Wonder tells the story of August Pullman, a ten year old born with a facial deformity that has prevented him from attending a mainstream school. After being homeschooled through fourth grade, Auggie’s parents make the decision (with Auggie’s consultation, of course) to send him to Beecher Prep starting with fifth grade. Wonder — told through a rotating p.o.v. of Auggie and his classmates, among others — follows that first year of middle school as he navigates so much more than the halls of Beecher Prep. And mad props to Palacio for the subtle characterization of the teenager with Tourette’s. I would highly recommend this book. 

#13: Fraud by David Rakoff (audiobook)

Fraud was by far the stronger Rakoff collection I “read” this month. With one sentence, he summed up the feeling of growing into adulthood:

It’s definitely not the first time in my adulthood that I have realized this, but it never fails to cheer me to have it proven yet again that almost any age is better than twenty-two. 

That refrain has kept me going every time I go to work on too-little sleep, every time I have more than two beers on a Friday night. Every time I look at who I am now and who I was then. The pain, the exhaustion, is worth it. Because I’m not twenty-two. Thank you, David. 

#14: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

I think that I’ll always love and look forward to Matthew Quick’s writing. His characters are clear and layered and nuanced and heartbreaking. The Good Luck of Right Now is no exception. While it’s not my favorite of Quick’s writing (I’m looking at you Forgive Me Leonard Peacock), it still made me do that not-quite-crying-thing that books make me do when they’re particularly moving. And I saw the ending coming and still internally dissolved when the big reveal happened. Because it’s not about the story you’re telling, it’s about how you tell that story. Quick is all too familiar with this. 

#15: XO Orpheus edited by Kate Bernheimer

I labored through this anthology. There were stories that I absolutely loved (Emma & Peter Straub’s story was absolutely one of those), but fifty myths is a lot in one serving. And by the end of my reading experience, I found myself cursing the small font and thin pages for tricking me into reading something that was much much longer and denser and uneven than it first appeared. There are definitely stories in here that I’d revisit and reread and re-love, but they didn’t outweigh the more cumbersome retellings. 

#16: The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham (audiobook)

I’ll admit, I was a late adaptor to Veronica Mars. I started watching just over a year ago and finished watching the final season weeks before the movie was released. But don’t get me wrong — I fell hard for Veronica. She is every bit as badass as I wanted to be in high school, every bit as confident as I wish I was in college. 

At Anna’s urging, I went the audiobook route with The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. I mean, who doesn’t want Kristen Bell narrating the companion piece to the long-awaited movie? It’s like a nine hour episode — pure auditory joy. I loved every minute of it. But I do wonder how my “reading” experience would differ if I went the traditional route. Because, like I said, it did read like television. 

#17: Hold Still by Nina Lacour

Nina Lacour is a phenomenal writer. I fell in love with The Disenchantments and coerced my book club into selecting Everything Leads to You as our next selection, just so I’d have more people to share my Lacour love with. Hold Still is as joyful as it is heartbreaking, as carefully nuanced as it is rambunctiously carefree. The novel creates tangible examples of both loss and against-all-odds friendship — not by putting them in a coexisting pair, but by creating a venn diagramed lens for the reader to view humanity through. 

March 2014

#6: Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

While this wasn’t my favorite Rainbow Rowell novel (Eleanor & Park for President!), Attachments was the highlight of my month. It made me think in all the best ways — about how easy it is for someone to read someone else’s emails, about how email has obliterated letter writing, how the internet has the potential to remove superficiality from the equation. Rowell has a gift for masking big themes and nuanced moments in an accessible way — a way that could be easily dismissed as mainstream and shoved in with the other trade paperbacks. But she has an amazing gift. And if you want to read the first time that gift was given to the reader, pick up a copy of Attachments. 

#7: Just One Year by Gayle Forman

While I loved Just One Day, the novel’s sequel was kind of just there. And maybe as a reader I associate more with the perspective of building a new identity the moment after the happy ending is over rather than the perspective of chasing half-clues and turning a mistaken separation into a treasure hunt for a human being. I did, however, love the protagonists run-in with a member of the (thinly fictionalized) Fiasco Theatre. If you have a protagonist that’s a Shakespearean actor, the members of Fiasco definitely have something to teach. 

#8: One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak

I think I went into this short story collection with too high of expectations. I’m a fan of Novak’s writing on The Office, but I didn’t find this collection very entertaining as a whole. Sure, there are some gems near the beginning of the book, but once Novak finds a short story formula that works, he tends to repeat it over and over again, substituting an ordinary person for Johnny Depp or a war lord. Novak is clearly very talented, but his strengths tend to lie in dialogue rather than narrative. And that’s what throws this collection off balance.

#9: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

Hyperbole and a Half made me laugh out loud in quiet rooms. It made me race home to read a chapter, expose my fingers in the still snowy March afternoons so that I could turn the page while I waited for the bus. I wasn’t familiar with Brosh’s writing before reading this. For some reason, I thought that she was solely a cartoonist. I was happily proven wrong. I fell in love with her dogs — and I am not someone who enjoys animals of any ilk. And The God of Cake? Well, imagine what that deity would look like. 

#10: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

The Interestings wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. For it’s heft, I expected it to go deeper. There were a lot of unanswered questions — and not just unanswered, but ignored. Some of the more layered moments of the book are dropped and never revisited. They’re left sitting there gathering dust while the other less (dare I say it) interesting moments and characters are focused on ad nauseum. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hated the book, but it’s not something that I would recommend or revisit. 

February 2014

#3: The Madness Underneathby Maureen Johnson

Catie told me that the second book in the Shades of London series didn’t live up to the first, but I had to give it a shot myself. She was right, for the record. While I enjoy Johnson’s writing, I’m always kind of hit-or-miss on her novels. The stakes of The Madness Underneath just weren’t as exciting as The Name of the Star. Not a lot felt earned, the timeline felt all over the place. I’ll need to read some pretty stellar reviews when the third in the series comes out, otherwise I may be done following this storyline.

#4: Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron

This was my first Ephron and I think that I may need to try one more before I make any decisions about how I feel about her as a writer. Wallflower at the Orgy was a great change of pace for me and it was a well-chosen travel book. I read the first half waiting for and then on my train from Washington, DC to BWI and another chunk while eating a soft pretzel and waiting for my plane to board. I chipped away at the rest of it between outings with my family and showing Jeremy where I grew up. I read the last story — a fantastic profile on the filming of Catch 22 — while in line for Space Mountain at Disneyland with my two younger brothers talking about butts and my boyfriend making fun of the audio/video announcement about the speed and turbulance of the ride. But I remember more about where I read this book than the book itself. There were very few essays that stuck with me — though the one about Ephron’s Cosmo makeover with the ending she wanted to print in the magazine is well worth the read. Laura, do you have a second chance Ephron I should read? (Not I’m Sorry About My Neck.)

#5: Night Film by Marisha Pessl

I didn’t like this book. I didn’t like this book, but I knew that others did. I didn’t like this book and I thought maybe I was being too snobbish, turning my nose up at the unnecessary “This reminded me of the time that”s that littered every chapter. I didn’t like this book, but I thought that somewhere in the tome’s 624 pages I would find writing as good as that haunting preface that almost made me scream when I ran into my boyfriend in hallway because we were half asleep and we were visiting my parents in California and we were in unfamiliar twin beds and somewhere in the world of fiction, a writer had me believe that someone was murdered. And I wonder if I would feel any differently about this book if it was written from a female perspective. Because I had to check three times to make sure that Pessl was indeed a woman. Because her protagonist hated our sex so fervently that I thought, “Surely, the lady doth protest too much.”

February 2014 marks the beginning of my wonderful relationship with both Franklin (my Kindle, who I am still trying to figure out how to photograph) and the DC Public Library’s e-book borrowing system. I’m hooked.

January 2014

#1: Winger by Andrew Smith

I picked up this book because it was featured on Flavorwire’s “15 Best Book Covers of 2013.” Meaning that I literally judged this book by its cover. And I’m so glad that I did. Winger is a young adult book about Ryan Dean West, a 14-year-old junior at a boarding school in Oregon. I’m a sucker for stories about overachieving teenagers, especially students who are too young for their grade. I was one — not to the extent of our Ryan Dean here, but I know what it’s like to feel too young for your peers and really good at school to boot. 

Humble brag: I was the youngest in my class, not because of any grade-skipping academic excellence, but because my birthday was on a weird school district cutoff. I was four when I entered kindergarten. I was also really great at school and graduated thirteenth in my high school class. What I’m trying to say is, I felt a kinship with Ryan Dean. 

Ryan Dean, on top of being young and scrawny and forced onto the rugby team (this is a theme with some of the books I’ve been reading lately: mandatory sports in high schools), also has a huge crush on his best friend. I’ve been there. Multiple times. Andrew Smith, did you steal my high school journals and turn them into a novel? As for how the novel plays out, you’ll have to read Winger for yourself. It definitely surprised me — the last one hundred pages are absolutely gripping. 

#2: Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

I’m really glad that I stuck with this book all the way to the end because, Jaysus, was it difficult for me to get through. But AnnaCatie, and Bailey all loved it — all reading friends whose tastes I respect — so I pushed myself through.

Code Name Verity tells the story of two young women fighting for the British war effort in World War II: Julie (Verity), a spy and radio decoder with the Special Operations Executive, and Maddie (Kittyhawk), a pilot for the Air Transport Auxilary. While part one of the book seems from casual survey to be the most lauded section, I found myself drawn in by part two, Kittyhawk’s perspective.

Maybe it was the revelatory nature of everything I’d read up until that point, maybe I can blame the beautiful Peter Pan similes. Whatever the cause, while it took me weeks to read the first half of the book, I flew right through the second half in a three days. I’d recommend this book if you’re a fan of historical fiction or if you’re fascinated with World War II. 

The Best Books I Read in 2013:

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (my review here)

The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg (my review here)

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (my review here)

Real Man Adventures by T Cooper (my review here)

Tenth of December by George Sanders (my review here)

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman (my review here)

The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour (my review here)

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan (my review here)

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (my review here)

In Praise of Messy Lives by Katie Roiphe (my review here)

What I Read in 2013: Books #30 to #36

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#30: The Imposter’s Daughter by Laurie Sandell

I loved reading Sandell’s wonderfully honest memoir. I’m not normally the graphic novel type, but when I saw Sandell on Stacked Up, I knew I had to check it out. There’s something so fascinating about the vulnerability Sandell illustrates here. No topic is too delicate: she starts by examining the lies her father told her, but focuses on her personal relationships, her often unhealthy work/life balance, and her battle with addiction. The book was too large to carry with me, but it made for an insightful bedtime story. (Side note: if anyone has any graphic novel recommendations — memoirs in particular — throw them my way.)

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#31: The Color Master by Aimee Bender

The first few stories of this collection are amazing. “On a Sunday Afternoon” is haunting in its simplicity. And “The Doctor and the Rabbi” is beautiful. I mean, look:

Not that he believed in such things, but he wondered if giving her atheist blood might in fact turn her into an atheist, and he felt guilty at the thought but also pleased — like she could come over to his house and they could browse his bookshelves, shoulder to shoulder, and read Sarte together, or a dash of Camus, and then stand on chairs in old-fashioned hats and drop apples from great heights to the floor.

But when all is said and done, there were more misses than hits in this collection. If you’re looking for a great immersion into Bender’s world, read The Girl in the Flammable SkirtIt’s fantastic. 

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#32: Last Call in the City of Bridges by Salvatore Pane

This is the first time I’ve reviewed a book by someone I know. Guys, Sal wrote a book! And sure, he wrote a book before I met him, but it’s still a very exciting experience. Sal’s writing is fantastically authentic — his protagonist is someone I could see myself having a beer with, and possibly slapping in the process after listening to some misogynist comment he uttered. I’m excited to see what Sal writes next. 

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#33: Drama High by Michael Sokolove

I have a theory that no matter how much high school sucked for us creatives, we each had at least one teacher that inspired us to keep doing what we’re doing. For me, it was Ms. Yu. She introduced me to the concept of feminism before I knew what to label it. She showed me that great literature could be subversive.

For many high schoolers, that teacher was Lou Volpe. Sure, Sokolove does make some dramaturgical missteps — Frank Wedekind’s Spring’s Awakening isn’t the obscure text Sokolove makes it out to be. (Most theatre majors still study the text.) But Sokolove’s account of Volpe’s final year of teaching at Harry S. Truman High School in Levittown, Pennsylvania, and the years leading up to it is insightful and inspiring. A must-read for everyone who hated those teenage years. 

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#34: Man Repeller by Leandra Medine

A different take on materialism and memoir, Medine’s Man Repeller dedicates each chapter to a piece of clothing she owned, chronicling the item’s sentimental and monetary worth. I’m a woman of few possessions — I give away and abandon items every time I move to a new city, so I often wonder what happened to the clothing I see myself wearing in old photographs. Medine has no such memory lapse. She can tell you exactly where she was when she bought each piece and what momentous occasion she celebrated with each piece. Despite the book’s focus on material goods, I was surprised by how humble and grounded Medine’s voice was. 

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#35: The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman

Drop everything. This is the book you need to read. Nate’s voice was so real, I had to keep flipping back to the author photo to remind myself that it was written by a woman. Ordinarily, I’d stab myself in the leg for making a gendered statement like that, but I challenge you to read one chapter of Nathaniel P. and see what I mean. Waldman writes beautifully flawed characters and Nate is the most flawed of all. But I couldn’t help but be charmed by him. 

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#36: The Disenchantments by Nina LaCour 

It was such a treat to read two fantastic books back to back. The Disenchantments was one of those can’t-put-it-down books. It was such a joy to watch these teenagers fall in love with music, form their post-high school identities, and take incredibly beautiful risks. This novel is an incredibly earnest account of what happens when we leave home for the first time. Do yourself a favor and read this one. 

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