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Tag: what we're reading (1-10 of 21)

What We're Reading Now: 'The Girl on the Train,' Paula Hawkins


Remember a while back, when we discussed how once you raise your hand and let people know you like the flung-far-out-into-another-galaxy-of-weirdness books, all people want to do is give you weirder books? It’s almost like they want to see how far they can push you, until your throw a book against the wall, proclaiming you’re done with weirdness forever. The same can be said for what happens when you mention Gone Girl. Suddenly, there’s a whole stack full of the dark corners of the female psyche on your desk. I’ve torn through many in recent months.

As Leah Greenblatt wrote in her review, this is not the story of the calculated-but-twisted, put-together woman we’re used to seeing in popular lit. Rachel is a mess. She’s a recent divorcee who’s lost her job as well as most her resolve to stay sober, making her an exceptionally unreliable narrator. She commutes to and from London each day for no reason and along the way becomes obsessed with a couple whom she sees from the train most mornings (and names “Jason and Jess”). They have the perfect life, she assumes. Also, they live just down the street from her now-ex-husband, his new wife Anna, and their baby.

One day, Rachel gets off the train and head towards “Jess.” She wakes up later battered and hung over, unable to recall much of the previous evening when she discovers Jess—who’s actually called Megan—is missing. Suddenly, she’s involved.

It’s a thriller, so I won’t go much further. But since Gone Girl, this is the first plot I’ve read that moves with such force. It pushes deep into its characters—who, by the way, are near impossible to like (“Sober up, Rachel!” “What are you hiding, Megan?” “What’s even your point, Anna?”)—and the exploration of what makes them tick heightens the suspense of the mystery. Pick it up when you’ve got the time to tear straight through.

What’s the last book that really excited you?

What We're Reading Now: 'This is Where I Leave You' by Jonathan Tropper


I have a pretty strict rule about reading books before their cinematic counterparts. If you’re reading this column I sort of assume you can relate. (Am I right? Tell me I’m right!) I just want to create the characters in my own head and then rail against whatever director chose to cast someone with the wrong shade of hair or lilt to their voice.

Jonathan Tropper’s This is Where I Leave You (now available in paperback) fell on my desk in an indeterminate way. I mean that literally — I have no clue how it got to my desk. But there it suddenly was and with all the buzz around the movie and its many pros and cons floating around this week, I thought I should read it. Plus, Marc walked past and yelled something about how it was his favorite book of 2013 (published in 2009), and that pretty much pushed me over the edge. I began. READ FULL STORY

What We're Reading Now: 'The Bone Clocks' by David Mitchell


I came by David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks by accident. Well, I accidentally saw it, and accidentally took it from Matt’s desk while he was away at lunch, and accidentally started reading it, and then—and how could I have known this would happen?—I couldn’t stop reading it. So I didn’t. I accidentally love it.

Mitchell paints a mad, mad world that seems hilariously familiar as our 15-year-old protagonist, Holly, gets in a screaming match with her mother over her older boyfriend. Screaming and stamping, she moves out. He’ll take her in!, she’s sure of it.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t take her in. He sleeps with her best friend, instead. And that’s where it all begins. READ FULL STORY

What We're Reading Now: 'Broken Monsters' by Lauren Beukes


The first paragraph of Broken Monsters is the description of a murder scene — a very unusual murder scene. A young boy has been chopped in half, his lower body is missing but his torso is fused to a deer body…

It’s not like I didn’t know I was getting into a crime/horror novel; Leah told me as much when I grabbed it off her desk. But still, kicking off the hunt for a serial killer with such a graphic image on page one, line one was … a lot. Also, the first chapter is called “Bambi,” and that alone gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Lauren Beukes, who previously authored The Shining Girls, crafts her villain brilliantly. She doesn’t make him a tortured genius, but rather a maladjusted, deplorable man — a broken monster. The creativity of his violence knows no bounds and is presented without frills. Beukes balances the extremity of his actions and the utopia in his mind with simple, elegant prose. The imagery and emotions don’t get lost.

The subplots are just as interesting: There’s the detective, the killer, the detective’s daughter, the journalist looking for a big break. The father trying to care for his homeless family. They all have issues (this is an understatement) and as each story overlaps with the others, you become increasingly aware of how poorly it will end for everyone. The anticipation and dread Beukes crafts is remarkable.

Also remarkable is Beukes ability to blend genres, seamlessly incorporating horror, fantasy and traditional crime in ways that highlight the best parts of each (suspense, creativity, a methodical outline). It feels new — unprecedented, in a way.

There is most certainly a moral to her story. She provides rich, layered commentary on the desolation of dreams with her decaying Detroit setting.  It’s about the pressure of mass desire. About how to reassemble broken pieces. About the darkest side of humanity.

If any of the above sounds like maybe you don’t have the stomach for this sort of thing, you probably don’t. I can’t say I enjoyed the book, despite being incredibly impressed with all its machinations. If, however, the grotesque and a perpetual sense of doom sound oddly appealing — you have most likely just found the perfect book for you!



What We're Reading Now: 'Acceptance' by Jeff Vandermeer


So the timing of this post isn’t exactly fair (you know what they say about life and fairness, right?). It’s August 29th — you’re looking for a book to take with you for the long weekend, you stop by thinking I might drop a line about one that seems perfect.

Acceptance, the third and final installment of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy (I wrote about books one and two here), is that book except that it comes out on Tuesday, September 2nd. Apologies. You’ll have to wait out the weekend. I hope that if you haven’t cast your laptop out a window or slammed your head into your keyboard in frustration, you’ll refer to all our previous Fridays together and peruse those recommendations.

I also hope I can help rustle up some excitement for the end of what is by far (really, by far) the weirdest series I have ever read.

Up until now, our series has been propelled by questions: What do you do with the inexplicable? How do you handle the truly fantastical? The unsolvable mystery? The impenetrable? Acceptance is, alternately, propelled by discovery. Bit by bit, the previous 30 years of failed explorations, government cover-ups, and all things Area X unravel.

I was chatting with (read: accosting) a lady on the subway last week who was finishing the second book, Authority. I told her I was desperate for Vandermeer to explain everything in the end. “I need to know!” I told her, expecting her to join my rally cry. “Give us answers!” we’d scream together on the Queens-bound N train. She did not. She felt that would ruin it, that his story thus far had taken her imagination on such a ride it was only fair he leave the end open enough that it might continue. Also, she thought I was crazy.

There is potential she should write this column with logic like that. Suddenly, I didn’t want any answers either. What if it took away the magic? Is that possible? Don’t steal my (your) magic, Jeff! I honestly think we’re all reading a different book when it comes to this series. It’s so trippy and “out-there” there’s no way we’ve all seen the same things when it comes to Area X and Control and Ghost Bird — I’m not actually even sure what I’ve seen sometimes during reading — so her answer is, actually, fairly brilliant.

Book one, Annihilation, remains my favorite but probably for no reason other than the shock of the new. Acceptance is an excellent, intriguing, and challenging end. I can only assume wrapping up a series like the Southern Reach trilogy was infinitely more difficult than starting it. I won’t tell you what questions are and are not answered (maybe all! maybe none!) because, um, duh — but I hope you pick up a copy and tell me what you think!

What is everyone reading over the holiday?


What We're Reading Now: "The Interestings" by Meg Wolitzer


Once upon a time, I told you I liked all (literary) things weird: Weird plots, weird alternate universes, weird special powers, weird bendings of time and logic. And I do. But recently I’ve been on a kick of devouring novels that are firmly grounded in the real world. Last week‘s was heartbreakingly beautiful in its simplicity. This week’s pick, while not necessarily as beautifully told (no offense, Meg!), is also a keen observation of human relationships.

In The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer follows six creative teenagers — they range from wannabe-musicians to stand-up comedians to cartoonists — and charts their dreams and friendships as they age from kids at a Summer Camp for the Arts to adults. Some become disillusioned 30-somethings. Some opt for practical, lucrative paths. Some stay the course, forever chasing the dream.

I can’t imagine that this novel doesn’t hit home for everyone who reads it. Sure, we didn’t all go to artsy camps or belong to theater troupes, but we’ve all dreamt about being a rockstar, haven’t we? We all grew up wanting to be special, different, recognized. But that doesn’t happen for everyone. In fact, it happens for almost no one. The Interestings (currently in paperback) is an incredibly perceptive account of all that goes into giving up, or sticking with, such dreams; about society and the indignities of actually becoming the starving artist. READ FULL STORY

What We're Reading Now: 'Big Little Lies' by Liane Moriarty


To be honest, I was decidedly unenthusiastic about this book. The title made me think of A Million Little Pieces; the cover looked oddly “self-helpy.” For those and a slew of other ill-founded reasons, I planned to let the papers on my desk pile up around it, swallowing the book whole.

Then Leah, who wrote EW’s review of Big Little Lies, stopped by, pointed at it, and said, “This was so good. You have to read it!” And Stephan was like, “Hey, have you read that yet? I put it on your desk a million years ago.” Suddenly, Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman were optioning the rights for a movie—and reading it felt unavoidable.

So I stopped avoiding it and started reading. And then I couldn’t stop reading. A day later, I had finished the whole thing and desperately wished there were more. READ FULL STORY

What We're Reading Now: 'California' by Edan Lepucki


You know how when you’re watching a horror movie and you want to cover your eyes, there’s always someone who yells, “Don’t cover your eyes! Your imagination is scarier than the film,” and you find yourself peeking through tense fingers?

California, by Edan Lepucki’s debut novel, relies on similar logic.

Set in post-apocalyptic America—an indeterminate time after society has collapsed—we meet Cal and Frida in the wilderness of California. Vague references are made to the crises (earthquakes, killer storms, profound economic disparity, empowered terrorist cells, rampant crime) that drove them here—but that’s the only detail that’s offered for many, many pages. The end of the world is as much our own construction as Lepucki’s. Do we know why the government gave up? Nope. Do we know when it gave up? Not really. Was there a usurper? Doesn’t seem like it, but it’s possible. READ FULL STORY

What We're (Re-)Reading Now: 'The Mists of Avalon' by Marion Zimmer Bradley


You know what I’m a sucker for? Feminism. Also, genre fiction, especially the fantastical sort. Which is why the only reason I hadn’t read Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon before this week is that it was published six years before I was born. (A poor reason, given many of the works I love most share this characteristic, but I felt compelled to at least try to explain it.) It’s a re-telling of the Arthurian legend from the perspective of the female leads in the story.

Boom. Femisnist re-tellings, well-established fantasy—hook, line, and sinker, I am in. Please, someone get me a copy!

Unfortunately, I came across this book via a discussion of the child-molestation revelations, accusations, and court-cases against Zimmer Bradley in a recent EW meeting. This knowledge and context has certainly clouded my reading, making passages involving young women and their ‘sexual awakenings’ more than just moderately uncomfortable. In other works handling this time period and religion, I might pass it all off as abhorrent practices that would never be accepted by contemporary society—but that isn’t entirely possible given the circumstances. I didn’t realize how much comfort I take as a reader in assuming that  I share a similar moral compass with an author. That doesn’t exist here, and adds a perpetual unease to the experience. (Note: It’s not a short experience. The book is roughly 900 pages.) READ FULL STORY

What We're Reading Now: 'Arts & Entertainments' by Christopher Beha


Have you met Jacob the Intern? You should, especially if you like to read, as he is full of suggestions. I spent a little time at his desk last week and in the middle of explaining something I needed help with he quietly asked what I was reading / what I like reading / did I want to borrow Arts & Entertainments?

I did, I discovered, after he finished explaining why he liked it (his review for EW can be found here). I did, also just now discover, that I never finished explaining what I needed help with…bold move, Jacob, you’re trickier than I thought.

Social commentaries aren’t necessarily right up my alley, but as someone who oscillates between reality TV binging, crying at the love between Kim and her sisters, laughing hysterically at the Real Housewives of WhereverTheyAre, and alternatively scorning Ryan Seacrest Productions’ roster, hemming and hawing about the rise of the Reality TV Star — a book about all the weird mechanics of fame today is perfect.

Beha gives Eddie Hartley, our failed actor at the novel’s center, everything and nothing that he wanted. He gives him fame and failure and longing and a pregnant wife and a sleazy agent and as many fans as haters. Along the way, we see the intricacy of modern fame: the 24/7 star, whose tabloid antics, social media presence, and relationships are as (or sometimes more) important than any of their work.

It’s short and fun and and was an easy read, but there’s also something to chew on. We definitely recommend you add it to your list.

What else should we be reading? What’s on your nightstand?

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