The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

It barely made it to three stars. Most of the time, I was not sure what I was reading about. I do like linguistic experiments – present/past, first person narrator/ third person narrator, etc, but in this novel it was not organic. it does look artificial as if the author was trying too hard to impress everyone and was trying to show her skill. Yes, skills are obvious, descriptions are long, numerous, and detailed, coincidences are amazing, and overall it is a big stretch. Most of the book I was willing to give it only two stars as I could not find head or tail in this convoluted, slightly bland, and insipid story.

To each, its own …..

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Faces in the Crowd by Valeria Luiselli

A beautiful, lyrical, and quirky novella that explores creative identities and temporal and spatial literary horizons that first resembles fragmented modernistic discourse; then it acquires a post-modern flair, later magical realism of her Latin predecessors, and eventually a slightly absurdist Kafkaesque ending.

In a way, it does remind me of How to be both by Ali Smith; to be fair, the novella Faces in the Crowd is about the two authors who are writing about each other in several temporal planes; no wonder, the voices of two story-tellers echo each other in these two books

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The Fever by Megam Abbott

High school dynamics is the key theme of this book, and judging by the blurbs, others also focus on the same theme with the variety of topics. I actually waited for six weeks to download this book from my digital library, and I am hugely disappointed.

Teenagers can be quite annoying, especially if they are allowed to be the main characters of a novel with a silly premise. Some might find it enlightening and entertaining, but I believe I do not belong to this group. People with the hypertrophied sense of self and the world revolving around their pathetic efforts of finding boyfriends and the medical consequences of their shortsightedness are NOT upsetting BUT annoying. All the characters are annoying like flies or mosquitoes. I did not care about them – they only wasted my time.

The only people I could emotionally relate to in the hateful way were the parents who were against HPV vaccination in high school. Gosh, as if there are not enough vaxi-haters and anti-science people around the world. I know it was the point to prove that they were wrong, and that is why the book actually earned its two-start rating, but if this is the redeeming point of the novel, it is easy to make an assumption why I only gave it two stars.

It only confirmed how preposterous high-school drama is. In addition, teenagers’ ego in his novel is inflated by their parents who worship their princesses and never instill the feeling that high-school drama is the most wasteful human experience.

Again, the blurb is just a gimmick to sell the book to its readers. As a gimmick, it works; no wonder I feel cheated.
On the other hand, it might be good for those grown-up readers who enjoy being nostalgic about their high-school dramas. Drama has attracted readers and viewers for millennia, but I enjoy drama based on human faults and mistakes, not on bloated egotism and anti-science hypocrites.

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Forgotten Bookmarks by Michael Popek

I do not scrapbook, neither do I like reading someone’s, but this book offered such an interesting excursus into the lives of people who read books that I could not resist the temptation and checked it out … and read it in one big sitting/lying down session.

Book readers know that we use nearly everything as a bookmark. I am currently using my accident report issued by Springdale police as an Infinite Jest bookmark. Luckily, this is my copy, and I have no intention donating it or reselling it, so I am relatively safe while I am alive:-) I am giving this as a example that readers do in fact use weird bookmarkalikes.

My personal digression apart, the book offered a delightful and occasionally melancholic excursion into the lives of people without their agreement. And this is where voyeurism becomes very noticeable:-) A variety of letters, poems, notes, recipes, cars, bills, hotel do-not-disturb signs, drawings, sketches, leaves, and even natural hair hairnets, all this and much more finds its way into library books, book bins, flea market, and antique stores.

These unique bookmarks are teasers of someone’s lives, full of happiness, haunted by poverty and privation, lovesickness, hopes, desperation, gourmet tastes, and simply a zeal to live. The author is quite non-intrusive and provides only necessary comments without interpreting or analyzing the bookmarks and the books they were found in. Sometimes it is not the bookmark, but the content of the book that make a specific bookmark hilarious. The one that made me laugh out loudly is the advert used as a bookmark about a local dancing club that also contains the rules of civility in this specific club, namely, ‘You are not allowed to touch the dancer’, and then ‘If you touch the dancer, you must leave the club’. All these relatively puritanical rules can be understood and accepted as the reflection of their epoch, but somehow this bookmark found its way into the book by Sigmund Freud Totem and Taboo. The bookmark is indeed about totems and taboos. A very Freudian bookmark, don’t you think?

I enjoyed the book more than I anticipated, and this is always a big plus for book readers.

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Station Eleven by St. John Mandel

Something went awry! The reviews are raving, and even the friends’ reviews (goodread friends whose literary tastes I trust) are very affirmative and positive, but as I said something went awry and the book did not resonate with me. I was discussing the novel with my husband, and we both unanimously agreed that the writing was superb with very precise and insightful language, but it never reached our hearts. The metaphors and the imagery did not reach our hearts immediately, but as an aftertaste, as a reflection, as a post-reading analysis, but never instantaneously, never immediately, always forcefully, always analytically, never by intuition, never by heart, but by brain.

I am sad to say it was a novel about the human fatigue, the burden of civilization we do not want to support, and we are unwilling to share.

It is also about the history of a comic book …. Is our life a plot in a simple comic book … not even a novel, a comic book?

At least, it was not a zombie survival novel, and that’s something!

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Chicken Soup for the Soul: Food and Love

First off, I have a small version of the bigger anthology that was given to me as a part of the gift – soup bowls and a pack of soup. I have not tried the soup as I usually prefer to make mine from scratch, but the bowls are very useful and attractive, and I will possibly use them quite often.
The other thing of the gift set is a book. The idea is great, and I know that there are a number of thematic editions. I used the ISBN to find the one I have, and the GR site took me to this edition with the same title, but definitely more substantial than the one I have. I wish the editors of the books were competent enough to give it a proper and individual ISBN.

I know the purpose of this book is to console and to inspire, but why can’t the editors choose more substantial stories for a small pocket edition, or if these are the best, what about the other ones?
I am painfully aware that the contributors allegedly are not the established writers and merely bloggers, but then the note about the authors seems to be saying kudos for their published articles and stories, blogs and books.

Personally, the devotional nature of a seemingly secular book aggravated me a lot. People were mentioning their faith for no justifiable reason. Most of them are telling the stories of country cooking that usually requires some canned ingredients and frozen, even if they were home-made, dinners. Some of them focused on broken families with the brood of children from different marriages, stay-at home moms, and farms. Basically, very southern, in the meaning that I do not like it. I really enjoy Southern Gothic, but not the farm cooking with all its accouterments.

There was only one story that featured a hipster-like story-teller whose idea of the meal actully stirred the pleasant feeling of hunger.

All the above and the quality of writing are the main things that only made me give the book two stars. English graduate majors or other published others who use the phrases like ‘fixing dinners’ are not the examples of literary accomplishment, but I am sure the book reaches its target audience if one considers the five and four-star reviews.

I rebuke and reproach myself for trying to read something and then judge it by its literary accomplishments or the the lack thereof when I am NOT a part of its potential target audience. Oh, well, it will serve me as a lesson to read the books that have a potential to provide emotional and intellectual nourishment. Mea culpa!

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Snowblind by Christopher Golden

Horror is a rare genre that indeed has a true literary potential into which many authors could have tapped in, but unfortunately this novel does not come to my expectations of a good horror novel that will send willies down my spine. To be fair, it did send some willies down my reading spine, but I want my willies in a good literary context.

To start from the very beginning, I am honest saying that the premise of the perfect blizzard with snow, power outage, cold, misery of the chilling wind, lost and stranded people is very successful and interesting. The scenes with the supernatural and inexplicable and potentially scary are quite suspenseful and edgy, and all the elements of the suspense and horror are successfully interwoven into the plot, so if only the novel had had only this things under its belt, it would definitely have been a successful novel.

Unfortunately, all these ingredients for a horror novel were put in the context that does not appeal to me. The descriptions should have been more detailed and more inventive wording-wise: unusual and original tropes have not hurt any good author worth his or her salt. The number of main characters was simply overwhelming, and I often had to page back to refer the character’s name and to his or her personality and/or history.

The characters were very unlikable, not because they were all bad people, but because these were the characters who would never read books: odd job pickers, struggling restaurant owners, policemen, even school teachers were apathetic – people with the minimum qualifications who are not enthusiastic about their jobs. I used to live in the small town populated by similar people, and we could not breathe there intellectually and moved to a bigger, more liberal place where people are not driven by the basic consumerist impulse. In brief, the book is about the people who would never read any book themselves as they are so much involved into their dramas. The language also targets the same group – nothing complex or breathtaking, but simple paragraphs and slightly trite descriptions. The saddest thing is the book will never be read by the target audience it tries to reach and appeal too. Other people read books nowadays.
On a personal note, all these characters remind me of Republicans, not the educated, well-versed and supremely egotistic Republicans who use their philosophy to get the best of life and damn the others. These are right-wingers by habit, by routine, by lack of knowledge and experience, by apathy, by prejudice, by being a part of the conformist flock.

I know personal political and literary tastes can be very rigorous criteria to judge the book, and thus we judge too harshly, but we do need another Stephen King, whose novels can be spine-chilling and hair-raising and still keep the feeling of a literary novel written by an author who cares and loves his or her characters, whose characters are human and humane, and even if they are monsters, at least we know where their demons come from.

Christopher Golden did not deliver the novel I wanted. Sorry for my highly subjective political bias.

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