I’ve taken to instagramming what I’m reading lately, and it is like so obnoxious, oh my God. Mostly because I was going along at about a book a week at a normal pace, and then this past week, I’ve been house managing a ton, so suddenly it’s like I’ve just got hours where I’m sitting there doing nothing and I read . . . a lot.
I read three books of short stories (well, one I have one more story left on, but almost) this past week, and Heleen commented on one of my instagrams asking if I could do a post about what I am reading. So like, okay, that’s what this is going to be.
Human Acts by Han Kang
Kang’s The Vegetarian was one of the best books I read last year. I think about it all the time. So when I saw she was going to have another book translated into English by the same translator, I preordered it. It was weird and I loved it. It’s about a student uprising in South Korea in the early 80s, and it begins with a boy who is volunteering to keep track of all of the bodies piling up. So like, if dark stuff freaks you out, probably not the book for you. But if you’re like me, and that makes you go, “Ooh, fuck yes,” perhaps you would like Human Acts. Each chapter is from a different perspective and written in a different style. I thought it was a really effective way of recounting a tragedy in all its parts.
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
Everybody always is like, “Ooh Ann Patchett, so great,” so I was like, “Ooh okay, I will try her.” Here is what I thought: She is a masterful writer, no doubt. Sentences, descriptions: on point. What’s more, this book was a pleasure to read. Like, I devoured it. So great. My only thing is, the actual story itself to me felt like every literary fiction book I had ever read, and not really interesting or true enough to make me love it. I would definitely read another of her books, and I definitely enjoyed this one, but overall, I was not so into it.
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
I urge all American readers of this blog to read The Sympathizer which is really, so important. If you are interested at in America, American foreign policy, race, capitalism, communism, Orientalism, the media, politics . . . really like we should all read that book. The Refugees is Nguyen’s second attempt at fiction, though much of it was written before The Sympathizer. It’s getting rave reviews, but I thought it was just alright. I didn’t feel like any of the stories really surprised me or blew me away like I like short stories to do, but I definitely think it’s important and necessary to tell these stories of Vietnamese Americans, and for that alone I would be like, “Job well done.” Personally I think The Sympathizer is what people should be reading though. (Also I met him and got him to sign it and he was lovely and I liked him a lot, so I apologize for saying I wasn’t so into his book. It was good! Just not as good as his other one.)
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is lovely person whose cultural commentary and Outlander recaps we should all read. Everything she says I am like, “That is so true, Roxane, you are so right.” Unfortunately I personally think she is a better cultural commentator than hse is fiction writer. To me, the stories in this book felt too much like what I think of people submitting to some of the online webzine-y things I do sounds like. You know, like, a lot of rape and sexual assault stories, a lot of really awful men, and YES, these stories are important and valid and worth telling, but it didn’t feel like anything I hadn’t read before and at times I felt like a Republican reading it. (“Okay, but like not ALL men . . . “ = me reading this book) And again, I feel terrible writing that because if Roxane Gay called me up and was like, “AC, do you wanna hang out and be BFF?” I would be like, “Yeah girl,” but for me, this story collection didn’t impress me as much as I would like.
Tenth of December by George Saunders
A girl who I really hated worked on this book and she posted about it all over Facebook when it came out and I was like, “Ugh okay, I’m never reading that book.” But then in some short story courses I’ve been taking people have said my stories remind them of his work (obviously nowhere as good, let’s be clear) so I thought I’d look into it. I also felt prejudiced against Saunders because I was like, “Yuck white heterosexual male postmodernist yawn.” But in fact, this book — I have one story left — is really great. It actually is blowing me away. It is so funny and so clever and the writing is so tight. It is weird as hell, in the best way. And mostly, I started it being like, “George Saunders sounds like a man in a white suit who would call me young lady,” and now I’m like “George Saunders seems like the sweetest man, and I just want to hang out with him and smile, and knit friendship sweaters.” (Are friendship sweaters a thing? They are now.)
So that’s it. That’s what I’ve been reading. Peace out, y’all.