Books I Read This Month - July 2012

A Heart-breaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

After the death of both his parents from cancer, Dave Eggers, in his early-twenties, was left to take care of his preteen brother. In this memoir, he recounts the trials and joys of being the guardian to a young boy while struggling through the transition into adulthood and writing fame. This book is both hilarious and touching, both scatological and sweet, and written in the goofy, thoughtful, and awkwardly (but at the same time lyrically) thorough voice that marks much of Eggers’ works.

A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano

A fictionalization of the last few years of Flannery O’Connor’s life. Debilitated by lupus, the writer returns to her hometown where a newlywed couple, a marijuana-dependent curtain-maker, and her own protective mother become annoyed by Flannery’s collection of 50+ peacocks. This novel is a brilliant homage to Flannery O’Connor’s work, both in writing style and in exploration of characters. Every single character comes to life on the page with distinct emotion, motivation, and occasionally humor. An extraordinary book fit for fans of Flannery O’Connor (and anyone else, really).I enjoyed it thoroughly and hung on every word.

Atonement by Ian McEwan

I first picked up this book two or three years ago, but I had to put it down because I was bored stiff. However, I always feel guilty for starting and not finishing a book, so I had to give it another shot. I must admit, though, that my interest in restarting it was only piqued because of my obsession with the BBC series Sherlock and, incidentally, the actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays the antagonist in the film version of this book. I am incredibly glad I returned to this book. It is perhaps one of the best novels I have ever read, though the ending left me feeling a bit empty (due to the darkness of the theme, not in the least due to the plot). It begins with a thirteen-year-old girl who attempts to write a play but quickly becomes discouraged by such childish (as she comes to believe of it) matters when she witnesses her sister’s flirtation with a family friend. A horrendous crime and Briony’s newfound, yet not fully developed, knowledge of the adult world lead to a devastating mistake that haunts Briony for the rest of her life, a mistake for which Briony seeks atonement. I am indebted to my unhealthy obsession with attractive British men for bringing me back to this magnificent novel. I quickly added all of Ian McEwan's works to my to-read list. This book also plays with some of the same themes I am developing in my work-in-progress, so I am planning on re-reading it eventually to see what I can learn from this talented author.

Contact by Carl Sagan

When Ellie Harroway, director of a project searching for radio waves as evidence of life on other planets, confirms communication with extraterrestrials, a machine set for the stars is built following the instructions given to the scientists by the aliens, and a team of five is chosen (Ellie being one) to travel into space to meet them. Ellie is confident and intelligent, these aspects of her character influenced by her father, who died when she was young but who raised her with strong values. This book explores a wide range of themes, especially when it comes to the reaction of humans when encountering foreign species (a rejection of religion by some and an expansion and accentuation of religious beliefs by others). Carl Sagan was scientist first, writer second, as evidenced by the dense jargon and vernacular, though his literary skills were excellently honed. This is both a science-fiction novel exploring religious themes and a feminist work. It can sometimes be a bit difficult to get through the long (though necessary) passages, but the insightful payoff in the end is well worth the read.


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