january books 📖✨

Sunday, February 10, 2019

I wanted to start (or at least try) doing monthly reading round-ups, without writing you an essay on every single book – although I sometimes would love to do exactly that – and instead will tell you briefly what the book is about and what I thought/if I’d recommend it. Sound good?

January was a good reading month. I’m trying to establish a new habit where I waste less time on social media and read a book instead. Mind-blowing. 🎉 Whenever I find myself scrolling mindlessly, I ask myself if I could be reading a book right now instead, and if the answer is yes (which it almost always is) I leave my phone in the other room and grab my book.

We wanted to make this brief, right? Okay, doing it. I’m going to talk about the books in the order in which I read them, it has nothing to do with how much I’ve enjoyed the book – as you’ll see with the very first one 🙃.

#1 J. D. Salinger Franny and Zooey (1961)

Can you imagine that I managed to major in American Literature without ever reading any Salinger? Me neither, but I did.
 ~ Brief excursion ~ I read My Salinger Year a few months ago – the story is the retelling of the author’s own experience working for the literary agency that represented Salinger. Just like the protagonist in that story, I used to be completely ignorant towards Salinger. I had missed the opportunity to read any of his books (The CaTCHER IN THE FREAKING RYE!!11) when I was a teenager – which is probably Prime-Salinger-Time – then read said novel in the beginning of my twenties and was like … .__. . So, after My Salinger Year I finally picked up Franny and Zooey and I have to say that I am still … unenthusiastic. In all fairness, F+Z is a work you have to read at least three times, to get to the bottom of it, I think. And even then … I don’t know. I found it very dense and almost claustrophobic. Maybe that’s a feeling you’re supposed to get, because it seems like that’s how Franny is feeling. Almost suffocated by the seeming meaninglessness of life.

Here’s a “brief” summary of what the novel is about – no spoilers:

“Franny” tells the story of Franny Glass, Zooey’s sister, undergraduate at a small liberal arts college. The story takes place in an unnamed college town during Franny’s weekend visit to her boyfriend Lane. Disenchanted with the selfishness and inauthenticity she perceives all around her, she aims to escape it through spiritual means.
“Zooey” is set shortly after “Franny” in the Glass family apartment in New York City’s Upper East Side. While actor Zooey’s younger sister Franny suffers a spiritual and existential breakdown in their parents’ Manhattan living room, leaving their mother Bessie deeply concerned, Zooey comes to Franny’s aid, offering what he thinks is brotherly love, understanding, and words of sage advice. [Source]

As I said, Franny and Zooey is a novel(la) you probably have to read more than once. On top of that it’d probably be very fertile to discuss it with other people. Universities offer whole classes on freaking Franny and Zooey … I should know, I actively avoided them. Anyway, somewhere around the half way point I just wanted to get through this book. I didn’t “enjoy it” per se, but literature doesn’t need to be enjoyable. In fact, one of my uni professors once said to a student, who complained about some piece of literature being “boring” that that might as well have been the intention – to bore the reader. It is not a trait on the basis of which something can be dismissed as unworthy of our time. In any case – I’d be very happy to take said Salinger class now and dive very deep into his body of work, notwithstanding that neither Franny and Zooey nor The Catcher in the Rye will ever become favourite books of mine.

#2 Grady Hendrix My Best Friend’s Exorcism (2017)

Oh, God, how much I loved this book. I haven’t sped through anything so fast since reading Harry Potter, I think.
But first, the blurb:

The year is 1988. High school sophomores Abby and Gretchen have been best friends since fourth grade. But after an evening of skinny-dipping goes disastrously wrong, Gretchen begins to act…different. She’s moody. She’s irritable. And bizarre incidents keep happening whenever she’s nearby. Abby’s investigation leads her to some startling discoveries—and by the time their story reaches its terrifying conclusion, the fate of Abby and Gretchen will be determined by a single question: Is their friendship powerful enough to beat the devil? [Source]

The decade the story is set in, as well as the high school setting and the whole stranger-things-kind-of-situation where you get glimpses into something very dark and mysterious without really knowing what it is, was right down my street. I absolutely LOVED this book. It is written by a man which was shocking to me, because the portrayal of teenage-girl-everyday-life, struggle and drama is so raw and authentic that I could have bet that “Grady Hendrix” was a person who had experienced being a teenage girl themselves. I haven’t googled this en detail, but I hope that this novel is going to be turned into a Netflix Original Movie or a mini series – I want to see this late 80s borderline creepy high school extravaganza on my screen!

#3 Odessa Moshfegh My Year of Rest and Relaxation (2018)

Another very quick page-turner-y-read. Which is kind of surprising considering that the novel’s protagonist is asleep most of the time and (seemingly) nothing ever happens.
Le blurb for you:

A shocking, hilarious and strangely tender novel about a young woman’s experiment in narcotic hibernation, aided and abetted by one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature. Our narrator has many of the advantages of life, on the surface. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. But there is a vacuum at the heart of things, and it isn’t just the loss of her parents in college, or the way her Wall Street boyfriend treats her, or her sadomasochistic relationship with her alleged best friend. It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? [Source]

When a novel is set in New York City in the year 2000 you already know what the story will possibly culminate in. It is such an interesting thing to play with, I find – the information asymmetry between the protagonist and the reader. Like in this case, we as readers already know that we’re headed towards 9/11 – the protagonists doesn’t. We’re almost unable to remember and imagine a world before – yet the protagonist is living in it.
The protagonist’s life appears to be without any drive or direction, which made me feel low and empty in a way the movie Trainspotting did when I first saw it many moons ago. And I still found the whole thing darkly funny and amusing – although I kind of knew we had to be heading towards some kind of culmination or catastrophe, if only because 9/11 was looming on the horizon. It is truly shocking and at the same time hilarious. So much so that the laughter often stuck in my throat.

#4 Amy Engel The Roanoke Girls (2017)

I’d describe this book as something you’d pick up in the bookstore at a train station before a six hour train ride, read in one sitting and then (better) completely forget about the moment you’ve arrived. Which isn’t supposed to mean that I didn’t “enjoy” reading it, if that makes sense.
Here’s the blurb:

The girls of the Roanoke family - beautiful, rich, mysterious - seem to have it all. But there's a dark truth about them that's never spoken. Either the girls run away... or they die.
Lane is one of the lucky ones. When she was fifteen, over one long, hot summer at her grandparents' estate in rural Kansas, she found out what it really means to be a Roanoke girl. Lane ran, far and fast. Until eleven years later, when her cousin Allegra goes missing - and Lane has no choice but to go back. [Source]

A magazine that is quoted on the back of the book describes the novel as “sexy”. Gross. Incest (yes, spoiler) isn’t sexy, you sick fuck. 
Maybe that’s the best way to describe the story – and still, I wouldn’t recommend to not read it either – it has a good pace, it is gripping, but also disturbing and sick. Consider yourself warned.

#5 Brit Bennet The Mothers (2016)

I find it very difficult to say something about this novel because it left me kind of awestruck. Its’ story is probably very tragically “normal”, it doesn’t seem constructed or “written”, but very real and amazingly told. So much so that I oftentimes felt like I was standing in the room with the characters like an invisible witness to their conversations and their lives’ tragedies, big and small.

Here’s da blurb:

It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt. [Source]

Novels like this one remind me why I love reading so much. Stories are like a collective experience. In my opinion, every story imaginable that is being told in a novel, is in some form or other, a real person’s story somewhere in the world. Everything you read, has happened to someone, somewhere in their real life. Everything that has ever happened to you, has been written or will be written about in a novel, which then will be read by I don’t know how many people. I find it incredibly comforting that we’re all connected in that way.

#6 Emma Gannon The Multi Hyphen Method (2018)

I came across Emma’s Podcast ctrl alt delete when she just had uploaded her very first episode interviewing Elizabeth Gilbert in 2016. I’ve been listening to her podcasts religiously for about a year and a half and then kind of fell off the wagon because the interviews felt a bit same-y to me. I also didn’t read her first book, but was very intrigued when I heard about her the second one The Multi Hyphen Method
First, as always, the blurb:

In The Multi-Hyphen Method award-winning blogger / social media editor / podcast creator, Emma Gannon, teaches that it doesn't matter if you're a part-time PA with a blog, or a nurse who runs an online store in the evenings - whatever your ratio, whatever your mixture, we can all channel our own entrepreneurial spirit to live more fulfilled and financially healthy lives.
The internet and our phones mean we can work wherever, whenever and allows us to design our own working lives. Forget the outdated stigma of being a jack of all trades, because having many strings to your bow is essential to get ahead in the modern working world. We all have the skills necessary to work less and create more, and The Multi-Hyphen Method is the source of inspiration you need to help you navigate your way towards your own definition of success. [Source]

The Multi Hyphen Method is not solely written for freelancers or people who have a lot of hyphens in their “job title”. It is about “new work” as much as it is, in my opinion, about the multiple roles we might have as humans in our daily lives. Paid or unpaid.
As with any sort of self-help or guide book on anything: Just reading the book and then putting it on your shelf, doesn’t do it. You have to sit down, extract what speaks to you and put it into practice. Easier said than done, of course, but since I’m only just at the sitting down part, going over the sections I’ve highlighted etc., I cannot really judge yet, if it is “a good book/guide” or not. I found it more inspiring towards the end – some other parts didn’t resonate with me at all, but there were useful ideas spattered in there that have already shifted something for me in my daily work life.
For example: The tipps on how to use your energy more wisely – i.e. setting aside a specific time in which you read and write e-mails and then turn off your notifications when you need to focus on a specific task and be undisturbed. Sounds pretty straight forward and not necessarily exclusive to multi-hyphenate-jobs, I know, but that’s the point. We sometimes need to see something in black and white to believe that WE ARE ALLOWED TO NOT IMMEDIATELY RESPOND to an e-mail for example. This particular tipp of course also applies to any office job.

Wow. Here we are. That wasn’t brief at all now, was it. I’ll do better next month. Maybe. Probably not.
Bye for now.

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