RECENT DNFs (SUMMER EDITION)


Pop Song by Larissa Pham (DNFd at 25%)

Pop Song by Larissa Pham: 9781646220267 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

Something about the tone and writing style of this book just categorically did not work for me. I felt like the writing was straining for a level of insight or profundity that it simply didn’t have and couldn’t achieve. I also disliked how confused the essays felt; each one had so many ideas and incorporated so many sources that I struggled to parse out what point Pham was actually trying to make.


The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin (DNFd at 53%)

The Four Humors by Mina Seçkin | Penguin Random House Canada

I was SO excited to read this. First, the cover is GORGEOUS. Second, the synopsis convinced me I’d love this–I mean, just tell me this doesn’t sound amazing,

This wry and visceral debut novel follows a young Turkish-American woman who, rather than grieving her father’s untimely death, seeks treatment for a stubborn headache and grows obsessed with a centuries-old theory of medicine.

Twenty-year-old Sibel thought she had concrete plans for the summer. She would care for her grandmother in Istanbul, visit her father’s grave, and study for the MCAT. Instead, she finds herself watching Turkish soap operas and self-diagnosing her own possible chronic illness with the four humors theory of ancient medicine.
 
Also on Sibel’s mind: her blond American boyfriend who accompanies her to Turkey; her energetic but distraught younger sister; and her devoted grandmother, who, Sibel comes to learn, carries a harrowing secret.
 
Delving into her family’s history, the narrative weaves through periods of political unrest in Turkey, from military coups to the Gezi Park protests. Told with pathos and humor, Sibel’s search for strange and unusual cures is disrupted as she begins to see how she might heal herself through the care of others, including her own family and its long-fractured relationships.

I really gave this a fair shot–I read 200 pages–but unfortunately the execution let this down for me. The protagonist felt too disaffected, her narrative tone so dry and distanced that I struggled to connect with her as a character. The plot, too, felt a little aimless for my taste. It didn’t feel like there was any momentum in this novel to keep me engaged. I can definitely see people liking this novel though, so if it sounds like the kind of novel you’d like I’d still recommend you give it a shot.


A Memory Called Empire by Arkady Martine (DNFd at 16%)

A Memory Called Empire: Martine, Arkady: 9781250186430: Books - Amazon.ca

I wanted to like this so badly, but I just hated the writing. I swear to god it felt like every other word in this novel was italicized. I want you to imagine what that does to a reading experience. Also I hated the character development; it didn’t make any sense to me and was all tell and no show (there was a moment when the protagonist was like hmm I like this character, she is funny! when that character had literally said nothing even remotely close to funny). That sort of lazy description irritates me so much; don’t tell me something about a character that that character has not shown me in the writing.


Light from Uncommon Stars by Ryka Aoki (DNFd at 11%)

Light From Uncommon Stars, Book by Ryka Aoki (Hardcover) |  www.chapters.indigo.ca

Again, a matter of writing. This is a debut novel, and it showed. This novel has such a cool premise, but the writing just could not bring that premise to life. It was so simplistic to the point that it flattened all the novel’s characters, making them all feel very samey (which was all the more noticeable as a problem because the characters range in terms of age, background, experience, etc.).


Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente (DNFd at 43%)

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

Another novel I gave a fair shot–also 200 pages–before I DNFd it. Radiance isn’t the kind of novel I usually gravitate towards; it has a lot of moving parts, incorporating text from interviews, scripts, diaries, etc. And where many of the books I’ve mentioned in this post let me down writing-wise, my issue with Radiance was not its writing. My issue was that the more stylistic, flashy elements of this book took over the focus on character. Or rather, that the focus was never really on the characters to begin with. After 200 pages, I got tired of navigating this expansive world with very little engagement in the characters populating it.


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MINI REVIEWS (january-march)

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The Lonesome Body Builder – Yukiko Motoya (translated by Asa Yoneda) | ★.5

Motoya’s stories start out promising and interesting enough, but then they take that interesting premise and draw it out for so long that it absolutely loses any of the appeal it once had. The ideas were there; the execution was not.

These stories were too long or too convoluted or too nonsensical, often padded out with a lot of filler that felt like it added nothing to the stories’ narratives. Seeing as I only really enjoyed one story from this collection, “Fitting Room,” I can’t say that I especially enjoyed this collection.


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The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing – Mira Jacob | ★.5

What makes this novel work is Jacob’s ability to write dialogue, spoken and internal. Her characters are humane and sympathetically drawn, trying to reach out to each other in their flawed, sometimes misguided ways. I really enjoyed this one.

There was one particular scene in this book that really discomfited me, though. In it, Amina, the main character, is about to give her boyfriend a blowjob. He says “wait” twice; she ignores him and goes ahead and gives it to him anyway. Let me just make this clear: when you’re in that kind of situation and the person you’re with says “wait” multiple times you do not ignore them: YOU WAIT–you wait for explicit consent. Okay that’s all I have to say about that.


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Such a Fun Age – Kiley Reid | ★.5

What compelling story this book had was completely overshadowed by its weak dialogue. There is so much extraneous dialogue in this book. So. much. unnecessary. dialogue. I like “unnecessary” dialogue when it helps build character dynamics or establishes a social atmosphere of some kind, but that was not the case here. Like Emira and Alix would be talking and literally every other sentence would be Briar interrupting them with some weird observation (do kids really talk like that ?) that completely detracted from the oftentimes serious conversations being had.

Also I didn’t like the ending of this at all. I’m just so tired of endings that deflate all the conflict that had been building up in the story by tying everything up in a pretty little bow with zero nuance or time to actually flesh out the implications of what the characters did.

One more thing that irritated me: the constant references to Alix’s weight. Always the fact that Alix hasn’t lost her baby weight or has gained weight or her friends telling her she needs to lose weight or her eating too much and thinking about how she needs to drop the baby weight. This was never questioned or challenged; we were just supposed to accept that being fat is bad and that shaming your friends for their weight is okay. (Hint: it’s not.)


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Know My Name – Chanel Miller |

wow wow wow. this is one of the most powerful books i have ever read, and i dont hesitate to say that for a second. it is searing, arresting, masterful. it seems false, somehow, to give this a numerical rating, given how monumental of a read it really was, but this book deserves nothing less than 5 stars.


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The Book of X – Sarah Rose Etter | ★.5 

the prose here is what didn’t work for me. it was trying to be poetic but couldn’t quite get there, so what you got as a result was writing that felt clunky and forced more than anything else. the book is also very episodic in terms of the way its told—typically in half-page mini chapters—and so that, too, ended up making the story feel more fragmented and less cohesive as a narrative.

i do appreciate the focus on loneliness and isolation in this story, though. etter definitely didn’t sugarcoat her protagonist’s experiences of sometimes unbearable solitude and longing.


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Women Who Read Are Dangerous – Stefan Bollmann (translated by Christine Shuttleworth)| ★.5 

women who read are dangerous is just a confection for the eyes. books like this make me feel like a little kid, quickly flipping through the pages so i can see all the pretty pictures. but there’s also an effort here to actually examine the multiplicities of reading via visual art: reading out loud, religious reading, reading as morally dangerous, reading as self-development. it’s a short book so it definitely doesn’t get to unpack the complexities and depth of its topic, but then again i cant fault it for not doing something that it never set out to do.

also gotta give this book credit for making me very interested in reading a bunch of art history books


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Verge – Lidia Yuknavitch |

My biggest impression of these stories is how humane they are. Yuknavitch takes characters going through some real low points—either an insidious kind of marginalization, or else outright traumatizing and horrific circumstances—and gives them the time and space to exist as nuanced and complex people. And this is, I think, a real priority of this collection as a whole: it privileges those in the margins, those whose stories are overlooked or undermined or not recognized at all.

I loved all these stories, but the most standout ones to me were “Street Walker” and “The Garden of Earthly Delights.”


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You Know You Want This – Kristen Roupenian | ★.5

my reactions to these stories ranged from “wait what” to “okaaay…?” to “i don’t get it”

mostly though, i just really didn’t get it. some of these stories ended so abruptly that i genuinely didn’t know what i was supposed to get out of them. though well-written, it feels like almost all the stories in this book follow the same loose plotline: bad characters do bad things. that’s literally it. which, as you can probably tell, didn’t really leave room for a lot of complexity or nuance. and i do agree with what a lot of reviewers have pointed out about the unrelenting bleakness of these stories: the characters treat each other so horribly, there’s not even the tiniest sliver of anything positive to be found here. if i were to just go by this short story collection, i would not be very optimistic about human relationships—hell, i wouldn’t be optimistic about them at all. which makes me question what Roupenian wanted to say with this collection, exactly. surely there’s something to be said about relationships that’s more complex than “they are shitty most of the time.”


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The Memory Police – Yōko Ogawa (translated by Stephen Snyder) | ★.5

I wanna say something more sophisticated than “this was boring” but…this was boring.

Given the slew of positive reviews this novel has gotten, I was expecting something impressive, not milquetoast characters and a directionless plot. Also, the writing was Not Good. It was plain and simplistic in a way that completely flattened any complexity or depth the story might’ve had. Oh, and irritatingly repetitive—we get it your memory is a pool of water and seeing disappeared objects stirs your memory like ripples in the water please stop hitting me over the head with the same metaphor.

I just…I don’t get what the appeal of this book is. What was it supposed to be offering, exactly, because the extent of its commentary pretty much boils down to: police bad, controlling people bad, state surveillance bad. Uh, thanks, but I didn’t really need to read an entire novel to know that…


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JANUARY WRAP UP

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january is over which means time for a wrap up!! and let me say, january was good to me. i read 14 books, THREE of which made it to my 2020 favourites shelf, which was such a pleasant surprise. AND 2 of those 3 books were nonfiction, which is so unheard of for me. there’s some amazing nonfiction out there apparently, who knew?? (everyone knew)

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what i read

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🌵 January 1-2: Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan | ★★★

this one doesn’t come out till june so i won’t say much, but i have a review of it that’s going to be posted to the blog around that time. if you’re curious though, i wrote a review for it on goodreads.

🌵 January 3-4: Wilful Disregard by Lena Andersson | ★★

woman likes shitty man, woman sleeps with shitty man, woman is sad because shitty man ghosts her. the end. (what was i supposed to get out of this, exactly ???) needless to say, i didn’t particularly enjoy this.

🌵 January 4-5: Serpent & Dove by Shelby Mahurin | ★★★

► this was enjoyable, but i had a lot of little gripes about it that just accumulated over the course of my reading it.
► by far my biggest problem with this book was that the romantic dynamic between its 2 main leads was SO SIMILAR to matthias and nina’s dynamic from six of crows. like pretty much identical. the nina character, lou, speaks her mind, is free-spirited, embarrasses her love interest, is part of a group of people that the love interest has vowed to exterminate, loves desserts, and has magical powers. the matthias character, reid, is uptight, has been indoctrinated into a group of people with an oppressive ideology, is good at fighting, but ultimately falls for the nina character. it was just way too similar for me to able to disentangle it from six of crows. also let’s be honest the nina/matthias dynamic is SO much more well-executed than the lou/reid dynamic.
► did not like how possessive/territorial reid was. im so bored by male characters who feel the need to protect their female love interests at every second. chill
► i am also so bored by male love interests who are angry all the time. chill
► the inclusion of french in this book is so forced and randomly done that it added absolutely nothing to the story. telling me a character is drinking a “chocolat chaud” at a cafe is not worldbuilding lol. nor is adding the occasional french swear word.

🌵 January 6: “Color and Light” by Sally Rooney | ★★★★★ (reread)

(listened to sally rooney’s narration of the story on the new yorker podcast)

“He’s seen the display ten or twelve times now, or however many years the festival has been going. The first time he was a teenager, still in school. He thought that his life was just about to start happening then. He thought that he was poised tantalizingly on the brink, and that any day—or even any minute—the waiting would end and the real thing would begin.”

so tantalizingly short. there’s a feeling, here, that something is on the brink of happening, that something important has maybe already happened–and then the story ends.

it’s just so damn good.

🌵 January 6-8: Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid | ★★.5

What compelling story this book had was completely overshadowed by its weak dialogue. There is so much extraneous dialogue in this book. So. much. unnecessary. dialogue. I like “unnecessary” dialogue when it helps build character dynamics or establishes a social atmosphere of some kind, but that was not the case here. Like Emira and Alix would be talking and literally every other sentence would be Briar interrupting them with some weird observation (do kids really talk like that ?) that completely detracted from the oftentimes serious conversations being had.

Also I didn’t like the ending of this at all. I’m just so tired of endings that deflate all the conflict that had been building up in the story by tying everything up in a pretty little bow with zero nuance or time to actually flesh out the implications of what the characters did.

One more thing that irritated me: the constant references to Alix’s weight. Always the fact that Alix hasn’t lost her baby weight or has gained weight or her friends telling her she needs to lose weight or her eating too much and thinking about how she needs to drop the baby weight. This was never questioned or challenged; we were just supposed to accept that being fat is bad and that shaming your friends for their weight is okay. (Hint: it’s not.)

🌵 January 6-13: The Idiot by Elif Batuman | ★★★★.5 

haven’t reviewed this yet, but it’s one of my favourite books of this year. psychologically astute, thematically complex, and compellingly written.

🌵 January 14: Fox 8 by George Saunders | ★★★.5 stars

such a cute lil book complete with fun doodles and some interesting, relevant themes about environmental conservation. a quick, enjoyable read.

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🌵 January 8-16: Know My Name by Chanel Miller | ★★★★★

wow wow wow. this is one of the most powerful books i have ever read, and i don’t hesitate to say that for a second. it is searing, arresting, masterful. it seems false, somehow, to give this a numerical rating, given how monumental of a read it really was, but this book deserves nothing less than 5 stars.

🌵 January 15: Lucky Caller by Emma Mills | ★★★

definitely my least favourite emma mills. the dialogue was weak and a little repetitive, the jokes never quite landed for me (i barely laughed at all while i read this, which is a travesty considering this is an emma mills book), and the characters just didn’t end up feeling all that fleshed out. the story needed more pages and more time to breathe; sadly, it didn’t get either.

🌵 January 14-19: Solace by Belinda McKeon | ★★

sadly a very forgettable book. the characters didn’t feel fleshed out, and the plot meandered. i didn’t feel like it was going anywhere, or that it even had anywhere to go. definitely recommend reading Belinda McKeon’s Tender though. it’s leaps and bounds better than Solace.

🌵 January 16-22: Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett | ★★.5 | full review

🌵 January 21-24: The Book of X by Sarah Rose Etter | ★★.5 

the prose here is what didn’t work for me. it was trying to be poetic but couldn’t quite get there, so what you got as a result was writing that felt clunky and forced more than anything else. the book is also very episodic in terms of the way its told—typically in half-page mini chapters—and so that, too, ended up making the story feel more fragmented and less cohesive as a narrative.

i do appreciate the focus on loneliness and isolation in this story, though. etter definitely didn’t sugarcoat her protagonist’s experiences of sometimes unbearable solitude and longing.

🌵 January 26: Multitudes by Lucy Caldwell | ★★★.5 

will review this soon, but it was a really lovely collection of short stories, all centering on the experiences of adolescent girls in northern ireland.

🌵 January 22 – February 3: Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe | ★★★★★

it’s kind of cheating to include this in my january wrap up since i technically didn’t finish it till february, but i really wanted to include it anyway because it was AMAZING. i read the audiobook and WOW. i’m gonna try and write a full review for this soon because it was honestly one of the best non-fiction books i’ve ever read. it doesn’t get better than this.


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