BEST and WORST of My Year In Reading, 2013

byeto2013

Happy 2014, everyone! 2013 was a big year of positive growth and change for me, and I’m super excited to put my new found optimism and drive to use in 2014. Not to mention that, let’s be honest, 2014 is a much more aesthetically pleasing number than 2013. Can’t go wrong judging things by how they look, right? “Always judge a book by its cover,” that’s what I always say.*

In terms of reading, 2013 brought me a year of books that made me think and respond and feel passionately, if not always in a positive way, at least in a thoroughly-engaged sort-of-way. The books I read in 2013 inspired (rough estimate) 10,000,000 texts of outrage/joy to my most patient-beyond-words, willing-to-engage-with-me-about-books-she’d-never-read friend (endless thanks, Theresa) and hours of ranting to my partner (thanks, dear).

For this post, I combed through my far too detailed excel sheet where I keep track of all my reading stats to present the best and worst of my most memorable reads of 2013.

Here’s to a new year of books and blogging!

2013 by the numbers

  • Total books read: 147
  • Pages read: 16,644 / Hours listened: 985 or ~41 consecutive days
  • Fiction: 57% / Non-Fiction: 43%
  • Print: 43% / E-books: 7% / Audio: 50%
  • LGBTQ books: 54
  • Books borrowed from the library: 111
  • Month highest number of books read: April, 20
  • Month lowest number of books read: February, 3

BEST novel, published 2013: The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud–The discussion of the likability of female characters and sexism in publishing  that this novel inspired was interesting, but I think it’s rather unfortunate that it served as a distraction from the fact that The Woman Upstairs is brilliant and complicated and an important work of modern literary fiction. 

WORST novel, published 2013: The Return by Michael Gruber–I read this in October and all I remember about it is that I gave it a C-…and I only remember that because I wrote it down. I should really stop being such a sucker for blurbs from Stephen King.

BEST YA novel, published 2013: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan–Let’s put it this way: I had all the feels, all the tears, and all the love for the LGBTQ community. Beautiful.

BEST queer novel, published 2013: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

BEST queer novel, back-list: After Delores by Sarah Schulman—I picked up a copy of After Delores at my local gay bookstore ** after reading Schulman’s amazing memoir, The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination. It’s so relevant and filled with three-dimensional lesbian characters that you’d never guess it was originally published in 1988.

WORST book featuring a president: I was ever-so disappointed with Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech and the “Rocking, Socking” Election of 1952 by Kevin Mattson. I’m usually a sucker for all things Checkers, but I draw the line at the invention of the Nixon’s thoughts, as Mattson does here.

BEST fictional representation of a president: (I had to get a little more specific with this category since it wasn’t very fair, since I read the second installment of Robert A. Caro’s LBJ biography series, Means of Ascentand Caro is simply the best.) Taft and Wilson, The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates–Woodrow Wilson Brings On the Devil would have been too limiting a title, I suppose.

WORST representation of a literary figure: Dorothy Parker, Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister–The best part about this book is that it convinced me to check out Parker’s work, so I guess it wasn’t all bad.

WORST execution of a BEST idea: American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men by David McConnell—I hoped for an in-depth examination of the use of the “gay panic defense,” but after being assured in the introduction that the book would not be “academic” in any way, I got gruesome, sensationalized accounts of murders of gay men with no examination of the why’s and what we can do to stop them.

BEST underrated novel: The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell

WORST YA novel from the 1970s with gay characters: The Man Without a Face by Isabelle Holland and Trying Hard to Hear You by Sandra Scoppettone—Whenever I start to feel sad about how far we still need to go, I think about these painfully depressing books and feel better about how far we’ve come.

BEST detective: Lacey Flint, S.J. Bolton—Serious, complicated, thrilling mysteries with a dash of humor and wit and a great female detective. Thumbs up.

WORST history book: The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin—I just can’t get into hero worship of Theodore Roosevelt.

BEST history book: Ready For a Brand New Beat: How “Dancing in the Street” Became the Anthem for a Changing America by Mark Kurlansky—A thorough cultural exploration of 1964 that gets my nerdy, history-loving heart grow eight sizes.

WORST book about pop culture: The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things edited by Anna Holmes, Kate Harding, and Amanda Hess—More like The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Straight White Lady Things. BAM.

BEST book about pop culture, fiction: Reality Boy by A.S. King—Not only does this book explore what happens to a family after the reality show’s over, it also provides an interesting perspective on the effects of trauma.

BEST book about pop culture, non-fiction: With Amusement For All: A History of American Popular Culture since 1830 by LeRoy Ashby—I was surprised that I was most interested in the sections about country music and wrestling and NASCAR, which is a little out of my personal wheel-house these days.

And one more thing… My #1 goal for reading in 2014 is to read with intention and avoid picking up “buzz” books that don’t interest me, since reading just to be part of the conversation–no matter how annoying or frustrating the book may be–didn’t really work well in 2013.

*I have never previously said this.
**Does this make me sound like a hipster? 

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Filed under 2014 Reviews, Fiction, Gender Studies, GLBTQ, Lists, Mystery, Non-Fiction, Year End, Young Adult Fiction

Books Read 2013

December

  1. With Amusement for All: A History of American Popular Culture Since 1830 by Leroy Ashby (audio)
  2. Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey L. Mogul, Andrea J. Ritchie, and Kay Whitlock
  3. The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin (audio)
  4. The Book of Jezebel: An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Lady Things edited by Anna Holmes, Kate Harding, and Amanda Hess
  5. Furious Cool: Richard Pryor and the World that Made Him by David Henry and Joe Hardy
  6. The Cricket On the Hearth by Charles Dickens (audio)
  7. A Difficult Woman: The Challenging Life and Times of Lillian Hellman by Alice Kessler-Harris (audio)
  8. Babycakes (Tales of the City #4) by Armistead Maupin
  9. The Daylight Gate by Jeanette Winterson
  10. Tango: My Childhood, Backwards and In High Heels by Justin Vivian Bond
  11. The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde (audio)
  12. Means of Ascent (LBJ #2) by Robert A. Caro (audio)
  13. A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen (audio)

November

  1. October Mourning by Leslea Newman
  2. Never Have I Ever (Lying Game #2) by Sara Shepard (ebook)
  3. Revolutionary Summer by Joseph J. Ellis (audio)
  4. Lived Through This: Listening to the Stories of Sexual Violence Survivors by Anne K. Ream (ebook)
  5. One More Move (Myron Bolitar #5) by Harlan Coben (audio)
  6. Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns by Hena Khan
  7. The Beautifully Worthless by Ali Liebegott
  8. Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher
  9. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan (audio)
  10. The Trouble with Normal: Sex, Politics, and the Ethics of Queer Life by Michael Warner
  11. The Obituary Writer by Ann Hood (audio)
  12. Reality Boy by A.S. King (ebook)
  13. Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive by Julia Serano
  14. Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh
  15. “You Can Tell Just By Looking”: And 20 Other Myths about LGBT Life and People by Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico (ebook)
  16. All Souls: A Family Story from Southie by Michael Patrick MacDonald

October

  1. Blockade Billy by Stephen King
  2. Dog Songs by Mary Oliver
  3. Confronting Suburban Poverty In America by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube
  4. Back Spin (Myron Bolitar #4) by Harlan Coben (audio)
  5. Twisted (Pretty Little Liars #9) by Sara Shepard (ebook)
  6. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish by David Rakoff
  7. Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist (audio)
  8. Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings (audio)
  9. Further Tales of the City (Tales of the City #3) by Armistead Maupin (ebook)
  10. The Return by Michael Gruber (audio)

September

  1. Ready for a Brand New Beat: How Dancing in the Street Became the Anthem for a Changing America by Mark Kurlansky
  2. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine by Teddy Wayne
  3. Hero by Perry Moore
  4. The Promise of Welfare Reform: Political Rhetoric and the Reality of Poverty in the Twenty-First Century edited by Keith M. Kilty
  5. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  6. I Still Believe Anita Hill edited by Amy Richards and Cindy Greenberg
  7. After Delores by Sarah Schulman
  8. Dexter’s Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay (audio)
  9. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
  10. Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
  11. The Collaboration: Hollywood’s Pact with Hitler by Ben Urwand

August

  1. Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield by Jeremy Scahill (audio)
  2. Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture by Andy Cohen (audio)
  3. Sidekicks by Dan Santat
  4. Fade Away (Myron Bolitar #3) by Harlan Coben (audio)
  5. Unseen (Will Trent #7) by Karin Slaughter (audio)
  6. Difficult Men: Behind the Scenes of a Creative Revolution: From The Sopranos and The Wire to Mad Men and Breaking Bad by Brett Martin (audio)
  7. The Color Master: Stories by Aimee Bender (audio)
  8. Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III
  9. Turning Pages (Jack of Fables #5) by Bill Willingham
  10. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare, The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott (audio)
  11. Signifying Rappers: Rap and Race in the Urban Present by David Foster Wallace and Mark Costello (audio)
  12. Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City by Choire Sicha
  13. The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud (audio)

July

  1. The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Moses (audio)
  2. On Writing Well by William Zinsser
  3. The Turning by Francine Prose (audio)
  4. Trying Hard to Hear You by Sandra Scoppettone
  5. Monkey Mind by Daniel B. Smith (audio)
  6. I Can’t Complain: (All Too) Personal Essays by Elinor Lipman
  7. OCD, The Dude, and Me by Lauren Roedy Vaughn
  8. The Illustrious Dead: The Terrifying Story of How Typhus Killed Napoleon’s Greatest Army by Stephan Tatly (audio)
  9. American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation by Jon Meachem (audio)
  10. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (audio)
  11. Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale
  12. The Bad Prince (Jack of Fables #3) by Bill Willingham
  13. Dead Scared (Lacey Flint #2) by S.J. Bolton
  14. Everywhere That Mary Went by Lisa Scottoline (audio)
  15. Americana (Jack of Fables #4) by Bill Willingham

June

  1. Devil In the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America by Gilbert King (audio)
  2. The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell
  3. NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (audio)
  4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (audio)
  5. Joyland by Stephen King

May

  1. Six Years by Harlan Coben
  2. Wrapped in the Flag: A Personal History of America’s Radical Right by Claire Conner (ebook)
  3. The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates (audio)
  4. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (audio)
  5. The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout (audio)
  6. Trauma and Revory by Judith Lewis Herman
  7. Ghostopolis by Doug Tennapel
  8. Cujo by Stephen King (audio)
  9. The Dispensable Nation: American Foreign Policy in Retreat by Vali Nasr (audio)
  10. The Man Without a Face by Isabelle Holland
  11. Seven Miles a Second by David Wojnarowicz and James Romberger
  12. The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (audio)
  13. The Tragedy of Today’s Gays by Larry Kramer

April

  1. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler (audio)
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (audio)
  3. The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty by William Hogeland (audio)
  4. Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister (audio)
  5. American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men by David McConnell
  6. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (audio)
  7. Prisons Will Not Protect You edited by Ryan Conrad
  8. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (audio)
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audio)
  10. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch (audio)
  11. The Body by Stephen King (audio)
  12. Odysseus: A Life by Charles Rowan Beye (audio)
  13. Strangers In Paradise (Vol. 1) by Terry Moore
  14. Heathers by John Ross Bowie
  15. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audio)
  16. A Jew In Communist Prague: Loss of Innocence by Vittorio Giardino
  17. A Jew In Communist Prague: Adolescence by Vittorio Giardino
  18. Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni
  19. Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King (audio)
  20. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King (audio)

March

  1.  Just Plain Dick: Richard Nixon’s Checkers Speech and the ‘Rocking, Socking’ Election of 1952 by Kevin Mattson (audio)
  2. The Antagonist by Lynn Coady (audio)
  3. Love Poems by Nikki Giovanni (ebook)
  4. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
  5. Handmade Love by Julie R. Enszer
  6. Purple Haze by Sherry Shahan
  7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling (audio)
  8. Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus (audio)
  9. Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut (audio)
  10. Fair Play by Tove Jansson
  11. The Dinner by Herman Koch (audio)
  12. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (audio)
  13. The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar (ebook)
  14. The Sweet Revenge of Celia Door by Karen Finneyfrock (ebook)
  15. Black Irish by Stephan Talty (audio)
  16. Night by Elie Wiesel (audio)

February

  1. Diesel Fuel: Passionate Poetry by Patrick Califia
  2. The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 by Sean Wilentz (audio)
  3. The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination by Sarah Schulman

January

  1. The Middlesteins by Jami Attenberg (audio)
  2. The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely (audio)
  3. Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog by Ysabeau S. Wilce
  4. Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles by Paul Lieberman (audio)
  5. 212 (Ellie Hatcher #3) by Alafair Burke (ebook)
  6. The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis (audio)
  7. Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe (audio)
  8. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts (audio)
  9. The Glass Menagerie by Tennesse Williams
  10. Go Tell It On the Mountain by James Baldwin (audio)
  11. A Disposition to Be Rich: How a Small-Town Pastor’s Son Ruined an American President, Brought on a Wall Street Crash, and Made Himself the Best-Hated Man in the United States by Geoffrey C. Ward (audio)

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It’s the Perfect Time for a #Readathon

readathon-button-from-book-addict

UPDATE: Hour 8

Books read: 

  1. Blockade Billy by Stephen King (112 pages)
  2. Dog Songs by Mary Oliver (144 pages)

Currenty reading:

  • Audio: Back Spin (Myron Bolitar #3) by Harlan Coben
  • E-Book: Twisted (Pretty Little Liars #9) by Sara Shepard
  • Print: Confronting Suburban Poverty in America by Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube

I’m so relieved to have finally read some books this month! I was a little worried I wouldn’t read anything. I’ve decided to have multiple book options in different formats for the rest of the ‘thon. Audio books are especially good for when I’m writing update posts or checking out twitter or, you know, playing Candy Crush.

Here’s my entry for the Mad Libs mini-challenge hosted by

From Twisted by Sara Shepard (p. 34):

Then, as if sensing Hanna was thinking nasty thoughts about her, Kate pranced over. “You guys should be helping, you know. There’s a ton to do.”

Hanna took an apathetic sip from the can of Diet Coke she’d pilfered from the cooler. Kate had taken it upon herself to be her dad’s mini assistant like some eager intern on The West Wing. “Like what?”

And here it is with my friend Theresa’s responses:

Then, as if sensing Sally Draper was thinking blue thoughts about her, Kate jogged over. “You guys should be helping, you know. There’s 25,000 things to do.”

Sally Draper took a sad sip from the bottle of Tang she’d pilfered from the balloon. Kate had taken it upon herself to be her dad’s mini assistant like some eager sanitation worker on The Simpsons. “Like what?”

UPDATE: Hour 4

We’re now in the fourth hour of the readathon and I have managed to read a whopping 25 pages. I think I need more coffee.

Heather at Capricious Reader is hosting a Book Spine Poetry contest this hour. Here’s my (uh, somewhat depressing) entry:

bookpoetryusa

Hopefully I’ll be able to finish Blockade Billy by Stephen King within the hour. That’s my goal, anyway!

Hour 1

Good morning everyone! I’m so excited to be participating in Dewey’s Read-a-Thon for the eighth (I think?) time. I haven’t finished a single book this month, but I think a day dedicated to reading will fix that.

Here’s the opening meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? 

I’m slightly outside of Boston, hoping for some sunshine!

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

readathonbooks

I didn’t plan my reading as thoroughly as I have in the past. I have mostly non-fiction books out from the library and I usually read fiction during the readathon, so… I am mostly hoping to get to a couple books I own. Or, you know, any book at this point. Not having read a book this month is stressing me out!

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

Midnight pizza. Best part of the readathon. ;)

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’ve been watching MY CAT FROM HELL all morning. It’s kind of addicting?

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Today I’m going to just go with the flow and do as much (or as little) of every part of the readathon as I feel like doing. No pressure!

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Five Ways to Write Better LGBTQ Book Reviews

Gay Is OK

  1. Mention gay characters, especially if they are vital to the story. It’s okay to use the words “gay” and “lesbian” and “bisexual” and “trans.”

  2. Stop using the word “homosexuality,” especially if it’s part of a list of “possibly objectionable content” that contains things like incest, underage drinking, and suicide. Gay folks are not a problem, we’re not illegal (well…), and there is nothing wrong about being gay.

  3. Authors shouldn’t get extra credit for including gay and/or trans characters. If you find yourself saying, “This book was awful, but at least there is diversity!” rethink your thought process. Gay and trans folks deserve books that are just as high quality as books featuring straight characters.

  4. Use proper pronouns. If the book contains a trans character, write about them using the pronouns THEY prefer, even if they don’t use those pronouns at the beginning of the book.

  5. Use the name the character uses. Don’t use their given name, and definitely don’t write about them with a hyphenated name, like Bob/Alice. If a trans woman goes by Alice, use Alice.

What else would you add?

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Filed under GLBTQ, Guide to Reviewing GLBTQ Books, Lists

Quick Hit: A Quote From a Recent Read

I’m a good girl. I’m a nice girl. I’m a straight-A, strait-laced, good daughter, good career girl, and I never stole anybody’s boyfriend and I never ran out on a girlfriend, and I put up with my parents’ shit and brother’s shit and I’m not a girl anyhow, I’m over forty fucking years old, and I’m good at my job and I’m great with kids and I held my mother’s hand when she died,after four years of holding her hand while she was dying, and I speak to my father ever day on the telephone — every day, mind you, and what kind of weather do you have on your side of the river, because here it’s pretty gray and a big muggy too? It was supposed to say “Great Artist” on my tombstone, but if I died right now it would say “Such a good teacher/daughter/friend” instead; and what I really want to shout, and want in big letters on that grave, too, is FUCK YOU ALL.

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Forget all the controversy: The Woman Upstairs is amazing.

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The Revival of Bonjour, Cass!

comeback

What makes a good blog? What makes a good book blog? What do I want my blog to be?

I’ve been wrestling with these questions since I began Bonjour, Cass! way back in 2009. When I began my blog, I had a very specific idea of what a book blog was and how I needed to write in order to fit into that idea. My early posts reflect that very limited scope, to the point that my reviews were completely lacking personality and could have been written by anyone. Within months I felt trapped—trapped in a writing style I had locked myself into. I tried to change it up, to start writing more about my passion, LGBTQ books, but I still wasn’t energized. I didn’t like my writing, and I didn’t feel proud of what I was doing.

Then my life change drastically. The long term relationship I had been in when I founded Bonjour, Cass! came to an end, and all my writing routines went with it. We would discuss pretty much every book I read and we would edit my posts together. So not only was I mourning the loss of my longest relationship, I also lost, in essence, my blogging partner. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing the details of my break-up on my blog, but the reality is that a blog, even a book blog, is extremely personal, and keeping myself from writing about the emotional turmoil I was experiencing kept me away from my blog altogether. I effectively silenced myself. Since then, I’ve stayed away from my blog whenever I’ve experienced personal difficulty.

So where does that leave me now? I published a review yesterday, for the first time in longer than I’d care to admit, and it felt good. I finally know what I want my blog to be: a place for me to share my opinions on books and TV and whatever other miscellany I am passionate about.

Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.

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TLC Book Tour: ‘Very Recent History’ by Choire Sicha

9780061914300Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (C. Ad 2009) in a Large City
by Choire Sicha
ARC Received from publisher via TLC Book Tours
Published August 2013 by Harper
Read August 2013
Non-Fiction
240 pages

I really love the show ‘Community.’ I think it’s weird and fun and I often find myself responding, “Cool. Cool, cool, cool” when someone says something that I can only assume is, well, super cool. The problem with ‘Community,’ however, is that the weirdness that inspires loyalty among its die-hard fans is a weirdness directed at a niche crowd that, as indicated by its low ratings, keeps it from being embraced by a larger mainstream audience.

I couldn’t help but be reminded of Community’s weirdness while reading Choire Sicha’s Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (C. Ad 2009) in a Large City, even if they have seemingly little in common beyond that. The title alone, combined with a taller- and thinner-than-usual ARC (presumably the hardcover version will also be this size), indicated that this book would not be the average tale of financial woe in the late aughts.

The weirdness doesn’t stop there. The reader of Very Recent History is presumed by a third person narrator to be a person from the distant (or, I don’t know, apocalyptic) future; someone who requires lengthy explanations. Some of these are funny and clever—regarding sex: “Some people could achieve sexual satisfaction through only very specific means. For instance, dressing up in pirate hats, or as lions or puppies, or as corporate brands and characters” (p. 19-20)—and some far too lengthy and boring—describing money: “[…] money had been an object that promised a value, such as a piece of paper that said, with words, that it conveyed a certain amount” (p.33). That explanation of money spans four pages. I didn’t necessarily dislike these passages—some of them, like the explanation of sex, are perceptive—but they weigh down the book and grate on the reader who, after all, is only four years removed from 2009.

The other sections of Very Recent History read like a risky novel. It follows John, a 27 year old gay man, and his friends and lovers and friends/lovers. There are so many men (usually with only one or two syllable names) that by page 43 I had to start a list so I could keep track. Despite the author’s assurance that his book is non-fiction, John’s story is a post-AIDS novel that owes a debt to both the AIDS novels of the early 1990s and the pre-AIDS gay novels of the 1970s. John is a sexually active gay man who frequently does not use protection, yet the threat of HIV/AIDS looms farther than the threat of student loan payment due dates and the possibility of losing his job and how to make it to payday with only $13 left on a Wednesday.

The last third of this book is absolutely brilliant. The lengthy blurbs stop, and Sicha is finally able to rise above his capital-C Cleverness and write, and we get astute observations on the Millennial Generation’s relationship with money, like,

“[Chad’s family] thought John had issues with money that kept him from improving his life. They thought there could be little sacrifices he could make. But it was so much all tied in with his family and feeling very badly about money. He actually hated money, they thought. He wanted it to leave him as soon as it possibly could. Chad thought John saw the very idea of money as being all wrapped up in the death of his father. But Chad’s mom said that she thought John just believed he didn’t deserve any security” (p.145-146).

While passages like that didn’t make me love the book, it did convince me that Choire Sicha is an author to watch. Very Recent History is a satisfying, if uneven, debut that I can’t stop thinking about.

Grade: C+

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Filed under 2013 Reviews, Book Tour, C, GLBTQ, Non-Fiction, Print

Top 10 Tuesday: Light and Fun Books

TopTenT3W

Top Ten Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish

  1. Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling: I’ve come back to these books for the fourth time this year, an impulse I get occasionally when I’ve read too many books that I don’t like. I know what to expect, and I know that the audio versions narrated by Jim Dale will be entertaining and fun.
  2. Myron Bolitar series, Harlan Coben: It was a glorious day when I convinced my best friend to read these books, which feature sports agent Myron Bolitar and his best friend Windsor Lock-Horne III. If quoting books about best friends with your best friend isn’t light and fun, I don’t know what is.
  3. Anyone But You by Jennifer Crusie: Here’s a secret: I really enjoy romance novels. I don’t read many of them because while I’d rather read lesbian romance novels, they are too often, uh, miserable. So occasionally I’ll listen to romance fans and pick up a heterosexual romance. This Crusie novel reads like a smart romantic comedy film and it made me really happy. (Bonus for featuring an old dog who doesn’t die!)
  4. Emma by Jane Austen: I didn’t expect Emma to be my favorite Austen novel, so it managed to surprise me when I giggled all through the book and had a really fun time.
  5. Fool by Christopher Moore: I really enjoy humorous footnotes and reinterpretations of literary characters, and Fool goes above and beyond in delivering them.
  6. The Godfather by Mario Puzo: You should really listen to the full cast audio book version of this. It’s like listening to the movie on the radio.
  7. Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson: So. Much. Fun.
  8. Land’s End: A Walk In Provincetown by Michael Cunningham: I lived and worked in Provincetown for a summer, and reading Cunningham’s little memoir about the town is almost like being there.

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April Round-Up: Getting Back Into Things Edition

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Total Books Read: 20
Audio: 13
Ebook: –
Print: 7

# of pages read: 818
# of hours listened: 140 hours 45 minutes

Fiction–13

  1. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler (audio): Based on the blurb, I didn’t think this book was going to be for me, but I went out on a limb and tried it anyway. I should have listened to my instincts.
  2. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (audio): Part of my re-listening/comfort reading adventures.
  3. Farewell, Dorothy Parker by Ellen Meister (audio): I didn’t care for this novel, which features the ghost of Dorothy Parker, but I was inspired to add some of Parker’s work to my TBR list.
  4. 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill (audio): I do have a soft spot for Joe Hill. A very strong short story collection, featuring several stories that I found brilliant.
  5. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (audio): I have to say that on my third read of the Harry Potter series, I’ve realized I’m not really a fan of books 1-5. Well, maybe with the exception of the Prisoner of Azkaban.
  6. The Body by Stephen King (audio): Glad to finally be able to say I’ve read this novella!
  7. Strangers In Paradise (Vol. 1) by Terry Moore: My first read during the read-a-thon. I really, really disliked it.
  8. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (audio): I finished the audio book during the read-a-thon and, I’m sorry to say, I may be the only person who didn’t love it.
  9. A Jew In Communist Prague: Loss of Innocence by Vittorio Giardino
  10. A Jew In Communist Prague: Adolescence by Vittorio Giardino
  11. Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King (audio): I really adore Stephen King.
  12. The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King (audio)

Non-Fiction–7

  1. The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty by William Hogeland (audio): Too frequently I forget that a book isn’t going to be interesting just because it has an interesting title.
  2. American Honor Killings: Desire and Rage Among Men by David McConnell: It’s kind of sad to realize how many disappointing books I read in April. I had high hopes for American Honor Killings…
  3. Prisons Will Not Protect You edited by Ryan Conrad: This is THE book to carry around with you if you want strangers to start weird conversations with you.
  4. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright (audio): Woah boy. I’d recommend this to anyone who is even vaguely interested in what Scientology is and how it started.
  5. We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch (audio): That’s right, I listened to a book about genocide on audio. The writing is “holy smokes this is good” good.
  6. Odysseus: A Life by Charles Rowan Beye (audio): Note to self: books that use the word “hilarious” in the verb are to be considered un-hilarious until proven otherwise.
  7. Acolytes by Nikki Giovanni: I read poetry now, that’s new.

[image via Boston Magazine]

[image via Boston Magazine]

 

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Queer Library: New Additions

queerlibrary2

Queer Library is a new feature on Bonjour, Cass! On Fridays I’ll write about a queer book on my shelves, an upcoming book I’m looking forward to reading, a review, or anything else related to LGBTQ books.

I don’t buy a lot of books anymore; partly because, as you may understand, I have quite the reading habit and buying all the books I want to read would be devastating to my bank account; but mostly because I decided, after moving for the third time in as many years, that maybe now was the time for my personal library to be a bit more selective. The only books I really buy these days (that don’t exclusively come from used bookstores or thrift stores) are LGBTQ books, fiction and non-, because, well, I just can’t help myself. Here are three books I’ve recently added to my library: two new releases and one soon-to-be-rereleased novel.

TheEndofSanFrancisco

The End of San Francisco by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Blurb from Amazon:

The End of San Francisco breaks apart the conventions of memoir to reveal the passions and perils of a life that refuses to conform to the rules of straight or gay normalcy. A budding queer activist escapes to San Francisco, in search of a world more politically charged, sexually saturated, and ethically consistent—this is the person who evolves into Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore, infamous radical queer troublemaker, organizer and agitator, community builder, and anti-assimilationist commentator. Here is the tender, provocative, and exuberant story of the formation of one of the contemporary queer movement’s most savvy and outrageous writers and spokespersons.

Using an unrestrained associative style to move kaleidoscopically between past, present, and future, Sycamore conjures the untidy push and pull of memory, exposing the tensions between idealism and critical engagement, trauma and self-actualization, inspiration and loss. Part memoir, part social history, and part elegy, The End of San Francisco explores and explodes the dream of a radical queer community and the mythical city that was supposed to nurture it.

Why I Bought It: How could I resist? I own (and have read almost) all of the anthologies Sycamore edited, so how could I resist this memoir?

thebeautifullyworthless The Beautifully Worthless by Ali Liebegott

Blurb from Amazon:

A runaway waitress leaves her lover, grabs her dog, and hits the highway. Ali Liebegott maps her travels in a series of hilarious and heartbreaking letters to the girl she left behind, and some of the most exquisite poetry written about love, heartache, and madness.

Why I Bought It: Liebegott’s previous novel The IHOP Papers still has a special place in my heart because a) I remember where I bought it and where I read it and how it felt and b) I really love the cover.

afterdelores After Delores by Sarah Schulman

Blurb from Amazon:

[...] A noirish tale about a no-nonsense coffee-shop waitress in New York who is nursing a broken heart after her girlfriend Dolores leaves her; her attempts to find love again are funny, sexy, and ultimately even violent. After Delores is a fast-paced, electrifying chronicle of the Lower East Side’s lesbian subculture in the 1980s.

Why I Bought It: This book is being re-released by Arsenal Pulp Press in September and I didn’t even know it until I started writing this blog post! I bought the 1989 version, used, from the LGBT specialty bookstore Calamus Bookstore here in Boston, a few weeks ago. After I read Schulman’s memoir The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, I’ve been busily hunting down her previous work. 

 

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