From the Stacks: September

by Karen Biscopink

*In order to keep better track of what I've read each month, what I loved, and what I think my friends would love, a monthly round-up is in order.*

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

Summary: An obese medium (Alison) in rural England meets a down-on-her-luck divorcee (Colette), and ends up taking her in as a sort of "life and finances" manager. The increasingly-loud spirit world, and the medium's traumatic childhood, converge upon their quirky existence. 

This book is both incredibly spooky and incredibly... I almost said funny, but that's not the right word (even though I laughed out loud on multiple occasions). Witty / clever / pointed are probably better choices. Alison's reports of what's occurring in the spirit world (from Princess Di's death to little old women hiding in broken teacups) are perfectly melodramatic and cause her a great deal of exasperation. A gang of thugs that terrorized her childhood slowly begin to regroup "on the other side," and their reappearance in her life unleashes all kinds of mayhem.

The first book of Hilary Mantel's that I've read, Beyond Black was excellent. Nightmare-inducing, but excellent.

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

Summary: An outrageous, satirical short story collection investigating the life of the "housewife" (a word that takes on different meanings in many of the pieces).

This collection is legitimately hilarious and will take about 4 hours to read. Southern snark is encapsulated at it's finest ("Well bless her heart") and there are guest appearances from vengeful ghosts, John Lithgow, a violent gang of Tampax employees. Fun, well written, and fantastically creative.

A Cure for Suicide by Jesse Ball

Summary: There is an examiner, and there is a claimant. They reside in a series of seemingly isolated towns known only as "Gentlest Villages." The claimant knows nothing of his past life, doesn't remember how to read or walk, how to dress himself or engage with other human beings. Stories are constructed, past lives are dismantled, and we gradually see more of this disintegrating, frightening world.

Favorite book of the month. Jesse Ball writes fictitious oddities that I find irresistible and charming in their "tweaked fable" type of way. 

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Summary: A YA book about a teenage girl whose boyfriend becomes a notorious high school shooter. 

I admittedly pick up anything YA when I need a "popcorn book." (This is my mom's terms for a book that can be, somewhat mindlessly, gobbled down quickly. After tackling a bunch of dense fiction this month, I needed a break. I came in with very low expectations, and I was pleasantly surprised.

While not difficult to read, the writing is solid and the storytelling is engaging. Flipping back and forth between the protagonist's present-day life (and the terrible ramifications of the shooting) and the day of the tragedy, Jennifer Brown highlights individuals, and tiny moments, that continuously expand the intrigue. 

All This Life: A Novel by Joshua Mohr

Summary: One day during rush hour, a marching band processes to the middle of the Golden Gate bridge, and each of its members dives to their death. The plot then revolves around several colorful individuals who are connected, in some way, to the event in San Francisco. 

Disclaimer: Josh is one of my favorite authors and I'm certain I'll love anything he ever writes. This particular novel is vastly different from earlier novels like Fight Song, which had me in a constant state of laughter. All This Life is a little heavier on the dark half of "dark humor." Not going to lie, I felt super depressed most of the time I was reading this book, watching people kept isolated in myriad ways wonder: "Can this really be all there is to life?"

And still: Five stars. 


Glow by Ned Beauman

Summary: "What distinguishes a novel from a designer drug?  Words along, in the case of Ned Beauman’s third book…  This epically digressive saga follows Raf, a young South London raver, who stumbles on a multinational corporation’s shift from mining to dissemination of a customized hallucinogen.   Beauman’s prose is a mixture of speed, filigreed narration and Pynchon-esque social satire [and] Glow burns with inventive energy, generating a dark vision but much delight.”  —Kenneth Baker, The San Francisco Chronicle

Holy cow this guy can write. I was astonished like, fifteen times at the beautiful sentence constructions and incredible craftsmanship of Glow. The storyline is fascinating and the characters are terribly interesting, but the writerly skill is what actually won me over. 

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris

Summary: No summary really needed. David Sedaris writes some essays and satirical short stories about cultural norms and politics and growing up. 

This is the first David Sedaris book I've read and I am really disappointed. Other than an essay about his difficult trip to China (which I enjoyed for mainly empathetic reasons), this book felt like wasted reading time. Maybe his other stuff is better?