What I Read in May – Part Uno

Yes, I know. It’s July – practically August – and I’m just getting to What I Read in May. But it is still July, and I intend to get June done before August as well. And maybe if I just do a little blurb on each of these books, I can stop feeling so behind (or not).

I’ve broken May into two parts – Neil Gaiman and Not Neil Gaiman. I’ll give you the Not while I’m finishing up the other.  Even a short blurb on 16 books was getting a bit long, and some turned out to be not-so-short.

The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek. Discussed here. Loved it.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Discussed here. Liked it a lot. Can’t really see Julia Roberts playing her, but that’s cool. Glad I read it already.

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull. I like to encourage kids to read, so when my friend’s son was excited about this book and wanted me to read it, I gave it a shot. Unfortunately, some children’s books are great books that happen to be read by children (Harry Potter, Chronicles of Narnia) and some are just children’s books. I got bored pretty quickly, so I didn’t finish it. Turns out, the boy didn’t finish it either! Guess he was more excited talking about it that actually reading it.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris. I read this one because a) I loved the movie and b) I have since liked everything else I’ve read by Harris and c) I wanted to be able to speak intelligently about the book, not just the film. The book is a little different in tone and detail from the film (the romance is less prominent in the book, the Comte and Vienne both more nuanced) but I felt like the film was a faithful representation of the story here.  Love Harris.

Alas, Poor Darwin: Arguments Against Evolutionary Psychology, ed. Hilary & Steven Rose. I read an article/editorial in the New York Times (I think) by Hilary Rose, and that’s where I heard about this book. It is really aimed at scientists in the fields of Psychology, Sociology and Biology, so it was a big of a slog at times. Their purpose was to refute the recent trend to discuss evolutionary psychology as a science, when really what’s being talked about most is more of a simplistic metaphor to help explain behavior. What is useful as a heuristic is being presented as scientifically-based – and the scientists in this book would like those people to knock it off. Much of it was interesting, but I didn’t retain much.

Alabaster by Caitlan R Kiernan. Discussed here. Loved this one.

Cemetery Road by Gar Anthony Haywood. This is a book I picked up at the PLA convention (same source as The Lonely Polygamist). I’ll confess – I mostly picked it up because I met the author briefly, and he was nice and very attractive. The book is a suspense/detective kind of thing. I started off not terribly impressed – and then realized it was 5am and I’d finished it. A short, fast read, in which the main character knows more than he’s telling us as he tries to figure out the strange death of a childhood friend. I was never bored, and I bore easily. In my notes, I called it ‘deceptively seductive.’

Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich. A great book about how ignoring painful truths is (duh) counter-productive. This one will get its own post. No really, I’m not just saying that.

Father of the Rain by Lily King. I reviewed this book for BookBrowse, loved it. Similar to The Summer We Fell Apart, it is the story of a charismatic, alcoholic father from the viewpoint of his 11-year-old daughter. It follows her until she’s an adult with a family of her own, as she tries to rid herself of the pain and learn new ways to trust people. The writing is fabulous, the details ring true, and I just wanted to reach into the book and give that girl a hug.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and Between, Georgia, both by Joshilyn Jackson. Both of these I listened to as audiobooks.  I found Jackson last year at my sister’s house – she had gods of Alabama, and then I found Between, Georgia on a sale rack. Jackson has a clear voice and a talent for description that makes her characters vibrant, interesting and convincingly human. I listened to The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, on a road trip a few months ago and was even more impressed with this third novel – and the audiobooks are read by the author, who is a great reader. All three books take place in modern-day southern United States, with a female protagonist that feels like a neighbor you’d like to be friends with. All three focus on the pains and joys of families with skeletons in the closet that just won’t stop rattling. I’ve got her new one, Backseat Saints, on hold at the library.

There was much to love this month – which is probably why I got through 16 (well, 15 ¼)  books, some of them pretty long. Up next, Neil Gaiman in May, then What I Read in June. Stay tuned.

what I did last Saturday

I think I first saw The Summer We Fell Apart by Robin Antalek in a San Francisco book store. I was too broke to buy it (because I was already in San Francisco on a trip I couldn’t really afford). I’m sure I wanted it because it was about siblings who grew up with neglectful (but fabulous) parents and how they deal with that.  I must have put it on hold at the library at some point after I got back, but I don’t remember doing it.  I picked it up this morning and the day disappeared while I devoured it.

The book is impressive. Antalek takes us through the pain of each particular child, one at a time, while they spend their adult lives trying to figure out how to be happy.  Every bit of it rings true.  The youngest child is the most protected from the damage done by the parents, buffered by her older siblings and their solid presence, while the older kids take longer to find distance and recover from the heavy hits they took from selfish, immature parents.  And even as they hurt each other, the siblings love each other and try to help each other climb out of the foxholes they’ve dug for themselves. The ending is hopeful, and some of the kids even find love and happiness. But what they have, in the end, is each other.

This family has more siblings, more drama, and more damage – but it’s not really that different from my own family (though my parents were not famous artistic people, but more Joe & Judy Average).  Except in this family, you get to see how everyone feels. Everyone but the dad, who dies from a brain tumor (though even with him we get glimpses). In real life, you don’t necessarily get to see inside your parents’ heads for a glimpse of what the hell they were thinking about while your childhood went down the drain.

I think the hardest sibling to read about is the oldest, Kate.  How she made excuses for the faults of her father while being a parent to her three younger siblings. How she finally took off and never looked back. How she let her need for her father’s approval destroy the only healthy, loving, romantic relationship in her life. How she still tried to make everything ok for her siblings, even as adults, and failed miserably and felt completely unappreciated by them. I saw pieces of myself and both of my sisters in this poor woman. Lucky for us, we’ve all healed a lot more than she has by the end of this book.

I find it hard to believe that Antalek might have grown up in a loving, supportive environment – that’s how realistic this book feels. I have no clue if/how much of it may be autobiographical, and I really don’t care. I just know that she has constructed a family of extraordinary veracity and complexity, and reading their story feels like witnessing a crime and its aftermath.