Books Read in August

In order to gain a better understanding of how I choose what to read, I’ll be doing monthly recaps of the fiction and non-fiction books I tackled, and why.

I normally try and alternate between fiction and non-fiction books but this month I found I focused more on narrative stories than anything else. Each of the novels I read were published in the last 3 years, and that’s a trend I’d like to buck in the coming months with more of a focus on time-tested works. The non-fiction was a recommendation from a friend, interrupting what has been a decent streak focusing on history, which I hope to continue as well.

Fiction

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain – This was our August selection for our group’s book club. The story, which focuses on a squad of young Iraqi war veterans doing a publicity tour throughout the US in 2003, was really interesting. It gives a perspective on American public opinion that is (once again) relevant, given our current tenuous situation in the Middle East. The characters are distinct and well-developed, owing in good part to a visceral writing style. This was a very enjoyable read.

California by Edan Lepucki – This is the September selection for the same book club. Though set in the possibilities-filled world of a country just-collapsed (most of the details are kept vague), and following a couple trying to survive on their own in this near-future, the book never gains much momentum. It seems more concerned with keeping secrets hidden than permitting the characters’ conflicts the chance to breathe. The results of this submission are a conclusion which only hints at something darker, but instead ends up reserved and noncommittal.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami – I will preface this by saying I have not read as much Murakami as I’d like to have read by this point (oh, 1Q84, how you taunt me), and so can’t comment – the way some reviews of this book have – about the many repeated themes and tropes in his books. Mostly this story made me reflect on how I thought of myself in relation to my high school and college friends, how our dynamics changed over the years, and to what extent I was responsible for any of those changes. The book is an interesting study of the dissolution of a nearly perfect circle of friends, and how it changed each of their lives. It reminded me of a solemn, introspective version of Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings.

Non-Fiction

Dinosaur in a Haystack: Reflections in Natural History by Stephen Jay Gould –

 

Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind –

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach – After finishing The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, I asked my friend and science communicator Cara what I should read next in the genre. This was one of her two favorites, and it did not disappoint. The world of what happens to our bodies after death (not in the George Saunders sense) is expansive and fascinating, and for someone like myself who hasn’t given that whole process much thought beyond a sticker on a license, totally engrossing.

If you have any recommendations of books to read, either based on the books above or not, please let me know.

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