The Rest of the Books I Read in 2016

Today Will Be Different (Maria Semple)- I loved the last book of hers that I read, “Where’d You Go Bernadette”so I had high expectations for this one. It managed to exceed those expectations. It was hilarious and had me cracking up but it also had emotional depth and substance to it. The premise of the story is that a rather quirky woman who’s led a rather quirky life makes a resolution to start living her life differently today. Today will be the day she starts being present in the moment, makes eye contact, doesn’t curse, initiates sex with her husband, etc,. The entire book takes place in one day and let’s just say it’s a day that doesn’t exactly go as planned, a day that throws everyone for a loop.

I had the pleasure of meeting Maria Semple when my local Barnes & Noble hosted a discussion and signing of the book. She’s as awesome in person as she is in writing. There was laughter at the event and there were also tears from her and from the audience. She said that people often expect her to be like Tina Fey and are surprised but how serious she is. That doesn’t surprise me because I’m the same way. I can be quite the comedian but I have a dark, sad and serious side.

I Am Malala (Malala Yousafzai)- If the fictional A Thousand Splendid Suns wasn’t enough to show me the horrors of the Taliban, there was this autobiographical account of a girl who lived under it. Shooting a child in the head because she advocated for girls to have access to education is just beyond the pale, not to mention all the other atrocities the Taliban is responsible for. I’m sad that Malala had to endure all that hardship but I’m glad that through it all she persevered and fought hard to achieve her dreams and help others.  She is a brilliant, amazing person and her story is an interesting and inspiring one but I have to say it didn’t have the kind of emotional impact on me that A Thousand Splendid Suns did. It was told in a rather detached manner but I have to remember that as remarkable a teenager as Malala is, she is still just a teenager.  I heard that she recently spoke out to say that she is devastated by the immigration ban that Trump has instituted. I am devastated for her.

Furiously Happy (Jenny Lawson)– This is a series of humorous essays written by a woman who suffers from depression and anxiety. The premise is that when life gets her down, instead of being sad, she’s going to be furiously happy in irrational, outrageous, bizarre and fun ways. The humor in this book might be too silly and ridiculous for some but I appreciated it and found it funny. My favorite essays were the ones about the arguments with her husband that ended with a score card. Humor aside, she has some wise and comforting insights in to depression and anxiety. The part of the book where her readers reach out to her, share their own experiences with depression and anxiety and realize they’re not alone is rather touching.

Well, that concludes the books I read in 2016. GoodReads just gave me a summary of my 2016 in books. It ended by saying that I read 31 out of 50 books and wishing me better luck in 2017. I’ve once again set a goal of 50 books and so far I’m on track. Maybe this year I’ll reach my goal, maybe I’ll fail at it it once again. Regardless of the outcome, I’ll experience the joy of reading and you can look forward to more book reviews.

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Book Review: Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume

The title of this book made me dread the question of “So, what are you reading?”  The chapters of the book were divided by seasons and it took me an embarassingly long time for me to figure out that the book is thus titled because each word in the title is similar in sound to a corresponding season. This book is about a pariah named Ray (although his name is mentioned so seldomly in the book that I didn’t even remember that was his name until I saw it mentioned in book reviews) who adopts a one eyed dog he calls One Eye. Ray appears to have some sort of developmental disability or mental illness but a specific diagnosis is never given. His mother died when he was young and he was raised by an abusive father. He’s been isolated and ostracized his entire life. When he does interact with people he often gets himself in trouble, as his actions and behaviors generate fear and misunderstanding.

One Eye the dog has also been feared and ostracized by people because of his appearance and his aggressive streak. Ray and One Eye form a strong bond. When One Eye attacks another dog, Ray realizes that they are once again in trouble and decides to flee with his new pet.

I empathized and related to Ray because I know what it’s like to be a weirdo and  a social reject, to be very different from most other people. I know what it’s like to be isolated and ostracized, to be misinterpreted and misunderstood, to inspire anger, fear, discomfort and disgust in others. It seemed appropriate that it was while I was reading this book at Barnes&Noble that someone decided to question me about my pacing, giving me yet another reminder of how abnormal I am ( See my “A Night at the Bookstore” blog.)

Ray talks about being called a troll. I’ve been called a troll as well. In my case the term troll referred to someone who messes with people on the internet but it all comes down to the same thing in the end. Someone posted a meme thing-y on the internet that says “Kira is a troll” with pictures of trolls in the background. As with Ray, people would often assume malice and ill intent on my part when there  was none. There’s no question that there was malice and ill intent on the part of whoever posted that troll meme and I’m sure the same could be said of some of the people who went after Ray.

There’s a scene in the book where it’s revealed that Ray witnessed his father choking on a sausage but just let him choke to death rather than trying to save him. I couldn’t condemn Ray too harshly for making that choice because his father was so awful that it seemed like a case where it may have been better to just let nature take its course. Then again, even though Ray’s father did some pretty horrible things to Ray, maybe he was deserving of some compassion because it sounded like he struggled with mental illness. Maybe he passed some of his mental problems on to Ray through nature, nurture or a combination of the two.

I could also relate to Ray because I form deep bonds with my dogs. I love them very much, I fear losing them and am devastated when I do lose them. As I mentioned in another blog, like many people, I hate seeing dogs die in fiction (or nonfiction for that matter.)  One Eye’s life was obviously in peril and I kept thinking ‘Please don’t let the dog die, please don’t let the dog die.” As I approached the end of the book it seemed that Ray was going to commit suicide and take the dog with him. I thought “Oh, please, anything but that.”

The actual ending of the book is rather ambiguous and open to interpretation. I’ll choose to believe that the dog lived.

Oh and I forgot to mention that it drove me crazy the way Ray kept giving One Eye chocolate. Don’t give your dogs chocolate, people. It’s toxic to them.