Fat Books & Thin Women

Reading Journal: Vacation Edition!

Holy moly, have I been a bad blogger lately. I would like to pin this on a lot of things, namely travel and how much time I spend every day nodding off over books on Albania, but this may just be my natural laziness showing itself. Still, I want to highlight a few of the books I’ve been reading but probably won’t get around to reviewing.

First up is Jessica Anya Blau’s The Summer of Naked Swim Parties, which I had picked up during a 99-cent ebook sale ages ago. I finally got around to reading it while I was in Greece. After a four-day conference in Thessaloniki I went to Santorini for some quality time stuffing my face with Greek food and sitting on beaches reading. Blau’s novel is a sort of perfect coming-of-age story, and finds that rare spot between totally mindless beach read and smart, clever look at (in this case) being a teenager. The novel’s main character, Jamie, is a teenaged girl who watches, with a healthy amount of disgust, her parents and their friends as they conduct the naked swim parties of the title. It’s the ’70s in California, and Jamie is more conservative than her parents, who she describes as “burnouts.” Blau leads the novel to an obvious conclusion, but it’s fun to read and find how she gets there. Jamie’s voice is so strong and earnest and honest that I can’t imagine reading this novel anyway but how I did – getting caught up in it until it becomes the only you can think about. (When you are not thinking about the next time it’ll be acceptable to eat more tzatziki, anyway.)

It was a great trip for YA, I guess, because the other book I read was Lauren Oliver’s dystopian novel, Delirium. I kind of fell in love with Before I Fall, and Delirium didn’t live up to my expectations. It’s not that it doesn’t have its moments; as Oliver weaves the history of Lena’s world into the story, telling us how the United States came to define love as a disease and force people to have a procedure to free themselves of the curse of love, there is a lot for the reader to explore and consider. When the story opens Lena is approaching her eighteenth birthday, when she’ll have her procedure, and dealing with all that comes before it – finishing high school, running through exams to determine her future mate – is for most of the novel her focus, rather than the question of what it means to “save” herself from the possibility of love. As with the above novel, it’s never hard to guess where Oliver will take the story, but it was sometimes frustrating to watch as Oliver puts Lena through her paces in the chapters leading to the close.

I’ve backed off from the YA recently, but I’ve been leaning a lot on the beach reads sort of books to help my brain recover from the reading I do for work. Unfortunately (for everyone who doesn’t have a deep and abiding interest in Albanian literature) there are probably a few more reviews of Ismail Kadare novels on their way, before we’re back to regular reviews.

In other news, just got home from a great trip to Montenegro and Croatia. Yeah, I got to see Dubrovnik – perhaps better known as one of the locations for Game of Thrones! I also got to spend a night in a former Communist hotel in Shkoder, Albania, which was fun in its own special, dead-plants-lining-the-hallway, kind of way. While up there I read The Help, a book I may or may not have said I would never read, because I had a string of ideas about how the novel reinforced racial stereotypes and the idea that black women needed white women to speak for them in the Civil Rights era. But then, it turned out I really liked it, and thought Stockett dealt with some of the issues I was worried about in a pretty nuanced way, although there were clumsy aspects to the novel. As Matt pointed out in his recent review of the novel, a particularly glaring one was the way that the black maids would write or speak in dialect, while quoting the white women in perfect English. Full review of this coming soon, or soonish.


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I was wondering where you were.

Comment by Benoît Lelièvre (@BenoitLelievre)

I noticed that you were missing, but was such an absentee blogger myself for the past few months that I couldn’t be sure! Your travels sound great and provoke my jealousy. I was really torn about The Help – I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and sped through it, but had a lot of issues with it at the same time. Looking forward to your review!

Comment by Jennifer Maurer

Hurrah for your return! I’ve been noncommittal about both Delirium and The Help. I don’t want to read them to reinforce my admittedly smug pre-conceived notions that I’ll have funny, exasperated feelings for them both… but I do think it’s the right thing to do, to give them a fair shake. I’m also not motivated by YA that is, itself, motivated by romance as a sole plot propeller, which means that 99.9% of YA holds no interest for me, frankly.
I am quite interested in what your thoughts on The Help will be… and I’m looking forward to those Ismail Kadare reviews, too!

Comment by Shivanee @ Novel Niche

Yeah, I’m generally not interested in books that are romance-focused either…I had hoped Delirium would offer a bit more than the central romance (dystopia! and, well…that was it) but it wasn’t a real satisfying read at end. I shared your feelings on The Help and have been saying, pretty much since I heard of it, that I wouldn’t read it – but I’m glad I did, as it allowed me to see the novel was a bit more nuanced than I had expected.

Still, so many reviews to catch up on. I better get started!

Comment by Ellen Rhudy

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