Four weeks ago today, I was walking across the stage in Mizzou Arena, receiving my social work diploma (or at least a really fancy holder for it). The next day was the official completion of my sociology degree. Since then, I’ve been attempting to adjust to life without school. For years, I’ve longed for days where I can do absolutely whatever I like, which mainly translates to finally getting to read books for fun, instead of a reading list for school. I still like setting random goals and challenges for myself, so when my friend Megan posted about her summer reading challenge, I decided it sounded like fun. For more information about the full challenge, check out her blog: http://megancstroup.blogspot.com/p/semi-charmed-book-challenge.html
So far, I have completed three of the categories.
1. Read a pair of books that have antonyms in the titles.
The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson
Total number of pages: 734 (paperback edition)
Goodreads Summary: Mikael Blomkvist, crusading journalist and publisher of the magazine Millennium, has decided to run a story that will expose an extensive sex trafficking operation between Eastern Europe and Sweden, implicating well-known and highly placed members of Swedish society, business, and government. But he has no idea just how explosive the story will be until, on the eve of publication, the two investigating reporters are murdered. And even more shocking for Blomkvist: the fingerprints found on the murder weapon belong to Lisbeth Salander — the troubled, wise-beyond-her-years genius hacker who came to his aid in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, and who now becomes the focus and fierce heart of The Girl Who Played With Fire. As Blomkvist, alone in his belief in Salander’s innocence, plunges into an investigation of the slayers, Salander herself is drawn into a murderous hunt in which she is the prey, and which compels her to revisit her dark past in an effort to settle with it once and for all.
What the summary leaves out: The first 150 pages of the book are essentially filler. Maybe I will feel differently once I read The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but 50-75 pages of Lisbeth chilling on the beach just did not feel necessary. I kept putting the book down and walking away from it, but once I made it to around page 200, I could not put down the book. The next 500 pages were a whirlwind adventure of trying to prove Lisbeth’s innocence while trying to figure out who killed the three victims. The actual translation of the first book’s title (Men Who Hate Women) is still extremely applicable to this book. Even though the book is essentially about a bunch of misogynist assholes who enjoy torturing women, I at least found comfort in the fact that nothing about their actions was glorified. Lisbeth is a total badass who, while still definitely a sociopath, could be a hero to women everywhere who long for a female heroine who can stick up for herself. The book comes to a bit of an abrupt end and leaves many things unanswered for the third novel in the series. The first book was certainly more tightly written, but the second one is definitely an excellent follow-up for fans of Dragon Tattoo.
About a Boy by Nick Hornby
Total number of pages: 307
Goodreads Summary: Will is thirty-six, comfortable, and child-free. And he’s discovered a brilliant new way of meeting women — through single-parent groups. Marcus is twelve and a little bit nerdish: he’s got the kind of mother who made him listen to Joni Mitchell rather than Nirvana. Perhaps they can help each other out a little bit, and both can start to act their age.
What the summary leaves out: The book was written in 1998 and set in 1994, before many children were diagnosed with autism. Where Marcus is described as nerdish, he really comes across more as autistic. He doesn’t pick up on social cues and has lots of trouble interacting with people. Will is pretty much the textbook manchild. He has no idea who he is and is pretty much just a selfish prick. Marcus’s mother is suicidal and clearly suffers from major depression. I really just wanted to have a DSM on hand and diagnose every character in the book with some sort of psychological disorder. I have a really hard time reading books about people who are unlikable. Will has some good things about him (he is at least somewhat caring toward Marcus), but I mainly just hated him. When I hate the main character, it makes it really difficult to get invested in the book. After I finished reading it, I did not feel any strong emotion one way or the other. I just moved on. Overall, it was fairly forgettable and I will likely never think about it again.
2. Read a book set in a place you’ve always wanted to go.
For this category, I decided to read Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult. I had tried to read it during the school year, but got overwhelmed with assignments and had to return it to the library before I finished it. Since I have always wanted to visit New England (or really anywhere on the East Coast), I decided this book was suitable for the category.
Total number of pages: 466
Goodreads summary: One miscarriage too many spelled the end of Max and Zoe Baxter’s marriage. Though the former couple went quite separate ways, their fates remained entangled: After veering into alcoholism, Max is saved in multiple senses by his fundamentalist conversion; Zoe, for her part, finds healing relief in music therapy and the friendship, then romantic love with Vanessa, her counselor. After Zoe and Vanessa, now married, decide to have a baby, they realize they must join battle with Max, who objects on both religious and financial grounds. Like her House Rules and several other previous Jodi Picoult novels, Sing You Home grapples with hot button issues.
What the summary leaves out: The summary on Goodreads actually gets a couple of things wrong. First of all, Vanessa is not Zoe’s counselor. Vanessa is a counselor at a local high school that has occasionally worked with Zoe when students have needed music therapy. Their relationship starts out as strictly professional and then eventually becomes personal. Vanessa also introduces Zoe to Lucy, a suicidal teenager who could benefit from music therapy and ends up playing a crucial role in the battle between Max and Zoe. Also, Max does not necessarily object on financial grounds. While Max and Zoe were married, they tried in vitro fertilization and had several embryos stored to try and impregnate Zoe later. When settling the divorce, the two completely forgot about the embryos. Later, Zoe wants them so she and Vanessa can try to have a baby, while Max wants to give them to his brother Reid and sister-in-law Liddy, so the potential child could be raised in a “good Christian home.” As is typical of Picoult’s other novels, each chapter is written from a different character’s point of view. In this book, Picoult switches between Zoe, Vanessa, and Max, so the reader really gets to see all sides of the story. The main issues at hand in the novel are whether embryos should be considered people or property and if homosexual couples are fit parents for children. The fundamentalist Christian church that Max joins is essentially shown as the clear villain in the story. They bring about the idea for the lawsuit and provide the most repugnant attorney possible. Normally, Picoult’s books feature chapters written from the lawyers’ points of view, which was something I missed in this story. Regardless, the book presents multiple sides of a really complicated issue and makes the reader consider new viewpoints. While not her strongest book ever, it is certainly worth the time to read.
3. Read a book in one calendar day.
I spent Thursday driving from Columbia to Kansas City in order to fly to Milwaukee. All that travel meant I had a ton of time to read. Fortunately, my wonderful fiance John was nice enough to drive us to KC, so that I could spend the morning reading. Not only did I have a ton of free time to read, I was reading Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants, which was impossible to put down.
Total number of pages: 277
Goodreads summary: Before Liz Lemon, before “Weekend Update,” before “Sarah Palin,” Tina Fey was just a young girl with a dream: a recurring stress dream that she was being chased through an airport by her middle-school gym teacher. She also had a dream that one day she would be a comedian on TV. She has seen both these dreams come true. At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon — from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence. Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.
What the summary leaves out: There are parts where you will nearly pee your pants from laughing so hard, which makes for really awkward situations when you’re sitting next to a stranger on a plane, shaking from trying to keep in laughter. This isn’t so much a traditional memoir. Although there is a somewhat linear path throughout Fey’s life, she mainly highlights specific funny instances and how they impacted her in various ways. She writes about first feeling like a woman and what getting her first period was like. She writes about her time working at summer drama camps and her first experiences with gays and lesbians. Most fascinating for me, though, were her chapters on trying to make it as a female comedian. There is a lot of debate over whether women are funny. Some say that women can’t be funny. Others say those people are idiots. Fey explains her experiences with the institutionalized sexism of the comedy industry, but does not do it in a way that comes off as whiny or angry. I especially enjoyed the chapter about the birth of 30 Rock and had completely forgotten that Donald Glover started out as a writer on the show. I also did not realize that Fey was a writer on SNL for three years before appearing as a performer. Overall, Fey further proves that she is one of the greatest comedy writers of her time and provides a solidly entertaining piece of literature.