Readathon · stuff I read

Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style by Benjamin Dreyer

40063024Summary from Goodreads:
A witty, informative guide to writing “good English” from Random House’s longtime copy chief and one of Twitter’s leading enforcers of proper grammar–a twenty-first-century Elements of Style.

As authoritative as it is amusing, this book distills everything Benjamin Dreyer has learned from the hundreds of books he has copyedited, including works by Elizabeth Strout, E. L. Doctorow, and Frank Rich, into a useful guide not just for writers but for everyone who wants to put their best foot forward in writing prose. Dreyer offers lessons on the ins and outs of punctuation and grammar, including how to navigate the words he calls “the confusables,” like tricky homophones; the myriad ways to use (and misuse) a comma; and how to recognize–though not necessarily do away with–the passive voice. (Hint: If you can plausibly add “by zombies” to the end of a sentence, it’s passive.) People are sharing their writing more than ever–on blogs, on Twitter–and this book lays out, clearly and comprehensibly, everything writers can do to keep readers focused on the real reason writers write: to communicate their ideas clearly and effectively. Chock-full of advice, insider wisdom, and fun facts on the rules (and nonrules) of the English language, this book will prove invaluable to everyone who wants to shore up their writing skills, mandatory for people who spend their time editing and shaping other people’s prose, and–perhaps best of all–an utter treat for anyone who simply revels in language.

Benjamin Dreyer’s Dreyer’s English had the honor of being the first book I finished for the 24in48 Readathon!

As my staff rec card says: Do you need a new style guide? YES. Dreyer is the chief copyeditor at Random House and knows his business. He’s also sly and droll and has a way with a footnote or a turn-of-phrase. (He’s also a proponent of the Oxford comma, meaning I didn’t have to break up with either this book or his Twitter, and he’s got an adorable doggo on his Twitter.)

If you want to read an entertaining book about something useful – like learning to write well – that is not even remotely like our school nemesis, the wretched Strunk & White, then you need this book. Grammar nerd bookyes! Copy-editing nerd book, yes! Book with many funny footnotes, yes!

Dreyer’s English is out tomorrow wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a ditigal galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. And I have a copy on pre-order, too.

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Readathon · stuff I read

At the End of the Century: The Stories of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, with an Introduction by Anita Desai

42595346Summary from Goodreads:
Multilayered, subtle, insightful short stories from the inimitable Booker Prize-winning author, with an introduction by Anita Desai

Nobody has written so powerfully of the relationship between and within India and the Western middle classes than Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. In this selection of stories, chosen by her surviving family, her ability to tenderly and humorously view the situations faced by three (sometimes interacting) cultures—European, post-Independence Indian, and American—is never more acute.

In “A Course of English Studies,” a young woman arrives at Oxford from India and struggles to adapt, not only to the sad, stoic object of her infatuation, but also to a country that seems so resistant to passion and color. In the wrenching “Expiation,” the blind, unconditional love of a cloth shop owner for his wastrel younger brother exposes the tragic beauty and foolishness of human compassion and faith. The wry and triumphant “Pagans” brings us middle-aged sisters Brigitte and Frankie in Los Angeles, who discover a youthful sexuality in the company of the languid and handsome young Indian, Shoki. This collection also includes Jhabvala’s last story, “The Judge’s Will,” which appeared in The New Yorker in 2013 after her death.

The profound inner experience of both men and women is at the center of Jhabvala’s writing: she rivals Jane Austen with her impeccable powers of observation. With an introduction by her friend, the writer Anita Desai, At the End of the Century celebrates a writer’s astonishing lifetime gift for language, and leaves us with no doubt of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala’s unique place in modern literature.

I sat down to read a few more stories in At the End of the Century during the 24in48 Readathon only to find that my galley had expired!!! Qu’elle horreur!! (Please forgive my terrible French.) I had only read the Introduction by Anita Desai and the first three stories, so not enough to really give an truly informed review of the book, but I did love what I had read. Jhabvala was the writer behind the famed “Merchant-Ivory” production company that produced films like A Room With a View (winner of the Academy Award for Adapted Script), Howard’s End (also won the Academy Award for Adapted Script), The Remains of the Day (nominated for the Academy Award), and adaptations of her own short stories and novels including The Householder and Heat and Dust (winner of the 1975 Booker Prize). So I had already loved her writing and requested access to the digital galley. Now, these are not short stories you can just rush though and hop from one to the other. I found that I needed a bit of time between the stories to process to I wouldn’t mix up the characters. In the handful of stories I read, I could see why Jhabvala is often compared to Jane Austen. There was an eye for the minutia of middle class life in India, with a bit of ironic distance, that compares with Austen’s eye for detail among the landed gentry in late Georgian England. I just failed to outrun the expiration date on the galley. This is a collection that I would like to pick up and finish – she has a unique perspective as a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany, who married an Indian man in London and moved with him back to India in the 1950s, raised her children and began writing in the 1950s and 1960s, then also lived in the United States near the end of her career.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but it expired before I could finish reading.

 

Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · stuff I read

Meaty by Samantha Irby

35952943Summary from Goodreads:
The widely beloved, uproarious, first essay collection and the basis for the upcoming FX Studios series from smart, edgy, hilarious, and unabashedly raunchy Samantha Irby.

Samantha Irby exploded onto the printed page with this debut collection of essays about trying to laugh her way through failed relationships, taco feasts, bouts with Crohn’s disease, and more. Every essay is crafted with the same scathing wit and poignant candor thousands of loyal readers have come to expect from visiting her notoriously hilarious blog.

Read for 24in48 Readathon!

I do love me a Samantha Irby essay collection (see: We Are Never Meeting in Real Life). She is so funny and dry. After the success of WANMiRL Vintage reissued her first collection, Meaty (originally pubbed by Curbside Splendor). This collection is so well-balanced, with laugh-out-loud lines about hanging out with moms, a spec she wrote for a TV show, and crusty garbage that guys pull out to get in your pants, but then she’ll hit you with a gorgeous piece like “My Mother, My Daughter” about taking care of her mom when she was really sick. Definitely pick this up before you check out Sam’s upcoming writing for TV!

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book when it came out last year.

Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

35259631Summary from Goodreads:
A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking about Jasmine Guillory’s debut romance novel. And when Roxane Gay starts tweeting about an excellent, smart, and sexy romance novel she’s reading you put it on your TBR. During the 24in48 Readathon this weekend a needed a much lighter book to balance some unexpected heaviness (Kent Haruf, I was not planning to read your book but I needed a short audiobook and whyyyyyyy did you do that to me?) so I pulled up my galley of The Wedding Date and dove right in.

Cue all the squealing. Guillory has provided us with a super-cute contemporary romance about a smart woman who gets stuck in an elevator with a hot guy who turns out to need a date for a wedding that weekend. Which turns into a one night stand. And then turns into something else entirely unlike what Alexa and Drew expected. I was hooked almost immediately by the meet-cute. Super-hot dude gets stuck in an elevator with you and makes jokes about needing snacks? Yes, please. And then he asks you to be his hot date for a wedding? I’d be willing to over-look the “oops I panicked and said you were my girlfriend” thing, too. The plot kept me turning pages until late into the night (good thing it was Saturday). 

I loved Alexa. Sharp, decisive, and with a love of doughnuts (yes, girl, always with the sprinkles). Guillory gave her a great job and purpose that just leap right off the page; Alexa doesn’t exist within the confines of this book, she could be a real person who is a mayor’s chief of staff trying to start a program for troubled kids. I liked Drew as a character, but I had trouble finding reasons for his commitment problems outside of being a busy doctor.  He didn’t come across as a Player player, no one accused him of cheating or two-timing or anything, so I couldn’t quite figure him out.

Holding up Alexa and Drew’s relationship was whip-smart multi-layered writing, infusing the book with discussions about body positivity, race, and privilege.  When Alexa arrives at the rehearsal dinner, she asks if she’s going to be the only Black person there, letting the reader know that not only will Alexa stick out as a new face attached to Drew (who has some history with the bridal party), she will be unable to blend in with the guests at any point; later, the discussions about which parts of Berkeley are supportive of her diversion program are similarly revealing. Alexa also has some thoughts about places she wished wouldn’t jiggle quite so much while having sex, which I’m sure most women have had, but Guillory makes it clear that Drew finds Alexa’s curves very sexy (every once in a while I’ll read a romance where there’s a “hero-loves-heroine-despite-her-chubbiness” vibe and that’s a definite “ew” but totally not a thing here). Ordering food and enjoying a meal are also big parts of this story, whether the main characters are alone, together, or in a group; there’s no food-shaming. Guillory also gets a Gold Star for condom usage EVERY time one was called for in addition to writing very consent-positive sex scenes.

The Wedding Date is on sale today! Pick it up at your favorite bookstore. (And apparently there’s going to be a sequel, with Drew’s buddy Carlos.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (transl. Elizabeth Bryer)

29633622Summary from Goodreads:
Blood of the Dawn follows three women whose lives intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as “the time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. The novel rewrites the conflict through the voice of women, activating memory through a mixture of politics, desire, and pain in a lucid and brutal prose.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez (b. 1975, Lima, Peru), critic, scholar, and author, founded PERUFEST, the first Peruvian film festival in New York, where she lives, and won the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize for her debut novel, Blood of the Dawn.

Blood of the Dawn came across my radar when Amanda recommended it on a recent episode of All the Books.  So I picked it up at the library and put it in my readathon stack. And it is an absolutely heartbreaking and stunning short novel set during the time of the Shining Path insurgency told through the voices of three women: a revolutionary true-believer, a Quechua villager, and an upper-class reporter/photographer. Brutal, pain-soaked, and surreal.

TW for rape, which is an unavoidable event during this period in Peru and used against women on both sides of the conflict, and other brutality.

mini-review · Readathon · stuff I read

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé by Morgan Parker

30304222Summary from Goodreads:
There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé uses political and pop-cultural references as a framework to explore 21st century black American womanhood and its complexities: performance, depression, isolation, exoticism, racism, femininity, and politics. The poems weave between personal narrative and pop-cultural criticism, examining and confronting modern media, consumption, feminism, and Blackness. This collection explores femininity and race in the contemporary American political climate, folding in references from jazz standards, visual art, personal family history, and Hip Hop. The voice of this book is a multifarious one: writing and rewriting bodies, stories, and histories of the past, as well as uttering and bearing witness to the truth of the present, and actively probing toward a new self, an actualized self. This is a book at the intersections of mythology and sorrow, of vulnerability and posturing, of desire and disgust, of tragedy and excellence.

Book #2 for Readathon! So much to unpack in this slim volume. Bravo, Morgan Parker!

Going to have to sit with this one a bit. It makes me itchy – both the good and uncomfortable kinds of itchy – and there is such rhythm to the lines without actual “meter.”

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy.

 

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read · YA all the way

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee (Guide #1)

29283884Summary from Goodreads:
Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is ridiculous, rompy, and touching YA novel about Monty (a grade-A, Capital D, Capital R “dissipated rake” and bisexual, sent on the Grand Tour by his dad to shape up or face disinheritance), Percy (Monty’s bestie and unrequited crush), and Felicity (Monty’s younger sister and a bluestocking) in the 1730s. There are pirates, accidental garden nudity, French political shenanigans, and an alchemical secret that chases them across Europe. This was a delightful one-sitting read.

Dear FTC: I read Read My Own Damn copy.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee (The Machineries of Empire #1)

27276118Summary from Goodreads:
The first installment of the trilogy, Ninefox Gambit, centers on disgraced captain Kel Cheris, who must recapture the formidable Fortress of Scattered Needles in order to redeem herself in front of the Hexarchate.

To win an impossible war Captain Kel Cheris must awaken an ancient weapon and a despised traitor general.

Captain Kel Cheris of the hexarchate is disgraced for using unconventional methods in a battle against heretics. Kel Command gives her the opportunity to redeem herself by retaking the Fortress of Scattered Needles, a star fortress that has recently been captured by heretics. Cheris’s career isn’t the only thing at stake. If the fortress falls, the hexarchate itself might be next.

Cheris’s best hope is to ally with the undead tactician Shuos Jedao. The good news is that Jedao has never lost a battle, and he may be the only one who can figure out how to successfully besiege the fortress.

The bad news is that Jedao went mad in his first life and massacred two armies, one of them his own. As the siege wears on, Cheris must decide how far she can trust Jedao–because she might be his next victim.

Ninefox Gambit is an absolutely brilliant mind-fuck of a novel, hitting both sides of your brain: the right with an “oooh, gorgeous” appreciation of the world-building, the left with awe over the almost mathematical intricacies of the plot. There is so much to enjoy in this book: the religious details, the little servant robots, the politics, the characters (Jedao’s voice is basically Anthony Hopkins’s creepy Hannibal Lecter personality which if that doesn’t give you the creeps….yeek). The last three chapters are a masterclass in writing. I’ve got loads of books to read but Raven Stratagem just got bumped up the list. (This would make an amazing movie but only if they don’t diddle with the plot AT ALL or make everyone white.)

Dear FTC: I read My Own Damn Copy of this book.