The month is winding down (thank goodness…does anyone love February? And this one has been especially brutal), which means it’s time for the most recent installment about what has been flipping through my Kindle lately. Ready? And GO:
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
What it’s about: This is a multi-perspective story that jumps back and forth between past and present. In the past, an Italian small-time hotelier crosses paths with a hauntingly beautiful American actress who bears a secret. They’re together for just over a day before she is torn away from him by a budding director (and Richard Burton, incidentally), but he is never able to fully escape her memory. In the future, that budding director has made a name for himself creating the types of TV shows most of us admit watching with sheepish grins, and his production assistant is ready to quit her soul-sucking job when a handsome wannabe film writer and an elderly Italian man stumble into her office late one night, each with his own mission to reclaim a life he used to think was out of reach.
What I thought: I really admire the way Jess Walter can paint a lifetime in just a few words. She never overwhelms with details, but her writing style is more what I would describe as impressionist — a fleeting glimpse manages to tell you an entire story. And this particular story is packed with truly lovely moments of despair and redemption that captured my attention completely. Highly recommend.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
What it’s about: After the disappearance of Bernadette Fox, a notorious PTA-torturing, impulsive decision-making, revolutionary building-designing wife and mother in Seattle, her daughter sets out to follow a paper trail of emails, notes, and official documents that led up to what made her mysteriously vanish. The resulting compilation results in a story that is equal parts touchingly relatable and laugh-out-loud absurd. But as to whether it leads to Bernadette…well, you’ll have to read to find out.
What I thought: I love love love this book. The character portrayals are so hilariously vivid, and the way the story is laid out is unique without being difficult to follow. It’s an easy read (pick it up for your next vacation), but still whip-smart in a way that keeps you engrossed until the very end.
Wild (From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) by Cheryl Strayed
What it’s about: At 22, Cheryl Strayed’s life has fallen apart. After the devastating death of her mother, she starts down a self-destructive path of drugs and infidelity that leads to a divorce and depression. In an effort to take control of her life again, Cheryl impulsively decided to hike 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail — completely alone — for three months.
What I thought: I had mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, it’s a tremendous adventure. I had just started training for my marathon when I started reading it, so in a weird way, I could relate to her physical struggles through inclement weather, constant exhaustion, and near ravenous hunger. I also appreciate a fair amount of self-reflection as much as the next gal. What I didn’t like…is that there isn’t that much of a story here. I feel bad saying that because it was obviously such a huge moment in time for the author, and I’m sure if I had gone through something similar, it would have meant more to me. But the bulk of this book is self-redemption. The trail hiking itself is merely environment, and I guess I had hoped for more of a story there. I think my feelings were entirely personal because I have a hard time relating to and sympathizing with self-destructive people, so in the end, I didn’t really like Cheryl all that much. But it’s still an interesting book about an interesting experience. If you’ve read it, I’d love to know if you’re in the camp of people who wanted to hike the trail after you’d finished, or if it made you swear off hiking ever.
Wool Omnibus Edition by Hugh Howey
What it’s about: You should have known I couldn’t go a whole month without a single science fiction novel. Wool Omnibus Edition is actually a collection of five short stories that Hugh Howey initially released online. As their popularity grew, a publisher purchased the stories, but Hugh apparently put it in his contract that they had to remain available online. I’m only sharing that anecdote because it made me like Howey even more — he loves his fans.
Anyway, the story. It’s set in the (not-too-distant) future, when society lives in an underground silo that stretches 150 stories into the earth. No one is allowed to go outside because some kind of disaster has rendered the planet unlivable — there’s something in the air that eats through just about anything, and the landscape that is visible through a variety of cameras stationed outside the silo is entirely barren and hostile. It’s illegal to even suggest the thought of going outside, and the punishment is that you are “put to cleaning,” meaning you don a special suit designed to let you live outside for a limited time so you can clean the cameras for the rest of the silo’s benefit. Then, without exception, the atmosphere eats through your suit and you die on one of the surrounding hills in full view of the cameras you just cleaned. But, of course, that isn’t the whole story, and the when the silo’s new sheriff steps into the shoes of the most recent cleaning victim, she starts to figure out there’s more to the silo and its origin than meets the eye.
What I thought: You have so many questions from the start of this book, it’s nearly impossible to stop reading. There are so many mysteries to be uncovered about what is really going on, plus enough harrowing moments where lives literally hang in the balance, it’s not the kind of book you casually read. I would recommend this if you’re one of those people who likes books about how we’ve destroyed the planet and have to figure out how to go on. (That should really be its own genre, don’t you think?)
First Shift/Second Shift by Hugh Howey
What it’s about: These two books are the prequels to the Wool series. There’s actually a Third Shift that I haven’t read yet (because my brother hasn’t sent it to me…hint hint). But these books answer a lot of the questions the other five stories leave behind, including what led up to the destruction of the earth and the existence of the silos. Apparently the third book is what really ties them together chronologically, but I’ll let you know for sure when I read it.
What I thought: If you liked the other ones, you will like these. And yes, you should read them in the same order I did. Knowing how things end up actually made these two books easier to follow for me.
What have you been reading?