What I’ve Been Reading, June 2014

Let’s work on those summer reading lists, shall we? Regular readers of my little blog know the drill: Every few months, I crack open my Kindle and share the books I’ve been reading, along with my thoughts on each, and then you all immediately procure said books because I told you to. (Kidding…but you should.)

Here we go!

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
What it’s about: This book is about the World’s Fair in Chicago in the 1890s. It jumps back and forth between describing the creation of the fair and following the horrifying work of H. H. Holmes, America’s first famous serial killer.
What I thought: This book is one of the more fascinating things I’ve ever read. If you have any interest in history or psychology, I highly recommend picking it up. In the beginning, I found the parts describing the creation of the fair to be a little dry (it’s is VERY detailed), but when you realize how many incredible things came out of the fair (everything from the ferris wheel to shredded wheat), you can’t believe what a huge impact it had on the course of history. And the portions about Holmes…that monster of a man was so grippingly awful, you won’t have any problem keeping the pages turning.

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Cahalan
What it’s about: Journalist Susannah Cahalan is living in New York city working for a major newspaper when suddenly a random brain infection makes her go insane — literally. Even crazier: This book is true — and told mostly from the first person — as Susannah struggles to recover from a little-known illness.
What I thought: Again, this book was really interesting. A classic journalist, Susannah constructs her memoir through a combination of actual memories (though she admits her condition kept her from being a reliable source), video recording during her stay in the hospital, first-person accounts from her friends and family, and scraps of a “diary” she kept during her madness. The result is a fascinating story — I’d never heard of anyone contracting anything like this before, but the scary part is that it could theoretically happen to anyone. The only thing I didn’t love is that Susannah’s writing style can be a tad heavy-handed, which is something I often notice with journalists-turned-novelists (for another example, see “Gone Girl). But still, a very interesting story.

Third Shift and Dust by Hugh Howey
What it’s about: The final two books in the Hugh Howey silo series where members of the various silos finally become aware of each other and attempt to bring down the system that confined them underground in the first place.
What I thought: So much happens in these books, it’s honestly a little hard to summarize in a few sentences. Suffice to say, if you read the other books in the series when I recommended them, you pretty much have to read these. The thing I really loved about these books is that you’re never quite sure who is lying or who can be trusted until the very end, and it makes you question a lot about the definition of right and who should have power over deciding what that is/ One thing I didn’t like was that the storyline felt a bit rushed at times. I kind of get the feeling that even Howey just wanted to wrap up this storyline.

Sleep Donation: A Novella by Karen Russell
What it’s about: Sleep deprivation and insomnia have become worldwide epidemics — and people are actually dying from being unable to fall asleep. The only cure is an infusion of sleep from donors (the system is managed almost exactly like blood donation with banks, donation trucks, and a recruitment team whose primary goal is encouraging donation). The system seems positive, but the narrators finds her ethics questioned both when she is forced to continually draw from an infant who turns out to be a “universal donor” and when a system break exposes thousands to tainted sleep.
What I thought: Y’all know I love a good sci-fi story, and this one was no exception. I really liked the twist on something familiar (blood donation and the fact that people are sleeping less and less in America and other countries), and the storyline is told in such a realistic way that you can actually see this happening some day. I also liked how the story wasn’t really about the science of how the donations worked (because, really, how would that work?), it was about right and wrong — do you help the greater good at the risk and cost of a few?

Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
What it’s about: Ughhhh this book. Basically, it’s about an old man who is confined to a wheelchair who is writing a book about his grandparents’ lives in the old west.
What I thought: I read this book after no less than two people told me it was their favorite book. Well, no offense to those people, but I really hated this book. I’M SORRY. It is so long-winded (the narrator tells his own story in a stream-of-consciousness style, and the story of his grandparents with so many unnecessary details it’s hard to keep focused). And the fact is: Not that much really happens to the narrator. And he’s incredibly self-righteous. The story of the grandparents is interesting at times but starts to get very depressing as the characters continually suffer the consequences of their own actions. By the end of the book, I didn’t really like any of the characters or their choices. AND IT TOOK FOREVER TO GET TO THE END OF THE BOOK.

There you have it! What have you been reading?