July was a strange reading month.
Heads up: this is going to be a long post.
I went on a Tor short story kick, reading 18 of those, in a row – also, can we talk about how absolutely stunning the artwork for those are? Besides those I also read a three-part novella and a short essay I want to briefly mention before we move on to the actual books I read this month (six).
So the first thing I read in July was precisely the aforementioned essay, “A Deadly Triangle: Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India” by William Dalrymple. This was a superbly interesting read, despite having been written three years ago. It’s very accessible and I highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in the area. I found it quite interesting how Dalrymple touches on China’s interest in Afghanistan and what that could possibly lead to, and reading it now, when China has lent them the first batch of military support.
Short-story wise I also read parts one, two, and three of Dean Koontz’s Odd Interlude, which is part of the Odd books. I found this to be kind of a parenthesis to the main story, so I don’t think you miss out by not reading it in the correct chronological order. As a massive Odd fan, it was such a breath of fresh air to get back to one of my all-time favorite characters. I’m really glad I saved this one, since now I am officially all out of Odd books.
As for the Tor short stories, I’m going to list them all but only talk about a few, since they are so many. And thus I read: Traumphysik by Monica Byrne, The Maiden Thief by Melissa Marr, All the Snake Handlers I Know Are Dead by Dennis Danvers, Burning Girls by Veronica Schanoes, The Weather by Caighlan Smith, Rag and Bone by Priya Sharma, Freedom is Space for the Spirit by Glen Hirshberg, The Hanging Game by Helen Marshall, Too Fond by Leanna Renee Hieber, Please Undo This Hurt by Seth Dickinson, As Good as New by Charlie Jane Anders, Swift, Brutal Retaliation by Meghan McCarron, The Girl in the High Tower by Gennifer Albin, Red as Blood and White as Bone by Theodora Goss, Ponies by Kij Johnson, Fabulous Beasts by Priya Sharma, A Fist of Permutations in Lightning and Wildflowers by Alyssa Wong, and The Language of Knives by Haralambi Markov.
Tor short stories are a wonder. I love them because they are mostly my favorite things in literature: horror, sci-fi, fantasy, magical realism, fairytale retellings, unsettling and disturbing atmospheres – you know the kind. So when I started reading these I got a little bit addicted and couldn’t stop, and overall had a ton of fun with them. A few weren’t so great, but the general outlook was very positive. A note on The Girl in the High Tower – I wasn’t aware that it was part of a previously conceived world, that it was a short story that belonged to a series, and so I didn’t understand anything of what was going on and didn’t like it at all. That being said, even after I knew about it, I had zero interest in ever reading the series, it just didn’t work for me at all. The stories with fairytale-esque elements were especially fun for me to read, I adore fairytales. These are just so unique and fascinating! Ponies stayed with me, I read that entire story with my mouth just hanging open in shocked horror. I don’t think I can pick a favorite. If you guys are interested I’ll write a post just on my favorite Tor short stories (spoiler alert: my all time fav wasn’t read this month).
But moving on, the first book I finished this month was The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman.
This book. I buddy-read this with a friend, and fortunately we both agreed and our feelings were very similar, although I think I got a bit more annoyed. To start with, I had an erroneous notion of what this was when I first got it. I though it would be a historical-political overview of the world in the twenty-first century, but instead I got a book on globalization. It should be noted also that this is a 2005 book, so it’s a bit outdated now (it has seen a few revisions, but I read the original and thus cannot provide an inside on whether certain gaps were addressed or not). It should also be noted that this gentleman has won three Pulitzer Prizes. I know not how such came to be, but Friedman is not exactly what I would call a good writer.
Friedman is repetitive. As in, Friedman is repetitive. If he takes a shinning to an expression, he will use it ad infinitum, until you want to smack him over the head with his own book. The expression “the world is flat” became a joke between my friend and I because he used it every other page, sometimes more. Mr. Friedman also has a rather large ego, in that, he thinks he came up with the cleverest idea the planet has ever seen (spoiler alert: it’s that the world is flat). He’s also very American. There is a whole section of this book that should’ve been titled: How To Keep America Number One. This is not a global overview of, well, anything. He speaks from an American perspective, and talks about some of the BRIC countries, and it doesn’t geographically go much further than that. I have enough to say about this book that I could do a full-length review (and might, if I feel so inclined), but the one good thing I have to say about it is that it made me think – not about what he wanted me to, or how he wanted me to, but he brought some ideas to the table that made me think of other things, and so on and so forth, and that was quite interesting.
After that joyride, I picked up Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
If I was looking to get over a not-great read by picking something good, boy, did I go wrong. Frankenstein is the kind of book I think everyone would hate if it had been published in present times. The writing is a bit immature, you can tell Shelley was only 18 when she wrote it, and it’s full of so many things that I feel we wouldn’t forgive if it wasn’t for this being a classic with all the circumstances that surround it. It’s also a three-layered story, in which only one interested me, and the other two I found tremendously boring. Frankenstein (who isn’t even a doctor, by the way) is an atrocious character, and I couldn’t tell whether he was actually meant to be so or not. Overall I didn’t hate it, but I definitely didn’t enjoy it either, although I am glad to have read it.
After so much disappointment, I had to pick up something that was sure to be a hit, and so I finally read Rick Yancey’s The Last Star.
Okay, I’ll admit it, I was scared too. The final installment to one of my all-time favorite trilogies – who wouldn’t be a bit nervous? But Yancey is a god, and he did not let me down. This trilogy is gold, and one of its greatest strengths, in my humble opinion, is the writing. It’s not so much the great plot or the great characters, but how Yancey weaves these elements into words. It’s not just a story about aliens invading – it’s a story about humanity, and what makes us human, what unites and divides us, everything. He works big questions into beautifully poetic sentences, and it packs one hell of a punch. I love the mind games this story plays, if you let it get under your skin (and it’s why, strangely enough, the second book, The Infinite Sea, is probably my favorite).
I know a lot of people were upset about how this ended, and I understand that – it is upsetting, it’s heartbreaking, and I bawled my eyeballs out. But it’s also so very right, in a way. I think part of the reason why I managed to accept this ending so well has to do with timing, and I feel like reading it now was a good call, because it tore me apart but I also felt very at peace it with and like that was just as I wanted it to be.
I’m just in awe of Yancey and I will forever read anything the man writes. And this trilogy will always hold a special place in my heart.
At this point in the month I went on my Tor short story journey, and then spent the weekend working at a sci-fi convention and was, naturally, filled with a sci-fi yearning that could only be fulfilled with space travel (
because two full days of it were not enough). So I picked up the second volume of The First Formic War trilogy (Earth Afire), the prequel to the Ender’s Game books, these written not only by Orson Scott Card but also by Aaron Johnson – whom I’m blaming entirely for the disaster that is this trilogy. I love Orson Scott Card, and Ender’s Game was brilliant, but these are just awful. They’re just bad in every way, and in a general way that doesn’t even call for specifics. They’re entertaining enough, I guess, if you want to ignore how badly and lazily written they are, not to mention the sexism (especially in the first book). I’m finishing the trilogy purely because I’m pathologically incapable of leaving anything unfinished, but as of yet I don’t have the third book and I won’t be going out of my way to get it.
With that, I moved on to greener pastures – which is kind of a joke, considering next I read The Return of the King by J. R. R. Tolkien.
One of my besties is a massive Tolkien nerd, and had been pestering me constantly for ages on end to finally finished the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The only way to shut him up was to pick this up and read it. And I’m very sad to say I didn’t enjoy it as much as the previous two volumes.
The biggest factor was, once again, timing. I think I read this at the wrong time. I wasn’t feeling it, I didn’t have fun, and, worst of all, I completely disconnected from the characters. I don’t know what happened, but for the most part I didn’t care one bit about what happened to anyone and was just anxious to finish the book. The first half of it was especially hard for me to read, I was just so completely detached from it all I wouldn’t have minded if a meteor had struck and killed everyone instantly. The second half of the book was better because we got to hang out with Sam, my favorite character and, in my opinion, the actual hero of LOTR. It was a lot more fun for me to see Sam and Frodo’s journey than to read about the battle scenes. Frodo annoyed me for a big part of the narrative, and it wasn’t until the very end that I started to like him a little more.
Although I know it wasn’t the book’s fault, I can’t say I enjoyed it too much. I want to give the whole trilogy a reread a few years from now, and hopefully I will feel differently then, but this time around it was just an alright book.
To finalize, I read Roald Dahl’s The Twits. Having highly enjoyed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I expected great things from Dahl. And this book, although really fun and clever, didn’t exactly pack the punch I wanted it to. Maybe it was just me who expected something different from it. I still really enjoyed reading it, and definitely want to read the rest of his books. However, this book is anti-beards and I’m very fully pro-beards, so.
Anyway, these are all the things I read this month, I think it was a positive one overall. Let me know if you’ve read any of these and your thoughts on them. Hopefully August will be even better!