Top 4 Disappointing Books of 2015

As the title suggests, this is going to be a super cheery post. So, I’ve read (at current count) 114 books in 2015 (though let’s really try and make it to 115, because that’s a nicer landmark number.) Of those 115, the vast majority were randomly chosen from either my erratically curated Kindle library, or from Scribd. It was inevitable some of them would be bad, that’s just the law of probability. (Probably. Actually, Statistics was the math class I got the highest grade in, and also the one I remember the least.) 

Now, these aren’t my least favorite books of 2015, or my lowest rated (although most are present on both of those lists), but these are the ones that I had high expectations for, only to have those expectations punched in the face. If I were a mother, these would be my middle children. Again, I blame the law of probability. She’s a fickle bitch (probably.)

 

  1. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burtonthe-miniaturist-cover This was my first read of 2015, and I had incredibly high expectations for it. First of all, the cover is gorgeous. Second, as you probably gathered from my last post, I love miniature things. Take anything in the world and it will become infinitely cuter when made miniscule. (Well. You know. Almost anything. *Waggles eyebrows*) So I naturally thought this book, with all of its inevitable descriptions of tiny things, would be mind candy for me. It also received incredible reviews when it came out, and was hyped to the hype kingdom and back. Alas, this book just did not do it for me. For one, I found the main character inescapably, unfathomably dull. Picture it: It’s the 1680s in Amsterdam. Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to be the wife of a rich older merchant. She doesn’t like it, she’s lonely, she misses home. He gives her a dollhouse (sorry– miniatures cabinet) of the home. Then weird things start happening in the dollhouse that may or may not then be mirrored in real life. See? It could be good. But. It’s just. It’s not. My Goodreads review, written right after reading, for my then- and now- feelings:

I was very disappointed. It seemed like it started as a good and genuinely interesting story, then after being garbled over and over through pedantic reaffirmations and circulatory reasoning structures the central turning and plot points of the main and secondary arcs were lost in mercurial turns of phrase, mixed metaphors, and the lack of emotional attachment. 
See what I did there? That was what reading this book was like, my brain just screaming SHUT UP ALREADY. 
The results were this: an unsatisfying book that plods to the finish with a determined but bored spirit. Bluh out of Meh

2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven 18460392Speaking of amazing reviews… This is one of those books that EVERYONE seemed to love. It was compared to The Fault in Our Stars, (which should have been my first hint, as I’m not really a fan of… teenager romance death books, I think is the genre name we’ve decided on?) It got loads of coverage on Booktube and book blogs. It won the 2015 Goodreads Choice award for  Best Young Adult Fiction book, for John Green’s sake. And yet. Oh honey, and yet. This book tries to discuss mental illness in an informative, touching way but for it ends up just making two characters who are basically mental illness, personified, with some quirks added on top for… I guess you could call it flavor? You can see a longer review here, but hint: It was disappointing. 

3. Men Explain Things to Me by Jessica Solnit

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This was the year I started reading more published feminist essays and it was, on the whole, a really good experience. But this one… well. You know the post title by now. I really liked the first essay, which if I’m not mistaken is the where the book’s title comes from. It was a funny and biting, informative, and interesting essay on mansplaining and the general culture of men feeling and acting like their opinions and ideas are more worthy of taking up headspace than women’s opinions.  Very good. Bravo. The rest of the book, though, felt like filler. It’s strange: On my Goodreads, I gave it 2 stars, but then my review is nothing but praise. I think it was one of those that was interesting and thoughtful, but didn’t quite meet the (admittedly very high) expectations I placed on it. And looking back from a distance, I can’t remember much about it. (Some guy want to explain it to me?)

There you have it, my Top 3 Disappointing Reads of 2015. It’s getting SO close to the end of the year, and I haven’t caught up on all the 2015 posts I wanted to write, so there will surely be a #TBT week sometime in January, but tomorrow is the most exciting post– that’s right, I’m giving away 1 million dollars… and a new car!

Wait, couldn’t read my own handwriting for a second– it actually says it’s my Top Books of 2015. Yeah. Still exciting right? No? Ok then. But maybe yes?

W

I’ve read 93 books…

of my 52 books challenge.

At least, it was supposed to be a 52 books challenge. 52 Books in the year of 2015, and one I would have finished neatly the week I arrived in Korea. Upon finishing and realizing that without the deadlined reading minimum set by an imaginary internet challenge I would never read another book, I upped the goal to 75 books. Then to 100 books. Because fuck having a social life, I need to be as competitive against myself as possible. That’s where real joy comes from.

And now I only have 7 to go to win.

 

I’m pretty pleased with myself.

I’ve come to realize (not recently, this is one of the only things I’ve been sure about myself from pretty much day 1 of language memory) that I do not respond to outside motivation. I mean that in maybe the opposite of the intro to psychology way, I’m not sure, it’s been several years since I took that class and let’s be real– I was never going to last as a Psych major. (Did you know that as a psychologist you have to actually talk to actual people? Eww.)

I mean that outside motivation– of the “this is the job I should have by now, this is the salary you should be making, this is the goal you should be striving towards” type– just doesn’t work for me long-term. Sure, I feel guilty, and a little like a failure, when I compare lives to my peers and realize they’ve just won the Pulitzer while I’ve just opened a $9 bottle of wine with a pair of scissors and stained my face and half my kitchen purple.* But the guilt doesn’t make me want to do better, it just makes me feel guilty. And like I need different friends. And like I need a shower (ok, that’s just the wine. I’m sorry, but who designed wine bottles that you need an extra tool to open? Shouldn’t such a commonly-drunk drink be stored in self-sufficient packaging? You, with the powers, go back in time and have that obviously-always-prepared, never-without-a-corkscrew, inventor flayed for uselessness and lack of forethought.)

I’m also not one of those people that when told “you can’t do that” thinks “you know what! Yes I can!” And proceeds to go out and become the next woman president, or whatever the naysayers are naysaying at these days. Usually, when people tell me I can’t do something, I don’t listen to them. Because I feel like they’re wrong? Nah, it’s just because they’re dicks. And I try not to listen to talking dicks, because then where would we be? Talking Dick World, where we get all of our advice from phallic-y jerks who are constantly naysaying about random non dick-related queries?

 

What am I even saying? Oh. Right. My locus of motivation or something. I hope I don’t publish this. Ok. Here’s the thing: I am really only motivated to do stuff I have decided is important. This seems obvious, until you see upon closer inspection that apparently I have decided things like shaving my legs, or paying my bills, or writing research papers that are 50% of my grade, or finishing college in a timely manner (whoooo, got that one out of the way two years late!), or getting my car fixed before it explodes, or… well. You get it. That stuff does not get my Bunsen(s?) burning.

Random goals I set that have no way of affecting my future prosperity like, say, reading 100 books in the year 2015? Those I will work at until my eyes bleed from the staring strain, and the neural pathways in my brain misfire due to the overload of information being shoved in at the last minute, just to get that shiny purple 100/100 achievement badge on Goodreads.

 

Basically what I’m saying is… *licks finger and sizzles* I’m doing great.

Not sure when the next time you’ll hear from me will be, but when you do, you can be pretty certain it will be about books. Or maybe the yawning abyss of dread and self-doubt that made up my last post.

Prolly books tho.

 

W

*the funny thing is, I’m not drinking wine at this moment, even though it sounds like it, but I did experience this exact catastrophe two weeks ago and now there are purple splashes on my kitchen wallpaper. I think of it as a little personal touch, to give it that sought-after *lived-in* feel.

All the Bright Places: A review in Goodreads blurbs.

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Let me just say right off that I did not like this book. At all. In fact, I would have put it down after the first 30% (note I say percent, because I listened to it– always a bad move when it comes to YA for me, I get so annoyed when I can’t speedread through the bad parts… and a LOT of this was bad parts.) BUT I am nothing if not aggressively competitive with my Goodreads numbers and persistent with finishing even the most annoying of books, so I finished it.

After a long, long time. Seriously, this took me over a month to listen to, and for a short little book like this that’s bogus. It was just not good. The characters (cough I mean personifications of mental illnesses and paper thin stock people), the plot (cough I mean basically Paper Towns but with even less sense and a shit ending), just everything was a no for me.

Here are my thoughts as recorded while reading, in the small amount of characters allowed by Goodreads status updates. Enjoy the bitterness.

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Rating: The one that made my eyes roll so hard they fell out of my head and I didn’t even bother putting them back. 1 star. Zero stars? I don’t even remember what stars are. giphy

 

W

Korea Update: (The update that isn’t)

I figured I would update this blog on some news on Korea, except there is no real news on Korea at this point. Well, none that I have any burning desire to dwell on, at least. I have once again come to a plateau of waiting: the weeks spent agonizing over my federally-apostilled background check possibly being lost in the mail (it wasn’t), the weeks spent agonizing over my possibly-forever held transcripts being kept by the now-demonized (in my mind) university (they weren’t), the weeks spent waiting and waiting and waaaaaiiiiiting for a sign of an interview? All gone, leaving only the scars that come from nearing on three months of constant anxiety and waiting.

Now I’m waiting again, this time for the paperwork to come from Korea, for the visa process to begin, so that when I have the visa in my hand I can buy my plane ticket.

I’m not very good at waiting. I’m not patient when it comes to things I want. I can’t distract myself very well (though believe me I try), because no matter what my mind wanders back to the waiting, the endless waiting. Being left on tenterhooks is so uncomfortable, worse than outright failure, because there is nothing to get over. Because of course, the waiting is a good thing. The waiting means all of my efforts so far have succeeded, that I’m still firmly on the road to move abroad, that what I’ve been waiting for is still coming, though in inching, crawling increments.

Yes, you guessed it, this post is a distraction. For myself, mostly. Because I am realizing something that I’ve realized many times before then quickly ignored: when waiting, I go stagnant. It’s like my mind tries to protect itself from going completely insane with the waiting and goes into hibernation. I can’t work on big projects, I can’t make small goals, I can’t carry on happy, excited conversations about What Ever Shall I Do First In Korea, because I can’t shake the waiting feeling, the feeling that I’m not there yet, I’m just almost there, like I’ve been almost there for months now.

It’s disconcerting, being almost. I don’t recommend it.

So to shake the hibernation, (both for my good and, let’s face it, for the good of everyone who has to interact with this more-zombified version of myself), I’m going to try for some goals. Some pre-Korea, post-job hunt, present-waiting goals. (On a side note, what’s the present equivalent prefix of pre or post? Presi? Preta? Preso? Google is a distraction from this distraction, so I choose to not know until someone leaves me a comment informing me that ENGLISH DEGREE HOLDERS SHOULD KNOW THIS *SNIFF* *PUSHES GLASSES UP* *HUFFS BACK TO THE LIBRARY*)

Goal 1: Finish my 52 books challenge before I leave. I had a goal to read 52 Books in the year 2015, and because I am absurdly motivated by progress bars proclaiming “Wow, you can do it!” and imaginary internet competitions, I have very nearly completed this goal, and it’s only July. My new goal is to finish the 52, then make a new goal for the end of the year (104 has been suggested, as the natural doubling of the original goal, but it doesn’t really have a nice ring to it. I’m thinking I’ll stick to the book a week goal I had, which would make it… *does painful math in head and on fingers* 72? That is also not a nice ringing number. We’ll figure it out later. Anyways, 52 before I leave. Yes. Doable.

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Goal 2: Upload two book tube videos. This is a goal I have constantly, but because I am both camera-shy and editing-lazy, it hasn’t happened yet. How shall I ever make more internet friends if they can’t see and hear me waffle on about books I read? Precisely. I shan’t.

Goal 3: Keep up with this blog.

But really though.

Ok, that’s a good post. This is a good place to end a post. You are all good people. Kiss your children. Feed your pets. Goodnight.

W

Weatherly Reviews: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Format: Kindle (Kindle Unlimited, thankfully FREE)

*Mild spoilers, possibly*

I have been hearing rave reviews about this book since it came out. The booktubers I watch regularly LOVED IT, raved on and on about it, couldn’t talk about it enough. So when I saw it available on Kindle Unlimited, I checked it out.

First of all, it took me a day to read, on the way back to Atlanta from Alabama (reading on my phone, which is actually one of my favorite ways to read even though the tiny screen is mildly annoying.) And I really, really wanted to love it.

But.

I liked it. I didn’t love it, but it was a solid 3 stars for me. (Not a bad thing! Unlike my horrible former boss, who gave me 3 stars as an act of total douchery, I’m giving 3 stars on the Goodreads scale. As in, ‘I liked it’ but it wasn’t tear-my-heart-out amazing.)

I loved A.J. Fikry, the bookstore-owning, grouchy but lovable main character. Amelia, his bookseller love interest, I liked… ok.  Her #quirkiness, what with the weird fashion sense and the doll-like hair, and the galoshes, reminded me a little too much of the main girl from The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl (Eleanor?). She was just a little too ‘well golly gosh, ain’t I adorable and adorably flawed but mostly adorable’ for me. I liked their romance, mostly because it was from A.J.’s perspective, and his cynical-but-soft personality made me feel like I was getting to read a kindred spirit.

I also love Maya, and I hope my future child is exactly like her, what with her book-loving, bossy, Hermione-Granger-Would-Be-Proud attitude. Sigh. Smart children are so adorable. You know, when they’re not right in front of you.

My problem with the book, at least, my main problem: the author tries way too hard for subtlety. Now, ok, I usually like subtlety. I don’t want things spelled out for me. I want there to be a little mystery, even if it’s not a mystery. I want to have to think a little to stay engaged. And I also usually like when stories reflect real life in the way that sometimes, even when you’re anticipating something SO MUCH that it’s eating you alive inside, the resolution of it just fizzles, anticlimax-style, lost in the flurry of everything else in your life going on around it. That’s fine with me.

But not every. damn. thing. is. like. that. It was almost like Zevin was afraid to write a climax. I’m not talking a big flash-bang, someone pull a gun fiasco, either. Any sort of situation, big as a proposal or small as almost-but-not-quite winning a school writing competition, was built up and built up painstakingly, and then just *whoosh* glossed over. On to the next thing, before the reader has time to reflect. Either that, or the resolution to this big build-up is mentioned offhandedly later on, after the emotions of the moment have passed.

Again, I’m alright with this every now and then. But for it to be effective it has to be shuffled in with some moments that have an dead-stop moment of climax and clarity. Something has to happen in the moment, I guess is what I’m trying to say. And that didn’t happen enough to make me feel present for the story. I kept thinking I was getting to the climax, waiting for the big thing to happen, only to see I was only 30% of the way into the book, not even close, then later 85% of the way through, after it probably already passed. It just didn’t make an impression worth remembering on me. I do remember being really moved by the Tamerlane’s reappearance and the circumstances surrounding it, but it wasn’t enough to really make me LOVE it. And by the end, with the cancer introduced, I was just kind of over it, ready to move on.

I will say that it’s also a little unfair, I guess, that I read Mr. Penumbra’s 24 Hour Bookstore earlier this year and LOVED IT. Because I couldn’t help but draw similarities, not just between the settings (bookstores, obviously), but also between the old crotchety main character, the just-quirky-enough side characters, the relaxing but building plot.

But the difference is I adored Mr. Penumbra’s, and this one was just… Nice. That’s the word. It’s a pretty relaxing read, it has great book and short story recommendations sprinkled throughout, and it has a heavy-handed but genuine sentiment backing it all up, and it’s… Nice.

3 Stars = Nice. Nice = I won’t recommend it, but I won’t turn anyone away from it. Like eggshell paint, or those magazine holders made out of cereal boxes. Just Nice.

W

May Reviews: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
When I started this book, I was sure it was going to end up being my favorite book of the year. The titular Oscar is one in a family of Dominicans who believe they are cursed by a fuku, a curse put on the family in part by the dictator Rafael Trujillo. The book is an exploration of the tragedies that afflict this family, which are blamed on this fuku. The story dives deep into Dominican nationalism, racism and class issues, the effects of dictatorships, and problems of depression and anxiety. It is, in a word, complex, and I think it’s really important that I read it. It is also a big step forward in my quest to read more diversely, as Junot Diaz himself is Dominican American.
My review:
The writing was amazing, rich and intricate, atmospheric in a way that made the Dominican Republic, something I know nothing about, come to life. And I loved the switching of characters, the way some of the viewpoints were omniscient and some were first person, some looked forward, some looked backwards and some were stuck exactly where they were in time. Every single character had an entire life, and it was sometimes difficult to imagine that they did not actually exist in real life.
But after about 50% of the way through the book I realized that I was no longer engaged. I was semi-interested in what the actual end of Oscar was, what eventually, finally, brought it about. And I was semi-interested in the further relationships of the family and the life of Yunior, the unflappable narrator.
But I just… didn’t care THAT much. I was reading for the writing, not the story. And when it was done (a very disappointing ending, if you ask me, which you did implicitly by reading this blog), I realized I was grateful that it was done. I’m going to rad more Diaz, I’ve already bought This is How You Lose Her, and I think that may do the trick, because a big complaint I had was how very tediously long the book felt.
All of this being said, I’ve found myself referencing it and thinking about it in the weeks after reading it. Maybe it will become a book I like more and more in retrospect. At the moment, though, I give it 3.5 stars, but 4 for Goodreads’ sake. 
-W