In January, I recapped my 39 reads of 2012, surpassing my goal by nine whole books. This year, I’ve set a goal of 40 books; but, as it turns out, I’m already past half-way there. So instead of torturing readers or myself with an enormous recap in January of 2014, I’ve decided to start a quarterly recap of what I’ve read, loved, and hated.
It’s quite a bit delayed, but today I present The Cool Beans Quartlery Report, Volume 1: Winter 2013 (January through March)!
As before, those marked with a ♥ are ones I think you absolutely should read!
If I call myself a blogger, then I feel as though I should be more abreast of new releases when it comes to book reviews. I should be starring and judging novels that have just hit your shelves, so that readers won’t have already read and grown bored with my selections. But, on second thought, as no one is paying me (would any like to?) or sending me advance copies, and I am just one of the common folk who has to patiently wait on the hold list at the library, I’ve decided I shall read what I want and then talk about it here, whether or not anyone is interested. So – hah!
[original image by sophiea]
Though I’ve hardly read his entire oeuvre, Ian McEwan is one of my favourites. Sweet Tooth didn’t shatter me like Atonement or On Chesil Beach (both of which are currently on my Top 20 Rolling List) or even A Child in Time, but that is the risk we take in reading our favourite author’s latest. But I really shouldn’t have doubted McEwan, as all the issues and cringey-ness I experienced while reading Sweet Tooth actually (mostly) all made sense and came together in the end. Overall, however, there was something a bit stiff about Sweet Teeth that hasn’t, for me, come across in the other books of his I’ve read.
And a warning: SUPER SPOILERS! It feels rather silly to say that – it isn’t as if this is the last instalment of Twilight or something significant like that. McEwan isn’t really plot driven and yet – he is. It’s often the twists and shifts in plot – or, perhaps a better way to put it in McEwan’s case, in narrative – that make his works so profound and surprising. Though, while reading Sweet Tooth I was expecting something and began to catch on beforehand, so it might be becoming a bit of an M. Night Shyamalan situation where the real twist would be if there wasn’t one at all. Anyway, I digress – onwards Continue reading
The most horrifying fortnight of 2012 was when I read all of the Fifty Shades trilogy. It was practically all I did in my spare time, and it was brutal. I cannot adequately express how I felt about that series: it was more than the writing was atrocious and embarrassing. I discussed some of my qualms with the book over at Shameless, where I compared Fifty Shades to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, a before-its-time novel of a married woman’s sexual awakening outside her unhappy marriage.
When I heard an interview on CBC’s The Current about S.E.C.R.E.T., touted as a “Canadian Fifty Shades of Grey” I was admittedly intrigued. First of all, it was Canadian, and secondly, the author seemed to have made an effort to make feminism an important part of the story. Particularly interesting was that at its core is a community of women helping each other to realise their sexual fantasies; which related to my discussion of Fifty Shades and The Awakening. And since it took place in New Orleans, I couldn’t help but imagine that maybe the parallels to Chopin’s revolutionary work were completely intentional.
Alas, I was utterly disappointed in S.E.C.R.E.T. I didn’t expect to be blown away; erotica just isn’t my genre. But to have this book touted as feminist erotica was discomfiting – maybe not as much as Fifty Shades – but still not really what I would call my idea of empowering feminism.
In case you haven’t heard of it, here is a summary of the book (from Goodreads):
Cassie Robichaud’s life is filled with regret and loneliness after the sudden death of her husband. She waits tables at the rundown Café Rose in New Orleans, and every night she heads home to her solitary one-bedroom apartment. But when she discovers a notebook left behind by a mysterious woman at the café, Cassie’s world is forever changed. The notebook’s stunningly explicit confessions shock and fascinate Cassie, and eventually lead her to S∙E∙C∙R∙E∙T, an underground society dedicated to helping women realize their wildest, most intimate sexual fantasies. Cassie soon immerses herself in an electrifying journey through a series of ten rapturous fantasies with gorgeous men who awaken and satisfy her like never before. As she is set free from her inhibitions, she discovers a new confidence that transforms her, giving her the courage to live passionately. Equal parts enticing, liberating and emotionally powerful, S∙E∙C∙R∙E∙T is a world where fantasy becomes reality
What I expected, then, was a fun group of women who share their fantasies, give advice on achieving them, maybe even provide a safe space in which to enact them, and afterwards discuss and reflect on them, and support each other through the emotions (both positive and perhaps negative) that result. Not so. Instead, what I got was, in my opinion, a flawed and slightly disturbing definition of feminism.
I don’t know why I feel a strong need to quantify, categorize, and rank just about every experience in my life – but I do. Particularly as someone who works in the magical world of books, I’ve found it consistently irritating and confounding to be confronted with the question: “So, what do you read?” and not be able to rattle off a list of my favourite books ever. Instead, I freeze up and probably mumble something about Charles Dickens. Hours later I’ll be eating a sandwich and suddenly smack myself in the head for not mentioning the myriad of other writers and books I enjoy. I’m convinced and paranoid everyone thinks I actually don’t read at all and, in a panic, just say the first commonly-known author that comes into my mind. Which, actually, is precisely what I do; though to be fair, I have read a whole two of Charles Dickens’ book. And they are both on this list – for now.
And that’s the problem. Essentially whatever is the most awesome book I’ve read recently seems to me to be my favourite. When there’s so many good books in the world, it’s hard to keep track of which ones consistently top your list, particularly when I haven’t read many of my so-called favourites in years.
And so, I have created the Cool Beans Top 20 Rolling List of Books. I started by ranking (some of) the books I shuffled onto my favourites “shelf” on Goodreads [insert obligatory fist-shake at Amazon here] – I tried for ten, but come on!
As I continue my journeys into reading, the list will shift and roll, and I’m curious to see whose books will continually rank!
I also hope this experiment will encourage me to read more widely and diversely, as currently my list is mainly white dudes. But, in my defense, my literary degrees are basically in white dudes.
Not included are individual short stories (though collections by the same author are), plays, poetry, and children’s literature. Go!
Think my top 20 picks suck? Well, too bad! What are your all-time faves?
I’m a bit delayed on this image that trended about the internet a while back of poor Harry Potter being dragged into the great abortion debate.
Some of the of the internet’s denizens thought it was “cute” that at least “pro-lifers,” as they call themselves, have a sense of humour, as if this is somehow gives points to their cause.
But, as tumblr user stalinchristmasspecial pointed out, if Lily Potter had had an abortion, the prophecy implies that Neville Longbottom would have thwarted Voldemort. Stalinchristmasspecial further advised the sign-holder and any other pro-lifers who might see Harry’s conquering of evil as justification to never let any woman ever have an abortion, to read the books.
Neville the hero
But it’s not really in this misunderstood plot point that make the sign’s argument seems silly and stupid at best, and disturbing and ignorant of more than just Harry Potter trivia at worst.
The sign is also silly, because the reverse of the argument is: “If Voldemort’s mother had had an abortion, Lily Potter would still be alive, and both Harry and Neville and hundreds of other orphaned children would have been raised in happy, secure homes without having the weight of saving the whole wide world on their shoulders.” Yep, that option sounds better.
But really, both these arguments are stupid…
When I was a youngster, I had a Strawberry Shortcake doll. She was just under half as tall as my barbies, had a big, round head, a straight and narrow body, frizzy red hair that smelled like strawberries, and freckles. In other words, she looked much more like me than my Barbies did, Skipper included.
She looked like this:
A few weeks back I read The Casual Vacancy which, if you haven’t heard, is J.K. Rowling’s newest book, and quite a departure from Harry Potter, as it includes (shock! horror!) words like “vagina” and “condom.” Gasp.
But, in all honesty, it didn’t seem that much of a departure. The Dursleys or the villagers who turn on Frank when he’s accused of killing the Riddles would be right at home in the fictional village of Pagford.
I’m sure J.K. Rowling is tired of comparisons between The Casual Vacancy and Harry Potter. But it just can’t be helped – there are so many similar characters. Particularly, the fat ones.