My rating system:
10 – life-changing, an all-time favorite
5 - average for what I read
1 – terrible; why did I finish it?
I can’t decide if I am too harsh when grading fiction, or if I just plain prefer non-fiction.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain – A novel of historical fiction, which I listened to on audio. Gustav grows up in early 1950’s Switzerland, with a mother who doesn’t seem to love him and with a country reeling from World War II. He is told that his father was a hero who died saving Jews; Gustav’s best friend Anton is Jewish. The plot is not hard-driving but it is….sufficient. Like just as I was getting bored there’d be an interesting revelation. The writing was top-notch as the author definitely makes me feel like the characters are real and human. I was brought to tears at one point and I’d definitely say there is heart in this book. Yet, I wanted more too, like as “nice” as the book is, it never reaches a crescendo or a moment of awe. Some revelations about the characters came too little too late. Grade: 5
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North – A novel taking place in modern times, with each chapter narrated by an acquaintance of the titular character. Sophie is obsessed with the art of filmmaking; she also has trouble relating to people or expressing herself in any way other than film. She tends to mystify, disturb, and intrigue anyone around her. It was really well-written, and just like in the above novel, every character felt like an actual person. Grade: 6
Future Sex by Emily Witt –I perused reviews on “Goodreads” because this is a hard book to review or even describe. But I don’t want to just paste in other people’s thoughts, so let me try my best. The gist of the book is that life for folks in their 20’s and 30’s is less prescribed and more uncertain than those of previous generations, when it comes to love and sex. So the author sets out to explore a few topics in depth because she herself isn’t sure how she feels about the complicated topics. Each chapter focuses on a different angle, such as an in-depth look at the porn hub kink.com to sex at Burning Man to the world of webcams. What did I like about the book? I love reading about people who are outside of the mainstream – especially their love and sex lives. Although Witt would probably argue that the mainstream is feeling outside of the mainstream. (Sidebar, just had a flashback to Kate Pierson of the B-52’s in 1990 saying that people who feel outside of the mainstream are the mainstream, though she was talking about it in more of a freak-and-geeks sort of way, not specifically pertaining to people’s love lives and sex lives. Does every generation feel that most folks are feeling excluded from the mainstream?). Each chapter is well-written and interesting. As for a downside to the book, I will repeat something I read on Goodreads a lot (and strongly felt myself), the book is depressing. I think it’s both Witt’s writing style and the subject matter, but she doesn’t convey energy or positivity, just kind of like a bleak rendering of a picture. Grade: 7
I Will Find You by Joanna Connors – In 1984, the author was raped at knifepoint. She decides, a few decades later, to go back and try to learn about the man who did this to her. Early on in the book, we learn that he was sentenced to decades in prison and died of cancer while incarcerated but Connors still wants to learn what his life was like. The book is very compelling and hard to put down. Needless to say, I felt fury while reading about her rape. One sad thing is despite having a pretty airtight case and despite working with some good professionals along the way, the author also faced some horrible treatment while/after reporting the assault. I agree with Jon Krakauer’s words on the cover: “Magnificent, necessary, unflinchingly honest.” Grade: 8
The Story of Jane by Laura Kaplan – In Chicago in the late 1960’s and early 70’s, a group of women decided they’d had enough of seeing women maimed and hurt by not beign able to get safe, legal abortions. So they decided to create a service called Jane. They spoke with women and helped them find abortionists who were safe. They operated under constant threat of being arrested and of seeing something medically go wrong. This book is the group’s story, written by one of its members. The book was published 20 years ago but is more relevant than ever today, and is really captivating. The book was an action-filled recap of a team functioning, of their struggles, and triumphs. I loved it. Grade: 8