reading wrap up | july 2019 (oops)

Hi guys, it’s Laurel Ann. I’m here with my
July wrap-up on August 29th. How did that happen?
I don’t know, but it’s been a while since I really, like, sat down and made a proper
video ,so I’m just gonna do this really casually. I’ve got a cup of tea
here. I’m not wearing a bra. I don’t really have any makeup on. I don’t know
who’s gonna watch this video since it’s about July, but it it’s just like books
that I’ve read. I don’t know, does that run out of time? It’s probably fine.
Whatever. Here we are. So without further ado, I’m just gonna go for it. As always
I’m gonna put time stamps down below, along with the titles of the books I’ve
read, so if you’re only interested in hearing about one book, you can skip to
that part of the video. I’ll also put any kind of content warnings in the
description as well instead of putting them in the video, because I might think
of some later, and some might be kind of spoilery. That’s just what I do. That’s
a little bit of housekeeping. That stands for all of my wrap-up videos. The first
book I read in July was The Cut Out Girl by Bart van Es. This is nonfiction. So,
Bart van Es, the author of this book, knew that there was a young Jewish girl who
lived with his family for a time during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands
and then came back after the war and became a real part of their family, but
several decades later was totally cut out of the family, and he doesn’t really
know why. So he reconnected with her and wrote her story. So the real sort of
point of the book, I guess, is Lien’s story of being in hiding during the war and
then also how the trauma of that experience affected her throughout her
life. So that story is the main focus of the book, but it also has memoir elements
of Bart actually researching the book and connecting
with Lien and creating a relationship with her and also learning about his own
family, and it has quite a bit of Dutch history in it as well. I really liked
that memoir element, and one thing that that does also is make it so van Es can
be very transparent about the writing process. So, for example, there will be a
chapter that will be a very vividly drawn episode from Lien’s experience
during the war, and then it will come back to the present where he’ll be
talking to her and he reveals that she doesn’t really have much memory about it–
just a very vague outline–and he then will say how he came to fill in the
details of how that might have actually happened, and I just think in terms of
writing about real events, that’s a really, like, upstanding and honest way to
do it so it doesn’t feel exploitative, and it doesn’t feel artificial, and it
also is pretty interesting. Something that I thought was kind of
weird–this is like a small gripe but it did bug me–is that he very often talks
about how pretty and beautiful Lien is, as if that’s important
in some way in what happened to her. And I mean, I think he was just trying to
be nice, but that’s just such typical man shit. Van Es isn’t exactly an
incredible writer, but he is a great storyteller, and he has a great instinct
for connections. He’ll look at something that happened in the lead-up
to the war and talk about how something happening today is mirroring that. It is
a story about the past, but it’s also very much a story about Europe and the
Netherlands today. I learned a lot from this book, and I also found it very
engaging and moving. I have to drink my tea before it gets cold.
I always let my tea get cold. Umm right. The next book I read was Salvage the
Bones by Jesmyn Ward. And Jesmyn Ward has been on my radar for a really
long time, but this was the first book I ever read by her, and I’m so glad I did
because–spoiler alert–I loved it. Salvage the Bones is about a 14
year old girl named Esch, who is coming to terms with the discovery that she is
pregnant while she and her brothers try to keep their dog’s puppies alive,
essentially, and it’s set in the (I think) 14 days leading up to Hurricane Katrina
in Southern Mississippi. Throughout the book Esch often draws parallels between
what she’s going through and the Greek myths that she’s been reading for school,
and she’s particularly drawn to Medea, and I think she sees herself sort of as
a Medea type figure, or she sees Medea as being
similar to her…she really relates with that character. There’s a lot to unpack
there about how, you know, in Greek myth one of the major themes is sort of free
will and predetermination of being playthings to the gods, and how that sort
of mirrors us as readers watching these characters fuck around while we know
that their lives are about to be turned upside down by one of the biggest
natural disasters in US history. This is an incredible novel. Jesmyn Ward’s
writing is absolutely gorgeous but at the same time really visceral. She
doesn’t shy away from the ugliness and brutality of life, and the way she
describes these things sometimes really are gut wrenching. Also
interestingly, despite being told exactly when this book takes place, it has a sort
of timeless feel to it, and if you’ve ever been to the deep South you might
know that it has this feeling of being in another world outside of time, and so
I thought that was really nicely captured. Anyway, long story short, I loved
this and I can’t wait to read more Jesmyn Ward. I definitely will be doing
that. Okay, the next book I read was The Ex by Alafair Burke. You might remember a
couple months ago–I think in June–I read her other book, which is The Wife, and I
didn’t really expect to read more Alafair Burke, but then after reading
two such kind of heavy books, I really felt the need to read something
light and fun and wacky, which from precedent I expected this
to be. But to be honest, when I was like looking through Goodreads to remind
myself what I read right before I filmed this video, I honestly was totally
surprised to see this on there. That just goes to show how memorable this book is.
This book is about a lawyer named Olivia Randall, and she actually is the lawyer
defending the dude in the other book, The Wife, so fun little expanded universe
kind of thing. Anyway. Her ex-fiance is accused of murder, and
when his daughter gets in touch with her, she decides to defend him because she
feels really strongly about the fact that there’s no way that he could have
committed this crime. And, you know, there are twists and turns, ups and downs.
Truly, I don’t have that much to say about this. Just sort of a
middle-of-the-road mindless reading experience. Like, I
obviously didn’t hate it, but I don’t really think there’s anything
special about it. It did what I wanted it to do: it just
sort of cleansed my palate to head on to bigger and better things, I suppose. This
sounds really mean. I’m not trying to be mean! Alafair Burke is a fine writer. It’s
fine. I will say I think Olivia Randall it’s a pretty good character, although
for some reason she’s, like, totally clueless about technology, even though
she’s, like, 40 and that just kind of bugged me, when she was always like “oh my
god, an email! How open?” I don’t know why that was necessary, but other than that,
she’s like a pretty badass, cool, complex character. It’s probably the best thing I
have to say about this book. Okay so the next book I read was The Poppy War by R. F.
Kuang. Now, I read this because Kristi over at booksareneat read it a few
months ago, and she didn’t have enough good things to say about it. She was
totally obsessed, and even though I haven’t read fantasy in ages, I decided
to read it, because I’m just trying to, you know, dip my toes into new things,
expand my horizons, and I’m so glad I did, because this was so much fun, and I loved it.
It’s a fantasy novel for adults, and it’s set in like a China-inspired country
that’s called just the Empire, I’m pretty sure. And the Empire has a long history
of conflict with a neighboring country, and so in order to sort of like prepare
for the next conflict, they’ve created this countrywide standardized test,
essentially, that everyone takes when they’re 13, and it decides where you can
go to school. And the top scorers for each district go to this school where they
train to become generals. Is it 13 they take it or 15? I think it’s 15. Yeah, it’s
15, but the book starts when Rin ,the main character, is 13. So, she is an orphan
who’s–both both her parents died during the last war. They called them the poppy
wars. And she is in like a really shitty home life situation.
She is horribly abused, and essentially just used to work for
these opium dealers, and she decides at 13 that she’s going to work really
really really hard to do well on this test and get out of her situation. And
she’s so successful in this that she gets the top score and she gets to go to
the crazy school where she’ll learn to become a general. It’s a huge honor,
and she’s really excited. I thought that this was just going to be a boarding
school story, but actually the book covers probably, like–it’s hard to say–like
five to ten years of her life? So maybe the first third to one-half is school,
and then the rest is after she’s finished with school. This is kind of a
weird one for me to have liked as much as I did because I usually like books
that are pretty low on plot but high on, like, beautiful writing and
R. F. Kuang’s writing…I can’t really say that much for it. It’s not horrible, but
it’s not like…there’s nothing…it’s nothing special, you know, that’s
sophisticated, but the story is just mind-blowing. I never expected it to
go where it went, and I never even took the time to try and guess what was going
to happen because it was just–I was fully in this story and letting it take
me by the hand and drag me through hell, essentially. And Kuang is also awesome on
character, because I loved all of them. Even the ones that were barely
in it just really like came off the page and were all really distinct and well-drawn. Fun fact, while I was reading this, I stupidly forgot that it was the first
in a series, so I was getting to the end and I was getting really pissed off that
all these things were set up and never followed through. It was like “what the
fuck? What editor let this go?” and then I finished it and I was like, “oh, definitely
there are sequels.” And the first sequel just came out and I already put a hold
on it for my library. so I’m reading it. The next book I read in July was A Tale
for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. Every time I say “July” I think of a roommate
that I used to have named Robbie, who was from Manchester, and in his accent he
would be like, “Joo-ly. Joo-ly.” And so I always think of that. Anyway, I kind of reviewed
this a little bit very briefly in my last video, and I sort of complained
about the character of Ruth and how she is complaining constantly about
this beautiful place where she lives, and she’s shitting on her husband all
the time ,but in retrospect, I’m pretty sure that she’s supposed to be an
avatar for the author, and so now I feel a little bit bad about what I said, and
also I’m slightly less annoyed. Anyway. So this is about a Japanese-American
woman named Ruth who, one day while she’s on a walk on the beach, she finds this
Hello Kitty lunchbox, and inside the Hello Kitty lunchbox
is a diary by a 16-year-old Japanese girl named Nao. And the book alternates
between Nao’s story in the diary and Ruth’s experience of reading this book
with her husband. Not the book, the diary. Reading the diary with her husband.
This is an absolutely gorgeous book. Ozeki’s writing is very much to my taste.
There’s some magical realism here–there’s actually like quite a bit of magical
realism as we get to the end, which I feel like is very much in the
tradition of Japanese literature, or at least what I associate with
Japanese literature. It’s also quite meta and philosophical, so like if that’s not
your thing, maybe avoid. But I loved it. I think, like most readers,
I enjoyed Nao’s chapters more. She’s really funny and has a really cool
and distinct voice, and it’s interesting because, even though her story is sort of
bleak, and really horrible things happen to her, she still maintains this
really upbeat tone, even when she is extremely depressed.
And meanwhile Ruth’s life is, like, pretty dope, and she is constantly bitching
about everything. So that’s a fun little contrast there. This book has
quite a lot to say on the culture of being overworked and being a workaholic,
particularly in Eastern countries, and also about mental health in these
countries, which is a subject that I find quite interesting, and it’s really
ripe for exploration in literature. Yeah, this was just a really fun, really
rewarding reading experience, so do recommend. That’s all I have to say about
books for now. I’ll see you again hopefully soon. I’m thinking about doing–
I’ve been thinking about this for ages, like months–doing a favorite books of
the first half of the year video. It’s a bit late for it, but like do I care? Do
you care? Let me know what you think down below. I’m obviously just gonna do what I
want, but I like your input as well. But that’s all I have to say. I’m just gonna
end it! Bye!

4 Replies to “reading wrap up | july 2019 (oops)

  1. ah, i love that you read books i’ve never heard of before!! and i always think you offer such interesting perspectives on them, and your summaries are really clear and detailed! “salvage the bones” is the most interested i’ve been in a Ward book. i hope to check that out soon’ i’m also really glad you enjoyed “a tale for the time being!” it’s a really good, underappreciated book!

  2. wow I am honored to be the cause of your one (1) fantasy read hahah omg I would have been mad too if I got to the end thinking it was a standalone😆 I hope you also enjoy Dragon Republic! I only have 100 pages left and I am currently “going through it” as the kids say 😩

    Also people’s list of their favorite books they’ve read recently are some of my favorite videos and time means nothing to me so YEAH DO THAT VID 💖

  3. I've wanted to read The Poppy War ever since it came out. I love the cover, and the story sounds so exciting. I hadn't heard of Salvage the Bones, but now I want to read it – I love stories that parallel each other, and the parallel to the Greek myths that you mentioned makes me think that this book is totally up my alley.

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