Book Reviews

“Quiet” by Susan Cain

I was what you might call a high-reactive baby. The slightest disturbance would leave me wailing. I was picky about sound, about food, about the way fabric touched my skin. When I was a year or so old and still cried like it was my full-time job, my mom took me to the doctor and said, “There has to be something wrong with her.” My mother herself cried when she found out she was pregnant with the brother who arrived after me, and her best friend comforted her by saying, “Don’t worry. When God made Melody, he broke the mold.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee

Set in fictional Maycomb County in 1930s Alabama, To Kill a Mockingbird is narrated by young Scout Finch, who is generally more interested in finding treasures and scrapping with her brother, Jem, than in the Great Depression or Jim Crow. But tension in the Deep South is unavoidable, especially when your dad is Mr. Renaissance Man himself. Atticus Finch is representing Tom Robinson, a black man accused of sexual assault by an impoverished white girl. Scout is young, but already she struggles with biases inherited from members of this insular community. As she observes the tumult caused by the trial, and as she deals with her own demons, Scout learns that people aren’t always as they appear.

“I Am Forbidden” by Anouk Markovits

There are some books that are so good, as soon as you finish reading you’re ready to tell the world exactly what you loved about it; the words have been forming in your mind the whole time.

I Am Forbidden may not be one of those books.

It’s a book that you read obsessively—it takes over your thoughts—and quickly—because you have to know what happens, you have to stay with these characters. Yet when you put it down, you don’t know how to explain the book, much less why you loved it.

“A Visit from the Goon Squad” by Jennifer Egan

Much is said about plot in writing. Without plot, you don’t have a book… right?

That’s why, at first glance, A Visit from the Goon Squad appears to be a series of interconnected short stories. There is no overarching plot, no event or circumstances that drive the characters through the narrative, which switches back on itself, going into the past and then the future over the course of four decades. In books like The Train of Small Mercies, the characters never meet. But the same event—the death of RFK—draws them together in theme and event if not in circumstance, and so their arcs mirror each other.

“Swamplandia!” by Karen Russell

The Bigtrees are the proud, indebted owners of Swamplandia!, a macabre and thrilling theme park devoted to “Seths”—their nickname for alligators. But when their star wrestler Hilola dies and a rival theme park, the World of Darkness, opens nearby, they hemorrhage customers.

Thirteen-year-old Ava is stricken with grief at the loss of her mother, the famous alligator wrestler Hilola Bigtree. Hilola died not from an aggressive gator attack but from cancer, and Ava finds herself adrift. She’s not the only one. Her father, known as the Chief; her seventeen-year-old brother Kiwi; and her sixteen-year-old sister Osceola (Ossie) also break and slide apart.

“The Scar” by China Miéville

Bellis Coldwine is unhappily fleeing her home in New Crobuzon for a colony across the world. Bellis, a cold, competent linguist, soon finders herself impressed by pirates and dropped onto the floating city of Armada.

“Wild” by Cheryl Strayed

When Cheryl Strayed set off to hike an 11,000-mile portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), she wasn’t just leaving the comforts of home behind. She was attempting to discard a lifetime of emotional baggage as well: grief over her mother’s death, anger over her father’s abandonment, pain over her recent divorce, promiscuity, and a heroin problem.

“Let’s Pretend This Never Happened” by Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson, better known as The Bloggess, is kind of a big deal. She has more than 342,000 Twitter followers–including Neil Gaiman–and a popular blog supported by ad revenue; maintaining her site and Twitter feed is a full-time job. After becoming an online superstar, she published Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir.

A Short Guide to “Atlas Shrugged”

Assigned to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged? Curious about the book after Paul Ryan proclaimed his devotion to it last year? Don’t worry, you don’t have to wade through this long and ideologically…. interesting book. Not to get into the business of shilling for others’ films, but I ran across this video recently and thought I’d share. Here’s more about the book/video from Academic Earth: You know how some authors tuck their messages away in subtle narrative layers, inviting you to tease []