Reading list

Reading List

Favorite books from April and May

If you've been following me on Twitter, you know that my life was recently overtaken by a historical obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald and every damn thing related to the 1920s.

So yes: This list has a bit of a theme. Here are my favorite books from April and May, 2017.

Editor of Genius

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If you're going to completely lose your shit over historical research into the lives of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, like I recently did, I actually recommend starting with this biography of Max Perkins. A. Scott Berg's book is widely praised, and for good reason. It's an interesting, well-written account not just of Perkins' life, but also of the lives of the authors that he worked with, from the 20s through the 40s.

Perkins was the editor for Scott Fizgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Tom Wolfe, and many others. The book includes excerpts of their letters to each other, and clear timelines of their lives. Berg provides context that I found essential to enjoying and understanding the other non-fiction books that I went on to read.

Editor of Genius also has awesome insights into the publishing industry. I loved reading about Perkins' editing, the changes that were made to books like The Great Gatsby to get it in shape for printing, and the general "how things were done" of the age. This book is definitely a keeper for me.

The Great Gatsby

A third-time read for me, and maybe I'm big cliche, but I love The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald's prose is so beautiful, and so magical. Describing characters was one of Fitzgerald's strengths. Ironically, one of the big edits that Perkins suggested for this book was that Scott didn't describe Gatsby enough. Changes were made, and now Gatsby has some of the most incisive character descriptions I've ever read.

Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face, and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body — he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body.

This book holds up, in beauty and in readability. It's one of my favorites.

Dear Scott/Dear Max

The second of my non-fiction binge books contains the collected letters between Fitzgerald and Max Perkins. Some I had already read in the Perkins biography. Here they're presented without commentary and minimal context (there are some great and useful footnotes), hence the Perkins biography feeling pretty crucial to my understanding of this book.

That being said, I love it. Certain paragraphs were cut out, which makes me feel like I have to track down the original letters just in case I missed some good dirt. I love the chatty, depressing, witty, lyrical way that Scott writes his letters. I found it sad and illuminating to see someone who is now considered one of the great American authors, openly struggling with his alcoholism, depression, and imposter syndrome. Fitzgerald is very flawed and very relatable, and I appreciate that his writing, letters included, has been so well-preserved.

The Changeover

Brief non-non-fiction break! The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy, was recommended (and bought for me) by Amanda Jean. What a fantastic book. It's the story of Laura Chant, a teenage girl whose brother is cursed, and who has to turn to the hot older boy witch in her school for help. It's incredibly well-written YA that doesn't condescend, talks honestly about sex, and magical metaphors for sex and puberty, and the prose is beautiful!

The characterization was also fantastic — I especially appreciated Laura's mother, who feels very real. And the magic in this book! It's creepy and delightful. The villain, in particular, is unforgettably horrifying.

Passing

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Nella Larsen's Passing is the 1929 story of two black women who grew up in the same neighborhood. Clare has married a white man and is passing as white, while Irene is active in the black community in Harlem. Clare Kendry is a really vivid, memorable character. Every single description of her leaps off the page. The whole book is wonderfully written, with beautiful prose and character descriptions, and it feels so alive and relevant — even 88 years after it was first written.

 

 

 

 

Fitzgerald and Hemingway - A Dangerous Friendship

The cherry on my miserable non-fiction sundae, this is the definitive book collecting the letters between Hemingway and Fitzgerald, over the course of their depressing-ass friendship. I felt that Bruccoli (who has apparently devoted his career to documenting these assholes) was very fair to both Scott and Ernest — not allowing either to be demonized, or lionized. He also doesn't let Hemingway get away with any of the inconsistencies that he introduced into the narrative of their friendship (lying about their first meetings, Scott's behavior, etc.).

I just finished this book so I'm still a little raw, but it really hit me emotionally. The Fitzgerald/Hemingway friendship was very intense, and watching it implode slowly is rough. The things they said about each other were beautiful and they were hurtful. I appreciated that Bruccoli lets the book close with excerpts of Scott's Notebooks, and every reference that he ever wrote about Hemingway. Hemingway lived 20 years longer than Scott, and spent those years writing and saying things of various levels of unkindness about him. It felt fitting to let Fitzgerald get a tiny, last hurrah in the final section of this book. 

Reading List

January's Reading List

I've set a rather modest goal of reading 30 books in 2017. I'm kind of lowballing it, but hey, anything could go wrong.

Starting now, I'll be doing monthly round-ups of my favorite reads — whether they be re-reads or new faves. These are my favorite books of January, 2017.

Stay My Fantasy

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Stay My Fantasy is the sequel to Be My Fantasya novella which was... very, very, good. Just like, super good and hot and fun, and emphasis once again on hot.

Stay follows that tradition by being hot fire all the way through. It continues the story of Elizabeth and Luca, who are desperately trying to stay away from each other, or get together, depending on who you ask. Elizabeth is a kinky, subby, clever businesswoman, and Luca will sacrifice anything to fuck the shit out of her. I wanted them to bone. All the time. And they did!

If you haven't read Alisha Rai before, pick up Be My Fantasy (and then Stay My Fantasy, because you will), and then you'll have had an irresistible, bite-sized taste of her writing.

Wanted, A Gentleman

Wanted is a Georgian roadtrip romance that is full of Charles' standard so-clever-you-need-to-read-it-twice dialogue. It is doing difficult duty of tiding me over until the release of Charles' next trilogy (and succeeding).

This book is a joyous little trip, full of emotional highs and lows. For the characters. I was consistently at an emotional high from sheer satisfaction. I was hooked from Martin St. Vincent's observation that Theo must "fuck like a tomcat," and speaking of Martin, this character is a wonderful bundle of complicated feelings and honorable convictions. Charles makes his emotional complexity look effortless. As a writer, I resent this.

Sidebar, KJ Charles is damn good at writing messed-up antiheroes and the good men that bring them to heel, and this is absolutely my jam.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers, Book 1)

Are you craving a feel-good space opera? Here it is, my friends. Becky Chambers skillfully uses made-up sci-fi words in a way that feels real and organic rather than forced. The world she's created for Long Way makes me bitter that, as far as we know, there are is no Galactic Commons waiting for humans in space. I wish there were.

I love space stories where humans are underdogs who have to fit into a greater universe. Chambers establishes her far-future humans with different backgrounds (Martian humans, spacer humans, humans devoted to a destroyed earth), and introduces a host of alien species besides, each with their own cultures.

She's really clever about pinpointing aspects of human and alien culture that differ (for example, Aandrisks don't consider babies valuable, but humans are obsessed with them). The book is ultimately about found family and a thoroughly explored cast of characters. It's long, but it's lovely.

Sins of the Cities of the Plain

While I can't recommend this book per se (or remember which words are plural in its title), Sins is a really fascinating read. It's the sort-of autobiography of Jack Saul, who was a gay sex worker in late 1800s London. Saul is a personal hero of mine for being a fucking badass during the Cleveland Street Scandal, but this book was actually written a few years before that.

The conceit is that it's an autobiography, but it's really a litany of erotic scenes purporting to be from Saul's life — from his first fumblings with his cousin, come on, dude, to romps with Boulton and Park.

It also comes with every content warning known to man. I can't even begin to list them. But I can't overstate its importance as both a historical document—gay Victorian erotica!!—and a (likely heavily fictionalized) biography of a gay historical figure. 

Think of England

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This one is a re-read, and absolutely worth it. Think of England was the first KJ Charles book I read, and I did it in one sitting over the course of a night. This was a big feat for me; I'm not a fast reader at all.

This time around I took my time with this stupidly enjoyable story. I cannot stress this enough: every piece of dialogue in Think of England is a joy. You can hear the characters' inflections in your head, and each has a distinct voice.

Archie and Daniel are fantastic, funny characters who by all logic should never end up together — but of course they do, because their chemistry is wild and circumstances force them to trust each other.

Their gradually building relationship, sizzling tension, and witty back-and-forth make this book for me. I enjoyed it just as much a second time.