My summer reading list: three books about America, and one about bridesicles

summer reading

Ever since I figured out last year that no screen time for an hour before bed made it waaaay easier for me to fall asleep, I have been on a reading BINGE. Mostly fiction, mostly fun, and mostly AWESOME. This summer in particular I've been on a roll with some really great books, and figured I'd circle up with y'all to compare notes.

Oddly, three of the four books I've read recently have had "America" in the title, so evidently I'm on a patriotic theme. Come with me?

American Gods, Neil Gaiman

This was a book selected by my book club, and I was stoked for another opportunity to try a Neil Gaiman novel. (I perhaps ill-advisedly started with Good Omens which just was NOT for me, despite loving Terry Pratchett.)

American Gods totally made me understand why so many people love Gaiman so much. He captured the American voice so perfectly that one of my book club compatriots complained that the book was "waaay too dude-bro." I was like, "But the author is British! If it reads as too 'dude-bro,' it's because he so perfectly captured American dude-bro-ness."

I also loved having Wikipedia at the ready to look up each mythological figure that got mentioned. Best part? My husband baked pasties for our book club meeting, and I have been eating them ever since.

  • My Goodreads rating: 5 stars

American Savage by Dan Savage

I've been a Dan Savage fan since his column was still called HEY, FAGGOT, well before his first book came out. (Aww, remember when he looked like this? Adorbz!)

Anyway, Dan's voice has had a significant influence on my writing over the last 15+ years, and it's been inspiring to watch his media star rise and It Gets Better saves lives and his projects have gained such visibility and bla bla bla — Ok, look, fine: I'll be honest here: I'm mostly in it for the combination of Dan's personal stories and his relationship advice.

Dan is my very favorite bossy asshole, but his sweet stories of his marriage and child-rearing just slay me. His politics are totally inline with most of mine, so that's great… but it's his perspectives on long-term relationships and parenthood that keep me coming back to the Savage Pavlovian rat lever, reading year after year (and oh my god at this point, decade after decade).

In American Savage, he mentions that some LGBT activists hate him for being too conservative and heteronormative… which just adds to the joy. The HEY, FAGGOT guy is now nearing 50, happily married for ages, and the father of a teenager?! It DOES get better! It's just been such a treat over these last 15+ to follow his work, his activism, and especially his family.

Oh and speaking of family, did anyone else catch the mysterious intrigue hidden in the Afterward? Dan thanks his sister-in-law/copyeditor, saying he'll be nicer to her in the future. Jesus, Dan. What did you do to this poor woman?!

Ok fine, fine: I'm a ridiculous Dan Savage fangirl. For those of you who are like me, I encourage you to follow his husband on Instagram, because Dan does not lie: Terry DOES look great in leather.

  • My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Adichie's book about a Nigerian woman who immigrated to the US, becomes a successful blogger, and then moves back to Lagos is BITING. Holy fuck, no one is exempt from getting skewered in this book, whether it's bougie Nigerians, American blacks, academics of all kinds, upper-middle class white liberals (GUILTY AS CHARGED), publishing industry peeps (books AND magazines get slammed), and pretty much everyone else.

Of course the sections on blogging were especially relevant for me as a blogger ("The more she wrote, the less sure she became. Each post scraped off yet one more scale of self until she felt naked and false."), but the book holds super provocative observations on race, immigration, American culture, hair, money, identity, etc etc etc.

Unfortunately, the protagonist doesn't seem especially self-aware, nor does she treat the people around her well, so she's not always that likable. (She claims to be a strong woman, but then basically spends the book relying on men for green cards, attention, and self-worth.) The plot feels thin in places, like Adichie has strung together some contrivances that give her the opportunity to hit her talking points. Characters definitely felt at times secondary to social commentary… but with a book this thought-provoking, I'm willing to overlook the threadbare components.

  • My Goodreads rating: 4 stars.

Love Minus 80 by Will McIntosh

This is the standard that fluffy summer reads will now be compared to. I inhaled this book in a couple days, and loved almost everything about it. Some of the writing felt a bit odd — the set-up at the start is blazingly fast, with so many major plot-points happening in the first 2 chapters that it was almost hard to keep up.

Once I got settled in to what was happening, the book was the perfect gobble-it-up sci-fi. I loved the explorations of technology, media, and communications… the way people subvocalized to have several conversations simultaneously via voice and text, all felt very plausible.

And the bridesicle concept? *shiver* It's the perfect combination of intriguing and just fucking creepy. Dead women rasping dirty talk at prospective husbands who might fund them being brought back to life? FUCKING CREEPY. I did have a little trouble picturing some of the things described — the book makes heavy use of the word "creche," which I had to look up and still wasn't totally clear how to picture.

I loved the themes later in the book about the different kinds of partnerships that have value… both the "lightning and thunder OMG I LOVE YOU" passionate kind, and the equally valuable "monogamous nonplatonic partnership" comfortable kind. I loved the way different characters found their ways to the different relationship outcomes…

This one only took a few hours to read and I'd HIGHLY recommend it for those looking for an quick, not-stupid, and slightly creepy summer sci-fi. LOVED!

  • My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Ok, Homies. What books are you gobbling up this summer? Oh, and if you use Goodreads, share your profile link! Here's mine.

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  1. I am currently reading two books. Stronghold by Melanie Rawn (for like he umpteenh time since I was 11) and Rez Life by David Treuer.

    I really recommend Rez Life. It blends personal narratives of growing up on the rez with history and social/legal explanations for how Indian lives are tied to so many internal and external factors. It explained what exactly a treaty is and the ramifications they hold much clearer than anything else I have read

  2. American Gods is one of my favourite books, I'm glad to see it got good reviews from you. But then, I have an author crush on Neil Gaiman in general, his writing just leaves me in the best state of bliss. Funny enough, Good Omens is a book we're constantly losing because it's always on loan… And then the person we loaned it to loans it out again.

    "The Dresden Files" by Jim Butcher is the other series currently topping my list of favourites these days. They're this awesome mix of urban fantasy and noir detective novel, and the books are just light, fast paced, witty reads.

    10 agree
  3. I was up until 6 in the morning last night reading American Savage (yay pregnancy and hours upon hours of pointless wakefulness the second the lights go out and my husband starts snoring) – I can rarely get enough of Dan. Maybe it's also the fact that he's a PNW icon, or the fact that my marriage is worlds better for having been a reader of his column for YEARS (almost as long as the Hey, Faggot era – I think I found it right after it was renamed Savage Love), but honestly, I completely agree with you – his voice is SO APPEALING. I loved The Kid and The Commitment, and Skipping Towards Gomorrah is excellent as well.

    For anyone else that enjoyed American Gods, Neil Gaiman has a new book out – The Ocean at the End of the Lane. I hear it's very good, it's on my TBR list!

    MOAR BOOK POSTS RAWR. I will contribute reviews every day if needed. ๐Ÿ˜›

    2 agree
    • I am a total Gaiman fan girl.
      The first book my husband offered me when we were just started dating was Stardust and I just loved it. American gods was such a revelation.
      Thanks for the tip about the new book I didn't know about ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Hoo-boy. Lemme know, when you get to the end, if you think George RR Martin has completely lost the plot. I worry for the HBO adaptation, because I don't think Martin knows where he's going with the books…. so lord knows what they're going to do with the show.

      4 agree
      • With the way he's going… Hodor on the Iron Throne. I'm pretty sure that's the only option left.

        Hodor.

        10 agree
  4. Yay American Gods! I found out today that Neil Gaiman is actually coming to my country for a reading and a signing session next month. I'm totally excited about that. I may have to reread American Gods for that.

    Right now I'm reading A Place of Greater Safety, Hilary Mantel's novel on the French Revolution. I ADORE Mantel's Wolf Hall, but find this one a little harder to read. Probably because I know way more about the Tudors than about the Revolution, so I'm having trouble remember who everybody is. Still, it's very interesting and well written.

  5. Since I've read the first 2 books on your list and loved them, I will definitely look into your other suggestions! Here are some of my own (similar) suggestions:

    Reading Dan Savage's book "The Commitment" helped me figure exactly why I was feeling terrible about the whole engagement and marriage process AND what I could do about it. Seriously, it changed my whole outlook on marriage and why you do or do not want to do it!

    Neil Gaiman came out with a short novel very recently called The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It was a binge read since it was so much shorter than American Gods, for example. I can never decide if it's better to look up the mythology as I go along or afterwards to not ruin any surprises. There are so many things I don't even realize are a reference to something until much later!

    And my guilty pleasure reading includes books by female comedians like Ellen DeGeneres and Tina Fey. They are a good transition between work and home or vacation reading.

    1 agrees
  6. For fun fluffy summer reading, I love Sara Addison Allen's books http://www.sarahaddisonallen.com
    Her characters have very interesting magical abilities, one can use ingredients in food to make impressions on people, another has a special relationship with books, totally worth spending some time hanging out in the sunshine with a tall glass of iced tea and one of her books.

    2 agree
    • I LOVE LOVE LOVE her books! I've read them all and am now anxiously awaiting her next book that is coming out in February 2014 ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Loved American Gods! I read it via audiobook and it was one of the reader was a good choice for the book (hate it when a good story gets ruined by a reader that likes to "enhance" the book…or just plain has an annoying voice).

    What is it about summer and book about America? I haven't read it in forever, but days ago I started feeling the urge to track down a copy of Americana by Hampton Sides. Or maybe it was a discussion about airstream trailers that did it…

  8. I reread American Gods a couple of weeks ago, and have a request on Love Minus Eighty at the library.

    I went to the American Library Association conference, so I brought home a ton of advance copies of things coming out from June through October or so, with a few further out that might not be published until more like January, so I'm mostly reading those and then mixing in requests as they come in. I'm also on a committee to pick the book for my city's Big Read next year, so I'm trying to read as many of the books on the longlist as possible before the next meeting.

    One of the advance copies I got that has come out already (it might have been out by the time the conference happened, but the publisher was still giving the uncorrected proofs away) was We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, about the complicated relationship between a young woman and her family, especially a sister who mysteriously went away when she was five. About a third of the way in – but it's not a spoiler because it's on the cover blurb – she gets around to addressing the fact that said sister is a chimp that was being raised alongside her.

    I use Librarything instead of GoodReads, so here's my profile there: http://www.librarything.com/profile/EstelleChauvelin

  9. The Golem and the Jinni is what I am reading right now, but I am participating in an online book club with all my extended female family (sisters, cousins, aunts, grandmother) and we are reading The forgotten garden, Desired Haven,The gravesavers and jitterbug perfume (amazing by tom robbins) this summer. I am reading like crazy!

  10. I'm also reading the GoT series, plus a bunch of graphic novels (Fun Home by Alice Bedchel, the second Saga trade paperback, and the City of Ember graphic novel). Ariel, I'm wondering if you've read "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" – I was expecting a slightly-trashy light read, but I was actually really moved by it at the end of the day. As a Seattle alterna-mom, I'm curious about your perspective.

  11. Dan Savage has also made my straight marriage better! Yay!

    I was a bit disappointed by his book because I feel like I didn't read anything new. I read his blog every day and I feel like he's already said everything in the book. But I guess that is pretty normal and you should all go read it.

  12. Yay summer reading! At this point it's not much different than year-round reading, but I just picked up a Bill Bryson (The Lost Continent, the only one they had at the library) and am partway through Pink Brain Blue Brain. That one's dense, though, so I let the library take it back temporarily. Planning to read Overdressed: The High Cost of Cheap Fashion next.

    I have a hold on American Savage too! Can you tell I like non-fiction?

    • You know, I tried to read "Pink Brain Blue Brain" when I was pregnant… and it was just too dense for me. Blame baby brain or just blame my own attention span, I got as much as I could from it and passed it on to a friend…

      • Oh, it's definitely not just baby brain! It took me a long time to get to a point where I wanted to keep reading, and even then it was only about 10-20 pages at a time (which is very few for me).

        Maybe I'll pick it up again, since it's a subject I'm extremely interested in (and I love when she refutes all the stuff in other works like "The Female Brain," which I had to read a bit of for a class and thought was garbage). But I'm also okay with not getting back to it for a long while.

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