Tuesday, July 4, 2023

The Villa by Rachel Hawkins & Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou

Today I'm supposed to be celebrating America but honestly, no.  To quote Bartleby, "I would prefer not to."

It was recently brought to my attention that I'm a blogger.  I know what you're thinking.  "You idiot, you only remember you have a blog when other people say it. You're like a weird reverse Rumpelstiltskin, or a demon being summoned only the demon is self absorbed and mostly just wants to talk about themselves."  Accurate.  

Since I last posted I've been doing a lot of reading.  A Lot.  Of Reading.  I've fallen into a kind of rut where many of the things I read are derivative of other things and that's OK!  It's fine to be entertained.  It's fine to read things other people think are pulp, or trash, or artistically worthless.  Sometimes I WANT trash.  Sometimes I want to read some he said/she said drama about people who really just need to grow up and get their shit together.  Sometimes I want to read the book the show is based on and see if it's better.  I don't mind a sex scene from time to time.  Not every book has to Be The Discourse. 

Some of this rut was algorithmic and I blame technology for that.  I used to use Overdrive and they had very decent recommendations based on what you were checking out.  Then Overdrive switched to Libby and even though it's the same (is it?) the new reccs are terrible.  Goodreads is better - people add books they read to shelves, so if you're into the tone of a novel you can see what shelves it was added to and you can click on "yearning dark academia" or whatever odd niche category you're presently on and find other books.  But that's also not perfect - it's based on others and not necessarily your own taste.  This is the second part of the problem - my own tastes can be limiting.  I've always prided myself on being open to diversity of style and genre in my media consumption.  You don't know what you like until you try new things.  But over the last couple years we've had a lot of uncertainty from so many areas of life and it's possible things might get worse before they get better.  So my need to slide into reading things that are the same as other things I liked before is high.  Starting a new TV series or risking wasting my time on a book that I may quit partway through feels exhausting.  I need to save my energy for arguing with people on the internet!

This year I've been more into sharing book recommendations with other people. I joined an online Discord based book club with the people I live tweet with, and we've been reading cozy mysteries set in different countries, with diverse authors, sometimes with supernatural elements so that's been going well.    And recently I read two books that came as recommendations and they were both fun and interesting enough for me to plow right through them.

The first of these was The Villa by Rachel Hawkins.  An internet friend messaged me to ask if I'd read it.  He said something along the lines of having never before read something he both loved and hated so much. I'm paraphrasing, I can't find the messages because I'm a dinosaur.  But that was enough of a hook for me to read it totally blind - going in without looking at Goodreads or googling it first.  It's a fun book, one of those books where you're not really sympathetic to any character.  It also jumps timelines - a trend I've noticed that can be annoying if you're doing an audiobook - but it does so in a way where a deeper story is revealed and runs parallels to the primary plotline.  It's well done.  I've seen it done in books to add tone or filler and gross, just write a short story.  I am happy to report this was done thoughtfully.  It's also one of those books where the bright sunny setting is at odds with the story being told, and I like a bit of discord in a book setting. My friend and I had different takes on this - he hated the characters but loved one of the plot twists.  I didn't like the final plot twist  because I thought it was unnecessary.  Thus is another trend I've noticed where a book will end or wrap up and then there's this final chapter tacked on that's like BUT WAIT! and it feels so out of place, like they're adding word count.  I also happened to like that the main characters were terrible.  I don't need to visualize myself as the main character and I don't want a morality play when I read a book.  Life is filled with hard moral choices and so I think it's cool when a book really lets it all hang out.  Let me see the trash, baby.   I guess what I'm saying is I liked it.  Even though  I liked it for different reasons than the person who recommended it to me, we both found it engaging.  It reminded me of Verity by Colleen Hoover in some ways so if you're a fan of either book, the other is similar. 

The other book came to me through social media.  Disorientation by Elaine Hsieh Chou.  This book is BONKERS.  One of the dangers of being a book gobbler is that every book reminds you of another book and at some point it feels like nothing is original anymore, but this book is very much its own story and  I loved it.  It has everything.  A woman becoming empowered.  Family dynamics.  An interesting and engaging cultural discussion.  A mystery. A scandal.  Humor.  I loved that it took me on a ride.  I started the book thinking it was about one thing and it very quickly amped up and went in a fun different direction.   There are some Goodreads reviews criticizing it for being advertised as literary fiction because they think it's somehow too fluffy but it seems like a weird purity test to say that humor and absurdism should keep something from being called literary fiction.  It's fine not to like a book but gatekeeping the genre because you're the tone police is a weird take.  Sometimes I forget how miserable people are on the internet. Probably because I'm one of the people who likes to save my misery for real life where I can really spread it around and get sympathy in the form of snacks, or where I can express it through my love of playing depressing Lenten music.  It's really hard for me to capture existential dread in a Tweet, but I guess some people have mastered it through their Goodreads reviews.  

As I type this I'm supposed to be looking up gathering times and preparing to be social outside, but it's  a truly miserable 96% humidity out there and I'm one of those weirdos who feels the seasonal depression in the summer rather than the winter. With so many hours of daylight it's harder to fall and stay asleep and so I'm more tired during the day because I'm incapable of napping.  Perhaps this is why I liked The Villa so much, because I also feel gloomy during the time of the year when we're most pressured to go out and do all of the fun expensive things on top of the every day things we're already supposed to be doing and paying for.  I mean I'm not going to do crimes about it, unlike in The Villa. "Never admit to crimes in your blog" is one of my rules for living.  

On that note I am logging off, to go be miserable in person and ironically patriotic in a very annoying way.