While my road to 80 books is paved with good intentions (or something), it won’t always be smooth. Last time out I bitched about the 520-page werewolf novel I had to review, and the sour taste it left in my mouth proved a bit of a stumbling block: April, May and June saw me complete a total of five books, knocking me off the strong pace I set early in the year.
The good news is, I knocked out 14 books in July, bringing my total to 44 and getting me back on track to hit my goal of not doing a public reading of Fifty Shades of Grey clad in a hot-pink onesie.
So that’s good.
In June I began reading about a dozen story collections, bouncing back and forth between them, but only finishing one before month’s end. Therefore July saw me finish several books I started the previous month.
There are too many books here to do a capsule review of each, so I’ll keep ’em brief. Mmmkay?
Out of Their Minds, by Luis Humberto Crosthwaite, trans. by John Byrd
This is a hella fun read about two Lennon-and-McCartney-like norteño musicians in Mexico, translated from the Spanish by the folks at El Paso’s Cinco Puntos small press, the ones who notched the 2012 PEN/Faulkner Award for Ben Saenz’s Everything Begins and Ends at the Kentucky Club, reviewed for the Texas Observer by your own Nico Vreeland. [Pause for breath.] A quick and entertaining read; due out in mid-August.
Salt, Sugar, Fat, by Michael Moss
Eye-opening nonfiction about the marketing and consumption of processed foods. For weeks it had me staring intently at every Dorito before shoving it into my fat mouth.
The Diary of Anne Frank
Somehow I missed this one in school. There’s no way I can say anything about it that hasn’t been said.
Happy Trails to You, by Julie Hecht
This is one of the funnier story collections I’ve read, and I’ll be dipping in for more Hecht as the year goes by. Do the Windows Open? is supposed to be even better than this one.
Remote Feed, by David Gilbert
A so-so story collection I read in preparation for:
& Sons, by David Gilbert
This novel comes close to being excellent. In my review I apparently felt the need to write “it’s very nearly a masterwork.” And it is. But who uses the word “masterwork?”
Bonsai and The Private Lives of Trees, by Alejandro Zambra
I’ve been hearing about Zambra for a couple years now, so I read these two novellas (or novellae, if you prefer, which I do) in a total of four sittings. Not memorable, perhaps, but both are worth a look for a quick taste of Chilean fiction.
The House at Belle Fontaine, by Lily Tuck
I struggled mightily to finish this one. If there were a poster child for “overly literary,” these stories would be in the running.
Before the End, After the Beginning, by Dagoberto Gilb
End-to-beginning entertaining short fiction from the Southwest, and highly recommended.
From the Darkness Right Under Our Feet, by Patrick Michael Finn
Among the collections I haven’t quite finished yet is Dybek’s Childhood and Other Neighborhoods. Finn tips his cap to Dybek several times in this ode to the darker side of Joliet, Illinois. These grim, gritty stories with titles like “Shitty Sheila” and “The Retard of Lard Hill” don’t hold a candle to Dybek’s, but how many do?
Brownsville, by Oscar Casares
Disappointing and underwhelming collection of short fiction set in/around Brownsville, Texas. If you read only one story, check out “RG.” But don’t let that one make you read the rest.
While the Women Are Sleeping, by Javier Marias
I enjoyed the title story when I read it in the New Yorker. I should’ve stopped there. Marias is one of Spain’s most popular novelists, but this one is an underwhelming collection.
Love & Obstacles, by Alexandar Hemon
This guy can flat-out write. His novelThe Lazarus Project is the better read, but there’s no shame in that. Settings from Sarajevo to Africa to Chicago–which makes it work pretty well in tandem with Dybek.
Who Killed John F. Kennedy? by Despair, Inc.
This Choose Your Own Adventure parody, by the folks who bring you the Demotivational posters, is fun as hell, and will make you nostalgic for the original books (or the Time Machine series, which I loved as a kid). In this one, you’re a teenage detective in Dallas and must solve JFK’s murder. But you can’t; there is only one positive outcome in the book, but there’s no route leading to it.
My final death came at the hands of Arlen Specter, who shot me with Oswald’s gun, and the bullet—a magic one, of course—went through me and killed my cohort. Perfect.
Flight, by Jose Skinner
Some excellent work in this story collection, covering ground from Colorado down to South America and points in between.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling
Even better than the first and second books.
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling