Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
I have a weakness for books about circus life, so this book, with its carny Binewski family as main characters, was a shoe-in for my particular tastes. It’s terribly hard to stomach some of the things the Binewskis do unblinkingly; their sense of morality does not match most outsiders, but it becomes clear over time that this is a defense mechanism that, at one point, kept them safe. This book is ultimately about the failure of that system, but it’s also about familial love, sacrifice, and growing up. This is a book that will stay with you, or at least it has stayed with me, and I have a feeling it’s one I will read again. It’s an addictive brand of heartbreak delivered here and one the reader feels so acutely precisely because Dunn has written such incredibly nuanced, interesting, complex characters.
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I was assigned this book as part of an online book club and, though it was on my long list of “Read This… Someday,” I was not feeling in a particular hurry. Calling this book “science fiction” is limiting — it’s ultimately about a relationship between two people and happens to have the setting of an alien world. The world itself is integral to the story, but it’s not laser beams and “beam me up” stuff that drives the novel, it’s the people. The beginning is slow; I think it’s intended to be, because by the time you reach the epic journey (you’ll know when you get there), you really appreciate all the background information you received earlier. The androgynous people of Winter and the exploration of gender alone makes this book worth reading once or twice.
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty
It should be no surprise from the title that this book is all about death, yet another of my favorite subjects! Ms. Doughty is a death worker who shares her early experiences working in the death industry, both from a personal perspective (coming to grips with death in your face all day every day, losing people from your own life, what am I doing with my life, etc.) and in a professional sense (how to handle dead bodies, upset families, and grosser subjects, like rotting bodies). It’s probably not for the faint of heart or terribly afraid of death types (though the latter probably should read this for their own good), but the tone is friendly, funny, and frank. There’s no sugar-coating, but you also don’t get the sense that Doughty is telling you things solely to make her reader squirm — and there’s plenty of history and factual information in there as she explores the “why” of her own industry for academic types. It’s worth mentioning that Doughty is responsible for the “Ask a Mortician” series of Youtube videos, which, if any of this interests you even remotely, I highly recommend.
Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
This is a great book with an engaging narrator. I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop for a lot of the story because it follows the life of a real person — and real people’s lives are long and winding! At no point was I so enthralled that I couldn’t put it down, but the length is manageable and you can feel the love of the author towards her subject (her grandmother) throughout. Surprisingly, I think I liked this book more before I am interested in my own genealogy; wouldn’t we all like to have this much detail about the lives of people we loved in our own families? Overall enjoyable and something I would recommend to folks who like plain-talking, adventurous women and/or stories set in the American West.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
If you’ve ever wished you could run away and join the circus, you’ll love the setting of this book. The love story is great, though as in lots of books, the two people who fall in love didn’t have any realistic life together during which they might find out if their relationship would actually WORK prior to being forced by circumstances to make a huge, life-or-death decision. But this a book, not real life, and that’s just a pet peeve of mine. What I loved were all the magical details (both visually-described and the magic itself) and the book was rich with well-developed, fascinating supporting characters. I could read an entire book about pretty much every single one of them.