Summer Book Club Week 7: Why Libraries Rule

Guidelines for the Summer Book Club: if you’ve read this book, what did you think?  If not, what are you reading this week? Please comment, or post on your own blog and link in the comments below.

starrI began and tossed aside a number of books this week.  The only one I read through was Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead.  I wrote about Shipstead’s Astonish Me two weeks ago, so I won’t elaborate on Seating Arrangements, except to tell you that one of the biggest problems in my life right now is that Shipstead has published only two novels.  I will also share two snippets with you.  Snippet One:

“I understand why hippopotamuses spend so much time in water.”

“Hippopotami,” corrected Livia.

“You can say hippopotamuses, can’t you?” said Daphne.

“You’re the bride,” Livia said. “You can say whatever you want.”

Daphne eased down into her chair.  “Dominique, don’t they have hippos in the Nile?”

“They do.  I believe the plural is ‘scary fuckers.'”

Snippet Two:

“It’s so cold in this restaurant.  I don’t know why you chose it.”

“I didn’t choose it,” Winn said.  “Dicky and Maude did.”

“They wouldn’t have.  They know I don’t care for the cold.”

“Maybe,” Winn offered, “you’re feeling the chill of approaching death.”

She gave him a long, gloomy squint.  “This family is falling into the middle class,” she said.

Dear Maggie Shipstead: please write another novel soon.


Abandoned after considerable investment: The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb.  I know that the reader’s antipathy toward the narrator is part of the point.  I soldiered on for 100 pages, and then I was like, Sorry, man, I cannot spend one more minute in your self-righteous enraged company.  I’ve made a bunch of attempts at Wally Lamb’s novels on friends’ recommendations and it’s just never taken.  He’s a very good writer, but not for me.

Abandoned after minimal investment: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.  I’m sure this is a good book.  However, I started reading it with a sick cat sleeping on me, and a kitten dies in the first chapter, so that was that for that.

Abandoned before investment set in: a bunch of well-reputed murder mysteries.  Something in me really wants to love reading murder mysteries, and I almost never do.  I write a lot about my love of simple, invisible prose; this is usually a problem because I want to enjoy novels that critics/all my literary friends are raving about and then I find myself yelling “WILL YOU PLEASE STOP WAVING AROUND ALL THE WORK YOU DID ‘WRITING’ THIS AND JUST TELL THE DAMN STORY”.  However, I also have the opposite problem: I get a few lines into a book and start yelling “OH GOD THAT IS A TERRIBLE TURN OF PHRASE” and “YES I KNOW WE NEED TO KNOW THIS INFORMATION THAT YOUR CHARACTER IS SO BALDLY LAYING OUT IN UNNATURAL EXPOSITORY DIALOGUE BUT I JUST CAN’T.”  I know; my life is hard.  But summer is short, and I’m not going to waste it reading books that get on my nerves even for a second.


Epiphany of the week: my longstanding habit of buying piles and piles of books is actually detrimental to my life as a reader.  It means I try to joylessly plow through books I don’t like because I’ve spent money on them, instead of saying Screw you, book I don’t like, and moving on to something I will love.  This summer, I’ve rediscovered one of my greatest childhood joys: the public library.  Free books!  And what’s more, it’s way better than my childhood public library because I live in Montreal now so I have a city-wide network of public libraries and they will send me any book they have.  The time I used to spend searching for books on Amazon (and then buying them, and then maybe not liking them) can now be spent searching the Montreal Public Library network for every book that’s ever been on my Amazon wishlist and reserving them all and then receiving awesome telephone calls telling me that my book is waiting for my just up the street.  GO TO THE LIBRARY, PEOPLE.  YOU WON’T BE SORRY.

Have you read Seating Arrangements, or any of the other books I attempted this week? If so, what did you think?  If not, what are you reading?


11 thoughts on “Summer Book Club Week 7: Why Libraries Rule

  1. “But summer is short, and I’m not going to waste it reading books that get on my nerves.” Ha–for sure. As Harold Bloom wrote, we’re all “reading against the clock.”

    Though I realize committed readers face an existential challenge–ie “so many books, so little time”–I enjoy re-reading my very favorites every few years. Started the summer with two engrossing re-reads: Farewell to Arms and Blood Meridian. Both reviewed on my blog.

    Summer is half over—hope you find that novel that speaks especially to you!


    1. ETC: When I was a kid, I was a very fast reader, and one of my favourite things was bringing a book home from the library for the second time, because I knew I was going to discover things in it that I’d totally missed the first time around. I’ve fallen out of that habit (and I read more slowly now), but I remember the excitement that would grip me when I ran my eyes over a library shelf and thought, “Oh, I’ve only read that amazing book once!” I miss that.


  2. Oh my goodness, I just read The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (or rather someone just read it to me) and it’s so good. I haven’t read much by Gaiman before (Good Omens and Coraline only), so I can’t compare it really to his other work, but this one is very creepy and ah words fail me to express how much I loved it (even though I don’t generally love creepy). The story felt so very real to me, even though it’s fantastical and horrifying in parts too. I recommend giving it another chance.


  3. Hi Ms Curious! I’ve spent the better part of this week reading your blog: really great stuff (I especially like the stories about your students. ) At some point, you asked about books for boys – while I’m not a teacher, I am a reader, and would like to suggest you read some Anthony Horowitz. He writes YA books that target boys well. Try Stormbreaker and Ravens Gate; both are the first in a series of great novels. More literary is The Devil and his Boy, but I did find it less enjoyable. Another author is Derek Landy with the Skulduggery Pleasant series. Maybe that’s pitched at a younger audience that what you’re looking for, but it’s very entertaining. Finally, the Young Samurai series has great themes of cultural differences and respect for those, I don’t remember the author though.

    Thanks for hours of enjoyment this week. I look forward to more stories in the new semester!


    1. Z: so glad your enjoying the blog! I will take all your recs into consideration, particularly next time I’m doctoring my course on novels on adolescence. Cheers! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on other posts.


  4. These “summer book club” posts couldn’t have come at a better moment for me… I too am a teacher and find that reading for pleasure has become more and more difficult. Like you I don’t have the patience to plod through mediocre prose and storytelling, hoping that it will be eventually worth it. This is actually my current predicament, as I am twenty or so pages in to Terry Fallis’ novel No Relation. Have you heard of it? I trust your taste in books (I just requested Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements from the public library and am debating purchasing Astonish Me) and would love your thoughts if you are familiar with Fallis’ work. So far I am not terribly impressed.

    I am a long-time lurker of your blog and love your book review posts the most. Keep them coming please!


      1. I gave up on the Fallis book and read Seating Arrangements instead (which I enjoyed even though the ending was a bit rushed). Now I am on to Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being. I am curious to hear your thoughts on the ending of Seating Arrangments, though. I liked the last paragraph of the novel but it felt somehow incomplete as a novel.


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