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  • Writer's pictureDylan McCormack

Books of March

Updated: Mar 30, 2021

This is going to be a monthly review thing I'm going to do. All the books I read a month I'm just going to do a big group review. Now, this might change over time (in fact, I do see it having ti change eventually) but I just want to start off like this.

So. Let's begin.

  1. 'There There' by Tommy Orange

One of my favourite books this month. This novel deals with the modern plight of the Urban Native American. A people whose society was decimated by the oncoming Europeans and were forced to join into white American society or die. This novel is a story of their descendants. The Native Americans living in Oakland, California.

This is a violent book. This is a depressing book. This is a wonderful book.

I believe that literature should teach you something about the world. Whether it is a philosophical idea or a societal one or a history one. This books does this perfectly. The characters in this novel are paralysed by the idea of their history and the Pow Wow which the book focuses on culminates in the climax of a people forced to whither in their own land.

Following multiple Native characters throughout, we get a broad view on the plights of these people displaced within their own ancestral home. However, the novel also finds ways to deal with substance abuse, marital abuse, personal identity and history in the person. There is so much in this novel that it almost feels like and epic, even though it's just under three hundred pages. 'There There' feels like The Wire.

If you want to learn a different aspect of America that doesn't get shown at all, then this book is for you.

2. 'The Garden Party and other stories' by Katherine Mansfield.

This books depends on whether you like modernism or not. For myself, I have to be in a certain mood. A mood where I want to feel everything with super dense prose meant to make me fully inhabit the character. A mood where I want to feel the breeze on a far away beach. Words after words pummel your brain to bring you to another world. It's a lot. Sometimes you just want a simple read. Other times you want all the words.

I tend to drift in and out of this mood. Don't get me wrong, these stories are very good. Just, not a lot happens in them. It's all internal. The plot takes place off the page our within the main character.

Katherine Mansfield is a sad story. Born in New Zealand, moved to London where she befriended Virginia Wolff and a few other famous writers of the day. Unfortunately, she contracted TB and died at a fairly young age. Obviously, as these things go, she became more well known and respected after she died. Not to the level that Kafka had but still.

Her stories are obsessed with her home (like many writers). All of them take place in a place very much like the town she grew up in in New Zealand. My favourite story was probably the first one in the collection, 'At the Bay'. A huge painting of a seaside town waking up to the sound of the waves. Every villager got there due time on the page. I really felt as if I was starting to understand this town and how it ran right before the pages ended. 'The Garden Party' is another favourite. Class structure and childish innocence class in this tale of a rich family's annual garden party and then death comes to visit. It ends with one of the best closing lines in any short story.

"“No,” sobbed Laura. “It was simply marvellous. But Laurie—” She stopped, she looked at her brother. “Isn’t life,” she stammered, “isn’t life—” But what life was she couldn’t explain. No matter. He quite understood.

Isn’t it, darling?” said Laurie."

Does that not sum up how mysterious it all is? I love it.

Now, if you like modernism and then this is for you. Some people will find the collection boring but I just loved it.

3. "The Burning of Bridget Cleary" by Anne McCourt

This is a dense book. Dense.

A true story of the murder of Bridget Cleary by her husband in the late 1800's. What makes this story very strange however is the husband's insistence that the person he burned was not his wife but a changeling left by fairies.

The books goes into a deep dive into the folk lore beliefs at the time. Peasant and landlord relations, how work factored into this society. Medicine. Police. Priests. It feels like everything gets a glimpse. Even the role owning chickens gets a couple of paragraphs. This book is a lot.

I like it. The story was fascinating and if you are interested in folklore and murder then this book will suit you. However, I felt that the prose sometime came across as a bit too academic. There was almost too much. I felt myself zoning in and out. I was doing that thing where I was reading a paragraph multiple times in order to make sure I grasped what was happening.

Maybe I was just not in the right headspace but I felt drained after it. Like I was studying for a big exam.

4. "Civilisation and its Discontents" by Sigmund Freud

This is my first Freud to read. To be honest, I feel like I need to read it a few more times before I fully understand exactly what he was driving at. :/

5. "Atomised" Michel Houellebecq

I was wary I might hate this book. I was terrified I might love it. In the end, I just liked it.

A tale of two French brother, Michel and Bruno, and how both deal with modern life. Bruno deals with it by sticking his dick in everything while Michel deals with it by cloning.

It's a weird novel with massive chunks dedicated to Bruno and his sexual 'adventures'. Every woman he comes across is sexualised. Bruno is the dedicated loner who can't understand why is lonely as he continues to be disgusting.

Michel introverts into a world of scientific discovery which leads him to a discovery which changes humanity for ever. Eugenics, essentially.

Now, while this books is filled with disgusting passages there are also sprinklings of such lovely prose and humanity that I was then brought back into it. The book constantly pushes and pulls you that it is kind of exhilarating. Now, I wasn't a huge fan of it al together but I think it is worth taking a look at if you are interested in your literature dirty and philosophical. Dirty Philosophy, did I just create a term?

6. "Fen" by Daisy Johnson.

I've tried to read this collection of short stories multiple times and on my third time I finally did it.

Fen is a collection of short stories by an annoyingly young writer, Daisy Johnson. I say annoyingly because as a fellow writer, slowly losing the young, she is the kind of writer you'd like to start off as.

All of the stories kind of float around the idea of these fenlands. Think boglands. And like these places, all the stories are strange and morph into different things. Whether its a girl slowly turning into and eel or a story about a strange relationship between a young girl and a house all these stories are odd but very unique. The writing is evocative for the most part but I did feel that some stories overstayed their welcome. The stories are not really stories though. I viewed them as almost a collection of images or feelings. I guarantee some strange images will stick with you after this. As a beginning writer, Johnson has set the bar high.

7. "Pastoralia" by George Saunders.

The famous writer's second collection of short stories. If you are any way interested in contemporary writing you probably have a good idea on Saunders' stories.

They are delightfully funny, strange and sometime super dark. Trying to explain what these stories are about can be summed up pretty simply: America.

America in Saunders vision is an ego driven, money guided, capitalist dystopia. But, he is also very, very funny and a big lover in humanity. In his stories you feel a little bit more hopeful because while the machine of capitalism is shit, people don't have to be. We have a choice on how we treat each other. I always feel a little more hopeful after finishing his books.

8. "Blood Will Out" by Walter Kirn

If you like your true crime books, then this book is for you.

Walter Kirn writes a personal memoir on his relationship with a serial lier and one time murderer. This book is essentially a character study on the criminal. This is a guy who pretends he is a descendant of the mega rich Rockefeller clan who lies to everyone he sees about his wealth and innocence. And Kirn is one of his victims.

This books is a really interesting look at a close confidant of a murderer. It's quick, punchy and the story is pretty addictive. If you are looking for an interesting (and fairly modern) true crime tale, this is for you.

9. "Kindred" by Octavia Butler

This is another favourite this month. It's my first Butler book but it will not be the last.

A sort of sci-fi, fantasy, history mashup. It's just a great book.

Telling the dale of Dana, and African American woman who finds herself transported to the early 1800s where slavery is rampant and being black is a sign that your life is non important.

The plot is superbly told as we follow Dana being dragged back and forth through time learning first hand the misery of her ancestors. This is a powerful read that is told with really simple prose. I will warn you, it's dark. It's bloody. But, ultimately, it is worth it for the journey it takes you. I will be returning to this world and the other worlds that Octavia Butler has created.

10. "The Dissconnect" by Roisin Kiberd

I love a good essay collection. And this one, I really enjoyed.

All the essays in this books are linked be the unifying theme of the internet and the loneliness it can bring.That is the ultimate irony of the online world. It tells us it is all about interconnectivity but it has arguably made us all more solitary. When we can experience the world through our phone, we do the easy thing. People are lazy.

Roisin guides us through how the internet has shaped her where it is almost like a third parent that she has to learn to grow beyond. Whether it is talking about Monster or online dating or insomnia Roisin links it all together really well in a way that felt natural and highly entertaining. These essays pack a lot in them but are very easy to read.

11. "Job" by Joseph Roth

This was an odd book. A novel about a regular Jewish man in the early twentieth century living in Russia. His Pius. He has to provide for his family. It's one of those, 'simply man' stories. But it's not.

It's a really interesting story on a man whose faith is tested. I suppose that is a simple man story. As a non religious person I found the story quite moving. This is a short book, just over two hundred pages, but feels like there is a lot in it. There is big things happening in this book that would take lesser writers hundreds more pages to deal with.

After looking over all the short reviews, I think I speak for everyone that I failed. It was a nice idea but there is a definite obvious decline in the amount I am will to write for each piece. The truth is, all these books deserve a more thorough look at. Anyway, I'm only after starting this blog so I needed to bulk up what I had on the page!

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