Saturday, July 5, 2014

Recent Reads

I've been more slack in my summer reading progress than usual, thanks to True Detective and good weather.  However, I have discovered a few good titles so far.  Two of the books are rereads that I remembered liking, but not necessarily what they were about.  The third is a new title that I checked out mostly because I liked the guy's glasses on the cover. 

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell (2006).
Find it in the catalog!
I first read this book shortly after graduating from college and really enjoyed it.  However, I could no longer remember much about it other than the cover and that it was British and had a kid that stuttered.  So naturally I checked out again just to refresh my memory.  Based loosely on author David Mitchell's childhood, the book follows 13-year-old Jason Taylor who is dealing with a garden variety of life issues.   His parent's marriage has hit a rough patch.  His older sister is going away to college. He's also secretly a published poet, which he keeps secret to avoid being picked on in school.  Like most intelligent, sensitive kids, Jason deals with some pretty intense bullying at school, which is intensified by his speech impediment. The book is set in 1980s Margaret Thatcher era England.  I wasn't all that familiar with that period of history, which includes the Falklands War, but Mitchell does a good job dropping the reader into that era. 

The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld (2006).
Find it in the catalog!
I first read this book while I was in graduate school.  I remember immediately relating to the main character, Hannah Gavener, who's kind of a socially awkward loner.  Imagine my horror later on to read reviews of the book describing Hannah as irritating and a "sourpuss" (thanks a lot, New York magazine!).  After rereading the book recently, I can see how some people find Hannah to be a difficult character.  She is stubborn, usually says the wrong thing, and is primarily responsible for her own misery (isn't everyone?).  However, I think that makes her more of a realistic and sympathetic character.

Sittenfeld follows Hannah's life from early adolescence, where she struggles with having an emotionally volatile father, to her late twenties.  The book primarily focuses on Hannah's relationships with the different men in her life.  In high school and college, Hannah frets over her lack of a love life.  However, even after she starts dating, she finds her actual relationships wanting.  Instead, she longs for Henry, the on-again, off-again boyfriend of her more glamorous cousin, Fig.  Throughout the book, we see Hannah struggle with her low self-esteem and poor social skills while trying to become a functional adult.  I especially enjoyed the depiction of Hannah's relationships with her more together sister Allison and her beautiful but irresponsible cousin Fig, which seemed pretty true to life. 

Courting Greta by Ramsey Hootman (2014).
Find it in the catalog!
I'm a sucker for a man with thick glasses, so naturally this book called to me from the book cart.  However, the main character Samuel Cooke didn't turn out to be the bespectacled hunk the cover alludes to.  Instead, he's a cantankerous 34-year-old disabled computer geek turned public school teacher.  In spite of their age and size difference, Samuel quickly develops a crush on Greta "Cass" Cassamajor, a 46-year-old, tough as nails gym teacher and girls' basketball coach.  In spite of her tough exterior, Samuel decides to ask her to dinner, thinking she will immediately rebuff him.  Much to his surprise, Greta agrees and the two start an awkward and uncertain romance (aren't they all?).  Both Samuel and Greta has a whole host of issues.  Samuel is super neurotic, bitter, and doesn't really take care of himself in the way that he should.  He also has never been in a relationship before.  Greta is a woman of very few words, a lot of rules, and she's been badly hurt by men in her past.  However, despite her tough attitude, Greta is very caring and fiercely loyal.  This is a very sweet romance, but Hootman doesn't spare the character's darker sides or the awkwardness of their courtship.  The book is also frequently funny, especially Samuel's jaded perspective on life.