The good news: I’m back to reading regularly again. The bad news: I can’t seem to find sufficient free time for reading and writing. I have a backlog of books that I need to review . . . but when I have a free hour during nap time, I’d prefer to read (or, let’s be honest, watch Jane the Virgin) than sit down and crank out a blog post. So, I’m cheating by reverting to the mini-review system I used at the end of my pregnancy. No, there is not a common theme that ties these books together. No, I am not going to weave these reviews together, so they flow seamlessly one into the next. These are just three short reviews of three random books. Enjoy!
The Little Paris Bookshop
Translated from the German by Simon Pare
Published June 23, 2015
400 pages (hardcover)
What it’s about: Lonely, middle-aged dude owns a bookshop in Paris. But not just any bookshop! A floating bookshop!! On the Seine!!! I mean, can you get any cuter?!?!
Lonely, middle-aged dude is no ordinary bookseller, of course: “Perdu used his ears, his eyes and his instincts. From a single conversation, he was able to discern what each soul lacked. To a certain degree, he could read from a body’s posture, its movements and its gestures, what was burdening or oppressing it. And finally, he had what his father had called transperception: ‘You can see and hear through most people’s camouflage. And behind it you see all the things they worry and dream about, and the things they lack.’” Using this special skill, he prescribes the perfect book for each customer.
But lonely, middle-aged dude is unfulfilled. And after discovering some terrible news (that makes him feel even lonelier and less fulfilled), he decides to run away. In his floating bookshop (because, duh, it’s a boat).
Why I read it: This book was a LibraryReads Favorite of the Favorites and New York Times bestseller.
It should come as no surprise that I’m a sucker for a book that panders to book lovers . . . even the mediocre ones (mediocre books, not mediocre book-lovers, that is). Proof of this assertion can be found in my reviews of the following books that fall squarely in that category: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, The Moment of Everything, and Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore.
I basically had to read this book.
So, I thought the book would be about this guy, Perdu, and his book “prescriptions.” Maybe you’d get to know other characters as they came in to the store, and you’d see how Perdu’s “prescriptions” changed their lives for the better. It could have been cute. But that is NOT what this book is about.
Perdu helps one or two customers at the beginning. But mainly, he just mopes around while the author shoves lots of over-the-top, cheesy book quotes like this down your throat:
- “Books keep stupidity at bay. And vain hopes. And vain men. They undress you with love, strength and knowledge. It’s love from within.”
- “Perdu reflected that it was a common misconception that booksellers looked after books. They look after people.”
- “Perdu wanted Anna to feel that she was in a nest. He wanted her to sense the boundless possibilities offered by books. They would always be enough. They would never stop loving their readers. They were a fixed point in an otherwise unpredictable world. In life. In love. After death.”
Whoa. That’s pretty agressive. I mean, where else is there to go with the extreme book-loving? Nowhere. Which is, apparently, why the book then devolves into an utterly random quest novel.
First, Perdu is a depressed floating-bookstore owner who acts as a book psychologist, reading people’s inner turmoil and determining the best book medicine to soothe their souls. Then, he hooks up randomly with some lady in his building who is going through a divorce. Then, he’s running off with a best-selling author whom he barely knows on a random journey. Then, all of a sudden, this man who has shied away from love for 30 years is an expert tanguero (why, yes, that is really random, thank you for noticing).
And, just when you think it can’t get any more random . . . the book finishes with recipes. Does food feature prominently in the book? Nope. Is there a special restaurant they visit? Nope. Is there a romantic meal shared? Nope. These recipes (like the one for pistou, despite pistou never being mentioned in the book) just exemplify the randomness of the book as a whole.
But guess what? I’m not sure the randomness is the worst this book has to offer. Because, in addition, it is chock full of terribly-written, trite, cringe-inducing little tidbits like this: “We are loved if we love, another truth we always seem to forget. Have you noticed that most people prefer to be loved, and will do anything it takes? Diet, rake in the money, wear scarlet underwear. If only they loved with the same energy; hallelujah, the world would be so wonderful and so free of tummy-tuck tights.” Yuck.
Learn from my mistakes. Even if you’re a book-lover, don’t let yourself get swindled by this book. Don’t fall for the seemingly charming concept. It’s a classic bait-and-switch.
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed
Published March 31, 2015
304 pages (hardcover)
What it’s about: The title says it all. Ronson realized that social media (Twitter especially) were a vehicle for the kind of punishment that had been gone for nearly two hundred years: “We were at the start of a great renaissance of public shaming. After a lull of almost 180 years (public punishments were phased out in 1837 in the United Kingdom and in 1839 in the United States), it was back in a big way. When we deployed shame, we were utilizing an immensely powerful tool. It was coercive, borderless, and increasing in speed and influence. Hierarchies were being leveled out. The silenced were getting a voice. It was like the democratization of justice.”
With each chapter of this non-fiction book, Ronson explores a different public shaming. There are some who seem deserving of their shamings, like Jonah Lehrer, a young, successful writer who was lazy and arrogant . . . and fabricated Bob Dylan quotations for a piece he wrote. Despite the fact that many of his pieces were later found to contain shady stuff (more fake quotes, self-plagiarization, etc.), Lehrer never seemed to own his transgressions or sincerely apologize for them.
On the flip side, there are people like Justine Sacco, who told a really classless joke. She was getting on a plane to Africa for vacay, and, right before she turned off her phone, she jokingly tweeted to her 170 followers: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” She was in the air for eleven hours. And, when she landed and turned her phone back on, she was greeted by a text from someone she hadn’t spoken to in years: “I’m so sorry to see what’s happening.” You guessed it: her tweet had been retweeted approximately one billion times. People were waiting for her at the airport to take her picture for public-shaming purposes. Long story short: she lost her job and could barely show her face in public for months. Now, her Twitter handle has been coopted and is used for “Tweets about racial, social and economic justice.” She’s turned into a cautionary tale. Ouch.
Why I read it: This was an Amazon Best Book of the Month for April 2015 and an Indie Next List pick for April 2015, so it was on my radar. And then I watched an episode of Chelsea Does (specifically, the really boring one about Silicon Valley) in which Ronson briefly appears and talks about the Justine Sacco Tweet. Her story seemed interesting (and it was!), so I thought the book might be worth a read.
Here’s some true praise for this book: after I read the first couple chapters, I told my husband I thought he might enjoy it. He started skimming it one afternoon when our daughter was napping on him (She likes to nap on people. And who can blame her?) and proceeded to finish it in less than a week. If you’ve read this post, then you know that this is basically a miracle.
This book isn’t going to change your life or give you any epiphanies, but it’s a fun one to pass the time. It’s basically non-fiction fluff. There are some interesting stories but not a lot of substance. Ronson’s writing is fast-paced and easy to read (here’s an excerpt from the book about a guy who made a “dongle” joke at a tech conference and lost his job for it). Some of the stories (like “dongle” guy) are pretty unbelievable (FYI, crazy troll people are lurking all around you. Beware!). And there are some funny tidbits, like this bit about Brad Blanton’s Shame-Eradication Workshop (yes, this is a real thing). The workshop begins with each person confessing a secret about him/herself:
“[T]he first man said that his secret was that he hadn’t paid taxes in ten years. Everyone nodded and looked disappointed that his secret wasn’t so sensational. Then the next man said that his secret was that he had once murdered a man. He was in a truck with a man, and he punched him in his head and threw him out, and the guy was dead, and another car ran him over. And he didn’t go to jail and he never told anyone.”
“What did Brad Blanton say?” I asked her.
“He said, ‘Next. Great.’ So then it got to the next woman. She said, ‘Oh! My secrets are so boring! I suppose I can talk about how I have sex with my cat.’ Then the murderer raised his hand and said, ‘Excuse me. I’d like to add something to my secret. I’d like to add that I also have sex with my cat.’”
Published August 15, 2015
384 pages (hardcover)
What it’s about: The title comes from Stephen Sondheim’s song “Ladies Who Lunch” from the musical Company. If you’re not familiar with the song, here is Patti LuPone performing it:
Listen to the lyrics (or read them here), and you’ll get an idea of what this book is about.
Evelyn Beegan is the daughter of a social-climbing mother and a plaintiff’s attorney father. They are new money from Baltimore. But Evelyn aspires to so much more.
After landing a job as the marketing director for People Like Us (think an exclusive Facebook for the upper crust), Evelyn begins courting her old friends at her boarding school, Sheffield, and using them for their connections. These people have REAL money. Her immediate goal: to land It Girl, Camilla Rutherford, as a new People Like Us member. Her ultimate goal: to become an It Girl, just like Camilla Rutherford.
Why I read it: This was a LibraryReads List selection for August 2015 and was included on tons of last summer’s must-read lists. I’m still trying to keep my reading on the fluffier side, and this spoke to the Gossip Girl-lover in me.
This story has been told a billion times, and there’s nothing particularly inventive or especially exciting about this one in particular. It’s a cautionary tale about a girl trying to rise above her station. Spoiler alert: you can’t act like you have REAL money if you don’t have REAL money. You’ll just wrack up a lot of credit card debt and look pathetic doing it.
Nevertheless, peering in on the lives of the uber-wealthy and super-bitchy is always fun. This is mindless fluff that would be ideal for poolside reading. Fellow Gossip Girl fans would find this enjoyable for a vacay read, methinks.
Want to read along with me? Reviews of these books are coming soon:
- The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (This is the book club book du jour. It was an Amazon Spotlight Pick for February 2015 and the #1 Indie Next List pick for February 2015.)
- When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (This was an Amazon Best Book of the Month for January 2016 and an Indie Next List Book for January 2016. And [womp, womp!] it’s a memoir. Keeping my fingers crossed that I don’t regret reading it.)