Elyse's 2022 Summer Reading List

Hello, and welcome back to the blog I think about constantly but seemingly only publish once a year. In typical fashion, I'm a bit late to the game on this, seeing as it's already June and I've read the first four books on this list. But here: better late than never. Gather 'round folks. It's time for me to dole out unsolicited opinions on books.

The first four books have, like I said, already been read. I'll do my best to describe my takeaways without actually providing a plot synopsis.

The rest of the list contains several books I want to read. I hate reading blurbs on books or any information about the story before I read it for myself, so expect short stories explaining how this book ended up piquing my interest. Without further ado:

The Books I've Read Already:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

I gave this book three stars on Goodreads, I think. It didn't take me long to finish– trying to take it slow, I read it within a week and a half. I hadn't read Bennett's first novel, and I actually picked this one up on a whim in December while looking to balance my Barnes & Nobel purchase with something that seemed a little more lighthearted. The cover art appealed to me, and I saw it had some sort of seal on it (evidently, a Good Morning America Book Club honorific emblem). Hardcover books offer a sort of prestige that the faded 10-cent paperbacks crammed on my overflowing bookshelves didn't quite hold. It'd been a while since I read something current, anyway.

The story itself is reminiscent of Zadie Smith's White Teeth, which, though it received much harsher criticism than this book, I personally prefer. Bennett's writing style is overtly poetic. Each sentence is the perfect construction of what an MFA-level sentence should be. I found her writing a little suffocating– I was told too many things for my liking. However, I have recommended this title to a few friends. Personal preference ultimately differs, and I enjoyed this novel for what it was.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse

This was one of the aforementioned 10-cent paperbacks I'd picked up years ago but never found myself reading. Until now, obviously.

I have a secular philosophy that whatever you do– especially in reference to making a choice– is whatever you needed to do. The podcast you click on ends up telling you what you needed to hear. The tarot cards you draw reflect back to you what you already knew to be true, but couldn't discern. The book you pick up is the book you need.

I found this, once again, to be true. After finishing The Vanishing Half, I wandered over to my bookshelves and perused the titles, looking for my next meal. Without much thought, I grabbed this small blue book and began to read. I don't want to give too much away, though I'm assuming most of you have read this by now.

My takeaways: Like with The Four Agreements, sometimes the things you think you know and think you understand are best repeated back to you in very plain English. The chances are, you (I) don't know as much as you (I) think. Everything takes practice, nothing is without effort, and it's up to you to live your life. I think this was an incredibly appropriate novel to read post-graduation. I'll probably read it again soon.

Play It as It Lays by Joan Didion

This book I did read again. I didn't think I gave it enough attention the first time, even though I really loved it and was (obviously) inspired. So I wanted to go back and try to understand.

Before this, I'd only read a few pieces of Didion's work– the first hundred or so pages of The White Album (which is #5 on my list), a piece of her's for The Paris Literary Review, and her essay titled "Why I Write," which resonated with me in a similar way to Play It as It Lays. But, I think that's normally the case when writers read about other people writing. It's kind of like finding evidence that you aren't hallucinating, after all– these people were real people, just like you. Their processes are as tangible and abstract as yours. Something very validating I found in Didion's "Why I Write"piece was the following quote: Grammar is a piano I play by ear, since I seem to have been out of school the year the rules were mentioned. All I know about grammar is its infinite power. If you've read any of my writing or even any of this blog, you can surely draw your own conclusions.

Now, having read this book twice in the past year, I can say with confidence that I'll never fully understand why this became one of my instant favorites. Unlike Bennett, Didion writes imperfectly, but with purpose and intention. She understands how to put the reader and her character in the same room, telling you every crucial piece of information in such a way that you barely register it as important. Every sentence is necessary without being self-important. It's admirable, it's accurate, and it's resonant. (Unsurprisingly, she cites Hemmingway as an inspiration– the man truly knows how to craft the perfect sentence.) I can't wait to read this book again.

My Body by Emily Ratajkowski

I didn't think I would ever read this book, much less enjoy it. But the world is full of surprises.

The past six years of my educational career were more or less dedicated to the body, female specifically. Whatever I hadn't read, I'd lived, inheriting a de facto understanding of how women exist in the west down to their very comportment. I grew to despise women, white women, talking so plainly about their "struggle" under "the patriarchy" and how they, personally, were victims of "objectification". That argument went out the window we sold our souls to Instagram. So I really thought this book would be the final straw, the piece of literature that finally turned me from disenfranchised pseudo-feminist to full-blown misogynist.

What I didn't count on was, outside of the Red Scare girlies, finding anyone else that would openly talk about their strange, politically incorrect, and somewhat uncomfortable feelings about other women. I mean, Emrata is still more of a feminist than I am, and she never says anything about like, openly hating other women. But she does reference that kind of sick and twisted desire some women have to compete with other women– from the side of the competitor. There are several other complex arrangements of shame and weirdness she discusses in her essays that I also found relatable on an intrinsic level. Was the writing the best ever? No. Was it earthshattering? No. Am I still kind of denouncing feminism? Yeah. Will I recommend this book to my good female friends, my mom, my sister, and my boyfriend? Also yes.

The Books I Have Yet To Read:

The White Album by Joan Didion

I mentioned above that I read the first hundred pages of this book, and evidently, I haven't read the rest. That has nothing to do with the quality of the book– I adored Didion's writing from the beginning. I think the way you perceive media has more to do with the landscape of the mind than binary interest/disinterest. If you want to like something, you will. Anyway, I got this book for Christmas last year and started reading it in February, which is the worst time to start anything. I'd just finished Anna Karenina, and anything you immediately read after that will undoubtedly fall short of your expectations. Having more distance from Tolstoy and more of a vested, current interest in Didion, I'm planning to re-read this book this week.

All A

bout Love: New Visions by bell hooks

I read bone black two summers ago and fell in love with bell hook's prose. I'd read a few of her more theoretical pieces for class and things, but hadn't explored much else up to that point. I picked this up in a panic in a bookstore in Mystic, Connecticut. I treat bookstores and libraries the way I expect my mother to treat The Louve, running around trying to see it all, intently. These are timeless places, by which I mean I cannot be bothered to adhere to any formal time-bound constraints. But we had to go, and I'd been talked out of purchasing two books I'd picked up because I could just borrow them, so I was in a fiendish state, starving. I saw All About Love as I made my way to the cashier and grabbed it instinctively. I think there's something in there I need to hear.

The Brothers Karamazov by Frydor Dostevsky

When I finished Anna Karenina I asked everyone I could think of for another book, desperate to fill the void. I found myself in conversation with a customer at work one Saturday, discussing the magic of Tolstoy and gabbing back and forth about the majesty of this work. I told her I wanted more. A man behind her in line overheard and happened to be a Russian literature fanatic. He recommended I dovetail into Dostoevsky, citing this book as his favorite. He said it was different from Crime and Punishment, and that I may enjoy reading that first instead just to get a feel for it all. But life is short, and I'd rather read the book this guy seemed to love so much.

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann

Another impulsive bookstore purchase, this seems like a wonderful scandalous little beach read to satiate my appetite for drama and despair. Plus, I've always liked the theme of the film (which I'm waiting to watch until after I read). Eva actually bought this for me as my Christmas present after I offered to buy her a book for hers. There's really no better present, in my opinion. I know pretty much nothing about the finer details of this book except its large and about women who suffer, which seems to be the genre of all my favorite books. I have high hopes for this one.

If you have any suggestions for things I might like to read, please comment below. To see if I ever finish Bonfire of the Vanities, follow me on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/104740774-elyse-kassa

I hope you enjoyed this minor literary review. I'll let you know if I learn anything incredible from my research– perhaps how to write a better sentence.

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