What I'm Reading Lately: Readathon Reviews

May 13, 2015

Happy Wednesday, book buds!

It's been a quiet week around here, thanks to a visit from my boyfriend's mom as well as my second debilitating cold in less than a month. I didn't even know it was possible to get sick this frequently, but worry not; I'm very much on the mend!

Today I've got a round-up of mini-reviews of books I read during last month's Readathon, which already feels like ancient history. Come faster, October!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society tells the story of journalist and author Juliet Ashton, who stumbles upon a literary society formed on the Bailwick of Guernsey in the thick of World War II. Hoping to write an article about their society, Juliet befriends the group through a series of letters and soon becomes enamored of them, sharing in their happiness and their heartache.

This was a really, sweet funny story. It gets big points in my book for being epistolary (which is quickly becoming one of my favorite formats). While I was reading it, I couldn't help but compare my feelings to those I had about The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. Unfortunately, while A.J. Fikry ultimately succeeded for me, I wasn't as impressed with Guernsey. I felt that the ending was a letdown—it seemed to come on too quickly after a lot of build-up and was just too much of a cliché. In addition, I didn't think there was enough variety of voices in the novel, though this may be one of the downfalls of the epistolary style. The letters were funny and witty, yes, but I didn't get a great sense that all the people writing them were different, complex individuals. 

Overall, this was a pleasant read, but it didn't knock my socks off. 

Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes is a teeny-tiny collection of short stories about a Norwegian boy named Arvid Jansen coming of age in the 1960s. The prose is spare and serious, much like Arvid himself, and it meanders through his memories of his grandfather's death, the night terrors and bedwetting that haunt him into his pre-adolescence, and the quiet, desperate horror of the Cold War. Arvid leaves school early one day after his teacher warns of impending nuclear war:
"He wasn't frightened, his body was just so suddenly tired that he had to concentrate on every step he took, and the tiredness grew and grew until it lay like lumps beneath his skin, he could almost feel them with his fingers, and his boots were heavy, as if filled with blue clay. He didn't cry because he and his dad agreed he would not do that so often now, but his face felt as dry as old cardboard and just blinking was an effort of will.
When he got home so early, his mother gave him a puzzled look but said nothing, and he thought that was fine, for when you'e about to die there's nothing really to discuss." — pg. 97, Ashes in My Mouth, Sand in My Shoes 
If we're being honest, I'm flipping through its 120 pages right now looking for sentences that jog my memory about the larger stories within. I blame this not on Per Petterson's ability as a writer and more on my failure to take notes. This was my first read on Readathon day, and there have been five or six books on my mind since then. Regardless, I remember enjoying the collection at large, and it is absolutely worth reading for passages like these:
"[His mother] looked the way she always had for as far back as he could remember, and she still did right up until the day he happened to see a photograph of her from before he was born, and the difference floored him. He tried to work out what could have happened to her, and then he realised it was time that had happened and it was happening to him too, every second of the day. He held his hands to his face as if to keep his skin in place and for many nights he lay clutching his body, feeling time sweeping through it like little explosions. The palms of his hands were quivering and he tried to resist time and hold it back. But nothing helped, and with every pop he felt himself getting older." - pg. 43-44, ibid.

The Complete Persepolis is my first graphic novel since my Watchmen and V for Vendetta days in high school, and it's my first memoir in this format. The story follows the scrappy, intelligent Marjane Satrapi through her youth in revolutionary Iran and her young adulthood abroad. Originally published in four separate volumes, the copy I read compiled the entirety of Marjane's story.

At its simplest, this is a story about a search for identity, from the opening panels describing the Iranian girl and woman's obligation to wear the veil to the closing story about Marjane's decision to start fresh in Europe. What really sets the book apart is its setting and characters. After reading the first volume and seeing I was reading it too, Sal from Motion Sick Lit pointed out that we rarely hear stories about the Iranian middle class. News outlets in particular tend to focus on the poor and uneducated or religious extremists in the Middle East; obvious as it sounds, I was struck by just how normal Marjane's family seemed, even with the violent chaos of revolution as a backdrop.

I would highly recommend this collection for anyone looking for a more intimate look at life in Iran in the late twentieth century. Be prepared to laugh, cry, rage and rejoice.

Anyone read anything super awesome in my absence? Tell me about it!

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  1. I have Persepolis, and have heard great things. Just need to get around to reading it! I also have Guernsey coming up for my in real life book club next month, so we'll see how that goes :) Sorry you have a cold, and hope you feel better very soon!

  2. No Bout of Books for you? I discovered this week that the 24 in 48 Readathon has apparently gone defunct and I am heartbroken. I kind of like the weekend all-day readathon styles. Maybe one of these days you, me, and Karsyn need to band together to make one of our own!

  3. I wasn't blown away by Potato Peel Society either...never really got al l the hype. But, like you, I did love AJ Fikry. Hmm....I can't remember enough about why I didn't like Potato Peel to analyze this at all! Book memory problems...

  4. Haha, no worries! I tend to find that, if I really can't remember a book, it means it probably wasn't that great. ;) (Totally went against that with Ashes above, though!)

    Potato Peel Society was definitely enjoyable, but nothing about it is going to stick with me. Fikry, on the other hand, will definitely make me smile for some time to come! I just can't resist a good book about books and cranky booksellers. :)

  5. I'm kind of doing rogue Bout of Books. ;) I signed up via Twitter, but I've been a total slacker on the social end of things. I am trying to read as much as possible, though, and do some commenting here and there on people's updates.

    Oh no! That's so upsetting. I'd never done 24 in 48, but I'd bookmarked the blog so I could try to catch it the next time it happened. Do you know what happened?

    I think a you, me and Karsyn RAT sounds fantastic! Let's make it happen one of these days.

  6. Persepolis is lovely! I hope you find the time for it soon.

    I hope you enjoy Guernsey! I think there's plenty to like about it, but ultimately I don't think it's a book that will leave a lasting mark on me.

    And thank you! Slowly but surely getting there. :)

  7. Amanda @ The Zen LeafMay 17, 2015 at 7:59 AM

    Persepolis is so good. I adore Satrapi's work!

  8. It was fantastic! I loved watching her grow from being a precocious kiddo to being a badass young woman, even with all that madness swirling around her.

  9. That's a shame you didn't like the end of Potato Peel Pie Society. Having said that, I remember loving it, but now that I think about it I can't remember why. I think I might try and reread it to see if my opinion has changed.

    I think you've written about Ashes In My Mouth before and I know I want to read that. After reading those excerpts I'll definitely be adding it to my TBR. I seem to have a bit of a preoccupation with books about death and war lately, so that'll be right up my alley!