August Reads

  Swamplandia! By Karen Russell

If you read the reviews of Swamplandia! on Goodreads, it is immediately clear that there is no middle ground for this novel: either you hate it or you love it.  The reviews accuse Karen Russell of being either a complete genius or a complete waste of time.  This type of controversy usually intrigues me, as it shows that, if nothing else, the book drew a passionate response from its readers.  I picked up Swamplandia! with the hopes that it would have a more positive end result than the last controversial book I chose from Goodreads (We Need o Talk About Kevin = anger and disdain).  Swamplandia! took me a while to get into it but, once I got used the bizarre way that the story is told, I loved this book.  I’m going to say it, Karen Russell is a genius!  This was one of the best books (also probably the weirdest) that I have read in a very long time.  Russell’s story is a dark fairy tale set in the swamplands of Florida.  At first it is near impossible to tell reality from imagination (you’re never truly left with a solid answer on this) but you understand the reality more and more as you go through the novel.  This is the most intriguing thing about the book, peeling away the fantasy to get to the truth.  The greatest part of Swamplandia! is the writing itself.  Even the Goodreads reviewers who hate the book commented that the prose is beautiful.  I did not want this story to end and, when it did, I felt like starting it again.  If you can stomach dark, sometimes upsetting subject matters, I highly recommend you give this book a read.

  Solar by Ian McEwan

The jury is still out for me with Ian McEwan.  I’ve now read three of his books and, with each one of them, I felt like I wanted to enjoy it more than I did.  Although his writing is very good (a little smug in my opinion, if it’s possible for prose to be smug), I always feel that McEwan’s stories are like bad jokes that you’ve heard a hundred times before.  At the end of his books I feel like I should be groaning, like someone just dropped a cheesy pun into the conversation.  That being said, McEwan is very funny.  There were two parts of this book that were two of the funniest scenes I have ever read.  Solar is a very entertaining dark comedy that I definitely enjoyed reading, I’m just not ready to call McEwan the genius that much of the world wants to make him.  Comparing Solar to his other books, I liked this book less than Atonement, but much more than Amsterdam.

  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by MaryAnn Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This book had enough things going for it to absolutely ensure that I would like it.  Stories about World War II: check!  Stodgy, yet charming, British people writing letters: check!  Characters confessing the effects that certain novels had on their lives: check!  Guernsey (a tale told through letters, rather than through straight prose – a literary device that I’m not normally a big fan of) tells the story of a London novelist who, through becoming pen pals with several habitants of the island of Guernsey, hears the sad, the heart-warming and the funny stories of how the Channel Folk survived during the German occupation.  I found this book to be interesting and very charming (it made me want to go to Guernsey).  It’s not going to be added to any list of literary classics, but I sure found it to be a fun read.

  Wildwood by Colin Meloy

I’m a huge Decemberist’s fan so, when I heard that lead singer Colin Meloy had written a book (is there anything that guy can’t do), I had to read it.  When I picked the book up from the library, I quickly realized that it is a young adults book (probably for around ages 11 or 12).  Wildwood is a fantasy adventure that occurs in a magical forest just outside of Portland, Oregon.  The story itself is very much a modern twist on C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books.  Although I enjoyed reading Wildwood, it was definitely a kids books; it didn’t have the adult appeal that the Harry Potter books did for me.  The second book of the series comes out at the end of this month, and I’ll most likely read it eventually.

  The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis

One thing that Wildwood did for me was make me want to go back and reread all of the Narnia books.  Since I hadn’t read them since I was a kid, I felt like it would be nostalgic to go back and re-experience the entire adventure.  Unfortunately, these books are also definitely kids books.  Though I picked up a lot more of the religious symbolism that I may have missed as a child, I don’t think I enjoyed it as much.  I think every young person should enjoy these books, but I don’t think I’ll follow through on my plan to re-read the whole series.


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