In about a month, there will be amber ales and heavy stouts (probably even some IPAs) infused with pumpkin flavor on every shelf of every package store in New England. I can't honestly say if this trend exists outside the charter colonies, though I think it's safe to guess that it does. Hey, if Starbucks can do it, why can't Southern Tier Brewing Company?
Regardless of your taste in beer or coffee, the fact remains that summer is coming to a close. Soon, students will be making their annual pilgrimage to institutions they say they hate but in fact they seek shelter in, and bathing suits will be traded for yoga pants and North Faces. I for one, am looking forward to it. Fall's my favorite time of year and then right behind that is winter and that sweet white powder that falls from the sky. My snowboard has already started to hum from its storage spot in the basement, vibrating the hardwood floors like a young girl's ghost. But, before we close the chapter that is humidity and unintended sweat, let's give summer its due: it was nice to sit on the deck and read, and because of that I was able to catch up on the books sitting in my too be read pile.
Starting out this year, I set my usual goal of 24, and then upped it to 52 when I discovered the #52book challenge which involved reading one book for each week of the year. Then I subsequently realized how bad of an idea that was and returned the number to a happy medium: 36. And, according to Goodreads I am currently on track with reaching that goal.
While I've had the good fortune of reading quite a few good books this year (Bad Blood is the glorious account of a millennial train-wreck brought on by greed and the new American Dream, and I can't wait to watch her trial next year - let's by the popcorn now, shall we?) I want to highlight the last two novels I finished reading: Saltwater by Jessica Andrews, and Sally Rooney's Normal People.
Whenever I travel I try to pick up a collection of short stories by local writers or a local press. If I can't find an anthology, I'll try to find something by a local writer or that takes place in the area I'm visiting. Bonus points if it meets both these categories. Saltwater, thanks to two helpful book clerks at The Riverside Bookshop in London, met both of those requirements.
While I had never heard of Saltwater before my trip to London, I had heard of Normal People, seen it quite a lot actually. Normal People is Irish author Sally Rooney's second novel, and the 28-year old is being hailed as the First Great Millennial Author. And I'll be damned... Her novel was as great as everyone says. I currently have her first, Conversations with Friends on hold at the library (every time I get a text I cross my fingers it's the circulation desk).
Both of these novels are categorized as coming-of-age. And what I love about the way literature reflects the real world is that these narratives, and not just these two but a lot of recent COA books, is that they involve twenty-somethings, and in the rare case (because I would argue that Ohio by Stephen Markley is coming of age or at least coming to reality) near thirty year olds.
Not only do I enjoy this trend because I just hit 30 myself, and anything to tie me to confused angsty youth is fine by me, but like I said before, it reflects a reality. Kids aren't moving out of their parent's houses at 18 anymore; the average is closer to 25. College graduates are moving back home from a combination of crippling debt and poor job prospects. And, as we set the new canon of contemporary fiction, it's import that literature reflects the truth. Both Saltwater and Normal People are so truthful it burns.
Both novels focus heavily on relationships and vulnerability, though they differ in notable ways. Saltwater follows the story of a main character returning to the Irish countryside following the death of her grandfather. Her mother returns with her, but something is fractured in their relationship. As the novel progresses, you learn that it's not just the mother-daughter relationship that's experienced trouble. The narrator reflects on growing up in a household with a deaf brother and an alcoholic father, both factors in the familial turmoil she experiences as she tries to find her own identity. One thing I particularly loved about Saltwater is that it's told in near microscopic chapters, each one barely more than a few paragraphs. This, to me, intensified the fractured feeling not only surrounding the narrator and her home life, but the state of the world for people her age in general. Split between social media lives, real lives, working lives, family lives, and just-trying-to-be-us lives, the style of writing reflects those unavoidably split personalities.
Where Saltwater examines family relationships while grazing ever so slightly over personal ones, Sally Rooney's Normal People does the opposite. Following two high school students in rural Ireland, it examines their relationship (and periodic lack-there-of) through school, the death of a mutual friend, and university in Dublin.
Normal People draws on the idea of social structure, and how that can change from year-to-year, sometimes in the most shocking ways. I didn't believe the hype around the novel despite hearing of Sally Rooney in podcasts and news articles. But halfway through the novel I remember putting it down and thinking God damn it. It was as good as everyone said. Since finishing the book I've read some of her short fiction and an interview with her in The New Yorker. I strongly suggest you do the same.
The thing about relationships, whether those in the family or those outside of it, is that they are ever changing. Whether we as a society want to adapt to the changing landscape that is the world, whether we want to admit it or not, the way we interact with it and subsequently others living in it, does change. Both of these novels are raw, impressive examinations of the way those relationships exist for the millennial age. I felt, on more than one occasion, that both of these novels spoke to something I had either gone through or felt tied to in some way.
So I say to both Sally Rooney and Jessica Andrews: thank you. And to the rest of you spending your time reading this: pick up a copy of these two novels. You won't be disappointed.
I can't believe it's already Labor Day. No, scratch that. I can't believe it's already past Labor Day. When we were kids and everyone told us time flies when you're older, well they weren't lying that's for sure. But, before I digress into the irony of weekday wishing for the weekend and inadvertently wishing your life away, this post is the Big Book Summer Challenge Wrap up. Back, right after Memorial Day (distant times, years long gone) I posted about the 2018 Big Book Summer Challenge and tasked myself with reading four big books. To qualify as a big book, the length has to surpass 400 pages. My list included:
So how'd I do?
About that well. I managed to finish Leviathan Wakes, and I honestly, truly enjoyed it. I'll definitely be continuing the series when I work through the rest of my backlog/never ending TBR pile. I didn't, however, get through the remainder of my goal.
I started two books that qualified as big books but were not on my list above. Unfortunately, I got about 68% through both and finally put them in the did-not-finish category. I know. . . I know. If I got that far, why didn't I just finish them? To be honest? I just wasn't enjoying them. Neither were bad books per say, one is even very well known and raved about, I just couldn't bring myself to keep trying to read them. It got to the point where I was slowly turning pages just to try and mark them down as done. So I stopped.
The bad news? I only read one big book this summer. The good news? I just started Dune and it really seems like what I need at the moment.
Diet. Exercise. Follow a budget. Sleep more. Drink less. Disconnect. Take time to breathe.
Actually, those all sound fantastic, hold on a second. . . . Okay, anyway, welcome to the part of the year where we all set our goals (and the gym becomes packed for a month or two and then goes back to normal come March). And with it the argument on whether or not people should have New Year's resolutions or if it's just a way to constrain yourself. Well, as with everything else in life, if it harms none, and makes you happy. . . You do you.
So, let's talk goals. Since, you know, this is a writer's website, I'll stray away from the diet, exercise, and save money resolutions, and focus more on ones revolving around say books and such. I just finished Ruth Ware's The Lying Game - review can be found here. This leaves my read pile for 2017 at 19. Not bad, but still short of my goal to read 24 in a year (I've had the same goal for four years. . . eventually I'll get there).
Fear not internal goal-setting reader man! I have two lined up for tomorrow in a hell of a kick-off for 2018: The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark and The Wrong Stars by Tim Pratt (this sci-fi space thriller being read for Shoreline so review to come). But aside from novel reading goals there's something else I'd like to take on this year as a personal reading goal and one that will undoubtedly help better my own short story writing. Which, I have some news on, but that's for a different post because I can't talk about it just quite yet.
Anyway, what I was saying. . . One of the things I've amassed over the past few years whether as gifts or by my own volition, is anthologies and best of short story collections. As you can clearly see above. It's a great thing! . . . If I read them all. But I have a funny habit. . . haha. . . of reading a story or two and then putting the collection down, negating the rest of the contents. So, in an effort to rectify that and blow the cobwebs off of my backlog, I'm going to start Short Story Sunday. Where the goal is to have read at least one short story each week and post a critique/reflection about it up here. Hmmm, it's almost like this will help me blog more as certain people *wink wink* have said I should do. Even if only like one or two people are listening. The first selection is going to be Interstate Love Song (Murder Ballad No. 8) by Caitlín R. Kiernan out of the collection Nightmares: A New Decade of Modern Horror. Which, according to the contents of this anthology, was originally published in 2014 in Sirenia Digest 100. I loved Kiernan's novella Agents of Dreamland. . . it's one of the few works I read through 2017 that I still frequently think of. Having a personalized signed copy doesn't hurt either!
Now onto the writing portion of the goal setting. This is where I might be biting off more than I can chew with the full-time job, desire to play video games, and frequent bouts of leaving the state/country. But hey, in the words of the band Volbeat: "Mr. Perfect don't exist my little friend and I tell you that again. . . and I do it again."
For me, I'd like to see the finished, polished drafts of two more novels . . . not including the one finished last year that is currently with beta readers. Seven short stories. And at least the rough, rough, draft of the project I'm to scared to start (oh ask me about that sometime. . . it makes for a fun story). Can I do it? You better believe it. And I plan on posting quarterly goal updates to keep myself accountable. Doesn't mean it will work though!
So, thems be the goals. 24 books through out 2018. A short story and short post about said story each week. Two books. Seven shorts. And oh yeah, stop reading the news so much. . . Like still stay informed and be active about the world around me, but maybe not refresh the feeds every two hours (you think I'm exaggerating) and then groaning about the latest headline.
Oh, and since I mentioned that Volbeat song, it's called Still Counting and I'm including the video link below because I plan on singing the first verse well into 2018. "Counting all the assholes in the room, well I'm definitely not alone. Well I'm not alone-oh-oh."
And to all my heathen friends. . . . I'm ready to cause just as much shit this year as we did last year. We are far from done. The parties just get bigger every year. I love all of you and I can't wait for the continued Sunday mornings when we survey whatever house we threw it in and think Jesus Christ. . . Now we have to clean all this stuff up.