We’ve further expanded the definition of AVQ&A—our Monday and Friday discussion prompts—by asking you (and three of our regular contributors) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? If you have suggestions for AVQ&A questions, big or small, you can email them to us here.
So many books, so little time. Here are a few releases set for March 2014:
Helen Oyeyemi’s fifth novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, might be her best yet. Following the success of his debut novel, Open City, Teju Cole’s 2007 novella, Every Day Is For The Thief, is getting a U.S. release. MacArthur fellow Dinew Mengestu’s newest, All Our Names, is making waves among the literati. Siri Hustvedt has a new novel, Blazing World. The 40th novel of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, Raising Steam, is due out this month. Ian Doescher, who adapted the plot of Star Wars: A New Hope into a Shakespearean play, has done it again with The Empire Striketh Back. Literary superstar Karen Russell has a new novella on the way, Sleep Donation. Susanna Kaysen (of Girl Interrupted fame) has written her first novel in more than 20 years, Cambridge. On the memoir front, comedian Annabelle Gurwitch and literary biographer Blake Bailey look to their own lives for inspiration with I See You Made An Effort and The Splendid Things We Planned. Walter Kirn recounts his friendship with Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter (who assumed the identity of Clark Rockefeller, abducted his daughter, and killed someone) in Blood Will Out. A new biography examining the life of Big Star’s Alex Chilton, A Man Called Destruction, is due out this month. Dave Barry has a new book, You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty. The co-editor of Heads Will Roll and the author of The Encyclopedia Of Punk have collaborated to produce a new book examining Monty Python: Everything I Ever Needed To Know About _____*, I Learned From Monty Python. There’s a new anthology examining the relationship of media and the sexual revolution titled Sex Scene. In anticipation of the series’ return to HBO, a third volume of A Game Of Thrones: The Graphic Novel has been released. There’s even a fancy new Portlandia Activity Book for people who aren’t into the whole reading thing.
Because there’s only so many times I can re-watch the Veronica Mars trailer and in anticipation of the film’s release this month, I decided to re-read the debut YA novel from series creator Rob Thomas. Though I haven’t read Thomas’ other literary efforts, Rats Saw God is a damn-near perfect snapshot depicting what hell high school can be and how incredibly difficult adolescence is—even when your dad isn’t an astronaut. This is a great read and one of my favorite YA books, certainly one of my favorites with a male protagonist, and it has one of the best, most sensitive descriptions of all the conflicting emotions involved when a teenage girl decides to lose her virginity that I’ve ever read.
A recent column by A.V. Club contributor Tasha Robinson turned me on to the existence of John Varley’s Steel Beach, and I could not be more thankful. Tasha discusses the book in terms of a potential future film adaptation, but I think I almost enjoy it even more as heady, trippy science fiction. (Besides, my personal choice for a book about the Singularity to adapt to film has always been Charles Stross’ Glasshouse, one of my favorite sci-fi reads of the past decade.) Varley’s book is one part detective tale and one part futuristic mind-bender, but the central character—who wears many faces during the story, to put it lightly—is a terrific tour guide through this world. I also prepared for the return of The Americans by reading Charles McCarry’s reimagining of the JFK assassination as Shakespearean tragedy, The Tears Of Autumn, and I’m listening to bits of the wonderful non-fiction book Cat Sense as my wife reads them to me in a frantic attempt to understand just why one of our cats seems to have lost her mind. And because it’s that time of year again, I’m also simultaneously re-reading A Storm Of Swords and A Feast For Crows.
While perusing through a bookstore during my lunch break, I stumbled upon Anthropology Of An American Girl, the debut novel from Hilary Thayer Hamann. Being an American girl myself, I was immediately enticed by the subject matter and began making my way through the story hoping to find some insight. I was both pleasantly surprised and horribly disappointed. The plot is pretty standard: Girl meets boy, girls dates boy, girl breaks up with boy, girl meets new boy, boy is a teacher, girl and teacher date, teacher might be in the mob, teacher randomly moves away, girl enrolls at NYU, girl lives with horrible roommate for three years. Beyond this convoluted, slightly preposterous storyline I was mostly disappointed by the lack of any light-hearted folly one might find in a story about youth and love. For a 17-year-old girl, the main character Eveline spends an awful lot of time in barns silently contemplating the meaning of things while surrounded by artwork. Eve consistently tested my patience. I understand this idea that young women are supposed to be these emotional train wrecks in their adolescent years, but come on! I never once had to live with a coked-out stockbroker after a breakup. In fact, it’s actually a pretty easy situation to avoid. Reading Anthropology can often feel like a waiting game—waiting for Eve to snap out of it, waiting until you find a less frustrating book to read. This aside, Hamann is able to embody a teenager remarkably well. At times you forget this is not the diary of a young impressionable girl who can’t figure out which direction she's going. For this quality alone, I would recommend Hamann’s book. She has a gift with language, and although at times her characters get a tad melodramatic they deserve to be heard and treated like the adults they so long to be.