We’ve expanded the regular AVQ&A discussion prompts to ask three of our regular contributors (and you) a simple question once per month: What have you read in the past month, or what are you currently reading? This month, assistant editors Andrea Battleground and Becca James, as well as editorial manager Laura M. Browning share their favorite books read in the last month.
I went from being exasperated with Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing to being completely astounded by it. The author wrote the debut novel in her 20s, then spent nearly a decade trying to get it published. After having to restart the book three times, I can see why publishers were leery; it’s a difficult book, but a rewarding one—dealing frankly with such topics as sick children, familial abuse, Irish Catholicism, sibling responsibility, and female sexuality in a voice that’s as intense as it is insightful. The result is an amazing book, unlike anything I’ve read before, and it announces McBride as a master at realizing perspective. My advice? Just be patient and allow the narrative to reveal itself.
I’ve been taking long walks as of late, which is a great time to catch up on podcasts or listen to a good audiobook. This week, Lena Dunham’s collection of essays, Not That Kind Of Girl, is getting my audio attention. For the most part, this is a pleasant way to consume the book—as long as you schedule breaks. Walking around in Dunham’s brain for hours at a time can get a bit dense and make her observations seem less acute and certainly less funny. The medium works pretty well for this book as each chapter reads like an confessional monologue from Hannah Horvath, but there are a few stumbles. For example, hearing Dunham read from her 2010 food diary gets repetitive and even tedious—until the accompanying notes of the day are added. Then it becomes clear the lack of self-awareness she was taking from her dieting at the time.
As I’ve spent the last quarter-century a Princess Bride devotee, I just received (and immediately started) Cary Elwes’ memoir/scrapbook, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride, which seems designed to hit all fan-service sweet spots for folks familiar with the film, as it’s stuffed with photos, recollections, and interviews with relevant parties. The book’s dust jacket is even a Shepard Fairey print, for crying out loud. I never had a chance.
Laura M. Browning
As a fan of the webcomic xkcd, I was pretty excited to read Randall Munroe’s new book, What If? Serious Scientific Answers To Absurd Hypothetical Questions. It does not disappoint: It’s fun and occasionally terrifying, unabashedly nerdy yet accessible, and a goddamn delight.
Munroe’s book should appeal to both existing xkcd fans and people who have never heard of it. For years, Munroe has used xkcd as a platform for his What If? pieces, which attempt to answer ludicrous hypothetical questions in the name of science. Munroe, a former roboticist for NASA, brings not just a formidable background in the physical sciences but also an appreciation for absurdity and a real talent for stretching theories to their logical conclusions, and then stretching a little more.
Munroe appeals to a wide cross-section of nerds—page 196 alone contains references to both Firefly and Wagnerian opera—but he largely avoids both shibboleths and dumbed-down language. He says that 51 percent of the book is new material, so even hardcore xkcd followers should get their money’s worth. Munroe responds to questions like, “If everyone on the planet stayed away from each other for a couple of weeks, wouldn’t the common cold be wiped out?” and, “What if a rainstorm dropped all of its water in a single giant drop?”, all of which are punctuated with his signature stick drawings and cheerful mischief. It may not teach you physics, but it will make you think about the physical world.
October is traditionally a month of rereading for me, starting with an old favorite by Ray Bradbury, The Halloween Tree. This 1972 fantasy novel with illustrations by Joe Mugnaini is one I continue coming back to because it perfectly captures the child-like wonder of the season, as a group of children set out to go trick-or-treating. It holds up for adults, though, because of the twist that brings the characters through time and space to learn the origins of Halloween and the convergence of its many traditions. The next revisit I like to make is also geared toward a younger audience, but no matter the frequent reading of it, the horror still works, even if the writing is a little stilted. R.L. Stine’s Cheerleaders set from the Fear Street series follows the same map any horror trilogy does as an evil spirit refuses to die and instead inhabits the body of a new cheerleader in each book resulting in horrible deaths as a power struggle between good and evil plays out. However, much to my delight, a quick Google search revealed that there is a fourth and fifth book, so while I can vouch for First Evil, The Second Evil, and The Third Evil, all from 1993, I’ll have to get back to you on 1994’s The New Evil—which, judging by the cover, might be a December read—and 1998’s The Evil Lives!
Lastly, after Laura M. Browning’s rave review, I’m reading Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz’s narrative non-fiction Dr. Mütter’s Marvels. The novel traces 15 years of history focusing on the doctor’s many medical discoveries, many of which deal with mid-1800s oddities only a few doctors, including the flamboyant and brilliant Mütter, were willing to address.
Notable October book releases
A Brief History Of Seven Killings by Marlon James (out 10/2)
The Family Hightower by Brian Francis Slattery (out 10/1)
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (out 10/7)
The Blood Of Olympus: The Heroes Of Olympus Book Five by Rick Riordan (out 10/7)
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín (out 10/7)
Some Luck by Jane Smiley (out 10/7)
300,000,000 by Blake Butler (out 10/14)
Clariel: The Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix (out 10/14)
Gretel In The Dark by Eliza Granville (out 10/16)
Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk (out 10/21)
The Peripheral by William Gibson (out 10/28)
The Hilltop by Assaf Gavron (out 10/28)
Africa 39: New Writing From Africa South Of The Sahara edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey (out 10/28)
Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey (out 10/28)
A Load Of Hooey by Bob Odenkirk (out 10/7)
The Invisible Front: Love And Loss In An Era Of Endless War by Yochi Dreazen (out 10/7)
U2: The Definitive Biography by John Jobling (out 10/7)
Cinderland by Amy Jo Burns (out 10/7)
Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming (out 10/7)
Dancing With Myself by Billy Idol (out 10/7)
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes (out 10/14)
Check The Technique Volume 2: More Liner Notes For Hip-Hop Junkies by Brian Coleman (out 10/14)
Tinseltown: Murder, Morphine, And Madness At The Dawn Of Hollywood by William J. Mann (out 10/14)
Jimmy Page By Jimmy Page by Jimmy Page (out 10/14)
Choose Your Own Autobiography by Neil Patrick Harris (out 10/14)
#Newsfail by Jamie Kilstein and Allison Kilkenny (out 10/14)
Ada’s Algorithm: How Lord Byron’s Daughter Ada Lovelace Launched The Digital Age by James Essinger (out 10/14)
Fragrant: The Secret Life Of Scent by Mandy Aftel (out 10/16)
Who We Be: The Colorization Of America by Jeff Chang (out 10/21)
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (out 10/28)