Throughout August I managed to finish 12 books (5 novels, a novella, 3 non-fiction books, a short story, a poetry chapbook, and a novella/art book that frankly defies definition). This brings my total for the year so far up to 85, still well on track to surpass my goal of 100 before we hit 2018.
I’ll start by talking about the book that defies definition, shall I? The Resurrectionist by E.B Hudspeth is a fictional book presented as though it is non-fiction. The first part reads like the memoir of an enigmatic and controversial scientist, detailing his belief that so-called mythical creatures were very much real and that we have simply evolved from them, losing or gaining certain characteristics along the way. As such, he believes that deformities in humans are merely signs of genetic muscle-memory trying to return the body to its prior state and he conducts increasingly twisted experiments to try and prove this. The second half is his magnum opus; his anatomic exploration of said ‘mythical’ creatures, presented through painstakingly detailed artwork. The book is eerie and fascinating, and I love the idea of people stumbling upon it in dusty old libraries decades and decades from now, believing, even if just for one moment, that it may be real.
The real highlight of the month for me, however, was probably The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill, the almost fairy tale-esque story of two orphans growing up during the Depression and the steps they take to survive in the dark yet strangely magical underbellies of Montreal and New York. The setting was so vividly drawn and I became instantly invested in the characters. I also loved The Gender Games by Juno Dawson; part memoir full of warmth and humour and part exploration of gender myths from the perspective of a transgender woman. It’s informative without ever bogging you down with meaningless stats, choosing a much more human approach.
I revisited Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, the classic of science fiction and horror that I first read years ago when much went over my head. This time, I took so much more depth from the story and writing. Another delight was Wild Animals of the South by Dieter Braun, a pictorial encyclopaedia of the species native to the southern hemisphere, full of gorgeous artwork and fun facts (like how a single humpback whale can weigh as much as six adult African elephants) that makes it suitable for pretty much any age.
I really enjoyed Final Girls by Riley Sager, a love-letter to old-school slasher-style horror movies that was a gripping, absorbing and satisfying thrill-ride that totally embraces the slight tongue-in-cheek nature of its genre and is all the better for it. Longus by Daphnis and Chloe is a piece of ancient literature, and being a comedy-romance about two young people going against the odds (which include pirates, gods and freak weather) to be together, it’s certainly out of my typical comfort zone. It was, however, a charming and surprisingly readable novella, even by today’s standards.
Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You was a fine read about an unhealthy relationship in more ways than one. I have to admit it didn’t blow me away like I’d hoped it might, but there were interesting themes in there about power, desire, sexuality and cultural differences, even if it didn’t exactly break any new ground in the realms of gay fiction.
Other decent reads were E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic old-school, ambiguous horror story, The Sandman, A Week with Beijing by Meg Eden, a small collection of poetry which cleverly examines the culture of China by personifying the country into the body of a woman, and Grayson Perry’s The Descent of Man, another non-fiction study of gender, this time from the perspective of a man, that I felt would be a decent place for newbies to feminism/gender studies, but which didn’t offer much new for me, and which paled in comparison somewhat to the aforementioned The Gender Games.
The biggest disappointment of the month was sadly Alice by Christina Henry, a dark and bloody retelling of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland that I found far too heavy handed. Rather than incorporating references to the original text in exciting or clever ways that added depth, it felt like the author was shoehorning in as many as she could. It also felt fairly heavy with YA fantasy tropes, especially frustrating considering it’s supposed to be aimed at an adult audience. Plus, it suffered majorly from the issue in fantasy that bothers me most; a world without any clear boundaries or limits to its magic. If characters can just summon up solutions to any problem at whim (as happened several times in this), it eliminates any real sense of jeopardy and feels sloppy, creating an attitude of I-need-a-solution-so-let’s-just-magic-one-up-out-of-nowhere.
Let’s not dwell on disappointment, however, as it was, overall, a very enjoyable reading month, and I’m excited to see what books September will bring my way.
What was your favourite read in August?