Eight seems to be the mean for me. After finishing the first three in this list, I was feeling discouraged and on the tip of a reading slump. Some books are harder to finish than others because of the prose or the subject; them being bad does not help. However, I was saved at the very end of the month by a surprising star novel.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
I have never read something so confident, so American, and so wrong at the same time. I listened to Atlas Shrugged and genuinely enjoyed myself as I did so. Rand’s prose is right up my alley, direct yet beautiful, with that strident, opinionated omniscent narrator I’ve come to recognize in many western cannon classics. But… it’s wrong. If you think about any of its pretty quasi-philosophical passages for too long, this magnum opus on the power of bootstrap-lifting, moneymaking individualism doesn’t make any sense. Especially in the context of today’s literary and social thought, the assumptions made in Atlas Shrugged feel naive and absurd. However, I realize that I’ve had an unusually thorough educational experience that has equipped me to see the flaws in this forceful treatise. I would not encourage anyone to read this novel without heaps and heaps of context.
Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis
I started this novel with nothing but optimism. Its prose is exquisite, lovely, and life-affirming, just as its blurbs say. What the blurbs don’t say: this novel is unrelentingly misogynistic. I’ve read many classics; I’ve read many “old white men write women” novels. But nothing that drips with so much objectification.
This goes far beyond, with passages like: “They are wild beasts, wild beasts, and they know it. Compared to them, males are such feeble, transient, foolish, inane creatures without endurance. These wild beasts resemble various female insects–the praying mantis, the grasshopper, the spider–female insects that, insatiable at dawn, feed by devouring males.” or, “I’m not ashamed of crying in front of men. I’m a man; we’re all the same tribe and it’s not shameful for us. But in front of women we always need to appear brave. Why? Because if we started weeping in our turn, what would happen to those poor creatures? It would be the end of everything.“
The villagers in the novel brutally decapitate a widow (who has been nothing but objectified throughout the whole of the novel) for unclear—or nonexistent—crimes. Women are never people in this novel—they are, by turns, donkeys, devils, teases, whores, seductresses, or brainless fools. Things. This aspect completely overshadowed the somewhat interesting ideas surrounding vitalism and buddhist-inspired themes of detachment. Reading this novel as a woman was a humiliating experience.
I went in this believing I was reading a romance, and I got…depression and abuse. Proportionately, we spend far too much time in the mind of a main character understandably going through extreme bouts of depression, given the abusive arranged marriage she is saddled with in the beginning. The romance feels like a B plot. The romance also isn’t interesting or particularly steamy.
This author is also a fan of comma splices, I hate comma splices like I hate nothing else, they can burn in hell.
A Touch of Darkness by Scarlett St.Claire
What a wonderful surprise! After several disappointments, I just wanted an easy read. Reading A Touch of Darkness feels like gliding. It is very steamy, but it’s also subtly smart. It balances side characters, character development, and world-building with humble expertise. It does not try to do anything overly fancy, which is refreshing. While there were no surprises plot-wise, I loved every trope. Romance lovers will adore this novel. I really liked St.Claire’s penchant for describing clothing. Persephone is a very hot goddess, and I love her and Hades’ relationship. In fact, I loved the character of Persephone much more than I thought I would. I loved her more than nearly every other YA/NA heroine I’ve ever read, which is really saying something.
Whipping Star & The Dosadi Expierament by Frank Herbert
You can read my review of these here. I liked Whipping Star more than The Dosadi Experiment, but both were stellar examples of well-done high-concept science fiction. I highly recommend Whipping Star to those who like sci-fi but don’t want anything too long or too complicated. It is among the best science fiction has to offer in the way of shorter novels.
The House in the Cerulean Sea by T. J. Klune
You can read my review for this novel here. It was cozy and colorful and lovely. I am not a huge fan of children, but the main character of this novel is infectious. Sometimes the prose and character development was a little heavy-handed, which could get tiresome.
An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson
This was a disappointing YA read. I liked the way the protagonist’s art was incorporated into the novel and the way the fae are depicted but not much else. In particular, the central romance was hard to believe in and felt either forced or unrealistic. Side characters fell extremely flat, and the plot lost direction somewhere in the middle of the second act, when the central couple fights a hill (??) for literally no reason.