Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

Sometimes I read a book whereI have the sense that you’re not really supposed to take it literally, but I’m not really sure how you are supposed to take it. I much prefer books that make sense on both levels.

A young mother and her daughter are on the run from her crazy, politically ambitious husband. She, for a time, heard voices, and finds herself in a community of people who become a sort of family, who also heard them. It doesn’t quite scan to me on the literal level and I never fully connected with it on other levels.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Memoir about becoming, and being, a woman scientist, and about a non-romantic relationship with a research partner — it’s almost devoid of explicit reflection, replacing it with interludes of seemingly objective but thematically related information about plants and how they work.

I was most interested in her descriptions of interactions with other people, and felt that sometimes it backed away right when it shouldn’t have. Similarly the insertion of a segment about her bipolar disorder–it was abrupt, and I thought the book either should have engaged with it or left it out.

High Dive by Jonathan Lee

I liked this multi-POV book about an IRA attempt to assassinate Margaret Thatcher. I suspect it survived the feeling of cliche inherent in showing both sides like that by being very spare in telling you what it means, and by leaving plenty of tendrils that aren’t tied up neatly. (The diving motif, for example). And by giving us not just hotel worker and terrorist, but a father and daughter, with the terrorist who lives with his mother.

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

“Gay American in Bulgaria” doesn’t really capture it. I see it as a story about being unable to turn your back on something you know is bad for you. Beautifully written, I was never aware of a feeling that any of it was engineered, and the use of the Bulgarian language was handled gracefully. It felt a bit slow at times, but it’s a thought book, not an action book.

The Nix by Nathan Hill

A book that turns out to be about itself. . .  entertaining, for sure, but a bit schizophrenic. Parts are fascinating and moving, but at other times it seems to work in intentional caricature that’s basically a parody. It felt like the book couldn’t decide what kind of book it was. It did tie together, with the necessary plot twists and whatnot, but I felt like there were too many strands. It might have benefitted from trimming out the details or points of view of Laura Potsdam, for instance, or Ponage, and Elfscape–they were there for reasons, but I think they ultimately distracted from the richer material of Samuel and Bethany and Bishop, from Faye, who was the center of the book. Their sections felt shallow, where during the sections about the other characters, I was riveted.

The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande

He is always a pleasure to read, making something dry and procedural–basically, practical advice–into somethingI wanted to keep reading, wit well chosen anecdotes that really made me root for him. Personal and objective at the same time, because he was investigating something, but he also wanted to use it himself, and thought it was important for the world. Still, it was never really a book about himself. Made me think!

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

Add this to the list of fanciful novels about anorexia, alongside You Too Can Have a Body Like Mine. Okay, that may be reductive. But it certainly had those echoes. It also reminded me a bit of Murakami, and not just the translation thing, I think.

One story told in three overlapping time segments, by three related third-person narrators–I wouldn’t have thought it would work well, and it did at times feel like spinning off into space, especially since the characters we start with are either gone or inaccessibly crazy by the end.

Vivid, and certainly interesting, but I’m not sure I really got it.