Flings by Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor's Flings, a collection of short stories, started out on a high note for me. Each story is a brief glimpse into one moment in a relationship. Taylor brings you into his characters' thoughts and feelings, making it easy to connect with them. To be honest... That's how I felt during the first few stories. Then I started to feel more and more like I was reading variations on a theme, where the variations all sound just a little too similar. Eventually I found myself fighting to hold interest, working too hard to read instead of skim. Just when I was planning to set the book aside, "Carol, Alone," about an elderly woman adjusting to life after her husband's death,…

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Snow and Shadow by Dorothy Tse

The stories in Snow and Shadow are so, so bizarre, but in that delicious way that leaves you excited to discover what the author has come up with next. Grounded in reality yet dreamlike, each is surprisingly accessible. I was never left feeling lost or puzzled, though I did find I needed to take a little breather here and there, rather than read the collection straight through. These stories show off Dorothy Tse's endless creativity and originality. "Woman Fish" is a Kafkaesque story about feeling trapped after a major transformation. In "Leaf and Knife," a couple competes with one another to prove their love in a senseless, ridiculous quest for the exciting, early stage of their relationship. "Traveling Family" is about relocation and finding…

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Bout of Books 11 Wrap Up

Well, we've reached the end of Bout of Books 11. I met all of my goals. Participated in a Twitter chat and a few of the challenges. I wanted to read at least 100 pages a day, but ended up averaging about 233 pages a day. I went a little free-range on the books I'd planned to read (that's part of the fun!) and read 8 books total, which tallied up to be a total of 1,631 pages! Here are the books I read this week: A Brief Moment of Weightlessness was my favorite read of the week. It's a collection of short stories, and every single one (EVERY SINGLE ONE!) ripped my heart out and took my breath away,…

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The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

In The Story Hour, an unlikely and precarious friendship forms between Maggie, a well-respected psychologist, and her patient, Lakshmi, a depressed Indian woman in an unhappy marriage, cut off from the rest of her family. Lakshmi's voice is the reader's first impression, and wow, did she impress me. Her words were vivid and insightful. I immediately empathized with how trapped and unhappy she felt. Her broken English continues even through her own internal dialogue, which makes it far too easy to assume (but not for long!) that Lakshmi isn't as educated or as intelligent as she actually is. Interesting, because that's exactly how the people in Maggie's circle of friends and colleagues view Lakshmi. Although she came to Lakshmi's defense…

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Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

You wouldn't think a memoir consisting of someone else's family stories would be all that interesting, but Kathleen Flinn had me hanging on each and every account in her memoir Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good. I connected with her immediately, and while reading I often thought of my own parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. Humorous, lighthearted anecdotes are seamlessly interspersed with touching, more serious accounts. Reading about the real, personal experiences of life during the Great Depression and the Korean War was fascinating, and I won't forget those stories. Flinn's parents are just amazing. They are such hard workers, tirelessly doing what needed to be done to take care of the family. They had a very egalitarian marriage and made…

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

In high school, Tsukuru Tazaki belonged to a close-knit group of five friends. When he goes off to college, the other four suddenly and absolutely reject him, refusing to give any explanation. Years later, Tsukuru's new girlfriend Sara realizes that the devastating loss of his best friends has kept Tsukuru from moving on with his life. She persuades him to track down his friends and find out why they abandoned him. The depth of our relationships with each other is a major theme throughout the story and worth further reflection. Sara points out, "We live in a pretty apathetic age, yet we're surrounded by an enormous amount of information about other people. If you feel like it, you can easily gather…

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The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger

Although The Virtues of Oxygen is fiction, it is an accurate and respectful look at Americans who live just above the poverty line, struggling to make it paycheck to paycheck. Readers get a sense of the enormous emotional toll this takes on people, the embarrassment that comes along with attempts to live normally while not having enough money between paychecks, and the stress of not knowing if your job is secure or not. It was such a breath of fresh air to see Holly's situation presented as is, without the author sneaking in any political jabs or commentary of her own. The reader is trusted and given the space to connect directly with the characters. I like that Vivian isn't overly optimistic and…

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