Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America, by Barbara Ehrenreich
After I read Ehrenreich's latest book, Natural Causes, a few people recommended that I read Nickel and Dimed. Not too long after, I was browsing the dollar section at the Strand and found a copy. I'm fascinated by the income gap in this country and I think everyone should read anything they can to educate themselves on extreme income inequality and the struggles of the working poor—but at times I was frustrated with Ehrenreich's privileged viewpoint and the somewhat shallow nature of her "experiment." I also worked at McDonald's for 4.5 years so I'm no stranger to low wage work, but it's still shocking and devastating to read about just how impossible it can be to just live for so many hardworking people in this country.
Electric Woman: A Memoir in Death-Defying Acts, by Tessa Fontaine
Tessa Fontaine's mother has a devastating stroke, and while she's still in recovery Tessa decides to join the last traveling sideshow in the country. Fontaine goes back and forth between her mother's struggle (past and present) and amusing anecdotes from the sideshow life. I've always been fascinated by sideshows and Fontaine's observations as a newcomer and outsider never seem exploitative. The parts about her mother are heart wrenching and I teared up while reading on more than on occasion. The relationship between mother and daughter is messy and raw but ultimately transformative, mirrored in her season spent on the road learning to eat fire, handle snakes and swallow swords with the sideshow.
All The Lovely Bad Ones: A Ghost Story, by Mary Downing Hahn
Mary Downing Hahn wrote some of my favorite YA books—Stepping on the Cracks, December Stillness and Wait Till Helen Comes—so when I saw this book in a free box on the curb I grabbed it. None of the YA books I've read as an adult by authors that I cherished as a child have had the same impact on me, but they are still fun, quick reads. I have such vivid memories of reading Hahn's books (over and over again) and she is no doubt one of the reasons why I fell in love with reading. I know that if I had read All The Lovely Bad Ones as a kid, I would have loved it just as much as the others.
Bad Ones is a ghost story (like most of Hahn's books) featuring a brother, a sister, a grandmother and a haunted inn. When I was a kid I would have identified with the younger sister, but now I found myself more on the side of the adults who booked a night in the historic inn just to catch a glimpse of the alleged ghosts.
Crazy Rich Asians, by Kevin Kwan
With all the hype surrounding the movie adaptation, I thought I should read the book before I saw the movie. I almost always like books more than their big screen counterparts, but that's not the case here because I didn't love Crazy Rich Asians (the book). It started off promising—and I was hooked into the story from the very beginning—but the more I read the more I became frustrated with the stilted dialogue, shallow characters and just plain bad writing. I wasn't expecting CRA to be great, highbrow literature, but I also wasn't expecting it to be so poorly written.
I did finish the book just to see what happened to Rachel and Nick (the only characters I really cared much about), but the ending felt rushed and saddled with one too many surprise plot twists—that is, if you can even consider the last page of this book to be an ending. I won't be reading the next two in the series, but I am looking forward to seeing the movies—I think this may be the rare exception where you can skip the book and just catch the movie instead.
The Secret History of Magic: The True Story of the Deceptive Art, by Peter Lamont and Jim Steinmeyer
I almost didn't pick this book up at the library when it became available so soon after I finished Steinmeyer's somewhat underwhelming biography of Howard Thurston, The Last Greatest Magician (you can read my review of that one here). Out of the two, this was the better book and I would recommend it if you have an interest in the art of magic itself. They don't say too much about individual magicians (which I was glad for), but rather try to pin down the somewhat mysterious history of how magic has been presented and received throughout the years and around the world.
Certain phrases were repeated often throughout the book—sometimes multiple times on the same page—which I suppose was done for emphasis but just struck me as bad writing. Maybe the biggest lesson that I learned from reading nearly 700 pages about magic is that, while I love the vintage show posters and all ephemera from that era, I'm just not all that interested in the magic tricks themselves.