April 2020 Wrap-up

Wow, writing this wrap-up post feels like crawling out of a cave and squinting at the sun for the first time in awhile. Seriously, where did April go??? This month is just a huge blob in my mind. I think ever since my university called off classes because of our city’s crappy internet connection (it’s a legit concern—I can’t even turn my video on during calls), I lost all motivation to study. Plus, when classes were cancelled, my work as a graduate assistant was also cancelled, so I went from working and studying ~50 hours a week to just ~10 hours a week for revising our paper. Before this, I hadn’t realized how disorienting having so much free time is.

I know that I’m speaking from an extremely privileged position when I say this, since other people are facing job insecurity now or even risking their lives to treat COVID patients, but I think it’s possible to recognise their reality while seeking to understand mine. I’m starting to think don’t do well with too much free time—I’m more motivated and productive when I know that someone is holding me accountable, so unless someone expects something of me, I’m not inclined to set my own goals. Without the external pressures, my brain assumes it’s not needed and goes into hibernation.

So April is basically a ‘hibernation’ month for me—I hit pause on (almost) all my career plans and responsibilities and retreated to my happy place, i.e. reading and blogging. Does anybody else have these cycles of extreme productivity and extreme ‘laziness’ too? Back when I first started working I tried to be productive at a steady clip, but I found myself burning out easily and getting sick more often. Now I’m wondering if long fallow periods like this are actually essential to my ability to be productive… But anyway, that’s for another post.

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Shortlist Reaction

Since the Philippines is 7 hours ahead of the UK, I stayed up until 2:30 AM to wait for the shortlist announcement, and couldn’t even take a short nap beforehand because I was so excited. You can watch the official announcement here, but here is the shortlist:

2020-03 Women's Prize for Fiction Shortlist

I was able to guess four out of six (Girl, Woman, Other, Dominicana, A Thousand Ships, and The Mirror & the Light), though guessing Dominicana right gave me no pleasure, as I didn’t like that one at all. But I was so pleasantly surprised when Weather made it; it’s my favorite read so far, so I’m glad that it’ll get more attention now that it’s advanced to the shortlist. I had to laugh when A Thousand Ships was announced—if there’s anything I can conclude about the judges’ tastes, it’s that they cannot get enough of Greek retellings—but a number of bloggers also found this to be a great read, so fingers crossed that this one deserves its spot there.

Overall, I don’t hate this shortlist, but I’m disappointed that Dominicana was chosen over the far superior How We Disappeared or even Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line for the ‘diversity’ book. I honestly don’t know what the judges saw in that one. I also wonder about why there seems to be just one slot for a ‘diverse’ book in the first place, and why a shortlist that honors women and women’s writing features two books with famous dead white men (though arguably Shakespeare is a peripheral figure in Hamnet).

Still, this shortlist is a LOT better than my predictions. I’ll still be reading the remaining books on my list, and I’m even considering giving Mantel’s intimidating trilogy a go, since I’m seeing even more positive reviews of it now. Besides, The Mirror & the Light and Girl, Woman, Other are the only ones with a real shot at the Prize anyway. I’m still firmly rooting for Evaristo, though—Mantel already has TWO Bookers to her name while Evaristo has only a half, so I think it’s only fair she gets this one. I’ll keep you guys posted if I ever do plan on reading it.

What did you think about the shortlist? Any thoughts or violent reactions? Did your favorites make it there? Let me know in the comments!

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Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020: Reflections and Shortlist Predictions

Only one more day to go before the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist will be announced, and I’m very excited to see what books will turn up! Unfortunately, because of the quarantine, I’ve only been able to obtain 9 of the 16 books on the list and I’m currently reading the tenth on Kindle, so I’ll be cobbling together my predictions from the books I have read along with what I’ve heard from the other Women’s Prize bloggers.

Once again, here’s a snapshot of the books on longlist, followed by my rankings so far:

2020-03 Women's Prize for Fiction Books 1

  1. Weather by Jenny Offill – ★★★★
  2. Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo – ★★★★
  3. Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner – ★★★★
  4. Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – ★★★★
  5. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara – ★★★★
  6. Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – ★★★
  7. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett – ★★½
  8. The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo – ★★
  9. Dominicana by Angie Cruz – ★★
  10. How We Disappeared by Jing-Jing Lee – Currently reading
  11. A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes – TBR
  12. Actress by Anne Enright – TBR
  13. Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell – TBR
  14. Nightingale Point by Luan Goldie – TBR
  15. Girl by Edna O’Brien – Will not read; no rating
  16. The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel – Will not read; no rating

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Book Review: Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Djinn Patrol
DJINN PATROL ON THE PURPLE LINE by Deepa Anappara (Published by Random House in 2020)

My Rating: ★★★★

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line follows the point of view of nine-year-old Jai in the basti (slums) of India and his two best friends, Pari and Faiz, as they investigate the disappearances of their peers. They form a Golden Trio of sorts, with Jai as the instigator of their ‘adventures’, Pari as the whip-smart Hermione figure, and Faiz as the reluctant sidekick (though reluctant only because he has work). Inspired by crime shows like Police Patrol and Live Crime, they travel around their basti to list down suspects and interrogate the people who last saw the missing children.

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Book Review: The Most Fun We Ever Had by Claire Lombardo

The Most Fun We Ever Had
THE MOST FUN WE EVER HAD by Claire Lombardo (Published by Doubleday Books in 2019)

My Rating: ★★

The Most Fun We Ever Had follows the lives of one white upper-class family over the course of four decades. We have the parents, Marilyn and David, who are still deeply in love after forty years of marriage; Wendy, the eldest daughter, who drinks and sleeps around to cope with the loss of her husband; Violet, the overachiever turned stay-at-home mom whose perfect life falls apart when her past resurfaces; Liza, a newly-tenured psychologist who finds herself unexpectedly pregnant by her unemployed long-time boyfriend; and Grace, the youngest and fresh out of college, who tells her family a lie that quickly spins out of control. When their secrets come out, old tensions and rivalries resurface, forcing each family member to confront and to rely on each other more than ever before.

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Book Review: Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Fleishman Is in Trouble
FLEISHMAN IS IN TROUBLE by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (Published by Random House in 2019)

My Rating: ★★★★

I feel so torn over Fleishman Is in Trouble. On one hand, I found the writing brilliant, but the sheer density of the prose also wore me down. I like how it explores the unequal and gendered division of labor in marriage, but the upper-class context makes me wonder about the universality of its insights (i.e., is it just a case of “rich people problems”?). All this made for an uneven reading experience. If we’re talking about enjoyment alone I would’ve given it 3 stars, but since it’s so much better than most of the longlisted books I’ve read so far (bar Girl, Woman, Other, of course), I’m going with 4 stars.

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Book Review: Dominicana by Angie Cruz

DOMINICANA by Angie Cruz (Published by Flatiron Books in 2019)

My Rating: ★★

I always feel uncomfortable when I have to give a book a low rating, but I really can’t give this one any higher, so here we are. As other reviewers have mentioned, the biggest problem with Dominicana is that it’s a tired and overused story of the immigrant experience. It’s riddled with the melodrama of a soap opera, populated by one-dimensional characters, and narrated in a flat and detached manner. At the very least, I expected to learn something new about Dominicans and Dominican culture, but the details about that were so thin that they could have easily been any other marginalized racial group.

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Book Review: Writers & Lovers by Lily King

Writers & Lovers
WRITERS & LOVERS by Lily King (Published by Picador in 2020)

My Rating: ★★☆☆☆

I decided to take a break from reading the Women’s Prize longlist, so I picked up Lily King’s new novel, Writers & Lovers. Writers & Lovers follows Casey, a young writer who’s struggling to make ends meet while finishing the novel she’s been working on for six years. Sounds promising, but unfortunately Writers & Lovers was a snoozefest. I almost DNF’ed it because it took me ages to get through the first half.

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Book Review: Weather by Jenny Offill

WEATHER by Jenny Offill (Published by Knopf Publishing Group in 2020)

My Rating: ★★★★

If you’ve seen the sort of books I review on my blog, you’ll know that I’m the kind of reader who likes the reassurance of a plot, well-drawn characters, and straightforward storytelling. My favorite literary works are those like Tartt’s The Secret History (1992) and Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves (2013), which are plotted like mysteries and contain a lot of juicy family or relationship drama.

Weather isn’t like that at all. It doesn’t have a plot; most of the characters are sketches at best; and the storytelling feels like a bunch of poem fragments, bad jokes, fortune-cookie statements, and fun facts strung together. It’s a bizarre and oddly-shaped book with an equally bizarre and odd narrator. By all appearances, Weather shouldn’t be my thing.

And yet… I liked it a lot. I liked it so much that I right after I finished it I got a copy of Offill’s previous work, Dept. of Speculation (2014), and gobbled it up in a day; and after finishing Dept. of Speculation, I realized I still liked Weather more. In fact, while I still think that Girl, Woman, Other is the strongest contender for the prize, I’d say that as of today, Weather is my personal favorite.

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Book Review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Girl, Woman, Other
GIRL, WOMAN, OTHER by Bernardine Evaristo (Published by Hamish Hamilton in 2019)

My Rating: ★★★★

I must be the last person to read this since it (joint-)won the Booker Prize, but now that I have, I finally get what the fuss is all about. I haven’t read Atwood’s The Testaments (just The Handmaid’s Tale), but I’ll go out on a limb here and say that it can’t possibly be as good as Girl, Woman, Other. This is just so so SO good. I’d say that it’s probably the strongest contender for the Women’s Prize this year.

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