Jeffrey Eugenides

Books I Read in 2015

I’ve been a bit all over the place with my reading the last two years. In 2013, I set a goal of reading 40 books and beat it, and in 2014, I seriously surpassed my goal of reading 52 books by reading 91 (my numbers have been greatly bolstered by reading plays, in case you were wondering).

Since I’m in an English Literature graduate program, I obviously do plenty of reading, but I think I went back to my goal of 50 books in 2015. Though this number might be a bit low based on 2014’s results, I stay plenty busy with my school reading and don’t always have lots of time for recreational reading. I ended up exceeding that goal by reading 69 books in 2015, an achievement I’m pretty proud of. Here’s my full list of reading from 2015–for reference, the titles listed in bold are those I particularly enjoyed.

  1. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  2. Live From New York, James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales
  3. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan
  4. Looking for Alaska, John Green
  5. Sanctuary, William Faulkner
  6. It’s Only A Play, Terrence McNally
  7. Brother to Dragons, Robert Penn Warren
  8. On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan
  9. Paddle Your Own Canoe, Nick Offerman
  10. The Dark at the Top of the Stairs, William Inge
  11. Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge
  12. Bus Stop, William Inge
  13. The Basic Eight, Daniel Handler
  14. Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
  15. My Ideal Bookshelf, Jane Mount and Thessaly la Force
  16. Fallen Too Far, Abbi Glines
  17. Wait for You, J. Lynn
  18. The Hound of the Baskervilles, Arthur Conan Doyle
  19. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris
  20. In Our Time, Ernest Hemingway
  21. Child of God, Cormac McCarthy
  22. The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion
  23. Love, Rosie, Cecelia Ahern
  24. Airships, Barry Hannah
  25. Crimes of the Heart, Beth Henley
  26. The Woman Warrior, Maxine Hong Kingston
  27. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
  28. Joe, Larry Brown
  29. Wolf Whistle, Lewis Nordan
  30. Outlander, Diana Gabaldon
  31. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie
  32. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, Jesse Andrews
  33. In the Unlikely Event, Judy Blume
  34. Angels in America Part One: Millennium ApproachesTony Kushner
  35. Angels in America Part Two: Perestroika, Tony Kushner
  36. The Complete Stories, Flannery O’Connor
  37. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, J.K. Rowling
  38. Quidditch Through the Ages, J.K. Rowling
  39. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  40. Paper Towns, John Green
  41. White Teeth, Zadie Smith
  42. Shame, Salman Rushdie
  43. Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee
  44. The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien
  45. The Virgin Suicides, Jeffrey Eugenides
  46. Vita Nuova, Dante Alighieri
  47. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  48. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  49. Dragonfly in AmberDiana Gabaldon
  50. We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  51. Season of Migration to the North, Tayeb Salih
  52. Notebook of a Return to the Native Land, Aimé Césaire
  53. Divine Comedy Vol. I: Inferno, Dante Alighieri
  54. After the Fall, Arthur Miller
  55. Murder in Retrospect, Agatha Christie
  56. Divine Comedy Vol. II: Purgatorio, Dante Alighieri
  57. The Diary of a Teenage Girl, Phoebe Gloeckner
  58. Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Doris Pilkington
  59. Divine Comedy Vol. III: Paradiso, Dante Alighieri
  60. The Grownup, Gillian Flynn
  61. Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
  62. The Book of Mormon, Trey Parker and Matt Stone
  63. Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  64. Dracula, Bram Stoker
  65. Doctor Sleep, Stephen King
  66. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  67. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  68. The Cripple of Inishmaan, Martin McDonagh
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Summer Ends, Real Life Begins

Oh, world, how is it possible that my summer is already over? Wasn’t it just May?

Okay, I’m whining, but the prospect of returning to school this Monday, even though I’m pretty well prepared, just isn’t my idea of fun at the moment.

I’ve definitely reached the point in my summer when I need school to start back because I’m feeling especially lazy lately. Who says it’s wrong to watch an entire season of a TV show in a day? Sometimes that’s exactly the kind of day I need to rejuvenate, but I should probably get some real work done before I deserve a day of laziness.

In my final weeks before real life resumes, I haven’t totally wasted my time. In fact, only a few hours ago I returned home from a quick road trip up to Chautauqua, NY with my mom to visit my roommate, Ryan, during the final days of his internship at the Chautauqua Institution. Our visit to Ryan wasn’t entirely selfless, though; since Ryan has interned for the Chatauquan Daily, he was able to score us free passes to a sold out event at the Institution. That event just so happened to be An Evening with Carol Burnett, a woman who doesn’t need much introduction. My mom has loved Carol Burnett for most of her life, so the opportunity to see her on stage was one we couldn’t miss. We attended a Q&A featuring classic clips from “The Carol Burnett Show,” and Mom was even lucky enough to get to ask a question (Q: If you were making your show today, who would you want to work with? A: Steve Martin, Kristen Chenoweth, and George Clooney for obvious reasons).

We had a whirlwind of a trip, particularly because we woke up this morning at 5:00 AM to get an extra early start to our drive home, but the satisfaction of seeing a TV legend was totally worth it. Here are a few photos from our time.

A lovely sunset on Chautauqua Lake

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Enjoying our tour of the grounds on a chilly evening

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A failed attempt at finding an appropriately lit setting for a portrait

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The incomparable Carol Burnett taking her bows  


Now, onto the sad news: like I said, this summer is breathing its last, so my time will be far less available for my own entertainment. Sigh. In my attempts to soak in as much as possible before reality sets in, I’ve done my fair share of reading and watching lately. Here’s an update on all things pop culture in my life.

Books — I’ve been a bit slower than usual with my reading projects of late, but the fact that I only have 5 more books to read before reaching my goal of 50 books in 2015 seems like something to be happy about. I just wrote my reflection on reading Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicidesand prior to that I worked quickly through Tim O’Brien’s war novel The Things They Carried I’m still working my way through Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second book in the Outlander series. I still have a bit over 300 pages left, but in a book of 947 pages, that seems pretty doable. I’m looking forward to dedicating my free reading time to finishing this one before moving onto something else (if there’s any time for personal reading this semester).

Movies — I don’t have anything terribly interesting to report in my movie-watching life, though I’ve been doing plenty of it. I’m just 5 movies short of my goal to watch 100 new (to me) movies in 2015, so it won’t take me any time to finish that list. I’m still lacking in one area, though; I hope to watch 8 movies I’ve never seen from the AFI Top 100 list, but I’ve only done 3 so far this year. I plan on dedicating some of my next movies to hitting that goal.

The one movie I do have something to say about is the German indie Wetlands. Wetlands screened when I went to the 2014 Sundance Film Festival, but I didn’t watch it until Wednesday. A good friend of mine saw the film while we were at Sundance, and she recommended it, but told me some of it could be embarrassing to watch with other people. I wholeheartedly agree, but I really enjoyed the film. Essentially, Wetlands tells the story of a neurotic teenager exploring her sexuality and body in disturbing, hilarious, and rather repulsive ways. This is not the kind of movie you watch with family, but I still totally recommend it (to the strong-stomached, anyway). I also thought Carla Juri was superb in the film’s starring role. If you’re will to spend a sometimes uncomfortable hour watching a funny/sweet/sad film with subtitles, Wetlands is for you.

TV — If I’m good at anything, it’s watching TV. Though I’m still keeping up with a handful of TV shows this summer, I’m anxiously awaiting the return of real TV in a few weeks (I really need more “Empire” in my life). My favorite show of the summer was Lifetime’s UnREAL,” which sadly ended a few weeks ago. If you’re looking for some high drama binge-worthy TV, devote yourself to a day of “UnREAL.” You won’t be disappointed. I’m still keeping up with MTV’s “Teen Wolf” and “Scream: The TV Series” as well as NBC’s “Hannibal” and “Hollywood Game Night.” I’m wishing I was more interested in these final episodes of “Hannibal,” but mostly I’m just hoping for a satisfying conclusion at this point.

My TV-streaming life still consists of powering through “Frasier,” of which I’m proud to say I’ve watched 206 episodes so far. I had no expectation I’d get this far before starting back to school, but I definitely expect to finish the series sometime in September. Though I’ll feel accomplished in finishing such a big series, I’ll certainly be sad to say goodbye to such a thoroughly entertaining show.

While I’ve spent most of the summer watching only “Frasier,” I added a second streaming project on a whim last week, and so far I’m pleased with my decision. On Tuesday I started season 1 of the Sundance Channel’s Rectifyvia Netflix and I’m really liking it so far. The show is dark (it tells the story of a man who’s just been released from prison after 19 years on death row and his extended family) but it’s got a good balance of drama and humor to keep it from seeming to heavy. I’ve heard and read good things about the show in the past, so I’m glad I’ve started. There are only 16 episodes of the show on Netflix since its third season just finished airing, so I expect to finish watching it all pretty quickly.


All right world, now is the moment of truth. I have to face the reality that soon my time won’t always be my own, which sadly means I won’t have so many chances to fill my life with good books and movies. What are you watching and reading in these last weeks of summer? If nothing else, I hope your lives keep you entertained.

Book #45: The Virgin Suicides, by Jeffrey Eugenides

In short, today has been a whirlwind. I’ve been up since around 5:00 AM and drove 8 hours back home from Chautauqua, NY with my mom and roommate, Ryan, after visiting Ryan during the final days of his summer internship (after I write this, I’ll be working on an “end of summer” blog post with more details on our trip — Stay tuned!).

We arrived home about an hour ago and I’m doing my best to remain alert and productive, even if my body is saying it would rather lounge and watch Netflix for the rest of the day. Since we’re already unpacked with a load of laundry in the washer, the next thing on the to do list I could think to cross off was this, updating my blog, so here we are!

Wednesday night, as I attempted to get to bed early before our drive up to New York the next morning, I (of course) found myself unable to fall asleep, which at least gave me to opportunity to finish my last reading project of the summer: Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides. 

I seem to be working my way through Eugenides’s three novels in reverse order from least to most entertaining, or at least I hope that’s the case. I’ve only heard good things about his Pulitzer Prize-winning Middlesex, and though it’s on my tentative reading list for the year, I knew I wouldn’t have time to finish it before the semester starts on Monday, so I went with a shorter option. I read his most recent novel, The Marriage Plot, last summer, and was completely underwhelmed. You can only read about the problems of rich white academics for so long, ya know?

With The Virgin Suicides, though, I felt more optimistic, mostly because I watched the film adaptation (which was Sofia Copolla’s directorial debut) in recent years and really enjoyed it. I was also vaguely curious if the movie/book would be applicable to my Manic Pixie Dream Girl thesis project, so it seemed like a worthwhile read.

I’m a little torn on whether I’d really recommend this novel. It’s written from an odd perspective; the narrator is never really identified, speaking only through a collective “we” that seems to represent the boys who grew up admiring the Lisbon girls for whom the book is named. It’s no secret that the five sisters will all commit suicide at some point before the end of the novel (hence its title), and it opens with the unsuccessful suicide attempt of the youngest Lisbon, thirteen-year-old Cecilia. I should also note here that, despite its focus on teenage suicide, The Virgin Suicides isn’t really a hugely dark or tragic book, so don’t be turned off just by the subject matter.

After reading some fifty pages of the novel, I decided to rewatch the movie because I was into the story and thought it would be fun to see it again as I was reading. This maybe wasn’t the greatest decision. I didn’t find the film as charming the second time around, and so much of its narration is verbatim from the novel that it made reading seem less urgent. I know the movie is generally well-liked, but I was bummed to realize I wasn’t as in love with it as I’d remembered.

So, should you read it? Eh. Maybe. My recommendation is this: if for some reason you’re interested in this novel and haven’t seen the big screen adaptation, go for it. If you like the novel, you’ll like the movie. If you’ve already seen the movie, make your own decision, but know that the adaptation is very faithful (apart from a slight change toward the end of the novel which relates to one of the girls’ suicides).

Book #55: The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Marriage Plot

 

Okay, first of all, I have to say that I was probably a bit biased when I started reading this book because I knew my friend Ryan had some pretty serious frustrations about it. Unfortunately, I felt pretty much the same, though I may have liked the book a bit more than he did.

Since the book begins the day of Madeleine’s college graduation from Brown University, I expected that I’d feel kind of connected to the story, having graduated from college myself just over a month ago. However, I quickly realized that the differences between me and Ivy League students are vast, at least according to Eugenides’s descriptions. Madeleine comes from a wealthy family and feels put out by the fact that she has to entertain her parents for a bit before graduation. She’s recovering from a break up with a boyfriend who unfortunately becomes a major player in the book (I couldn’t stand Leonard as a character, so I really didn’t enjoy his parts of the book). The Marriage Plot isn’t really about anything specific; it follows the lives of two or three primary characters as they try to find themselves post-graduation.

I think I would have enjoyed this novel far more if I didn’t feel like Eugenides took major detours from the actual story to provide totally unnecessary details about various topics, from religion to Brown faculty members to scientific topics I don’t understand. Though these were vaguely relevant to the story, I mostly found these sections boring, and they seemed to me to be Eugenides’s way to prove his intelligence to readers. Not my thing.

In the end, I did find myself caring about the fates of Madeleine and Mitchell, the two characters I was most interested in, and I was happy to see that the book’s conclusion revolved around these two. I’m very happy to be done with The Marriage Plot after having devoted a week of my summer to reading it, and I’m very excited to be moving on to my reread of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, a book I know I love. Oh well. You live and learn, I guess.