What’s the worst book you’ve read recently?
(I figure it’s easier than asking your all-time worst, because, well, it’s recent!)
What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
(Tell me you didn’t see this one coming?)
These were hard questions for me, because I've been fortunate in my reads this summer. I've liked almost everything I've actually dived into. But I managed to find a turkey, so I'll start there.
I initially gave Sharlee Dieguez's The Bearded Lady a sort of neutral review, tending a bit towards the negative. The further away from it I get, though, the less I like it. I read a few reviews of it online to help me pinpoint exactly what I disliked about it. One of them hit it on the head: you get way too much of "sourpuss Jessie" as the reviewer called her. The circus is an interesting and vital place, but it's all completely subsumed by Beard Angst.
Sideshows have always interested me, and Dieguez could have done a lot more with the exploitation/freedom aspect of them. One minor character was a "pinhead" and her caretaker. The "pinhead" was facing institutionalization. The caretaker was leading a lonely and bland existence. When they met, and became part of the circus, their lives vastly improved. The caretaker described it as having a sweet little girl that will never grow up. The "pinhead" was well-loved, well-cared for and was able to lead as full a life as her capabilities allowed. The Chinese concubine's alternative to self-exhibition was a (probably short) life of sex slavery. But they were mere background for Jessie's Beard Angst. And Jessie's fantasy sex sequence about her crush kissing the hairy lips above and thinking of the hairy lips below was just laughable.
As for the best book I've read recently? Gosh, that's hard. Lisa Jewell's books are always great fun, and I'm reading a very enjoyable one now, People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. The Thirteenth Tale was outstanding. The James Herriot books are always nice and cheerful, and offbeat material and shopworn devices were combined to great effect in Life After Genius.
But I'd say my winner is I Thought My Father Was God and Other True Stories. It's an absolutely fascinating book regarding the real experiences of real people. The experiences are wide-ranging. Many involve bizarre, mystic coincidences, such as losing something, and having it turn up thousands of miles away, generations later. Others weren't so much linear "stories" as meditations on life. Some of the ones about death and loss make me cry just thinking of them. But it was a neat project and a neat book. This one gets my vote for the best one I've read recently, just because I can't imagine anyone disliking it.