Reading Rodeo: High Weirdness, Surface Detail, Fault Lines, 5 AM, and What We Never Say
This September's Reading Roundup
Each month, I round up the books I finished and share my takeaways. September’s five genres were: sci-fi, literary fiction (badly marketed as romance), self-help, non-fiction from an academic press, and a “women’s fiction” book.
While I low-key loathe the term “women’s fiction,” the author identifies her book that way, and it squarely fits in the established commercial genre.
There will be no spoilers.
Reading is VERY subjective, but hopefully, this roundup is useful to you in considering these books, listed in the order I finished them.
As I mentioned in my August Rodeo, tracking monthly reads is more about retaining stories in my brain than glory-counting for Goodreads or gold stars, etc.
Though I’m never opposed to gold stars and pizza parties. Hello, GenX Pizza Hut public school kids. Hi. I see you.
Let’s wade in…
1. Surface Detail (2010)
by Ian Banks
Altered Carbon meets The Handmaid’s Tale, written as a space opera.
The 9th book in the “Culture Series,” by Ian Banks, that also reads as a standalone.
Three primary storylines:
A sex slave deliberately gets her evil boss to murder her. She returns to life in a new body and seeks revenge.
Two activists travel to virtual hell to expose its horrors.
Soldiers in a multi-planet universe battle a virtual world war over virtual heavens and hells.
SO creative. Who’s twisted mind came up with this??
The virtual hell activist plotline really did it for me.
Characters, worldbuilding, and conflict are all A+
Edgy-spice that was never cliché
Great evil villain
Surface Detail will haunt me for years to come.
It inspired me to write an essay on “Virtual Hells” for a new literary journal curated by author Daniel Pinchbeck called Liminal. Hopefully, he will accept it for the publication. If it’s not, I’ll share it here.
There were none. At least not for me. I’ll be reading more by this author. Already grabbed the first book in the series.
2. Fault Lines (2022)
By Emily Itami
A Japanese housewife in Tokyo with significant exposure to western culture gets bored with her workaholic husband and has an affair with a restauranteur.
Described by the publisher as “Sally Rooney meets Haruki Murakami,” but I reject this description. To say it was like Rooney and Murakami is an insult to Rooney and Murakami. (imo)
I can’t name a true comp because I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book about a mom that’s this vanilla, but who thinks she’s rocky road…
Lovely descriptions of Tokyo
Tasted the Japanese food in my mouth and the author included a food glossary.
Fast read (because it’s short.)
Itching for a book set in Japan? This will scratch you good.
The novel sadly suffered from false expectations, poor genre promise, and bad marketing. I grabbed this in an airport bookstore placed amongst the romance/thriller paperbacks. The book’s cover and back copy also made me think it was a romance with STEAM. Guess what, there was none. This was literary/women’s fiction; however, wanted to be feminist, but just wasn’t. There was way too much about her kids. I’m here for the taboo affair, lady, not how much you love your little kids!
The end promised dramatic, apocalyptic excitement, but then fizzled. Maybe this mom would be scandalous in Japanese culture, but as an American reader, I found her boring, stereotypical, and predictable. By the conclusion of the novel, I would have been fine with her perishing in an earthquake.
3. The 5 AM Club: Own Your Morning, Elevate Your Life. (2018)
By Robin Sharma
A self improvement/optimization book for high achievers written with touches of fictional allegory.
An artist and an entrepreneur meet a billionaire disguised as a homeless guy who then takes them all around the world and teaches them many habits about improving themselves, as well as catchy phrases, lists, and formulas to remember and refine their success-building habits.
Atomic Habits, 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari
I liked this book way more than I thought I would.
There is a reason this book has over 22,000 five star reviews on Amazon.
Packed full of pithy sayings, rhymes, platitudes, chart graphics, and positivity.
Tons of solid advice
Critique of social media and the dangers of distraction
A slow brainwashing effect, repetition in a good way.
Extensive synthesis of many self-help books.
Touches of neuroscience
This may be redundant if you’ve widely read in the self-help/business genre, and the allegory structure got tiresome. I wanted to skip past the narrative story and get to the advice.
Furthermore, the schedule recommended in the book is unrealistic for most people, and totally ignores the reality of having kids, a business, or a 9-5 job, by suggesting things like going device-free for two days a week, or taking of June, July, and August just for family holidays every single year. Like what? Ok, Jeff Bezos… Maybe doable if you’re Beyonce.
4. What We Never Say (2022)
By Paulette Stout
A male underwear model searches for wholeness after being sexually abused by a powerful magazine editor.
The Devil Wears Prada meets Catch and Kill, but written by Emily Henry. The author said it’s like, “It Ends with Us, by Colleen Hoover, and Maybe in Another Life, by Taylor Jenkins Reid.” But I haven’t read those, so I can’t confirm.
Tackles a difficult subject—male sexual assault by woman—with grace, and a zinger at the end.
A side romance with just the right amount of steam lightened the assault story.
Loved the fashion mag setting and the subplot of a woman blogger writing about recovery from sexual dysfunction.
A complex villain with likeable and unlikeable characteristics. This gave the book an uncomfortable “realness,” because, in real life, rapists walk amongst us and often have admirable qualities besides being scum.
The novel was a little dialogue-heavy. There was also a subplot about the underwear model’s sister’s wedding that I really didn’t care about, so I contemplated skipping those parts.
In addition, because it challenged my beliefs about sexual assault so much, I struggled to fully relate to the man’s emotional suffering. At times, I liked the rapist-villain better than the main character or his girlfriend… which just didn’t feel right!
5. High Weirdness: Drugs, Esoterica, and Visionary Experience in the Seventies (2019)
By Erik Davis
Academic Press Non-Fiction, Literary and Cultural Critique
This complex book uses the umbrella of “weirdness” to discuss the “far out,” but profound, overlapping experiences and (accurate) predictions for the future found in the writings of Terence McKenna, Robert Anton Wilson, and Philip K. Dick, as well as examining their lasting impacts on present day society and the so-called psychedelic renaissance.
The Archaic Revival, Valis, Cosmic Trigger, Philosophy and Psychedelics.
*This is a very academic and literary book, written in an academic style, but it’s also very trippy, with “fringe” ideas, so it’s hard to name comps. Davis analyzes texts and offers biography and historical context on the writers and even himself in a flurry of interesting word mixtures.
I FREAKING LOVED THIS ONE.
Nerd alert: If you’re into Dick, McKenna, or Wilson and you don’t mind academic books, just read it.
With some added diversity, this would make a great docuseries.
It left me weirded out, fantastically, by just how visionary these guys are and how accurately they predicted the future.
I listened to this initially on audio and I’ve never replayed so many parts of a book, not because I zoned out or got confused, but because parts were so great.
This book deserves its own standalone post, which I shall present to you once the hard copy arrives and I can confirm my notes/quotes/spellings.
It would have been nice to include a woman or a person of color, but I also understand why he didn’t. Already with three authors, it was a long book and the three paired well together.
The beginning was a bit slow with a lot of academic garbley gook, and the somewhat inaccessible writing style limits the book’s reach.
That’s all! What did you read this month?
Have you read any of these books?
Are you a “Dickhead” AKA lover of Philip K. Dick’s many books?
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Charlotte, have you read Steve Jobs’ biography by Walter Isaacson? I ask because Jobs was a big proponent of LSD. The book isn’t about that primarily, but there are several anecdotes about it. I’ve never done drugs, but I’ve always wondered how accurate Jobs was in his assessment that at least some of his vision was because of LSD.
I haven't read this month. I haven't read much lately and I need to fix that. The book about the Tokyo wife and the homeless billionaire story sounds appealing.