Mostly I played soothing iPad games, but I try to avoid screens before bed, so I did in fact make more progress on my ToB reading, as well as a few other things.
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo -- I enjoyed this while I was reading it; it has a very strong female voice and an interesting trajectory, but a few weeks later and I have almost forgotten that I read it, which is not a strong recommendation. I do wish to read more by Guo, I am curious to see what sort of variety she has in her writing.
The House of Broken Angels by Luis Urrea -- This took forever but I am glad I stuck with it, because eventually I found my rhythm with it and fell in love with the complicated, sprawling Mexican-American family that is the centre of this book. I usually do not like books with shifting POVs, or men contemplating the sexual charms of women at length, or flashbacks, but this one did all of those things and did them well and with good reason. Urrea treats his characters with such love and generosity that I felt challenged to do the same with people in my life, especially those I might hastily judge on surfaces -- a wonderful thing for a book to do. I might have started this without the ToB, but I do not think I would have stuck with it.
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje -- This is another one I am very grateful to the ToB for, because I had tried an Ondaatje some years ago (Anil's Ghost) and did not get anywhere with it and had him slotted in my mind as an author I did not like -- but this was absolutely lovely, a hazy recollection of adolescence in post-WW2 London, told so beautifully that it evoked for me the actual workings of memory, how particular objects stick with me when the events surrounding them fragment and fail, and how the most personal moments of a life still connect to the fabric of the times -- the protagonist is both disconnected from the just-ended war and profoundly affected by it from many angles of approach. This may be my favourite book of this year's list so far, although I still have quite a few to go.
On the Go
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner -- I am finding it hard to talk about this book, because it is so bleak and painful and yet I cannot quit reading it. At 1/3 of the way through it is largely focused on Romy, who is on her way to life in a women's prison, and the narrative voice is unsparing in all the details, the petty humiliations and infinite absurdities of the prison system, the life events that led Romy to this place and where her regrets do and do not fall. It is very good so far, but I have to take it in small doses because I know it is reflecting a very unpleasant reality about what the criminal justice system does to so many human beings.
A Terribe Country by Keith Gessen -- Andrei emigrated from Russia to the US when he was a child, but now he's an adult with a graduate degree in Russian studies who cannot find a job, and his grandmother back in Russia needs someone to stay with her as her health declines -- so off he goes, back to that "terrible country" his parents were so eager to get away from. I am about halfway through this one and really enjoying it; it does not have the weight that a lot of the others have, but it is very interesting and clearly a book about life right now. I hope it sticks the landing.
The Blizzard by Vladimir Sorokin -- This is a very, very weird book that starts off like a Chekovian short story -- there's a doctor and he's trying to get to where the epidemic is but there's a blizzard so nobody in the small village wants to try to drive him, plus there are no horses... except then it turns into magical realism, or possibly an absurdist fairy tale, or something other than a realist Russian novel, so I am reading eagerly to figure it out with occasional pauses to take it in. This is the March book for an in-person book group I am trying out, and seems like it is going to lead to excellent discussion.
Milkman by Anna Burns -- This won the Booker last year and I think I can see why. I have read the first 15 pages and it is told in a sort of stream-of-consciousness that really does feel like riding on water, I dive in and then as long as I just keep reading I am fine and it all makes sense, but when I pause I realise I am out of breath. It is set in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, I think, and I have no idea where it is going to take me.
The Golden State by Lydia Kiesling -- There is a woman unhappy in her job and she takes her child and drives to the mobile home she inherited from her grandparents, located in an imaginary state somewhere where actual Wyoming or Montana is, and I have been assured that this is not a book about Imperilled Children so I am still reading it but it has not hooked me yet.
10 days until the ToB starts! I am not going to make it through the entire shortlist this year, there is simply not enough time, but I think I will finish everything I have mentioned here, and perhaps break into one or two more. I rather stalled out on There There that I mentioned last time -- it turned out to be a book that shifted PoV every chapter and I am so impatient with that, but I ought to give it one more try because it has a good chance of taking the entire tournament by storm and I will be frustrated if I have not read it.
I think once the ToB is underway and I am done reading for it I will dive into my lovely pile of speculative fiction that has been accumulating over the last few months, because it is sadly neglected and I am ready for something different.