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Boring Book Recommendation: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

15815333She recognized that that is how friendships begin: one person reveals a moment of strangeness, and the other person decides just to listen and not exploit it.

What is this book about?

Six kids meet each other at a summer camp for special creative kids and become a tight knit friend group. They decide to call themselves The Interestings because no one is as interesting and special as they are. During summer camp their perfect lives seem to last forever, but coming back to reality changes things quickly. Friends fall away and soon a much smaller group is left. The novel follows these characters from this first summer to the end of their lives.

Why is it boring?

Even though the book has some exciting bits, it’s mostly just about life. About how life can drag you down and how it can be fair or unfair. Wolitzer writes about these people and their lives without trying to make it seem better or flashier then it actually is. Sure some of them are rich and famous, but the heart of the story is Jules who is none of these things. What she is, is jealous and maybe not really that special, but isn’t that just what life is like for most?

Who would you recommend it to?

Although the book starts in the 1970’s and tells the story of that generation of teenagers, the book would also be very good for kids from the 90’s. The story is about teens growing up thinking they are special, but finding out that maybe all the encouragement to find their creativity wasn’t that helpful at all and now they find themselves completely disillusioned by life. Sound familiar Generation Y?

Why should I read it if it’s boring?!

It’s just so honest about human emotions. These things are not pretty, but they are powerful and painful. The book is a joy to read. Wolitzer lets you follow these people like you are an actual part of the group. The friends find themselves intertwined after that first meeting and are still a part of each others lives well into their fifties. None of them are perfect, but they stick together anyways. Even though the book is long the writing is fun and light, never getting you bogged down in the heavy amount of pages. If you want to read what a long life does to a person without getting too depressed, this is an amazing book.

Rating: 4/5
If you want to read The Interestings you can order it here

Book Empire Vol. 23

All the book news you need to know, on a need-to-know basis.

We understand how busy you are and how difficult it is to keep up with all the book news that’s being thrown at you every day. To make your life a little easier, we’ll compound the most important bits into 1 blog post every week, exactly telling you what you need to know. Please don’t worry your pretty little head about the possibility of propaganda or censorship. We’ll do that for you.

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Vending machines in high schools are a must, but eating all the snacks and soda’s is not that good. So why not replace these boring ol’ vending machines with a literary one?
The Head & The Hand Press has the right idea with this YA Chapbook Machine!

Literary houses are just the best, but living in the house of a literary legend such as Dracula is the most amazing chance you will ever get. Unfortunately they only take bids from the ‘right type of person’, meaning vampires.
Now I never get to live out my Only Lovers Left Alive fantasy.

Smartphones are no longer killing everything that is good in the world. They are actually ideal for reading big bulky classics such as Middlemarch without you having to lurch around a heavy ass book.

Do you want to know what a book sounds like? We’re not talking about audio books here, but about TransProse, new software that will transcribe the emotions of a novel into music.
It does still sound a bit clunky.

We are quitting the book club for a brighter and better tomorrow. In this we are following the Chicago Public Library who is done lending out books and has moved on to robots.
They are so cute!

We all know at least a handful of people who have at one moment in their life told you they were writing a novel. However, almost none of these books will ever be published. The road to being a published author is hard, but is it worth it in the end? These first-time authors tell you their experiences.

The YA scene has been seeing a lot of discussion on a need for diversity, but lauding John Green for being the end-all of realistic YA might be working against this. Anne Ursu wrote a great piece on why these articles are counterproductive and often untrue.

Boring Book Recommendation: California by Edan Lepucki

18774020“… the girl who worked there accepted gold only, and not jewelry – it had to be melted down already.”

What is this book about?

Cal and Frida, a young couple from California, have fled the city to live a life of isolation. The cities are in ruin, devastated by a yet unknown threat and have created a post-apocalyptic or maybe just apocalyptic world. Life has become dangerous, modern life untenable and all Cal and Frida can do is stick together while facing the current wilderness of the state of California. After a while the loneliness is getting to Frida and with the belief that she is pregnant, they head out into the unknown forests in search of others.

Why is it boring?

The first part of the book is just Cal and Frida, two young kids trying to make it on their own. They do their chores, have a lot of sex and simply try to survive. Even though this sounds like the most boring part of the book, because the excitement should happen after they find a settlement and Frida’s long lost brother, but for me it was completely reversed. The first part is filled with mystery of why the world is in shambles and does a great job creating this familiar, but now scary world. The second part is more conventionally boring by explaining the past and thereby ruining the power of my imagination.

Who would you recommend it to?

Anyone who likes a good realistic dystopian novel.  Don’t expect any YA dystopia filled with action and mutated humans. This book is a drama, a serious story with a heavy focus on human emotion. Wilderness freaks and land-pirates should definitely pick this one up.

Why should I read it if it’s boring?!

I went into this book with high expectations which were immediately confirmed by the first part of the book. The great mystery that was set up of what had happened to the world and why Cal and Frida had decided to flee the city gave me hope that I was reading a grown-up version of the Adventure Time apocalypse. When things got explained it turned out my expectations were way off, the mystery of the end of the world wasn’t even really that much of a mystery. But the writing is solid and although it is easy to find Cal and Frida (especially Frida) annoying, you still care for them and any of the remaining survivors. It’s a great book if you want to delve deeper into human emotion and isolation, but if you are looking for an action packed novel, you really have to look further.

Rating 3,5/5
If you want to read California you can pre-order it here!

Book club pick #10

It has been a while since the last online vote after Dave Eggers recommendation and the Nijmegen book club combined voting. However for our tenth edition in July, which will be the final book club before our one month summer break, the vote is all yours again!

You can pick between the two following books:

Strange Bodies by Marcel Theroux combines science-fiction with Dostoevsky when Nicky Slopen returns from the dead. He has been dead for months. So when a man claiming to be Nicholas turns up to visit an old girlfriend, deception seems the only possible motive. From the secure unit of a notorious psychiatric hospital, he begins to tell his tale: an account of attempted forgery that draws the reader towards an extraordinary truth – a metaphysical conspiracy that lies on the other side of madness and death.

The second book is Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World written by Donald Antrim. It’s a short novel, spanning not even 200 pages.  In Pete Robinson’s seaside suburban town, things have, well, fallen into disrepair. The voters have de-funded schools, the mayor has been drawn and quartered by an angry mob of townsmen, and Turtle Pond Park is stocked with claymore mines. Pete Robinson, third grade teacher with a 1:32 scale model of an Inquisition dungeon in his basement, wants to open a new school, and in his effort to do so he stumbles upon another idea: he needs to run for mayor.

So vote for your favorite book to read before the summer ends.  We would also love to hear what books you would want to read over the summer to discuss with us in September. Any recommendations are welcome!

Book Empire Vol. 22

All the book news you need to know, on a need-to-know basis.

We understand how busy you are and how difficult it is to keep up with all the book news that’s being thrown at you every day. To make your life a little easier, we’ll compound the most important bits into 1 blog post every week, exactly telling you what you need to know. Please don’t worry your pretty little head about the possibility of propaganda or censorship. We’ll do that for you.

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Although we hope this is not yet necessary, book club guru Amy Bonesteel gives tips on how to revitalize your book club.

The streets of Vancouver have been transformed into a Choose Your Own Adventure story. The Action Fiction Project went around the city to write all of the citizens a story that changed depending on what streets you decided to take.

Miranda July, known from artsy movies and short story collections has now written her first novel.
You can read it in January 2015.

If only Putin loved to read Tolstoy instead of Dostoevsky, the world would have been a very different place.

It’s time to talk about literary bad boys. Are you more in love with the Unattainable Sherlock Holmes or with the Nonconformist Holden Caulfield?

Teens are still reading less and less. How can this be when the YA industry is thriving?

The best infograph of the week tells you how you can figure out if you have found yourself in a Gothic novel. Great if you wake up in Transylvania, surrounded by the undead and are suddenly prone to fainting.

We love it when concerned parents and book censorship is wrong. A new study shows that reading banned books actually doesn’t have a bad influence on your mind and that it won’t turn you crazy. It actually has a positive affect, making you more prone to help others.

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Our seventh book is Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw and the review is written by Michelle Carmody.

The life-advice section in any bookstore is usually the shiniest, the brightest, with the glossiest covers and the snappiest titles. When I lived in Argentina I was seduced by the prospect of an organized life that the books in this section offered me, the promise of pulling me out of my rut and helping me make good use of my time, to seize the day and to make the most of the great opportunity that living in a foreign country offered. While these books appeal to, and are aimed at, any and every sector of the population, perhaps they hold a special appeal to migrants, to transitory populations seeking a path, in lieu of a fixed place.

The migrants in Five Star Billionaire are all floating in foreign space, looking for a path forward. No one sees Shanghai as a permanent option. The five stars of Five Star Billionaire are Yinghui, Phoebe, Gary, Justin and Walter; all Malaysian emigrants of varying social status, making it work in Shanghai. The most interesting of these characters is Phoebe, who really seems to be the personification of new South East Asia. Phoebe arrives in Shanghai by way of Shenzhen, the factory floor of the world. She comes to Shanghai because it offers her somewhere to sleep, the floor of the tiny apartment of a friend from her Malaysian village. But it also offers her the prospect of making it big, of moving up in the world beyond the factory floor to the upper levels of life.

Aw

Phoebe follows various self-improvement manuals, absorbing the advice of gurus on how to get rich and how to get a man – the latter being the key to the former – until she completely transforms herself and becomes a creation of these books. Phoebe sets out to exploit the possibilities that the new China offers rural women like her. She steals an ID card, which allows her to literally stumble into a job, and from there she sets about finding the perfect mate while managing a workforce of fellow migrants who, having come from the countryside to the city, have not made the transition to city girl Phoebe has.

She masters the ability to chat online with multiple men, filtering out the useless ones. Through this she meets both Walter and Gary. Gary is a disgraced pop megastar; Walter is an uber-tycoon who, when not writing self-improvement manuals, is busy completing the acquisition and destruction of both Justin and Yinghui’s successful business empires. The connection between the five migrants is Jackie Collins-esque: there is deception so obvious to everyone except the deceived, there is revenge for something that happened long before the avenger even opened his first bank account; there is a fall from grace that Britney herself could be proud of. There is no sex.

In many ways this book fails to really capture the energy of five lives open to potential and being thrown around by the city of Shanghai and its mixture of possibilities and limitations. The story arcs, and especially the connections, are far-fetched and some characters are under-developed. But in other ways this book gives a glimpse into the contradictions of emerging China. Yinghui has made it big as a businesswoman, but is ultimately brought down by social conventions and traditions that lead her to submit to Walter and lead Walter to extract revenge on her for the humiliation of his father by hers. Phoebe suffers from increasing existential angst brought on through her masquerading as a successful businesswoman. Heritage buildings in the heart of Shanghai and KL are being torn down and used as the foundation for new fortunes.

Zizek has talked about the rise of China as evidence of a kind of ‘capitalism with Asian values’. While in many respects this book is unsuccessful as a story, it plays with this idea of unrestrained capitalism and its promise of self-improvement and entrepreneurial (re)invention, and the clash with tradition, convention and the past. The self-improvement that Phoebe undergoes allows her to find a path in a foreign city, allows her to exploit opportunities and Shanghai itself to the fullest possible extent. She reaches a limit, though, and eventually accepts that return to her village is inevitable. As her roommate puts it, ‘where else am I supposed to go?’. The anything-goes, get-rich-quick environment of Shanghai offers endless possibilities, but those who are floating in its space are still restrained by their past, by the traditions and conventions that follow them into their new lives and pull them back into the old. While this book fails to capture the energy of contemporary China, it does point to many of the contradictions in the model of uber-development through replication, the paint-by-numbers approach to moving up in the world and what the personal and social implications of that might be.

Written by Michelle Carmody