I read a few really good books at the end of July – you can see the highlights of July in this post – but so far, August hasn’t been the best reading-wise.
Today, I’m going to talk about two books I tried that didn’t work for me recently. I’m not going to give them a rating, but if I had to, they both would be around three stars.
These are not reviews – they’re more a discussion focusing on some specific aspects of the book or of my reading experience.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
I decided not to write a review of this one, because if there’s a thing that really bothers me about the book community, it’s the tendency to put books on pedestals and then be rude/condescending to those who don’t like them, because that of course meant they didn’t get it, or that they’re a bad person (especially if it’s a diverse book, because if you care about diversity, it must mean that you have to like every single diverse book that isn’t considered problematic™ – you’re not allowed to have preferences unless you can justify them with social justice-related language, and if you have them anyway, you’re problematic™ because you not liking a book must of course mean that you think the book should be cancelled™!). It happened last year with The Poppy War, and I have no interest in going through that again on goodreads.
But this is my blog, and the nice thing about my blog is that I can easily moderate the comment section (and that it isn’t read by as many people as the review section on goodreads’ page of a book).
So, what went wrong with me and The Fifth Season.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you might already know that I don’t do well with grim. And I knew this book was going to be grim, and even if I didn’t like that, I didn’t have a problem with that, because that’s what this book is and has every reason to be.
But then, I got to this quote. [highlights are mine]
“There passes a time of happiness in your life, which I will not describe to you. It is unimportant. Perhaps you think it wrong that I dwell so much on the horrors, the pain, but pain is what shapes us, after all.”
First: Unimportant? Really?
Second: to give you some context, this quote is talking about Syenite and the years she spent with the people living on an island, who value people with her powers. This book wants me to believe that she is exactly the same, with the same aims and the same way to see the world and nothing that could bee seen as character development, that she was before getting into her first relationship and having a child?
That’s… unrealistic, that’s what it is.
(I would also say that “pain is what shapes us” is an inaccurate generalization – personally, there’s a lot of stagnation in pain, more than there is when I’m not in pain, and trauma is… less of a source of growth that fiction would have one think, but this is my experience; if you feel differently, it’s not my intention to ever make you think you’re wrong.)
I feel like my main problems with this book are summed up really well by that quote, and have a lot to do with… the book community’s tendency to value pain over everything (in this, and in so many other aspects, including the creepiest ones like “you’re not allowed to write about trauma unless you disclose details about your own on social media”) and I don’t even feel like I’m the right person to talk about this because I can’t put together something that makes sense. I still think The Fifth Season is worth reading for other aspects, but I won’t be continuing with the series.
Don’t Date Rosa Santos by Nina Moreno
I made a mistake, and that mistake was trying to listen to the audiobook. You might already know that my previous experience with audiobooks (with Sadie by Courtney Summers) wasn’t the best, but I absolutely loved listening to the novella In An Absent Dream by Seanan McGuire, and so I thought, why not try again?
As it turns out, some stories really don’t work well on audiobook. This is a novel with many side characters, most of which are women, and something about the narration made them sound really similar. Was that Rosa’s mother? Her grandmother? Her best friend? One of the other women from her small town? I often didn’t know, and kept getting confused, and there were just… so many characters.
When I got around 40%, I realized that I kept zoning out and understanding nothing, so I quit, and I feel bad about it, because it’s not even really the book’s fault. This isn’t bad – it’s a perfectly fine contemporary story, and a really atmospheric one at that, and I loved what it said about how different generations in diaspora have different relationship with their culture – it’s just that I don’t feel strongly enough about it to purchase another copy and start it again.
TL;DR: if you like contemporary novels, it’s worth trying. Don’t listen to it on audiobook if that’s an option.
Have you ever had a bad experience with an audiobook narration? Have you read any of these?