Two Books to Read Once

Most of my life, I’ve enjoyed reading the same books over and over–not too often, but returning to old favorites every few years.  I noticed that what felt like “a few years” increased as I got older, but then when I was pregnant with my daughter I suddenly wanted to read only books that were new to me.  Now that she’s 4 years old, I’m feeling ready to reread some of the books I read then, but others still seem too recent, and I continue to crave new-to-me books.

That’s where the public library comes in handy!  It’s much easier to choose books in the library than in a bookstore or even a $1 used-book sale, because if I pick one I don’t like, I can simply put it aside without any guilt about having wasted money.  That doesn’t happen very often; usually, a book that looked interesting enough to try turns out to be good enough to read all the way through.

These two were perfect library books: They kept me reading and had some good points, but each of them had some flaws that, if I were to reread, would bother me more each time.  They’re both recent releases, too (2016 and 2018), so I feel like I’m keeping up with what’s new without spending money on new books!

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

A journalist gets to take a cruise on a new, exclusive, luxury liner that has just 10 cabins.  She’s supposed to write a review of the experience for the travel magazine where she works.  But she does no work at all on her assignment (and doesn’t even think of it except when she notices the other journalists working) because she’s so distracted by the drama she brought onboard and the murder she believes occurred in Cabin 10, based on a few vague clues that only she observed.  Her name is Laura, but people call her Lo, which irritated me, so I’ll stick with Laura.

Laura boards the ship exhausted and freaked-out because of a home-invasion burglary two days earlier, which woke her in the middle of the night and naturally scared her and made sleeping in her home difficult.  She also drinks too much, establishing herself as unreliable in the eyes of the crew and passengers as well as the reader.  When she jumps to conclusions about what happened to the woman she saw in Cabin 10–the cabin that’s supposed to be vacant–of course she gets a suspicious reaction.  It’s a lot like The Girl on the Train [reviewed here] but not as good.  Although the whole story ultimately makes sense, some of it relies on clues that Laura recalls noticing at the time but hadn’t mentioned in her narration of that time.  After a week of extreme stress, drinking, calorie deprivation, and no exercise, she escapes in one of those action-movie scenarios that would kill a normal person or at least break some bones.  Oh, and the suspense is sustained by the Norwegian authorities behaving inexplicably and by emails appearing in the text days before they are sent.

I had to find out what happened, even though I could tell I was going to be disappointed by some of it.

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman

I got about 70 pages into this chick-lit drama of 4 families living on the same block before I began to feel really interested in it.  Ultimately, I was pleased with the characters and some of their insights, but the big climax of the plot hinges on over-dramatizing a crisis so minor it could easily have been resolved by not panicking, and the central conflict wraps up with the unmet need that triggered it being totally ignored, so I felt that the story wasn’t actually over.

Frances is a stay-at-home mom who drives the 7 children of the 4 families to and from their 3 schools every day.  One day, she promises Kate that she’ll go get the craft supplies Kate accidentally left at home and bring them to school–and when Frances steps into Kate’s house, she finds Kate’s mother Anne having sex with someone who’s not her husband.

Nobody cares why Anne is having this affair, even though she explains.  Everyone except Anne’s boyfriend agrees that she’s done a terrible, horrible thing that destroys her family and traumatizes her children, and she must be cast out of the neighborhood (to an apartment where her kids don’t visit) and ought to know she’s not welcome at any of the children’s activities.  The closest anyone comes to reconsidering their judgment is when Bill finally explains why his wife is not living with him and everyone is forced to admit that worse things than infidelity can happen.  But that’s not what gets Anne’s husband to make a grudging effort to reunite their family–in order to make that happen, their 10-year-old has to vanish from the radar of their helicopter parenting for, like, a whole hour, during which he is totally safe in the most likely place any thinking person would have expected him to go.  That incident and the excessive punishment of the other 10-year-old who accompanied him completely destroyed my ability to relate to these people.

On the other hand, some passages really tap into what it’s like being an educated, middle-class American parent these days:

Theo was trying to get Charlie to go outside and play with him, which was causing the usual Gen-X parent cognitive dissonance: I want my kids to have the awesome free-range childhood I enjoyed and develop independence and grit, but I also want them to feel “seen” by me and not just benignly neglected.  However, my fucking life is falling apart here and I might suddenly lose it and run around the kitchen stabbing appliances with a fork.

So, I guess you could say that Other People’s Houses gives you a glimpse into the lives of people who think like me in some ways and very differently in others.  A lot of the writing is very funny, in a snarky sort of way.

One more weird thing about this book: Although it’s set in Los Angeles and none of the characters mentions being other than a native of the United States, both dialogue and narration are sprinkled with British-isms like “dressing gown” and “the high street.”  The author was born and raised in England, and the book is published by Penguin–but even a British editor should have been able to make sure American characters in America speak American English!  And you’d think the author, who has lived in L.A. for many years, would have a better grasp of how the natives talk.

Read other writers’ book reviews at Quick Lit and Show Us Your Books!

I’ve also been reading to my daughter lately–check out my thoughts on Cultural Sensitivity and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

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4 thoughts on “Two Books to Read Once

  1. That excerpt reminded me that I would be very interested to get your take on Small Animals: Parenthood in the Age of Fear by Kim Brooks, which just came out recently. I know you’ve tried to give your kids more independence than most, and this is specifically about the backlash many women receive, including many, many women (including the author) who have had police or CPS called on them.

    • That one has been suggested for my book group. I’m very interested in it. It does sound like it’s more about the “leaving the house alone” kind of independence than any other kind, and actually what I related to in the excerpt was the conflicting feelings about a parent’s independence from the child’s activities when the parent is having a tough time. “Free range” can be about literally letting the child go out unsupervised and/or about letting the child have a separate life in which the parent isn’t very emotionally/intellectually involved.

  2. I had to pop over from MMD to see what was only worth reading once! I have a hard time training myself to just put a book down – if I don´t like it I usually skim through to the end, which is probably even less satisfying in terms of a reading experience.

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