An Indiespensible Update (by Jill)

I may have not been writing much lately, but I have definitely been reading. Not as much as I’d like, of course, but that would be true even if I weren’t working 12-13 hour days at work more often than not.

One of my reading goals for this year has been to get caught up on the Indiespensible books that Powell’s sends me every 6-8 weeks, and I’ve actually managed to make some headway, having read six of them so far this year. I’ve still got quite a few to go before I’m caught up. I’m never actually going to get caught up, but I’d like at least to have read all of the books that I received prior to this calendar year before 2017 becomes 2018. The good news is that the last one I finished, City on Fire, gets me through all of the books from 2015, and that means I only have to read 2016’s selections (there are seven of them) in the next five and a half months to reach my goal. That is probably not going to happen, because I think the average length of these books is over five hundred pages…. But you know how we are around here: we like to set borderline unattainable reading goals and then have angst about it. Or at least I do.

I thought maybe I could talk about my Indiespensible reads in one post, because that would be a sensible way to lump things together but not so cumbersome of a post that no one wants to read it!

Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller (Indiespensible #52 from April 2015)

I finished this one in March. When I first started it I was worried it was going to be like In the House upon the Dirt between the Lake and the Woods, which if you remember was a super weird Indiespensible book that I read back in June of 2014, but it wasn’t really. And that’s a good thing. Our Endless Numbered Days starts in 1976, with 8-year-old Peggy Hillcoat living with her parents in the London suburbs. Her mother is a concert pianist and her father is, well, a wacko. He is a survivalist, and he and his wife are not getting along well in the summer of 1976 when we meet this strange family. Mom goes on tour, and Peggy and her father go camping, as they like to do. After a few days of hiking across the countryside, Peggy’s father tells her that the world outside has ended and that they are the only ones left. They find a cabin in the woods of Germany I think (that maybe he knew about in advance) and set up housekeeping. And they are there for nine years before Peggy escapes and makes her way home. I don’t want to do spoilers but let’s just say that Peggy is something of an unreliable narrator. I quite enjoyed this book and wouldn’t mind rereading it someday.

 

The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida (Indiespensible #53 from July 2015)

Read in April. Bethany actually read and blogged about this book back in 2015 shortly after it came out, and I thought she didn’t like it, but upon rereading her review just now, she actually did. I liked it too, though the structure was a bit annoying—no chapters, written in the second person. Thankfully there are page breaks, or else I would have been in some sort of reading hell. The only thing worse than no chapters is long chapters with no page breaks. I was surprised that the second person narration didn’t bother me at all. It seemed to be the right way to tell the story of a woman who has found herself alone and adrift in a foreign country (Morocco) with no identification or money. Bethany did a great job summarizing The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty in her post, so I’ll refer you there. Suffice it to say there is no tidy ending and if I had endured what the protagonist endured I would definitely be tempted to chuck it all and go to Morocco too.

 

Best Boy, Eli Gottlieb (Indiespensible #54 from August 2015)

Also read in April. Best Boy is a story about a man named Todd Aaron, who has lived at the Payton Living Center for almost forty years. He’s autistic, and had the misfortune of being born back when people who were a bit different got put in asylums. I read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time about ten years ago and did not love it, so I was worried that this book would go down likewise. But it did not. Todd was a really sympathetic character and the author did a great job of not turning him into a caricature. Best Boy was partially character study and partially plot-driven, and did a really good job of telling a simple story with great detail.

 

Did You Ever Have a Family, Bill Clegg (Indiespensible #55 from September 2015)

This one was one of my favorite books I have read this year, I think. Actually, now that I think about it I’ve enjoyed most of the books I’ve read this year. This book was not terribly long, but it’s difficult to sum up in a couple of words. It’s a multiple viewpoint novel, which I love, that revolves around a tragedy that takes place in a small Connecticut town. June Reid’s entire family: her daughter (and only child), her daughter’s fiancé, her boyfriend, and her ex-husband are killed in a freak explosion that burns her house to the ground on the morning of her daughter’s wedding. Clegg jumps around in time from events leading up to the accident to the aftermath. I found it to be stunningly well done. The characters were generally all good people, but were not perfect, and the author did such a good job with all of them. I may be exaggerating because it’s been a few months since I finished it, but I don’t remember anything I disliked about this book. I definitely recommend it. It was sad, but also hopeful.

 

City on Fire, Garth Risk Hallberg (Indiespensible #56 from October 2015)

Oh this book. I was afraid of its girth but ended up finding it tremendous, and looking back I can’t think of how Hallberg could have made it any shorter than its nine hundred and eleven pages. I could have lived in its pages for longer than the month I spent in it. I didn’t want to put it down. The novel takes place in New York City in the fall of 1976 to summer of 1977, but really reaches back before then and extends much past then. This is yet another novel with a large cast of characters with many points of view, though unlike in Did You Ever Have a Family, I did not like all of the characters in City on Fire. Some of them were just not good people. Some of them were remarkably complex, because we get to learn what many different people think of them. I highly recommend City on Fire for anyone who wants to get immersed in a long novel.

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