Everything I Read in June

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It's that time again - the end of one month and the start of a new. The LSAT has been conquered, summer is in full swing, and I've got eight new books to share with you! Last month I started to explore the audiobook world to hack away at a Stephen King classic (review of It is in May's round-up!). Since then, I've become an Audible addict. The app let me read four extra books this month from the comfort of my car, and my laundry room, and the beach. It's really amped up the amount of books I've been able to read, and while it will continue to help me reach my reading goals this summer, I'm most excited about the possibility of being able to actually read for pleasure when I start school again!

But enough about me. Let's talk about the books.

JURASSIC PARK BY MICHAEL CRICHTON

I'm a huge Jurassic Park fan (like, capital-h Huge) so this book was a natural selection for me. In honor of the movie's 25th anniversary, I used this one in my first From Book to Box Office post! You can catch that comprehensive review here, but for now I can tell you this: 

Jurassic Park is my favorite movie, and I grew up loving the film franchise, so it was only a matter of time until I finally picked up the book. I'm so, so glad I did! There are, expectedly, marked differences between page and screen - but those changes make each story uniquely its own. The way that each character is portrayed and how they each interact with one another, the way that the dinosaurs are introduced - both initially, and after the park-wide shutdown, the way that scientific and even mathematical concepts are talked about and dealt with each have slight variances in the worlds of the film and the book, and those differences make the stories each interesting, engaging, and fascinating in their own rights. 

As far as the book goes: the plot is incredibly well-structured, with tension rising and rising and rising and then releasing just slightly before rising yet again. The threats posed to the characters are equal parts horrifying and fascinating (don't tell me raptors tricking a human to attack another human isn't fascinating - dinos participating in strategic planning on par with human beings? that's! so! cool!), the conflict between the characters, the effects of stress on fear on each of them. It's so smart, and creates such an amazing and timeless narrative. It doesn't matter that the book was written almost thirty years ago - the scientific advances we've made since then doesn't make the fictional science of this novel any less scary, and doesn't make the story of John Hammond's ambitious park any less of a cautionary tale. If anything, maybe it's more relevant today. It's truly a wonderful story, and a wonderfully executed one at that. I definitely have a new favorite book going on my shelf!

THE LOST WORLD BY MICHAEL CRICHTON

I also featured this one in the From Book to Box Office series, but here's a briefer look:

I didn't think that Michael Crichton's dinosaurs would pull me in as much as they have, but wow. 

I downloaded this book immediately after finishing "Jurassic Park" and dove right in. It captured me in just the same way the first book did. The story is similar- island of dinosaurs, group of scientists trapped on it, there are kids involved, there's another group trying to ruin everything. But there's enough new information, enough new thoughts, to make this story unique. The characters are just as vivid as book one, with action just as heart-stopping and conflicts just as dire. 

The major different is that this book features a smaller cast of characters, and they are entirely on their own. There's no regular boat schedule to rely on, and no means of communication with the outside world. This isolation increases the intimacy between them; it strengthens bonds and makes conflicts and tensions more severe. It forces the characters to rely on each other, brings about leadership in each person in different ways, and makes for a compelling character-driven drama. This is exactly the type of action/adventure I love, so it's no surprise that this book quickly rocketed up my list of favorites. I hate to be "that person", but this book really does reach above and beyond the film. It feels more rooted to its source content, and a bit more grounded in reality. 

I'd definitely recommend this for any action-enthusiast, dinosaur fanatic, or Jurassic Park fan. It's a fun, insightful, thought-provoking, and all-around a wonderfully crafted story.

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR BY PAUL KALANITHI

What a beautiful book. What a heartbreaking, breathtaking, wonderful, inspiring, beautiful book. 

In the epilogue Kalanithi's wife, Lucy, mentions that the manuscript was left unfinished at his death; in a way, this is apparent. The book ends a bit abruptly. Kalanithi's narration suddenly stops, and is instantly taken over by Lucy, who dives into his last days in greater detail. It all happens quickly, which to me seems fitting - isn't that how death is? Doesn't it sneak up on us like that, regardless of whether or not we're expecting it?

And while the ending punctuates Kalanithi's story between a period and an ellipsis, the whole of the book is a true gift. It is the last words of an honest and hard-working man who yearned to understand life and death. His soul sings through his words. He bares himself wholly and completely in this book, sharing his life without hiding the weak points or trying to write them off. He shows himself in health and in sickness, shares his thoughts and fears, resulting in an intimate and touching account of his life and of his- ultimately untimely -death. Kalantithi strove to help others in his life as a neurosurgeon and neuroscientist, and his memoir- his story, his words, his life -will surely go on to help many more.

THE GLASS MENAGERIE BY TENNESSEE WILLIAMS

I haven't touched this book since high school, and barely remembered the story when I decided to crack it open again. In a way, I'm glad for that - it was as close as I could get to revisiting a book with that same first-time feeling, which is a rare experience to get to relive.

I've always been a fan of Tennessee Williams, and this one-act is a prime example of why. His characters are so insanely vivid. They are layered and complex in ways that make them real. I believe this is due in part their basis in reality. Williams wrote his fiction in an autobiographical sense that tied his make-believe stories to his own everyday life. This draw on personal experience creates characters that are flawed, eclectic, varied, and emotional. They do not get stuck in the intricacies of their individual roles. As the play goes on, we peel back layers of each person and come to know them as we would our own friends, family, and neighbors. Amanda becomes much more than a forlorn former Southern belle wishing for her youth, Tom much more than an unhappy warehouse worker, and Laura far more than a timid young woman. And it's this pulling back of layers that tugs the action along and makes for a whole and complete story.

The language is beautiful, the pacing is perfect, and the story- though small and quick -resonates loudly.

SUNFISH BY SHELBY EILEEN

This book is so thoughtful and intimate. There's a rawness to it that struck me - I felt, in part, like I was reading words meant for another person. Like, somehow, I was intruding on somebody else's letter. But that kind of honesty is so pure. That kind of honesty, and openness, and realness resonates. This book paints a sometimes beautiful, sometimes difficult, sometimes heartbreaking picture of Shelby's family. I feel like I've come to know them through her words, and I feel so grateful to have been introduced. This is a really special little book.

JAWS BY PETER BENCHLEY

I genuinely enjoyed this book. Being a long-time fan of Spielberg's version, I'm glad I was finally able to sit down with the original. There's definitely more layers to the story in Benchley's original telling. The plight of the people of Amity is a greater concern, and there are many interpersonal relationships that don't quite make it to the film. The shark poses somewhat of a different threat in Benchley's version. The film is sensationalist. It milks the scare factor for all its worth, using the shark to showcase a mastery of special effects. In the book, there's more uncertainty surrounding the shark. It attacks in a more erratic pattern, making both characters and readers question the water's safety.

There is one subplot in the book that frustrated me. The affair between Brody's wife, Ellen, and Hooper distracted from the action for what felt like no reason. It seemed the intent was to deepen the tension between Brody and Hooper, but all it did was create soap opera level drama that fizzled out after Hooper met his fate. For me, the shark and the tensions it creates in the town brings more than enough to the table. All the affair gave nothing that wasn't already there, and could have been left out without hurting the story.

Honestly, that one problem is the only reason this isn't a four or five-star book for me. It was an exhaustive element that just didn't need to be there and that detracted from an overall excellent, frightening, and compelling thriller.

LOST GIRLS BY JOHN POLLONO

I was lucky enough to see this play during its run at the MCC Theater in New York and it was incredible, and received a digital copy to read after reaching out to John Pollono on Twitter (oh, the power of social media!). Being able to read the script gave me a while new appreciation for this story. It's subtle complexities come to life on stage, but are embedded into the language in such a way that's utterly unmissable on paper. 

One of the things that always drawn me to John's writing has been his dedication to authenticity. His characters feel like real people. They're average Joes and Janes just trying to make ends meet, performing balancing acts between work and friends and family that are all too familiar to readers and audiences. This kind of characterization is the heart of Lost Girls. We feel for these characters. More importantly, we feel with them. Through expert prose, heartstrings are pulled and readers easily find themselves rooting for these people. We want to see them happy at the end, because we know that they deserve to be happy. And why shouldn't they? They're just like us. And don't we all wish for and deserve a happy ending? 

This play is somewhat reminiscent of Tennessee Williams. It's a family story, much like The Glass Menagerie, with dynamic characters rooted firmly in real life. It's both simple and complex in characterization and story and truly reads like a modern classic. This play a true gem, and it's one that sticks with you for a long time after.

OUR WILD MAGIC BY AMANDA LINSMEIER

Instant classic. That's what kept coming to mind as I read this gorgeous collection of poetry. It's an instant classic. Drawing from stories we all know and love- the fairy tales and myths that have fascinated people for centuries -Linsmeier takes readers on a journey. She uses the whimsy of make-believe worlds, the magic we longed for as children, to show us how our own lives can read like a storybook. We go through trials. We fall down. We have hard times, we struggle, but we persist. We rise up, over and over again, even when it's hard to do. It's what makes us human. 

This collection feels like it's existed for a long time. It feels like it has a history, and that's why I kept this feeling that could easily become a modern classic. Amanda is a wonderful poet. She is honest and truthful. She expertly weaves tough-stuff material into language that sings. She has something incredible special with this book, and I truly cannot wait to see what she does next.