In our monthly book club, we discuss whatever we happen to be reading and ask everyone in the comments to do the same. What Are You Reading This Month?
The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
N.K. Jemisin’s new novel has an irresistible premise: When cities reach a critical mass of culture and history, they become living things, embodied by a human avatar with special powers. In the opening chapter, a newborn New York has joined São Paulo as the only living cities in the Western hemisphere (Chicago’s exclusion is borderline unforgivable). But hours after its birth, New York’s avatar is attacked by an otherworldly entity responsible for the collapses of Pompeii, Atlantis, and New Orleans. So New York picks five additional avatars — one for each borough—to fight the ensuing battle. It’s too long and never subtle, but The City We Became absolutely nails New York’s sense of place, and Jemisin’s sense of humor gets a chance to shine. [Adam Morgan]
Bubblegum by Adam Levin
Bubblegum, the long-awaited sophomore novel by Adam Levin, author of the as-inventive-as-it-was-massive 2010 novel The Instructions, is a comparatively slim 784-page book about a world obsessed with little robotic pets called Curios. Its narrator is Belt Magnet, a novelist working on a memoir who was also among the first to test Curious and has the ability to communicate with inanimate objects. His Curio, cuter than the rest, is something he keeps to himself and treats with great care and respect, a serious contrast to others’ barbaric behavior. Magnet’s quirks isolate him and also lead him to too easily trust those who act kindly toward him, something he is repeatedly burned by. Levin writes in swirls, circling around an idea for paragraphs at time. This can be a recipe for profound insight, or it can feel like stalling for time, and too often in Bubblegum it’s the latter, undercutting the external tension of the novel with a half-baked internal one. Levin loves a long sentence with repeated verbs, but he rarely gets the rhythm quite right, and leading the reader to stumble instead of being in the flow. Levin is a writer of demonstrated skill and ambition who has earned the benefit of the doubt, but I’m a smidge past halfway through, and Bubblegum so far lacks the focus and verve that gave his past work its spark. [Bradley Babendir]
The Walking Dead: Compendium Two by Robert Kirkman, illustrated by Cliff Rathburn and Charlie Adlard
The world is a crazy place right now, with news footage seeming like something from the prologue of a horror movie. So what better way to calm your fears than by picking up a collection of comics centered on a group of survivors in a zombie apocalypse? Fans of AMC’s The Walking Dead will find the hefty source material (the fourth and final compendium was released last October) a welcome bit of nostalgia as well as an intriguing alternate reality where some of their favorite characters live far beyond their time on the TV series, others meet an earlier demise, and some don’t exist at all. Robert Kirkman’s stories are at their best when they require none of his words, relying on Cliff Rathburn and Charlie Adlard’s black-and-white visuals to convey an entire conversation in one frame. Just make sure your bookshelf is sturdy—each compendium weighs about five pounds. [Patrick Gomez]