While purchasing books is good for instant gratification, it isn’t great for the budget or for the minimalist apartment dweller. Below are three books I read, enjoyed, and then happily returned to the library. (That’s right. I was an English major. You will be subjected to my mini-book reviews every so often.)

This was one of the finest novels I’ve ever read. Dorothy Allison creates a lovingly detailed portrait of a close-knit, poor white family in South Carolina — with all the alcoholism, domestic abuse, and unemployment that comes with it. She absolutely nails the mother-daughter relationship at the center of the book, as well as the sexual awakening of her young girl protagonist, Bone. This book was hard to read — it has some awful scenes of sexual abuse and the most soul-crushingly sad ending that I have ever endured — but it’s worth it. Love, pain, and coming of age have never been so fascinating. Highly recommended.

 

This book is about a university student in China who is caring for his academic advisor after he has a massive stroke. Sounds fun, right? Add to this that his advisor is also his future father-in-law, and that the old man is being tortured by memories of his political and academic persecution. All of this takes place in the months leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre. Jesus. Between these first two books I really know how to pick a fun story. Ha Jin’s earlier novel, Waiting, is one of my favorites, so I was a bit let down by The Crazed. But it’s certainly worth checking out this author, whose character relationships are an amazing window into Chinese culture.

 

Who knew that Frank Lloyd Wright was such a romantic disaster? Or that reporters from the Chicago Tribune in the 1920′s were just as bad as the paparazzi of 2012?  For Chicagoans, this is a fun book, with Wright and his various wives and mistresses flirting, fighting, and lovemaking all over Chicagoland — including suburban Oak Park, the Fine Arts Building (!), and his Taliesin retreat in Wisconsin.  It’s also a really long book, whose middle chapters are dominated by Wright’s morphine-addicted second wife, Miriam. She’s a difficult character to relate to and I found myself wishing, much like poor Mr. Wright, that she would just disappear. It seems like the book aspires to be much more than a tantalizing chronicle of Wright’s romantic exploits, but it doesn’t succeed. The finest writing in the book comes at the end, when Wright’s mistress, Mamah Borthwick, meets the Caribbean servant who will eventually murder her and five others living in the house. This was the great tragedy of Wright’s life, and these last, tragic chapters could stand on their own as a short story.