Tag Archives: books

Book Roundup #9

8 Aug

“Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Adichie seems to get more famous by the day. First for her amazing novel “Americanah” , then because Beyonce quoted one of her speeches on feminism in her song “Flawless.” The woman is a feminist leader, an icon, but above all, she’s an incredible writer. This is one of her earlier books, set during Nigeria’s civil war in the 1960’s. Her characters are vivid and complex, and every word is strung with beauty.

“This was love: a string of coincidences that gathered significance and became miracles.”

“Slouching Towards Bethlehem” by Joan Didion Another book about the 1960’s. This is a collection of Joan Didion’s essays from that time. Didion spent the 60’s living in California and writing about the hippie movement in San Francisco and about the younger generation. It’s interesting to think that these are the people that are now the older generation and to read a lot of the criticisms about them are similar criticisms about my generation. Lazy and too idealistic. Too caught up in a movement to think about the greater realities of the world. Spoiled American children. How quickly some seem to forget history and their own experiences.

“Dear Leader: Poet, Spy, Escapee-A Look Inside North Korea” by Jang Jin-sung Another memoir of a survivor from North Korea. I can’t get enough of the hermit kingdom. Jang Jin-sung was a high official in the North Korean government under Kim Jong-Il, writing propaganda poems. He was commissioned to write an epic poem and asked to return to his hometown to do some research. When he arrived, he saw how his family and neighbors were starving and suffering. Upon returning to Pyongyang, he lends a ultra-classified book to a friend. His friend loses the book on the subway, and the two decide they have to escape North Korea or else they will be sentenced to life in prison for sharing the book. This memoir differs from the other ones I’ve read in that it takes place mostly in China as Jang Jin-sung and his friend hide from the authorities and depend on other North Korean defectors to help them. Obviously, they make it out and escape to South Korea. But it seems that it was mostly luck, and it’s sad to think about how many don’t have that same luck.

“Hour of the Bees” by Lindsay Eager My librarian sister also studied Children’s Literature while earning her Master’s in Library Science. She has always been a fan of young adult and children’s literature and passes her favorites onto me. I wouldn’t say this is one of her favorites, but we were on vacation together and she lent this to me to read on the plane home. Most readers have the habit of thinking of young adult and children’s literature as dull and puerile. But there is a lot of good, introspective work being produced, and I’m glad my sister can open my eyes to that on a regular basis. This book was about a young girl in New Mexico whose family spends a summer on a ranch with her ailing grandfather. She learns about her past, about her family, and about the value of home. It was a quick read but entertaining nonetheless.

“Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman” by Stefan Zweig I became fascinated with Marie Antoinette a couple of years ago when I was visiting Versailles with a friend, and we both realized that we didn’t actually know the details of her life besides the sensational. “Let them eat cake.” She was beheaded. She wore huge wigs. But what else was there? This is a great biography of her, because (as it suggests in the title), she was an average person. She had nothing inherently special about her, good or bad. She was born into wealth and royalty and was married off for political reasons. She was spoiled as some wealthy people are and had no sympathy for the poor, because it was a part of society she never saw and never understood. This book paints her as a person who was caught up in history, in the changing fortunes of empires, and came to represent what was wrong in a greater political system. It was a great read that delved into the history of the French revolution which never ceases to be interesting.

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Book Roundup #8

13 Jun

The last month has been ROUGH, friends. A lot of difficulties and frustrations seemed to be coming out of every nook and cranny of my life. And I definitely had my share of meltdowns and crying jags. But through it all, friends, family, and co-workers all rallied to my side, offering comfort, support, and help. And knowing I have that, made all the troubles in the world seem much smaller.

It’s also been a rough go of reading the last couple of weeks. A couple of amazing books that I rushed through, and a couple that I couldn’t even finish.

FOUR BOOKS I DIDN’T FINISH

I hate not finishing a book. It’s quitting at its worst. But when I’m stuck in a book that I’m not enjoying, I end up thinking of the millions of amazing books that exist in the world. It’s a tragedy that I can’t possibly find time to read them all in my lifetime, so why waste time on something I’m not enjoying. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut the losses and move on. Otherwise reading becomes a chore instead of the pure pleasure that it can be. So these are the books I abandoned.

  1. “The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer” by Sydney Padua– For starters, this was a graphic novel, which I don’t tend to enjoy anyways. But it was about the 19th century friendship between Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage, and how they came up with some of the earliest concepts of a computing machine. It sounded interesting enough. But the structure was odd, and I couldn’t fully tell what was true and what was fantasy, although most of it was fantasy. A lot of the narrative was grounded in footnotes which were lengthy and often about mathematical theories. I was in over my head.
  2. “Awakenings” by Oliver Sacks- I was excited to read my first Oliver Sacks book. He was a neurologist who also wrote a lot of books that have great reviews. This one was about patients of his that suffered from a paralyzing form of Parkinson’s. In the 1970’s, Sacks and his team put the patients on a new drug, L-Dopa, that pulled them out of their paralyzation. Some of the patients had amazing results, others struggled with bizarre side effects. I’ve seen the Robert DeNiro/Robin Williams movie they made from this book and loved it. But the book was dry and just had patient histories and outcomes. Also the book was loaded with footnotes, drunk with them. I’ve learned I can’t stand footnotes. They ruin the flow of reading. Too distracting.
  3. “This Old Man: All in Pieces” by Roger Angell- Dr. G lent me this book to read. Mr. Angell is a client of ours, and Dr. G was given a copy of this book, signed and dedicated. Roger Angell is famous for writing pieces about baseball (particularly about the Mets) for the New Yorker. Dr. G and I share a profound love for baseball, so he assumed I’d enjoy the book. It was hard to get through because so many of the pieces were about people he worked with at the New Yorker, whom I had never heard of. There wasn’t even a whole lot about baseball. At one point, Dr. G asked me how I was enjoying the book. I was honest about my struggles, and he confessed to me that he never finished it for the same reasons. If Dr. G doesn’t deem a book worth finishing, I’m sure as hell not going to spend any more time reading it.
  4. “News Whore: The Prequel” by Mandy Stadtmiller– I like Stadtmiller as a writer. I’ve mainly read her pieces on XOJane where she works as an editor-at-large. She writes about love and relationships in a neo-Carrie-Bradshaw way. This book is a collection of her essays about her twenties. The problem was that they weren’t really essays as much as they were one page snippets of her life, interspersed with selfies and random pictures of her apartment that had nothing to do with anything. It felt like reading a boring person’s diary. I didn’t feel like there was a narrative or anything to be gained, so I gave up. She can do better. I know she can.

FOUR BOOKS I FINISHED AND LOVED

  1. “The Stand” by Stephen King- My Stephen King obsession continues as I read one of  his most famous books, “The Stand.” It’s a giant, epic novel about a super-virus (Captain Trips) that wipes out more than 99% of the human population. The scant survivors band together in two tribes, one good, one evil, and they try to rebuild society while worrying about the looming other tribe. It’s long, but engrossing. Like most other Stephen King novels, below the entertaining reading experience, there are deeper themes of religion and destiny. Do we choose our fate? Or are we preordained to be good or bad?
  2. “White Teeth” by Zadie Smith- I was reading this book on my lunch break, and one of my co-workers commented that it was a book that everyone was reading on the subway “like 10 years ago.” Only in New York could reading a book be “so last season.” But there’s a reason everyone was reading it. It’s beautiful and hilarious, and that doesn’t diminish in 10 years. Her writing is fluid and quirky as we follow characters through the streets of London. It also touches on the idea of immigration, and how immigrants lives are affected by the melding of their past with their present.
  3. “How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter” by Sherwin Nuland- In one of the first scenes of the show, “The Knick,” Dr. Thackery gives a speech about medical advances in surgery in the early 1900’s. “We humans can get in a few good licks in battle before we surrender,” he said. And the truth in medicine is that we can fight battles but never win the war. Our bodies are not designed to last forever, and this is a blessing and a curse. This seemingly morbid book breaks down the ways in which our bodies are most likely to die: heart disease, cancer, trauma, including others. The human body is an incredible piece of engineering, and the death of the machine is just as interesting. The book was hardly morbid though, it was introspective.
  4. “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life” by Barbara Kingsolver- Kingsolver is known as a novelist, but this book follows a year in which her family moved to a farm in Virginia and pledged to only eat food they could grow themselves or find locally. Most of the book is a treatise on the food industry in America, which is always a terrifying topic. Our meat is gross. Our fruits and veggies are gross. Our breads are probably killing us. Although I try to buy organic and almost never eat at fast food chains, I didn’t realize how much farther I still have to go. I’m absolutely guilty of not knowing when certain fruits or vegetables are in season. And I have no idea about how far the foods at my grocery store have had to travel to get to me. If anything, this book made me more committed to trying to buy foods from farmer’s markets and avoid processed foods even more than I already do.

Notorious RBG: the Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

17 May

I had written before about how I had read a book filled with essays about Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legal legacy and how it was boring. This book was not. This book was a more biographical survey of Ginsburg’s life coupled with her legal legacy. I loved this book so much, I bought a t-shirt.

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The book comes from a popular Tumblr account put together by a law student, Knizhnik, along with a reporter from MSNBC, Carmon. Together they created a narrative about the amazing work Justice Ginsburg has done in her lifetime, especially in the realm of civil rights. I found myself getting choked up during various sections by how much the world has changed for women as a result of this tiny powerhouse. The fact that I am allowed, as a woman, to pursue a career and an education that interests me, is a relatively new development in American culture.

The authors also paint the picture of a complete human being that lost her mother at a young age, that faced gender discrimination, that bonded with her ideological opposite (Scalia) and sang opera with him in DC, that enjoyed a deep love with a man who was more than willing to subsume his own ambitions to help her pursue her own. She has lived a life so meaningful and robust that an autobiography of her is naturally fascinating.

The book itself is a joy to read. Full of annotated dissents to help the reader understand the legal jargon, a description of her workout routine (this octogenarian still does 20 push-ups a day!), and numerous artistic tributes to her over the years. The last couple of pages of the book talk about how to be more like the RBG, and I soaked in every word. I’m so grateful to this woman for the work she has done and hope to live a life as full as she has. I think every American with even a slice of inclination toward equality should read this book. We truly do stand on the shoulders of this tiny legal giant. An absolute hero. An absolute legend.

“The decision whether or not to bear a child is central to a woman’s life, to her wellbeing and dignity. It is a decision she must make for herself. When government controls that decision for her, she is treated as less than a fully adult human responsible for her own choices.”

-RBG during her confirmation hearing for the position on the Supreme Court

Book Roundup #7

25 Apr

As I sat down to write this post, I came to the sobering realization that I haven’t written in a month. What on Earth have I been doing with myself? I’m not even entirely sure. Some fun things have happened which I’d like to write about in the coming days, but I guess the answer is that it’s Spring in New York, and everyone wants to hang out and do fun things. Who am I to say no? But lots of train travel has led to a lot of reading.

The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg Ed. by Scott Dodson

 

RBG is legit. She’s amazing and incredible, and all American women owe her a great deal of their freedoms and opportunities to the work she has spent her life doing. I delved into RBG scholarship by reading this book of essays about her work. I read the first third (the portion about the gender equality cases she championed) with gusto, but I’ll be honest I didn’t finish the rest of the book. The last two sections were about her much less sexy work, mainly her obsession with Swedish civil procedure. This book was more geared for law professionals which I am not. And this book made me realize how happy I am that I’m not.

‘Salem’s Lot by Stephen King

After how much sleep I lost while reading “The Shining,” I decided I needed even more Stephen King twistedness in my life. In type A fashion, I googled a variety of rankings of his novels and decided “‘Salem’s Lot” was a good next step for me. It’s about vampires taking over a small town in Maine. I wasn’t too wild about it. Maybe because in the last decade, the vampire thing has been beaten to death and forever tarnished by the abysmal Twilight series. But I also think my adolescent adoration for everything “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” has skewed my perception of anything vampire.

In any vampire story, rules are created. How to kill vampires, how to make them, what their abilities are. I subscribe to the Buffy rules, and I don’t stomach other worlds’ rules well. Secret fact about me: Sometimes when I’m at kickboxing class, I pretend I’m Buffy.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

My sister is a librarian and got an advanced copy of this book at a library conference that she attended. The cover was dramatic, while the title seemed benign. I was skeptical when she said she liked it, but I ended up loving it. The plot is odd. A Korean woman decides to become a vegetarian after a dream she has. It throws her whole life upside down and creates turmoil with her family. Sounds like a stupid plot, but the book was beautiful. The imagery, the hint of insanity. It was poetic, and I couldn’t put it down.

What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan

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Another book that my sister picked up at the library conference and worked its way through the readers in my family. It follows the investigation of a missing child through the eyes of the mother and the eyes of one of the detectives on the case. Another title that I found to be melodramatic. But the unraveling mystery was fun. Macmillan does a good job introducing suspects and revealing clues. A great, easy read.

 

 

 

The Shining by Stephen King

24 Mar

Other than Goosebumps books from my childhood, this was my first horror book. It was also my first Stephen King book. I try not to be a book snob, but I sometimes become one, and for that I suffer. I’ve always considered Stephen King to be a “grocery-store novelist.” The kind of author that churns out a couple of books a year that are big type, poorly written and can often be found in the check-out lane at the grocery store. Not good books. Trashy in some sense. But that’s not fair. I’m turning my nose up at something I’ve never taken the time to try. Surely some of those books must have some merit.

So I read “The Shining,” and from the first couple of chapters, I couldn’t put it down. No, it wasn’t beautiful and elevated literature, but it was interesting, it had levels of humanity and supernatural interwoven. And I didn’t want to stop reading it. I’d spend my days at work, thinking about the book, counting down the hours until I could get home and return myself to the Overlook Hotel. I fell asleep with the book clutched in my hands and haunted with some twisted nightmares.

I had seen the movie years ago, but it was almost nothing like the book, which I wasn’t expecting. And here, the golden rule for books rings true. The book was better than the movie. And, more to the point of Stephen King adaptations, the book was far scarier than the movie. (Stephen King agrees.) What I remembered about the movie was the haunting cinematography and the psychotic nature of Jack Nicholson playing Jack Torrence. The book doesn’t focus on Jack that way. It’s more about the little boy Danny and about the hotel itself coming alive. I left the movie afraid of Jack Torrence. I put down the book terrified of hotels. Some of my favorite parts of the book weren’t even in the movie. The hedge animals?! Wendy being a badass and not a whimpering mess?! The fire extinguisher hose?! Tony?! There’s hardly any Tony in it.

I’m officially a big Stephen King fan now. I’m officially a horror book/grocery store book fan now. I might have a lot of sleepless nights ahead of me, but my favorite part about reading is getting absorbed in a book to the point where I don’t want to put it down. On that count, Stephen King delivers.

“Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win.”

Book Roundup #6

7 Mar

Big things happening here. Big changes in the works and due to stress and an insane to-do list, I haven’t been able to write. But I have found time to read, because I will always find time to read in the same way that I’ll always find an excuse to buy Oreos, it’s a part of who I am. And despite my former post going against reading challenges, my librarian sister convinced me to sign up for the Book Riot Read Harder challenge. So instead of aiming to read a certain amount of books, the challenge offers different types of books to be read. A biography, a book by a transgender person, a book about religion, etc. It’s been a great way to search out books that I might not normally read.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

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A beautiful book written as a letter from Coates to his son about being black in America. It’s eloquent and heart-breaking. It pairs well with the Black Lives Matter movement and how frustrating it is to be a person of color in the 2010’s. As a white person, I don’t know how to talk about these issues. I support what black people are doing, but I also know that it is not my movement. It is not for me to claim it or to comment on it, because I can’t sympathize with the racism and discrimination they experience on a daily basis. But this book helped me understand it better, and for that I’m grateful.

“It was only after you that I understood this love, that I understood the grip of my mother’s hand. She knew that the galaxy itself could kill me, that all of me could be shattered and all of her legacy spilled upon the curb like bum wine. And no one would be brought to account for this destruction, because my death would not be the fault of any human but the fault of some unfortunate but immutable fact of ‘race,’ imposed upon an innocent country by the inscrutable judgement of invisible gods.”

Pygmalion by Bernard Shaw

This was for the play requirement of my Read Harder challenge. I’ve seen “My Fair Lady” dozens of times, but this is the first time I’ve ever read the play. And I think it’s the first play I’ve read outside of school. It’s a strange thing to read a play, to have access to dialogue and some descriptions, but having to plug in everything else. It’s the story of a poor flower girl (Eliza Doolittle) in turn of the century London who is taken in by a couple of linguists who wage a bet on whether or not they can turn her into a lady and pass her off at a royal ball. The play, more so than the movie, focuses on Eliza’s humanity. The linguists that teach her begin to see her as an object, since she is both poor and a woman. It’s an interesting study of society and how something as simple as how we speak can isolate us.

“I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not fit to sell anything else.”

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

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This translated book is by a journalist who lived with a family in Kabul after the invasion and the expulsion of the Taliban. It follows the patriarch, Sultan Kahn, who owns one of the few bookstores in Afghanistan’s capital, and the lives of his family members. The book goes into detail about living in a post-Taliban Afghanistan, accessing education, the lives of his sons. But it is the lives of his wives and sisters that shines through. As much as I can sit and complain about the United States and my current place in the world, I’m quite blessed to be a woman who has had access to education and has been able to make my own decisions. The women of Afghanistan (at least the ones described in the book) live their lives almost as slaves. They have little choice about where their lives will go. The family decides who they marry and for what price, then their husband decides how she will lead her life. Some benevolent husbands allow their wives to pursue education and jobs, others force them to stay at home cooking and cleaning. I’m not sure how much has changed in the past decade since the book was written, but it made me grateful for what I have. For being able to make my own choices about relationships, about what I wear, the jobs I’ve worked, my access to books and school. It made me feel blessed.

Enemies of the People: My Family’s Journey to America by Kati Marton

Dr G lent me this book, although I’m not entirely sure why. It’s written by a Hungarian immigrant whose parents were journalists in communist Hungary in the 1950’s. As an adult, Marton goes back to Hungary and reads through the state surveillance papers about her parents. She discovers unsavory things about her parents’ extramarital affairs, but also reads about their time in prison and how much they missed their children. Overall, the book was a little dry, often times reading like a book report. But it also felt like a story that has been told before, maybe because I studied in Prague and read about so many stories like this. I didn’t find anything remarkable about it. It made me want to rewatch “The Lives of Others” which is an incredible film about communist surveillance in Berlin. This book wasn’t bad, but I’ve seen it told better.

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

The premise of this book sounded so interesting. In Mississippi, a young boy is found hanged from a tree in his back yard in the middle of the day. His baby sister decides to investigate his murder 12-years-later as a young girl in a small town. I’ve also read “The Secret History” by Tartt, and I think both books are similar in their failings. An interesting plot, great characters, beautifully described setting, but so much superfluous information. Pages about inconsequential moments. This book took forever to finish, and there wasn’t any great payoff in finishing it either. I felt like I worked really hard to get through the book only to be disappointed with the ending. Tartt is famous for her book “Goldfinch” which I’ve wanted to read. But how many hours of my reading life can I possibly dedicate to this woman?

Book Roundup #5

1 Feb

I had a week of vacation time about to expire, so I used it up for a week of traveling, writing, and of course, tons of reading. One of my favorite things about going on vacation is having the excuse to sit and read for hours. Whether it be on a plane, in an airport, at a restaurant, on an island sanctuary, I look forward to how much reading I can get done on extended days off.

MIDNIGHT IN THE GARDEN OF GOOD AND EVIL by JOHN BEHRENDT

When I decided to take a vacation to Savannah, pretty much everyone I told asked me if I had read this book/seen this movie. I had heard marvelous things about it. With my plane tickets bought, I had to read it. It didn’t disappoint. Another book that is proof that nonfiction is often stranger and more fascinating that fiction. This book is a classic that describes one New York journalist’s life in Savannah society. Odd characters, muddled history, transvestites, voodoo priestesses, and a murder that shook the upper society of Savannah. It absolutely lived up to the hype.

THE PUSHCART PRIZE XXXVI

This is one of the series I had mentioned in my post about short stories. What I like about pushcart is that unlike other series, Pushcart doesn’t limit the writing form. They have a balance of nonfiction essays, fiction, and poetry. It’s nice to have a poetry palate cleanser after reading something longer and weightier. My favorite essay in this collection was “The MFA/Creative Writing System is a Closed, Undemocratic, Medieval Guild System That Represses Good Writing” by Anis Shivani. It put into words exactly why I’ve been so skeptical about applying to an MFA program and confirmed my decision not to. This entire collection, though, was dense, and I don’t have the space here to fully describe all the pieces I loved.

SAVANNAH FOLKLORE by Nicole Carlson Easley

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According to legend, this statue of Little Gracie can be heard crying at night.

While I was in Savannah (more detailed post to come), I became interested in the ghost stories. So upon my wandering one day, I found an adorable book store E. Shaver, Bookseller and spent an hour or so wandering the aisles and petting their cats that live in the stacks. I wanted to know more about the local history, but there wasn’t much to choose from, besides the big display of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” I settled with this short, glossy book that gave a quick overview of a lot of the history and legends of Savannah. Not great writing, and I read it in an afternoon while relaxing in a square. I hated revealing myself as a tourist to the cute ladies that managed the cash register at the book store, but I had to know more about the weird things I had seen and heard.

THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr

Dr. G and I always discuss what books we are reading, and he gave me this murder-mystery paperback to read on my vacation. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill serial killer stuff. The Alienist refers to one of the main characters who is a psychologist. The book is set in the late 1800’s when psychology was a new and misunderstood science. It had a fun aspect of historical fiction to it, talking about the grimy Lower East Side of New York, the hatred many people felt toward immigrants (not much has changed). Teddy Roosevelt is a main character since he was police commissioner during that time. The group of sleuths try to find a serial killer by examining his motives, his mind, what his upbringing was most likely like. It was a fun vacation book to read.

JOHNS, MARKS, TRICKS, AND CHICKENHAWKS: PROFESSIONALS AND THEIR CLIENTS WRITING ABOUT EACH OTHER

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A book of essays written by a variety of people who work in the sex industry and who are patrons of the sex industry. I find this subject interesting, but I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. The essays vary in what they cover, and some are a lot more graphic than others. Some people are into some weird things. And while I believe that the whole beauty and point of reading is to get a glimpse into other worlds, there are some worlds that I’d rather leave alone, some images I’d rather not have in my head. I made it about 60% through this book before I had to put it away. Just not my thing.

 

Book Roundup #4

4 Jan

December was a critical month. I decided to put a greater focus on my writing, and in starting that, I’ve tried to grow this blog, post more frequently, and find a subject that I could focus on. So while I’ll still have the occasional post about my 30 before 30, life as a vet tech, travel and other miscellaneous things, I’ll be posting more regularly about books and what I’m reading. Trying to make that shift onto the booknet!

In the past, I would only post about books I LOVED. I’d still like to give those books a special spotlight, but I’ll try to do a roundup of all the books I’ve read each month that weren’t included in their own thing.

So, December books!

Legends of the Fall by Jim Harrison

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I’ve always wanted to read Jim Harrison as he’s known as another rugged American writer, much in the same vein as Hemingway. He writes novellas which is not a common form. Longer than a short story, shorter than a novel. Novellas tend to have a more intricate story line while also being a relatively quick read. This book consisted of three different novellas that took place in different areas and times but all featured manly men who struggle with love and family. The title is based on the last novella in the collection of the same title. It was made into a Brad Pitt movie of which I’ve only heard negative things. So, read the book instead!

The Beast God Forgot to Invent by Jim Harrison

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It was a co-worker who gave me both of these books, not sure what conversation prompted the lending, but I ended up having a nice December of Jim Harrison. This collection was built the same way as the first. Three novellas, centered around male characters, written 21 years after Legends of the Fall. I liked this collection better. It felt less focused on the masculinity of the characters and more on the development of the characters.

Yes Please by Amy Poehler

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I used an aging Barnes and Noble gift card a friend had gotten me for my birthday to buy this beaut. It was a fun read, unconventionally written. She has chapters where she writes an acrostic poem to her career wife Tina Fey. She has a chapter where she talks about her travails through the comedy world. There are guest chapters written by Seth Meyers. Every time I read celebrity books, I do so with a discerning eye. Did they really write this? Is this ghost-written? Did they actually experience these things? I believe that Poehler actually wrote this, due to the first chapter where she whined about how hard it was finding the time to write the book, and she ends the book with an anecdote of when she lost her computer with the only copy of the book on it, only to have it be found by a kindly TSA agent. I admire Amy Poehler for what she is doing in the entertainment world for women. She creates and acts in roles showing women as more than desperate love-seekers or gossipy fashion-hounds. Most of the chapters of the book reflect that female empowerment attitude. This book also made me laugh audibly on the subway which is always a sign of an enjoyable read. I’ve already passed my copy on to some of the girls I work with.

“Because what else are we going to do? Say no? Say no to an opportunity that may be slightly out of our comfort zone? Quiet our voice because we are worried it is not perfect? I believe great people do things before they are ready.”

 

 

Don’t Hate on Nonfiction

28 Dec
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Originally found here.

When friends ask me for a book recommendation, I’m really really good at it. I love reading and have a wide range of types of books that I read, and I have a knack for picking books for people that they will like. I take into account what I know about them as a person, as a reader, what their interests are, and I pick books that they end up loving, devouring. I wish there was a career there. A Reading Consultant. Much like a therapist, my clients could come in and describe their lives and their reading hangups to me, and I would guide them to a world of books that they never knew existed, a reading utopia. I wonder how much I could charge for that?

I was at work the other day talking with two of the veterinarians. Dr. L was about to take a week off from work to relax and spend time with her family on Long Island. She lamented to me about how she doesn’t take pleasure in reading anymore. In her undergrad, she was a dual major in Biology and English. The English major part of her feels guilty that she never reads anymore. She asked me for some book recommendations.

“What aren’t you liking about the books you’ve tried reading?” I asked her (see what a good Reading Consultant I am!)
“I get bored with the plots and find myself not caring. I end up skimming through huge chunks of the books trying to find the point. Med school ruined the way I read. I’m always trying to find the facts.”
“Then maybe you need to be reading Nonfiction.”
Both Dr. L and Dr. N gave me ick faces.
“Nonfiction is so horrible and boring,” Dr N said.
“Not the right kind of nonfiction! I love reading nonfiction. You just have to know where to find the non-textbooky nonfiction. Didn’t you love ‘Brain on Fire‘?” I asked Dr. L.
“I couldn’t put it down. It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.”
“There you go. That’s nonfiction. And with all the fucked-up tv and movies you watch, I bet you’d love true crime books. Have you ever read ‘Helter Skelter’ or ‘The Stranger Beside Me.'”
“I feel guilty. The English major in me feels like I should be reading works of literature.”

“You’re not in school anymore,” I told her. “No one gives a shit if you are reading Madame Bovary or Anna Karenina. If you miss reading, just read whatever book you enjoy. You don’t have to force yourself to read classics.”

I believe that the majority of people who don’t read regularly or who say they don’t like reading are suffering from a form of PTSD from being forced to read boring, shitty books while in school and college. Some people suffer more than others. I understand that there are important classics that society wants the younger generations to be familiar with, but our school systems seem to be doing more harm than good in forcing literature on children. Not everyone is going to love Shakespeare or Milton or Emily Dickinson. And I think forced encounters with writers make people want to never read again once they are done with school. And I think the genres that suffer most are Short Stories, Poetry, and Nonfiction.

Nonfiction can be dull and full of research and works cited, or it can be exciting and strange. The old adage, stranger than fiction, is talking about nonfiction. When strange things happen in fiction, it’s easy to criticize them as a reader and say, “That would never happen.” In nonfiction, it’s all real and you find yourself saying “I can’t believe that happened!”

So I honestly believe that anyone who isn’t enjoying reading should start off my giving nonfiction a shot. I recommended “A Kim Jong Il Production” to Dr. L and when she came back from her vacation she gushed about how much she loved it and couldn’t put it down. See! Highly-acclaimed Reading Consultant Chrissy Wilson, at your service.

Some of my most-loved nonfiction titles:

  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown. A book that doubles as a narrative of poor depression-era men at the University of Washington and describing the evolution of 1930’s Nazi Germany propaganda. The back and forth of the narrative works, and the characters are rich and endearing.
  • A Little Book of Language by David Crystal. For the word nerd, this book is a quick read about the nature of language and linguistics, how we learn language and how we use it.
  • Zeitoon by Dave Eggers. The story of a man from New Orleans who remained in the city during Hurricane Katrina. It documents the hurricane, the aftermath, and the way he was treated by government officials. It’s unbelievable that this sort of thing happened in America, and it shows how out-of-control American xenophobia (especially toward Muslims in the post 9/11 era) can be. Dave Eggers also wrote “What is the What,” another great nonfiction book documenting the immigrant experience.
  • The Peaceable Kingdom: A Year in the Life of America’s Oldest Zoo by John Sedgewick. A must-read for animal lovers. This is a perfect example of a nonfiction book that isn’t out to teach anything, just to tell the true story (more like stories) of people who work in an unconventional field.
  • Bird by Bird: Instructions on Writing and Life by Ann Lamott. If you’ve ever wanted to write, if you have ever felt trapped in a creative dead-end, this is the book that most every writer alive today has read and continues to turn to. It’s an inspiration about how to write and about how to live, which to writers is often the same thing.
  • Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife by Mary Roach. I love books by Mary Roach because they are informative and digestible. She takes a big subject (in this case death) and writes quick chapters that describe the scientific approaches over the years to understand these topics. She talks about seances, the attempt to measure the soul (21 grams), angels.
  • Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer. Another master of nonfiction, this book is about the history of the Mormon church. A classic example of a book where fact is stranger than fiction. It culminates in descriptions of fundamentalist Mormons. Important proof that all religions are prone to extremists and bad interpretation.

 

30 Before 30: Read “The Year of Magical Thinking” by Joan Didion

23 Dec

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In my 30th year of life, I’m attempting to do 29 new things. Full List Here. All Bucket List Adventures Here.

I read this book in the span of a day. It’s not a long book, and the prose is quick and simple. It’s also a story that pulls the reader in. It documents the year of her life after her husband John died. He had a heart attack in front of her, and, as she puts it, in an ordinary moment her life changed.

I’m still processing how I feel about the book. It’s different from most anything I’ve ever read. Death and loss are not new topics. I think the difference with Didion is that she doesn’t try to pull at your heartstrings. She doesn’t conjure up lost memories of her husband and her at their happiest. Their first kiss. Sweet things he did for her. None of that is there. It is simply the story of her mind coping with the grief.

Reading her analyze her mind and notice her thought patterns in the year after she lost her husband pulls the reader closer to understanding how it feels to lose a life partner. At one point, I took a break from reading it and looked at the simple layout of the cover. Only four letters in a different color than the rest. My eyes scanned from the J to the O to the H to the N. John. Her ex-husband. I give that cover designer enormous credit for putting together such an understated cover that describes the essence of the book. The shadow Didion’s husband cast over her life, especially in the year after he died, was unavoidable and seeped into her mind in curious ways.

Her writing is so straight-forward and without embellishment that I was surprised by how much her love for him resonated. In interviews, she has said that she thought the book turned into a love story instead of a story about grief. And I agree. This is not a book for the faint of heart. Your heart will break alongside hers. But it is beautiful, and it is important, and I learned so much from it.

“We are not idealized wild things.

We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. And as we will one day not be at all.”