Tag Archives: Books

Reading Materials: August 2017

39. The Zookeeper’s Wife, Diane Ackerman. (Digital Library) I did not love this book. I appreciated that it was a true story, but there were just too many rabbit-holes. The author would introduce a very minor character, and then spend several pages giving that person’s biography. It made the story clunky.

40. Duma Key, Stephen King. (Library, Book Club Selection) I enjoy Stephen King books; I am not a fanatic about them. I read (and loved) The Stand, The Gunslinger series, and Bag of Bones. I have read many others, and liked them plenty, but King is not in my personal pantheon. That said, this is one of the better ones I’ve read. It’s a doorstop of a novel – nearly 800 pages – but it moves quickly and efficiently from one plot point to the next. I may have felt especial empathy for the main character because he searches for words in the same way my mother does. Most of the novel is creepy, but not outright scary – until you get to the last 25% or so. I stayed up late to finish it and then had nightmares. I’m sure Mr. King would consider that a compliment.

41. Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance. (Kindle Purchase) In college, I dated a guy from rural southeastern Ohio. I spent a lot of time there, including a whole summer. Additionally, I lived for three years in rural northwest Alabama. Many of Vance’s observations rang true for me – hollowed-out towns with boarded-up main streets, hollowed-out people whose futures left when the plant closed. I loved Vance’s straightforward storytelling, which eschews flowery language in favor of the unvarnished truth. Sentences like “I watched my mom get loaded into a police cruiser” really don’t need embellishment to be disturbing. This book has been on my to-read list for a long time, since I heard an interview with Vance on a podcast earlier this year. I’m so, so glad I read it.

42. All the Birds in the Sky, Charlie Jane Anders. (Purchased) This was a summer reading selection at our (delightful) independent bookstore, the Midtown Reader. The description – Science vs. Magic! Romance on the brink of global catastrophe! – ticked all my boxes, but the book was not what I expected. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed it and have selected it for my own book club to read later this fall. It was funnier than I expected, though I feel its young adult category may be a stretch. It had some very, um, adult portions. I would not be comfortable with my 14-year-old reading it.

43. All Together Dead, Charlaine Harris. (Gift) Palate cleanser. Perfectly entertaining fluff. Great way to end the month.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 36
Non-Fiction: 7

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Reading Materials: July 2017

33. Bird Box, Josh Malerman. (Library) This was billed as a horror novel, but it was better than that label. It was chilling and creepy. It reminded me of The Walking Dead in that the main characters are facing a threat that is not actively malicious, but still very dangerous. I can’t even really explain the “monsters,” because the book never fully explains them. This is not a flaw – I think sketching them with a minimum of detail keeps the situation creepier. I enjoyed this read.

34. Magruder’s Curiosity Cabinet, H.P. Wood. (Library) A pretty decent read about carnival workers on Coney Island at the turn of the century, and a young English girl who gets separated from her family and has to use her wits (and her newfound carnie friends) to stay safe. Meanwhile, there’s an outbreak of plague. This book was aggressively fine, but also reduced many characters to two-dimensional cutouts.

35. News of the World, Paulette Jiles. (Library) Despite the author’s incredibly annoying lack of quotation marks around all dialogue in this book, I really enjoyed it. Don’t dismiss it because it’s “a Western.”  For the record, I resisted reading Lonesome Dove for many years, because it was “a Western.” Shame on me. The writing is beautiful – expansive like the swaths of country it describes. This is a lovely little book.

36. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, Rachel Held Evans. (Borrowed for Book Club) This book describes one woman’s personal journey from an evangelical upbringing, through a time in the spiritual wilderness, and finally landing in the arms of the Episcopal church. It is divided into seven sections, each named for one of the sacraments of that church. I enjoyed the writing, and the honesty with which Evans wrestled with her faith. My only complaint is this: When one talks about sin, and confession, it is traditionally understood to mean examining oneself for deficiencies and naming them before God. Victimhood, on the other hand, is devoted to examining and naming the sins of others. Too often in this book, Evans substitutes victims for sinners, and the only sin she names in herself is a tendency to dislike Republicans. For example, in a gathering she calls one of the most spiritually profound experiences of her life, a group of gay Christians tells their personal stories of persecution. These are powerful stories, and deserve to be told – but they are not confession. They are testimony, or witness. Anyway, this is a minor quibble with the book, which I overall enjoyed.

37. Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman. (Library, Book Club) I have always wanted to love Neil Gaiman. He has a strong cult following of people whose opinions I value. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and it was…fine. I started Stardust, but some asshat had removed the last page of each chapter, so I abandoned it after a few chapters and never sought out another copy. I watched Coraline. This collection, however, was very good. It shows an excellent range of storytelling ability. I could probably do without the poetry, but only because it looked like artfully-arranged prose. I think my problem with Gaiman is that so many authors have derived from him that the original material seems a little cliched. I felt the same way when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy as an adult.

38. Sweet Bitter, Stephanie Danler. (Library) Critics of this book characterize it as “exactly what you’d expect from a new MFA graduate,” and they’re probably right. Nevertheless, I couldn’t put it down. It follows Tess through her heady first year in New York City, as a backwaiter at an upscale restaurant. Her life becomes a trainwreck – but one you can’t stop watching.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 32
Non-Fiction: 6

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Reading Materials: June 2017

28. Rabbit Cake, Annie Hartnett. (Library, Book Club Selection) I actually read this in May and forgot to include it in last month’s list. Ooooops. This book reminded me of Tell the Wolves I’m Home, in that it dealt with grief from the perspective of a younger girl with an older sister. This was a thoughtful book – it’s hard to write like a child, to capture the feeling of being young.

29. Welcome to Night Vale, Joseph Fink. (Borrowed from Tyler) This is a weird book – I mean, WEIRD – yet also delightful and filled with unexpectedly beautiful moments. In what was a we-live-in-the-future first for me, Welcome to Night Vale started as a podcast and was later made into a book. It follows a fictional town in the desert where nothing is normal. It’s as though one of The X-Files‘ signature creepy small towns collided with an extraterrestrial location from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I found this book a challenging, but rewarding, read. I find myself thinking about it frequently.

30. Dark Places, Gillian Flynn. (Borrowed) I enjoyed Gone Girl, and needed a bit of a palate cleanser after being immersed in Night Vale, so this fit the bill nicely. I enjoyed this twisty mystery, even if I found it difficult to like a single character.

31. The Lilac Girls, Martha Hall Kelly. (Borrowed) A sweeping WWII novel told from the perspective of three women – two of whom were real people. My only criticism is that one of the three narrators drops out of sight for most of the second half of the book, and I kept waiting for her name to appear on a chapter title. Overall, I thought this was well-written and engaging, and gets bonus points for some awesome French food descriptions.

32. Creating Your Dream Kitchen, Susan Breen. (Library) We’ve known since the day we bought our house that we wanted to completely remodel the kitchen. It was designed by a sadist who didn’t cook – there is zero counter space on either side of the slanty cook top, for example, and the cabinets are cavernous and un-shelved. Anyway, I want to design the new kitchen myself, so obviously the first thing I did was check out a book on the subject. (And pin a bunch of things in Pinterest, duh.) This was a very basic primer, but it did have some good inspiration photos. Alas, on a personally-aggravating note, it also had a bunch of typos. Grrrrrrrr.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 27
Non-Fiction: 5

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Reading Materials: April 2017

18. The Summer Before the War, Helen Simonson. (Library) This book is, as they say, right up my Edwardian England alley. I find the society fascinating – why so-and-so can be invited to tea or not, why one man is a suitable prospect but another is Totally Unacceptable, and the plethora of unappetizing food names. It was beautifully written, well-paced, and swung effortlessly between the silliness of manners and the seriousness of war.

19. The Couple Next Door, Shari Lapena. (Library, Book Club Selection) It would be helpful for me if all books involving babies in peril came with a big warning label on the front. This was a book club selection, so I hadn’t had the chance to read about the book before I read the book. In the first chapter, a couple discovers their six-month-old baby missing, and the rest of the book deals with the how and why. I had a hard time focusing on whodunnit because I was anxious about the status of the baby. I doubt everyone has the same problem. Otherwise, this was a well-written and twisty mystery, and I enjoyed it.

20. Definitely Dead, Charlaine Harris. (hand-me-down) After Baby In Peril, I needed a palate cleanser. As always, this was a perfect fluffy sherbet of a book.

21. The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J. Church (Library, Book Club selection) I disliked this book almost to the point of loathing it. A few years ago, I finally read The Making of the Atomic Bomb, a weighty tome by Richard Rhodes – so a novel about one of the wives of a Los Alamos scientist seemed like it would be my thing. But this book had almost nothing to do with Los Alamos, and everything to do with the giant chip the main character carries on her shoulder. In short, at the age of 19, she marries a professor more than 20 years her senior, and ends up not going to graduate school – a fact she whines about for the remainder of the novel. She allows this festering resentment to consume her. AND ANOTHER THING. In the novel, at the age of 46, she is suddenly turned from a relatively serious person into a lust-crazed, boy-crazy twit – and the boy in question is 20 years her junior. I don’t buy it. Even in the 1960s.

22. The Rook, Daniel O’Malley. (Library) This book was tremendously entertaining, and it grabbed me from the first page. The main character wakes up on page one surrounded by corpses wearing latex gloves, with no memory of who she is or what happened. She finds a letter in her pocket from herself, and then we’re off on a grand supernatural adventure. I will definitely be checking out the second book in the series.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 18
Non-Fiction: 4

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Reading Materials: January 2017

1. Breaking the Silence, Diane Chamberlain. (Digital library) This book was solidly fine. It was engaging, but not gripping. There were a lot of loose ends, and all of them were neatly tied up at the end – a bit too neatly for my taste. Some of the plot devices stretched believability, especially in the age of the internet. This must be a terrible time to write mysteries or shoot horror movies.

2. Love Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton. (Received in conjunction with Women’s Connection Conference) Oooooooh boy. Let me start off by stating that I haaaaated Eat, Pray, Love, and have continued to be aggravated by memoirs of women who are, basically, Far Too Special To Cope With Reality. I have read both of Melton’s books, and I have seen her speak, and every chapter of hers I read sets off a tiny alarm bell. I simply do not trust her as a narrator. In fact, I might argue that the only absolutely true thing she’s written was, “I just love to shock people.” This is not to say that she is being willful about her narrative choices – I think she believes she is telling the whole, authentic truth (TM). My problem is that she has cultivated an internet following who will provide her a hit of sweet, sweet adulation any time she feels like gifting them with a Shocking Truth. Most of these truths can be summed up, “I’m a mess! Don’t judge!” When Elizabeth Gilbert (of Eat, Pray, Love fame) got divorced in her early 30s, she coped by going on a fully-funded round-the-world jaunt. Melton deals with her various problems by moving her family to a beachfront city, checking herself into a beachfront hotel for two days of “me time,” and picking up a daily yoga practice. Most women do not have the time or money to “cope” in these ways. Most women in crisis have to continue to slog along, going to work and caring for their kids while feeling embarrassed and upset and nauseated all the time. I’d like to read their stories. I do not believe that women like Melton are actually any more sensitive or special than women like me; rather, I think many women find comfort in a modicum of privacy and in relationships that are guarded by a low wall of discretion. Anyway, that got long. If you like Melton, and Brene Brown, and Oprah, you’ll love this. If you’re vaguely suspicious of them, you probably won’t.

3. Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. (Digital Library) This book was SO GOOD. As with The Martian, much of the appeal stems from the narrator, Wade Watts, who is funny and sharp. I grew up in the 1980s, so I enjoyed the wall-to-wall pop culture references. The story is a very traditional hero’s quest, dressed up in a tech-driven dystopian near-future. I found it particularly insightful in light of some recent conversations I’ve had with friends on the difference between one’s real life and the life one leads on social media. I thoroughly enjoyed reading the book and am going to force my 13-year-old geek-culture-obsessed son to read it too.

4. The Red Umbrella, Christina Diaz Gonzales. (Middle school student-parent book club selection) This book draws on the experiences of Gonzales’ parents, who were children during the revolution in Cuba. Along with thousands of children, they were sent to the United States via Operation Pedro Pan. The experiences of these children, and the heartbreak of their parents, makes for a powerful story.

5. Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese. (Friends of the Library Book Sale) This book has been on my to-read list for years. I bought it last year at the library book sale, and it’s been calling to me from my shelves since then. It is a gorgeous read, beautifully written and completely immersive. I looked forward to every opportunity I got to pick it up. The book follows a set of identical twins, starting with their unexpected birth in Ethiopia. It is also a meditation on belonging and home – the twins are half-Indian, half-English, raised by an Indian couple in Ethiopia. But though they have no other home, they are reminded frequently that they are Other. Several reviewers on Goodreads remarked on their discomfort with descriptions of medical procedures, but they didn’t faze me. I loved learning about the practice of medicine in earlier times and different places. It was a great story with a side of History Channel. I will be keeping this book, which is rare for me these days.

6. The Great American House, Gil Schafer III. (Gift) Jason bought this book for me for Christmas, and I’ve been slowly reading it cover-to-cover. It’s a beautiful book, satisfyingly heavy and filled with beautiful photographs. The first half is about creating a home and the elements that go into making that home harmonious. The second comprises four case studies: two new construction homes that were designed to look and feel old, and two historic homes that were given new life – one as a renovation, one as a restoration. My biggest takeaway is that the principles of good design – proportion, rhythm, and line – do not change based on the style of architecture. You can look at a rustic farmhouse or a Greek revival mansion, and both will be pleasing to the eye because they follow the same underlying rules. I learned a lot and got a ton of inspiration for our house.

7. Dead as a Doornail, Charlaine Harris. (hand-me-down) After making my way through a coffee table book, my brain needed a Sookie Stackhouse break. I continue to adore these books.

2017 Totals
Fiction: 5
Non-Fiction: 2

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Fifty Two.

Election? Whatever. Let’s talk books.

I read a lot. All the time. I am never without a book, and in fact I get edgy if I finish a book and don’t immediately have another one to start. I am the opposite of a book snob – a book slut? – and will read just about anything.

In the last few years, I have started tracking my reading on Goodreads. I’ve also joined three book clubs – one through church, one parent-student group at the middle school, and one just for fun. I thought fifty books would be a challenging goal to read in 2016.

Crushed it.

I sailed through book #50 around November 1. In reviewing my list, however, I noted that one book was a skimmer (the enormous, textbook-like Decoration of Houses) and one was a re-read (Carry On, Warrior). So, just to make things completely fair, I am reporting 52 books to complete my 2016 goal.

Of these, I only purchased two books – To Marry an English Lord and Grounded. The rest were library books, gifted, or borrowed. Ten of the 52 are non-fiction. I feel like I’m supposed to say I’ll read more non-fiction next year, but meh. There are so many glorious books out there.

Here’s my list, with some notes:

52. Razor Girl, Carl Hiaasen – Very funny. It’s been a while since I’ve read a Hiaasen novel, and I think that helped.

51. Days of Blood and Starlight, Laini Taylor – This is the sequel to #49, and I really enjoyed it.

50. Club Dead, Charmaine Harris – More delicious fluff.

49. Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Laini Taylor – I love, love, love this series. The world-building feels complete, but the author does not belabor the minutiae of the fictional world.

48. Losing it, Emma Rathbone – I did not love this book, mostly because I wanted to shake the main character.

47. Chains, Laurie Halse Anderson – Good middle school read.

46. Mistress of the Art of Death, Arianna Franklin – Read while traveling. Glad I didn’t buy it.

45. Living Dead in Dallas, Charlaine Harris – Palate cleanser!

44. Lineage of Grace, Francine Rivers – Church book club selection. Well-written but repetetive.

43. The Blessings of a B-Minus, by Wendy Mogel – Parenting book, which I enjoyed.

42. The Nightingale, Kristen Hannah – GREAT. Could not put it down.

41. Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton (re-read)

40. Dead Until Dark, Charlaine Harris – The book equivalent of sherbet.

39. The Woman in Cabin 10, Ruth Ware – Good, suspenseful.

38. Paper Towns, John Green – Well-done but I feel I am too old for John Green novels. I was never that cool in high school.

37. Imagine me Gone, Adam Haslitt – Well done but soulless.

37. The Decoration of Houses, Alexandra Stoddard (I skimmed this one.)

36. I Let You Go, Claire MacKintosh – This one was a great thriller.

35. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, John Green and David Levithan – Quick in all senses of the word.

34. Grounded, Diana Butler Bass – To quote the woman who picked it, “I wish it had been better.”

33. The Girl in the Ice, Robert Bryndza – Picked-up-at-the-library mystery.

32. The Paper Magician, Charlie Holmberg – Good, but not enough to get me to read the rest of the trilogy.

31. Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel – Outstanding.

30. Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt – Also outstanding.

29. Sundays at Tiffany’s, James Patterson – Not great.

28. Edible Estates, Fritz Haeg – This book wanted to be revolutionary, but failed.

27. The Loved One, Evelyn Waugh – Sharp British satire.

26. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Jamie Ford – A very nice read.

25. The Gates of Evangeline, Hester Young – This one surprised me by how good it was.

24. The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis – Classic.

23. The Girl in the Spider’s Web, David Lagercrantz – Good for what it was, but not as good as the original Millennium trilogy.

22. Orphan Train, Catherine Kline – Good, if sappy.

21. A Man Called Ove, Fredrik Bachman – Excellent. Thought about this one for days.

20. The Summer I Saved the World in 65 Days, Michele Weber Hurwitz – Sunshine State book for middle schoolers.

19. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry – Despite not being the kind of person who loves Westerns, I loved this book.

18. Midwives, Chris Bohjalian – My favorite Bohjalian so far.

17. To Marry an English Lord, Carol McColl – Intensely interesting.

16. Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff – I had incredibly high hopes for this one. The writing was beautiful, but it didn’t grab me like her previous books.

15. Library of Souls, Ransom Riggs – Love this series.

14. Career of Evil, Robert Galbraith – I liked Galbraith’s first two novels better.

13. Faithful Place, Tana French – Good gripping read.

12. Deception Point, Dan Brown – Browntastic!

11. The Black Death and the Transformation of the West, David Herlihy – Short but informative book on the plague.

10. Murder on the Orient Express, Agatha Christie – Another classic. It has held up well.

9. Airborn, Ken Oppel – Middle school read, but I really enjoyed it.

8. The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin – Aggressively fine.

7. Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson – I take all memoirs with a grain of sand, but this was an interesting read.

6. Gateways, F. Paul Wilson – It’s a thriller with a whiff of the supernatural. Good series.

5. Flat Water Tuesday, Ron Irwin – Probably good for rowers and non-rowers alike, but better for rowers.

4. All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doer – SO GOOD.

3. In the Dark, Dark Woods, Ruth Ware – Suspenseful and awesome.

2. At the Water’s Edge, Sarah Gruen – Also suspenseful and awesome.

1. The Haunted Air, F. Paul Wilson – Repairman Jack is a great character, and this series is a fun read.

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The Bookshelf

Books are my favorite things. Nothing makes me happier than a stack of unread novels or a row of “new” badges across the top row of my Kindle. Most of my childhood was spent with my nose buried in a paperback, and my favorite places to go on the weekend were the library and the used bookstore. Bask in my awesomeness. In college, I spent four years reading and writing, and they gave me a degree in English. Seemed like an eminently fair trade.

As anyone who has ever moved can attest, books are heavy. I have moved six times in the last 15 years, and each time I have hauled around an ever-expanding library. Jason gave me a Kindle for Christmas 2011, which sharply curtailed the number of physical books I brought home. I still could not resist the siren song of Chamblin’s Bookmine in Jacksonville.

No one can.

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Two things happened last year to make me re-consider my personal library. The first was reading “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,” by Marie Kondo. As some brilliant person said, “this is a bat-shit crazy woman who gives good advice.” In her book, she is super-harsh about book ownership, which made me clutch at my throat in horror. Keep only around 30 books? You are not my people, Marie Kondo. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered how many books I needed to hang onto. At this point in my life, I read only for pleasure and occasionally to expand my knowledge base. I read anything and everything, and the vast majority is fiction.

In short, I do not have a library. I have a hodgepodge. I have a jumble.

The second thing that caused me to re-evaluate my library was one of the worst things that has ever happened to me. I am not even kidding. I bought a used copy of Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust” at Chamblin’s and began devouring it. When I got to the end of the first chapter, I discovered that the last page was missing. Bummer, dude, I thought, but kept reading.

I reached the end of the second chapter. The last page was missing.

And the last page of the third chapter. And so on. Some ASSHAT had removed the last page of every chapter in the book. I was horrified. Who does that?!?!?!

My problem was this: even though I knew the book was ruined, I couldn’t get rid of it. I put it in the recycling bin five times, and took it back out five times.

I started to think maybe my love for books had become an unhealthy attachment.

My bookshelf purge is ongoing, but I’ve made progress. The first category I tackled was Books From College. Who was I trying to impress with my collection of light Russian literature? Was I ever going to re-read my textbook from Ancient Greek? Could I ever muster the anger to re-read political books? But how will people know I’m smart if I don’t keep a lot of smarty-pants books around???

The next category was Books I’m Keeping Just In Case They Are Assigned To The Kids At Some Point. This is absurd. If I didn’t personally like the book, it was escorted out of the building.

The third group I’ve been dealing with is Books I Bought But Haven’t Read Yet. There were a surprising number of these lurking in my shelves. I weeded through them mercilessly, and gave myself a year to read the keepers. The unread books still take up an entire shelf.

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I’m not sure what my end game is, yet. I will never have zero books – I will also never get down to Marie Kondo’s suggested 30. But I’m learning I don’t need the physical presence of lots of books to advertise my identity. “Look at meeee! I’m a nerrrrd!”

I’ve also discovered that I love giving books to other readers. I finished a book last Monday and gave it to a friend on Tuesday. I don’t have to worry about if or when it will be returned to me, and I don’t have to find space for it. This is a win.

You might be wondering what happened to my ruined copy of “Stardust” in all this. I took it back to Chamblin’s and explained to the nice hipster at the counter what happened. “I need you to take this from me,” I said. “Don’t tell me what you’re going to do with it. Let me believe you have a book cemetery out back.”

Bless her, she took it. She even promised to give it a Viking-esque send-off, in a tiny flaming boat.

Book lovers. We get each other.

 

 

 

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