Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Book Log: October 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

59) 10/2: Beartown by Fredrik Backman
First off, I don't think I've discussed Playaway devices yet. I stumbled on them at my library a year or two back and I love them - they're a book loaded onto a simple audio player. Insert battery, attach headphones, and away you go. Perfect for saving my phone battery since it's a standalone device (my normal default is to check out an audiobook via the Overdrive app), and I've even taken to glancing at the children's books in case I find one that will suit my daughter.

Moving on, though, to the book in question (just promise me that you'll glance at the Playaway section next time you're at the library, though - so much nicer than swapping out individual CDs).

Along with many others, I was introduced to Swedish author Fredrik Backman by his book A Man Called Ove (one of last year's reads). Beartown is his most recent book, and while browsing audiobooks one day, I saw they had this in a Playaway edition.

It's a departure from A Man Called Ove. The Beartown community is all about hockey, and we get insights into the junior players, coaches, and families. We wrestle with themes of truth, loyalty, friendship, and success. Individuals learn what they're made of when everything is about to be taken from them.

One character quips, "People round here don't always know the difference between right and wrong. But we know the difference between good and evil."

It's an interesting read, but it tackles some darker topics, and not everyone comes out glowing. There are some redemptive storylines, though, to help balance out the compromised characters.

60) 10/7: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
This is only the second Salinger I've read, but it came up when there was an online discussion about books you hate, for better or worse. Someone quipped The Catcher in the Rye, and it caused me to chime in with my own evolution surrounding that book (here's the basic story, somehow one of the most popular draws for strangers to my blog -- I think students are hoping there's an essay about it hiding on here they can "borrow").

Anyway, someone suggested I might like Franny and Zooey; in their words, it is seen as a female version of The Catcher in the Rye.

Franny and Zooey is a book of two connected novellas. They are siblings, the youngest in the family. A brother of theirs died years earlier, and there are themes of mourning and faith throughout. Neither story is as edgy as I found The Catcher in the Rye (if you follow my above link, you'll see I was so offended by Holden's mouth and attitude upon first read, only later perceiving how his actions stem from his unprocessed grief over a lost sibling). I struggled with how to pigeonhole Zooey, and his attitude towards his mother in particular was grating, but I found myself marking down several phrases and passages that struck me.

61) 10/11: Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
I had read Jean Webster's Daddy Long-Legs a few years ago, learning about it after I read Dear Mr. Knightley, a modern adaptation of it. Only recently did I learn that there was a sequel to the original work, and as it's in the public domain and a quick read, I picked it up.

It's also in an epistolary style and follows a friend from the first book who is charged with taking over the orphanage and ushering in updates and improvements. It's a pleasant, simple read, but I admit bristling at times as some of the language and beliefs haven't aged well (some of it might have been meant for humorous effect, but the talk of "idiots" that she places elsewhere and her flippant comment about the child of a lyncing victim sobered me up).

62) 10/12: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
This was a recent audiobook listen (a Playaway edition - so convenient!).

The premise of the book is that Lincoln is assassinated before his re-election. A couple states had seceded but were moved by his death that they return to the Union and the Civil War is avoided. Through negotiations, four states continue to have slavery to this day. Our protagonist escaped from slavery when he was younger, but now works for the government tracking down other escaped slaves.

The case he is given at the beginning of the book feels different, and as he investigates we see him relive his past and question his present.

63) 10/13: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
This was the selection for last month's Book and a Movie event. I'd hoped to go, but a busy week had me skipping it (I would put forth that creating time for my husband to finish his tenure packet trumps going out to watch a movie that can easily be acquired at any time).

Once I skipped the event, I wasn't sure if I was going to finish, but I was just invested enough to want to know the outcome.

Take a lighthouse keeper and his wife on a remote island. Have her experience repeated pregnancy losses. Then introduce a boat with a dead man and young baby aboard. Consider hiding the shipwreck evidence and claim the child as your own.

Here's the thing: I'm a rule follower. If there's not a good reason to break a rule, I'm not going to. But in this book, this HUGE infraction is made, and although I recognize it as fiction, I found myself tensing up, so frustrated at all that was going to transpire from this one decision. So many things could have been avoided but for that choice. Blame postpartum depression or whatever, but the stubbornness and pain that resulted had me all twisted up. I don't regret reading to the end, but my emotions were manipulated.

64) 10/17: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I was talking with a retired friend and he suggested this book was one that stood out to him, a new favorite alongside A Prayer for Owen Meany (yet another book I've begun but have yet to finish).

What a read. It's like an international Forrest Gump storyline, weaving in countless historical individuals as we learn about why a certain centenarian escapes from the nursing home and begins a spontaneous adventure, becoming hunted by the law. His entourage grows, things have a way of working out seamlessly, and we break away regularly to learn of his earlier years (see also: how many historical meetings can happen before it's just too darn ridiculous?).

This book was an amusing read, but I found myself periodically wanting to roll my eyes because of the ongoing orchestrations. It's absurd. Entertaining, but absurd. You're either going to love it or hate it. But if you don't take it seriously, it can be a nice, lighthearted break.

65) 10/21: Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
I wasn't familiar with this series, but it was recommended to me as an alternative to the Ramona books (also by Beverly Cleary). In fact, Beezus is a friend of his, with her little sister Ramona tagging along.

Henry is a good boy who just happens to make things complicated and repeatedly finds himself in amusing circumstances. Each chapter is a stand-alone, although they do build on each other. For instance, we learn in the first chapter about how he gets his dog (he eventually finds a way to sneak it onto a bus, although the dog doesn't stay hidden).  Then, in subsequent chapters, his dog is at his side for the adventures.

I listened to this on audiobook and knew immediately my second-grader would love it. Sure enough, as she heard details of Henry's fish expanding in number or the antics of digging up earth worms, she had a huge grin on her face and would giggle.

66) 10/22: Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
There are six books in the Henry Huggins series, and this is the second. It was in the same style as the first, with each chapter a concentrated story. Here we see him try to get out of the main part of the school Christmas play, attempt to acquire a bicycle from a packed auction, and so on.

I don't think I'm going to seek out the further books in the series, only because I'm not the target audience, but if they cross my path as a read-aloud to my daughters, I know I'd enjoy it alongside them.





68) 10/24: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
This was the October book club selection and is a phenomenal read. It's the sort of book I find myself reflecting on and wanting to recommend to everyone. If I hadn't been reading a library copy, I would have marked it up and underlined repeatedly.

Atul Gawande describes how end-of-life care has evolved in our country. For instance, he reflects on the development of nursing homes, where safety is paramount and the decisions and structure seem geared towards making the family members feel comfortable with the arrangement without taking into account the desires of the individual who will actually be living there.

However, I felt encouraged by some of the alternatives that were discussed. There are cities and towns where there are support systems to allow people to stay in their homes until the end, with supplemented, affordable handymen, food delivery, and so on. Or take the Eden Alternative, created by Bill Thomas, where he addressed loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. It was fascinating to read how he introduced on-site childcare, animals, and live plants, creating responsibility and interest where there had been nothing before. The gains patients made were astounding. Finally, there were examples of set-ups where individuals had private rooms but shared living/eating quarters with about 10-12 others. They could wake and eat when desired but developed friendships with the others and had nurses who knew them and their desires intimately.

I appreciated how Atul Gawande, a surgeon, used this information, and the experience of losing his father, to change how he interacted with patients, using these four questions (developed by another) as a guide to treatment decisions: "What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?" (page 259).

69) 10/28: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This was a lighthearted read. Take a narrator who suffers from Asperger's (although he isn't aware of it at the beginning). He lives a very regimented life. For instance, he doesn't want to expend the mental energy to try new food dishes, so he has a set menu of seven dinners that he has memorized so he can dwell on other topics.

Don is a genetics professor and is contemplating marriage. As he's not seeing anyone and doesn't want to waste time by doing a conventional search, he creates a questionnaire that he believes will narrow down the pool to a small number of highly qualified compatible candidates. We witness the results, as well as what happens when he gets to know someone who would fail the questionnaire on multiple levels but becomes a good friend to him as they research The Father Project.

This was just an okay read for me. It paired as a nice alternative to Being Mortal (while that was an exceptional book, sometimes I didn't need to read about dying), but it is just fluffy entertainment with periodic bouts of cringing at the behavior of Don's best friend Gene.

70) 10/30: The Giver by Lois Lowry
I've read this book several times, but I wanted to revisit the series since I heard there was a fourth, and final, book to the quartet. I was unaware of it and wanted to read/listen to them all in order before reading that final one.

I remember much of this book - it's commonly read in schools, and it wasn't until a reread in college that I learned not everyone perceived the ending as I did. In fact, some came to an opposite, darker conclusion.

Take a futuristic society that is highly advanced and controlled, and you have The Giver. Everyone is assigned a job, if you want a spouse or a child, you apply for one and are matched up. Nothing is left to chance, everything is observed and overheard. This society values, if not happiness and love, contentment and placidity and conformity. However, someone must have knowledge of the past, and that is where the name of the book comes in.

This is a great book for discussions. At what price do you want to seek serenity? Is removal from pain a requirement? What do you sacrifice in exchange? It makes me think of my mother, who has struggled for decades with depression. She is very creative and artistic, and her primary complaint about times she has been medicated is that, while it controls her mood swings and levels her out, she loses her creativity. For her, that is an acute loss and she would rarely think the trade-off was worth it.

I was actually surprised at how much longer the ending was than I recalled. I have a vivid recollection of the closing scene, but there was more preceding it from what I originally remembered.

I believe I heard the final book might make the ending of this one less ambiguous, although I don't know that for sure.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Book Log: September 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

50) 9/4: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I don't recall where I first came across this book - I'm getting just enough recommendations sent my way that if I don't make a note as to who is suggesting I read a title, it's lost forever. However it ended up on my list, it received strong reviews, so it was worth the commitment to read the 600-plus pages.

We follow two primary characters and how their paths converge and separate. They meet in Nigeria as young adults, and they pursue different goals for their lives. Even though they both leave Nigeria for a season for different countries and lose contact, their experiences are similar.

Both learn what it is to be black - they grew up surrounded by others that looked like them, but when they relocate to countries where they become minorities, they have to process how they are perceived. Ifemelu, studying and working in America, begins blogging about race, and Obinze finds himself in London, trying to survive without the proper documentation to work there.

It's a good portrayal of the immigrant experience, and I find some of the conversations and insights returning to me.

51) 9/4: There Was No Path So I Trod One by Edwina Gateley
As I've mentioned before, I had the honor of hearing Edwina Gateley speak about two years ago. I bought two of her books that night, gifted some others, and then swapped with a friend to read the volume she'd purchased (actually, this was Edwina's own copy, but as they weren't selling any of those that night, she let Susie buy it off of her when Susie fell in love with a poem she read from it).

I've been feeling like I should get this book back into my friend's hands, so I did away with the leisurely pace and became more intentional about picking it up. I have little post-it notes attached all throughout the book with poems I wanted to copy down, so really, I just need to buy my own copy to have for myself (or here's a ready-made gift idea, if someone's looking to get me something).

52) 9/7: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I admit that I will let a title woo me. I couldn't help but download a sample of this book way back in 2009, before I had a Kindle but I regularly used the app on my iPod Touch to read the first chapters of books for free before deciding it if was worth a trip to the library or bookstore.

I couldn't NOT give this book a chance with the most awkward sounding yet charming title. Add that it's an epistolary style, and I was a goner.

This book has a soft place in my heart for another reason, as well. I remember in the time after we lost Katherine losing myself in books when I just needed a break from the onslaught of emotions, and this book was one that found me and gave me something beautiful to read.

I had heard good reviews of the audiobook, so I gave it a try. It is as pleasant as reading it was. It is a cast recording (as the letter authors vary, so do the reading voices). And when I first encounter a book under a circumstance that might highly factor into my impression of it, I'm never quite sure whether or not to trust my first introduction. As it had been a few years since I read it, it was a pleasure to have parts of it be "new" to me, as the details had faded. It's worth your time.

It was also interesting to read it so close to 84, Charing Cross Road (just last month).

53) 9/9: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
I first read Gilead by Robinson (I reflected on it here) and I wanted to read more of her work. Robinson is not someone you can speed through - you really must pace yourself and absorb the words.

I decided to make it more difficult on myself and listen to this on audiobook. Immediately I found myself having to slow it down - I couldn't process all the words at the recorded speed. So I slowed it down, but then I tried to make it more complex by doing things like mowing the lawn, prepping food, and cleaning the kitchen (ah, audiobooks! I love the ability to make it through more books by having them read to me, but it often means I'm having them join me in my daily responsibilities).

Back to Housekeeping, though. I find it pales in comparison to Gilead, and it's more heart wrenching as we follow the lives of two girls abandoned by their mother and living with a series of family members. I don't regret reading it, and I know I want to read more of Robinson's work, but as far as recommendations go, I'd push people towards Gilead.

54) 9/11: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
This was another audiobook listen for me. The book reads as a stream of consciousness, with Strout moving through timelines, but the anchor is her prolonged hospital stay. Lucy Barton is estranged from her parents, but when she's in the hospital, her mother comes to her side for several days. We get regular flashbacks from Lucy's life to help fill in some of the blanks. She had a traumatic childhood and is longing for meaning and significance since she missed those affirmations in her childhood.

All of us think our childhood is normal since it's our reality. It isn't until we grow up, talk with others, and witness other families that we get a sense for what aspects were standard and what varied widely. Lucy does plenty of processing and this hospital stay was pivotal for her as she weighed her childhood, her current family life, even her career as a writer. The book pales when compared to Olive Kitteridge, but it's still a good, interesting work.

55) 9/14: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
This must be the month for visiting other titles of several writers, but still not finding a title that surpasses my first encounter with them. Just as with Marilynne Robinson (Gilead over Housekeeping) and Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kitteridge over My Name is Lucy Barton), I suggest Jacqueline Woodson's Locomotion series and the memoir Brown Girl Dreaming surpass Another Brooklyn as far as quality.

My impression here might be due to the fact that Another Brooklyn is a more mature book of friendships and innocence lost. Additionally, I prefer the verse format in her other books.



56) 9/19: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
This was the September book club selection, and it's a favorite of mine. I've read it a minimum of four times since being introduced to it in late 2004, possibly more.

I'm glad everyone, or nearly everyone, enjoyed it. I wasn't the only one who'd read it before, and there was a critical comment about how rounded all the characters were or weren't, but as a whole, it was well received.

I wrote more about it last year.



57) 9/22: Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
This is a slow-paced book. I listened to this one and, while I didn't mind the topic, I wasn't sure if it was focused enough for me to listen through the entirety of the audiobook. I did make it through, and certainly some credit goes towards listening during the week leading up to my older daughter's birthday party. It was Harry Potter themed, and so this played in the background while I made Platform 9 3/4 as well as the poster board activities, the latter happening at 2 am when I was experiencing a bout of insomnia.

Barbara Brown Taylor reflects on ways faith communities, and people in general, shy away from darkness, both literal and figurative, but she attempts to make a case as to why we shouldn't avoid such seasons of life, how it can in fact be those times when we have the most growth.

58) 9/28: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park
When I student taught ninth grade, one of the interdisciplinary projects that I observed had students read a book about Iraq in their English classes and then discuss the historical context in Social Studies (I'm pretty sure the book was Kiss the Dust). At that age students can struggle to connect with what seems like detached facts far removed from their lives. However, this fictional account really drew them in and they could suddenly empathize with how it must be to experience war firsthand.

That book repeatedly crossed my mind as I read A Long Walk to Watera book told in two timelines that eventually converge. The setting is Sudan and when it begins, we are reading alternating accounts, from an 11-year-old girl in 2008 and an 11-year-old boy in 1985. The boy becomes one of the Lost Boys, and the reason I kept reflecting on my student-teaching experience was because I could see this connecting with middle school students. It's not a long book and the chapters are short enough to be easily digested. Add in that the boy's account is a true story, and you have some great interdisciplinary possibilities for a classroom.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Book Log: August 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

42) 8/5: Jesus Cow by Michael Perry
This was our book club selection for the month, as a light-hearted palate cleanser after A Canticle for Leibowitz. I listened to the audiobook (while painting trim, surprise surprise) and I couldn't help but think about how it reminded me of Garrison Keillor's Lake Woebegone stories.

Michael Perry gives us insight into small town life through the various characters we follow. At the beginning, Harley discovers a calf born on Christmas Eve with one spot resembling the face of Jesus. The calf certainly leads the action, but we get entertaining asides as we learn the stories of the other personalities in the town. An easy, simple read.



43) 8/7: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
I joined our neighborhood book club in the summer of 2016, and if I've learned anything, it's that I leave every meeting with several more recommendations to add to my reading list. I'd read praise for this book and had checked it out in late spring on a whim, but I didn't get past the introduction before it was due, and it was a popular enough title that renewals weren't an option. When a member of the book club raved about it, I promised myself I'd be more diligent about reading it at another time and I was able to pick it up during an evening hermit date at a library.

It's truly a beautiful book. In the preface, we learn the protagonist is being sentenced to live the rest of his life within the walls of the hotel. His opulent room is taken from him and he ends up in a cramped space with a minimum of possessions, but as the hotel is spacious with every convenience (barber, seamstress, restaurants, bars, florist, and so on), he isn't constricted. He learns to see beyond his normal routine to explore, with the guidance of a young friend, every inch of his surroundings.

Decades pass and I found myself enjoying the relationships the Count developed and nurtured. Several hotel employees become like family, and I found myself treasuring this book.

44) 8/10: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
This was an impulsive audiobook listen (while I painted the last of the doorways/trim, thus concluding my summer painting projects).

I've read a couple of Edith Wharton's books before this one, and there's a familiar melancholy through them all. With this being more of a novella, it can give you a quick taste of her style if you're unfamiliar with her and want to experience her work. In order to give nothing away, I'll just state that Ethan Frome is a hard-working, struggling farmer who starts to find joy and hope and wrestles with what to do next.




45) 8/15: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Another pleasant listen as Jim Dale narrated.  I hope to find times to listen to the rest of the series (although maybe my impatience for library waitlists will have me pulling my copies down from the my bookshelves).










46) 8/20: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I kept encountering this title in an online book group I found myself in but I hadn't yet gotten my hands on a copy. It's an epistolary book (a favorite style of mine), and to sweeten the deal, it's non-fiction. It just so happened that when my three sisters came for a visit, my youngest sister had a copy and knew it was just the sort of book I'd adore (she was right).

Helene, a New Yorker, writes a London bookshop, requesting help acquiring some titles. Over the years, friendships form and we get to watch it all play out. Helene can be brash, amusing, pushy, and kind in her letters. Her generosity to this bookshop is touching. This is a book I hope to add to my library. It's not all that long (I read it in one day), but it's such a pleasant read.

47) 8/21: Maus: A Survivor's Tale (I: My Father Bleeds History) by Art Spiegelman
Maus is a graphic novel that also falls into other categories, including biography and memoir. The author interviewed his dad about living as a Jew in Nazi-occupied Europe. Art recorded the interviews and then added the artwork. The storyline shifts - we see Art in present day interacting with his father (perhaps enduring interactions with his father is more accurate), asking questions about his father's life. Then we get transported to the past as his father tells his story.

This is the first volume of two, and I plan on reading it, as well. Art Spiegelman's created a compelling work. Even his portrayal of Jews as mice, Nazis as cats, Poles as pigs, etc., adds an interesting dynamic.


48) 8/22: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
I have read some other books by Jhumpa Lahiri and appreciate her style of writing and her portrayal of immigrants trying to adjust to life in America. This was one of her short story collections I hadn't yet read and was also the one she won the Pulitzer Prize for. I yet again appreciated her ability to make the characters so relatable - I can have strong emotions come up as I read her stories as she makes the regret, anxiety, disappointment, and so on so palpable.






49) 8/27: The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog by Douglas Kaine McKelvey
This book is relatively short, a pleasant children's fiction chapter book. While I read this book, perhaps it's not fair for me to count it. Sometimes I struggle with falling and/or staying asleep at night, and in those situations, I'll grab my Kindle to read until I'm tired again. This was a book I read during a couple of those middle-of-the-night stretches. All that to say, my memory is foggy in points.

Here's what I do know: it's beautifully written, and the ending seemed abrupt to me after the lovely pace of the rest of the book.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Book Log: July 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

35) 7/2: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
Here's another audiobook listen (accomplished while finally reclaiming my craft room, which has been in a sorry state for way too long and is now a welcome oasis when I can retreat there, if even only to read than to create).

It was a friend's recommendation after I shared a Kindle sale for Hillbilly Elegy (covered in my February book log).

Like JD Vance's book, it articulates what life is like for someone barely getting by. There have been just enough conversations lately with friends about the importance of listening to stories like this. With frequent debate about what healthcare in our country should look like, for instance, it appears the people making the decisions haven't considered how it legitimately impacts individuals at every level because their experience hasn't been a typical one (issues like not every employer offers healthcare, or birth control is prescribed for more than just preventing pregnancy, and so on).

Tirado goes through her life experience, both sharing what led her to her current situation and how hopeless and dehumanizing it can be (for instance, she has great shame -- and pain -- about her teeth, but she doesn't have the financial means to address the situation because when money comes up, it's earmarked elsewhere).

36) 7/8: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
Green Bay held UntitledTown, an inaugural book and author event, this past spring. It fell during a busy weekend, so while many events intrigued me, I was only able to attend the capstone talks, given by Sherman Alexie and Margaret Atwood.

I was familiar with Atwood and read The Handmaid's Tale before her talk (see my April log). I'm embarrassed that I was previously unfamiliar with Sherman Alexie (although a couple of his book titles were known to me). He opened the evening, and I was blown away. He is a talented speaker, weaving a series of stories that seemed entertaining and flippant at the start, only to reveal at the end that he's been intentionally working to a emotionally moving close.

This memoir was his focus, as it was released this summer. It covers his complicated relationship with his mother and the emotional processing of her death. So much of it resonated with me. My mother struggles with depression and schizophrenia, so while our experiences haven't been identical, I could easily relate with the complexity surrounding a nontraditional parent-child relationship. It was a powerful, beautiful read. Alexie writes essays as well as poetry, and it's a perfect blend. I highlighted repeatedly, and if I dwell too long on the passages I marked, it makes me want to weep for the truth of the words.

37) 7/8: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr.
This was the July book club selection, my recommendation, as it had been suggested by my husband several (many?) years ago as an interesting read.

It is a thought-provoking post-apocalyptic piece written in three parts, with 600 years passing between each section (the section titles, in Latin, translate to "Let there be man," "Let there be light," and "Let thy will be done").

The book asks you to consider the role of faith, science, and technology in our world. It was written in 1960, and our book club mentioned how forward-thinking Miller was in imagining the future as well as how relevant the book was today, as if it had just been published. Even with each section being unique in its scope, the book reveals how cyclical the world is when it comes to how people behave in power, and there's much to consider with morality and how church and government act in the world.

38) 7/21: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
I'd picked up this book from a recent school book order for my older daughter (she's an accomplished enough reader that the 1st grade offerings were typically beneath her, and I learned I wasn't limited by grade, so I began eyeing the chapter books meant for older elementary students).

She hasn't jumped into it yet, but I saw the audiobook at the library and picked it up. While painting around the house (an outside door and the landing trim/bathroom cabinet, to be exact), it was pleasantly completed.

It's a delightful listen. Two siblings run away, and given that comfort is a factor, the older sister decides to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The mystery surrounding a recent museum acquisition focuses the children into learning as much as they can about the authenticity of the statue in question. The story is told from the point of view of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, the reasoning of which is made clear towards the end. Since I'm so critical of audiobook readers, even though I often listen, I should articulate that this one was perfectly done.

39) 7/27: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
I had acquired this audiobook free when Audible gave it away in January. I held off listening to it, even though it was getting rave reviews, because it had come up as a possible book club selection. It hasn't been mentioned lately and I didn't want to miss out any longer, so the majority of it was enjoyed while I painted the girls' playroom (yes, the theme this summer is "listen to podcasts or audiobooks while tackling painting projects").

First, Trevor Noah does an exceptional job reading it, and it easily seems one where you should try, if at all possible, to listen to it instead of reading it; even setting aside his accent, hearing him jump into other languages adds a great dynamic, and he modulates his voice to diversify the various individuals.

Trevor discusses at length his experience growing up in South Africa under apartheid and how things altered when apartheid ended. He has a white father and a black mother, which played a large role in how he was treated under apartheid as well as how his experiences in school played out (he shares how people differentiated among white, black, colored, mixed, Indian). He is well read and seamlessly shares historical details. I found myself often grinning as he shared about his relationship with his mother.  She holds her own with him, and there's no doubt where his strength and resilience came from.

I highly recommend this one; Trevor Noah tells a fine story, and while sometimes gushing recommendations from others can lead me to have overly high expectations and be disappointed, that was fortunately not the case here.

40) 7/29: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
This was a well-done read that I started in January and have been plugging at pretty steadily ever since. It's a dense book at 545 pages, but it's an eye-opening read.

In it, Wilkerson takes three individuals who left the South in different decades to frame her research about the migration of blacks out of the South, an event that began around 1915 and is understood to have ended around 1970. I read it on my Kindle and have what amounts to pages and pages highlighted.

My earlier descriptive of "dense" might turn people off, but it's one of those non-fiction books that's very accessible and I would get invested with the various characters, rooting them on and hoping they found success. I highly recommend this one.

41) 7/30: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
I have read the Harry Potter series previously (perhaps only once before...), but I've been wanting to revisit them. Even though we own all the books, I'd heard high praise for the Jim Dale audiobooks, so I've taken to knitting in my craftroom or tidying up there while listening. It's been a pleasant routine.

Right as I began this book, though, my husband began reading the series to my 6-year-old daughter, and I found myself cringing when they'd get ahead of me and I would even try to leave the room if I could (I know the general arc, but since it's been awhile since I read them, I want to be revisit the little details in chronological order). We plan on halting the read-aloud after the third book until she gets older, so then I can devour the final books, spoiler-free!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Book Log: June 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

29) 6/4: 10:04 by Ben Lerner
This was the book club's selection; one person said she'd read a review that described it as avant garde, and that is apt.

It's an artsy read; time is fluid and certain themes return over and over again. I wondered how much of this book was actually taken directly from the author's life and read an interview discussing it. While there are numerous topics or situations stolen from the author's life, the interview suggested that was merely a jumping off point.

It wasn't a book I would have found and picked up on my own, but it was an interesting read.


30) 6/7: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
Just often enough lately I find myself listening to an audiobook instead of picking up the actual copy, if only out of necessity - I can't read a book while mowing the lawn, driving my car, folding laundry, or washing dishes, but I can listen to one, and those tasks need to be accomplished either way. Such was the case for this one.

Jen Hatmaker is amusing and passionate, but I think I would have preferred reading this one. It's too easy for anecdotal parts to come off as trite as conveyed by the audiobook reader.

This book finds Hatmaker assessing seven areas of her life, one per month (clothes, spending, waste, food, possessions, media, stress) . She is trying to rail against materialistic tendencies and she ties in background information and how each topic ties into her faith. I found it thought-provoking in the more level-headed parts, and at times eye-rolling as the narrator flipped out over silly things (the reader attempts to play up the humor, but I think she goes overboard and I'd have preferred reading the text better than listening in those sections).

Some of my hesitancy might also come from a place of already incorporating a measure of this mindfulness (I'm frugal so I don't often eat out, we recycle and compost, we cloth-diapered both of our children for most of their diaper-wearing seasons due to cost and waste concerns, etc). I do believe it to be a good introduction to important topics. But go for the paperback copy, not the audiobook, if you think you'll be as judge-y as I am.

31) 6/8: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
Here I continue with the theme of checking out children's chapter books to see if my older daughter is ready for them. I listened to the audiobook version while painting our guest room, and Brennan subsequently listened to it.

Take a selfish china rabbit, send him on adventures not of his choosing, and see how he matures. I appreciate a "show, don't tell" approach to demonstrate to children how ugly selfishness is but that love borne from selflessness is beautiful, and the pain of lost love adds a richness to life, as well.




32) 6/12: The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
June had me suffering from my seasonal allergies; they were severe enough I began to wonder if there was more going on, and when I thought I was adding on pink eye to my symptoms at the end of the month, I even went to a doctor during our trip to see family (turns out my allergies were so bad they were causing the non-contagious strain of pink eye).

So that's the setting of me picking up this book. It's a light read. In this book series (of which this is the third), you have Kate O'Hare, the FBI agent on the trail of con-man Nicholas Fox. In the first book they create a secret working relationship to set up high-profile criminals and take them down.

Think heist movies or shows, a la Ocean's Eleven (and subsequent movies) or Leverageand you get the Fox-O'Hare plot (Lee Goldberg, one of the co-authors, wrote the Monk series).  It's a fluffy read, but it was the right speed for my seasonal-allergy suffering self.

33) 6/27: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
Confession: I have become a Hamilton fan girl.

It all started as I heard numerous friends rave about the musical. I read a piece talking about the significance of it, and they linked to Lin-Manuel Miranda's performance of a song at the White House in 2009, which is where it all started. I was charmed. Go ahead and give it a listen if you're unfamiliar with Hamilton, I'll wait.

After that song hooked me; I learned I could stream the Broadway cast recording for free since we had Amazon Prime. I still didn't act, though. I knew I wanted to listen to the music uninterrupted, so finally I cloistered myself in my craft room one evening while Eric was holding a game night, and I sewed while I listened.

This is the [sewing] room where it happened

That was last summer. I find myself continually coming back to the music, even downloading it to my phone, where space is precious, so that I could indulge in listening when I didn't have a wifi signal.

I flipped through Hamilton: The Revolution, which is colloquially called the Hamiltome, at a bookstore, intrigued but not sure whether I wanted to pony up the money. My husband surprised me with it for my birthday, and I have loved poring over it. I marvel at Miranda's genius, his deliberate attempts to be historically accurate whenever possible (he worked alongside Ron Chernow at times, author of the biography Alexander Hamilton that inspired Miranda to begin the project in the first place), and his skill is reflected as he creates lyrics in different styles to reflect the background of the various characters.

This footnote is just one example of the thought that went into it every step of the way
I love so many of the songs, but if I'm honest, "Dear Theodosia" and "It's Quiet Uptown" are two favorites, perhaps because they both deal with parenthood and serve as bookends to a life. The latter, "It's Quiet Uptown," caught me offguard on my first listen, and I found myself crying as it played. That song still brings me to tears - a reflection about loss, grief, forgiveness, restoration...all the feels.

I've savored this book throughout the year, only now finishing it. My husband surprised me with tickets to see Hamilton in Chicago on our anniversary in July, so I wanted to complete this beforehand.

34) 6/30: The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Yet again another in the Fox-O'Hare series. An in-consequential but entertaining read, but this one deviates from previous titles  with a cliffhanger at the end.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Book Log: May 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

20) 5/7: R My Name Is Rachel by Patricia Reilly Giff
I was introduced to this author when I read Pictures of Hollis Woods about ten years ago, when I was still teaching (hmm, that makes it more like 12 years ago). It was a captivating book.

This falls into the classification of Young Adult fiction. It's set during the Depression, so I could see it fitting in during such a unit in school. It wasn't as gripping as Pictures of Hollis Woods, but students especially could connect with the characters and it would make that time period more alive to them.




21) 5/9: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
It's perhaps a bit of a stretch, but I couldn't help but be reminded of The Breakfast Club while reading this Young Adult book. Three misfits find themselves crossing paths at baton twirling lessons, coming with plans to win a talent contest to further their various agendas. One girl has a father who has just left her mother to run off with another woman, another is being raised by her grandmother after her parents' deaths, and the third hides under her tough exterior.

Over the course of the book (when no real baton lessons take place), these very different girls get to know each through shared adventures.



22) 5/12: Bossypants by Tina Fey
Another light read (or, rather, listen, as I accessed the audiobook read by Tina Fey). Clearly I find myself in need of a break from heavier texts (I'm still chugging through some good ones, but they're slow going).

Tina Fey is self-deprecating, which can be part of the draw. This was okay for me, but not typically something that had me rolling around in fits of laughter. And if you're sensitive to language, you probably want to skip it.




23) 5/12: The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
I was added to an online book group that specializes in quality literature (while I don't homeschool, it seems many in the group do, and there's a focus on reading aloud to children, etc.). I was added by a friend because their namesake is taken from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a book I had raved about and recommended to friends when it went on sale.

The Awakening of Miss Prim has been mentioned repeatedly as another group favorite, so I decided to check it out.

Miss Prim enters a village, being hired as the librarian of a private estate to put the books in order. She's unaware that she's entered into an enclave, a refuge from the busyness and chaotic nature of life. She's intrigued by the village, and through her relationships with individuals there, she learns more about what brought this village around a common aim of being self-sustaining and slowing down.

I was intrigued by aspects of it, but it feels light on details. Miss Prim's boss is never named beyond the Man in the Wing Chair. The villagers, while named, all gel together in a way (although I saw one person defend this as intentional, a way to make the village be the character in the story). I couldn't help but wonder about the underbelly of the town - is there poverty? How are elderly cared for? Are those who can't fit in or contribute sent away? But I recognize answering those questions were likely not the aim of the author, and I'm getting away from her intent.

Miss Prim is forced to decide whether to embrace the ideals of the village or leave it behind (this struggle of self and meaning made me wonder if the "Awakening" in the title was an homage to Chopin's book, even as they're coming from very different belief systems). Prudencia Prim's name, as well as some of the conversations had in the book, make me think of this as an allegory, in the vein of Pilgrim's Progress (I suspect this was intentional). It was an intriguing read, even if not destined to be a favorite for me.

24) 5/18: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I initially read this book a couple years ago, but it came up again since it was this month's book club selection.

I confess that upon first read, although it is a series, I was happy to leave it at this one. The protagonist is a precocious eleven-year-old girl who is brilliant with chemistry, poisons, observations, and solves the mystery before the police, like every good detective story.

The book is quite well written and researched, but I got hung up on that point. Going into it for a second read remembering her youth (and now with a six-year-old that can school me in all things space related), I was more willing to consider that in 1950, such a girl as Flavia de Luce could exist (and perhaps, with the same level of independence and resources, such brilliant 11-year-old girls also exist even today).

Flavia isn't without faults, as the strained, often antagonistic interactions with her sisters attest, and that helps humanize her. I haven't committed to pursuing more of the series, but I understand why they're popular with the details and character development. And I appreciate how each book title is poetic in its own way (seriously, each one is memorable - consider A Red Herring Without Mustard or I Am Half-Sick of Shadows or The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches or .... You get the picture).

25) 5/19: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
This book takes place towards the end of WWII and is written in alternating viewpoints from four different individuals in East Prussia. It is classified as Young Adult fiction, but I think adults would enjoy it just as much. It culminates in the true historical account of the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the infrequently discussed and yet worst maritime disaster in history.

Each chapter tends to be very short, which made it easy to feel like I could read some and end at a convenient break even if I only had a couple minutes, but I admit it took a few chapters to get a good feel for each of the characters. Once I had them down, it was a solid read.

I could see this naturally becoming a part of a classroom curriculum and is bound to appeal to a wide range of students.

This reflection sounds dry even to me, but I really did enjoy this book and the four perspectives are different enough in personality and motivation (and nationality) to make this an excellent read.

26) 5/24: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
I am quite familiar with the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang movie, but I've never read the book. My older daughter enjoys drawing while listening to audiobooks, and since she's exhausted nearly every book in the Boxcar Children series that our library has, I'm looking to other options. Then I learned this version was read by David Tennant (my favorite Doctor), so it became my go-to listening choice while cleaning.

If I once knew this book was also written by the creator of James Bond, I had forgotten. The book, like the movie, is a fun adventure story with a magical car. There is a series of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang books, but as I haven't read them, I don't know if some of the movie plotlines are borrowed from later books. All in all, a pleasant read, and it may make its way into my daughter's hands soon.

27) 5/26: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
A couple years ago I discovered this author with her debut novel Dear Mr Knightley, an updated adaptation of Daddy Long-legs (which I read afterwards, having not been aware of it before). I truly enjoyed Dear Mr Knightley, and I have picked up her other novels when they've been discounted on Kindle. This was the second book of hers I read, but I admit it fell flat for me.

Take Emily, an accomplished, typically overly responsible girl, who acts rashly, if not necessarily wrongly. When that action leads to major changes in her life, it forces her to change and reflect, and she can come off as whiny. I wanted to mutter, "Well, what did you expect? Get over yourself!" The relationship she finds herself in (a central part of the book) doesn't seem convincing to me, either. Other characters are better developed.

Clearly I'm in the minority with my "just okay" opinion, if Amazon reviews are a dependable guide (when I'm writing this, it's at a staggering 4.4 out of 5 stars). But I wanted more, after my first positive impression of her. If you want to get lost in Italy and descriptions of food and art restoration, though, you could do worse.

28) 5/30: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
I heard enough recommendations for this book that I finally requested it through my library. It's set during WWII, told from the perspectives of three women: in the United States we have the once-famous stage performer now turning her attentions to donating time and money to providing for French orphans impacted by the war; in Poland, we meet Kasia, a teenager trying to adjust to German occupation and finding ways to work underground; finally, there's Herta, a female doctor in Germany wanting to be recognized for her skill, even if it means compromising her morals.

Their sympathies and loyalties vary, but together they make a well-done story and their paths cross. Given the setting of WWII, it should be understood that there will be some gritty descriptions and events.

I learned at the close of this book that the American character - Caroline Ferriday - was an actual person and the author's visit to her home led to the research that became this book. The other two characters were inspired by actual women, but changed enough that the names were fictionalized.