Summertime and Stacks of Books: The Perfect Match

I associate Summertime with very specific things:

  • Fresh vegetables from my garden or local farmer’s market
  • Weekend walks downtown with frequent stops added in to explore new places
  • Trips to the pool where the smell of chlorine and the sounds of splashing makes everything okay
  • Ending hot days on a porch swing with a book in my lap and a beer in my hand

With long days and my favorite kind of weather – hot – I spend as little time as possible at my computer. This means I have a lot of reading under my belt and so many books to tell you about. There were some duds that landed on my reading list, so I’ll skip those.

Organized by how I read them, here is how I’ve spent a lot of June and July:

1984 by George Orwell.1984 by George Orwell

The problem with missing out on what is typically required reading in high school is that when you finally get around to reading a book a classic book, you miss out on the expert guidance and interpretation of a great teacher.  When I told people I was starting George Orwell’s classic 1984, they told me not to. They said that in our current state of political affairs, it would freak me out. What does it say that it didn’t?

There was one section of the book that did sort of get me thinking. In the dystopian world described in 1984, there is a perpetual war underway, and this war is necessary to maintain balance, economy and progress. Orwell explains that the war is over the “disputed area,” which encompasses much of Africa because it is a source of slave labor and natural resources. This rings too true to me. If ever there were a resource-rich area of our world that was constantly being battled over, you would have to call out Africa, right? I’ve gone down some wormholes of conspiracy theory that I won’t go into…

I’m glad I read this book. I still wish I had read it in school, but better late than never.

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy.The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

A recent cat-sitting gig earned me a fresh stack of books, including an advance copy of The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy. While I likely would not have picked this book up otherwise, I’m glad I read it. Levy is a writer for The New Yorker and she knows how to tell a good story. I liked that she was willing to be really honest, which oftentimes presenting herself in not the best light.

The Rules Do Not Apply is the story of Levy’s first marriage, how she briefly became a mother and how her life fell apart. Cheery stuff, right? It offers some interesting commentary about motherhood and where we do and don’t have control, as well as insight into the different roles of women and career.

Levy was a guest on a recent episode of Fresh Air, where she discussed this book with Terri Gross. She makes some interesting comments about feminism and shares the true ending to her own story, which isn’t included in the book. There are spoilers, but it’s worth a listen:

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny.Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

This book was also a reward for cat-sitting and one I only picked up because the cover art was quirky. The story Katherine Heiny shares in Standard Deviation is equal parts odd and funny. Told from the perspective of Graham Cavanaugh, it’s about his relationships with his first and second wives and his son Matthew. My favorite parts were all focused on Matthew and his forays into a local origami club, who takes their interest in origami very seriously.

The reviews I’ve read of this book are pretty mixed, but I liked it. I enjoyed reading how Graham described his complicated relationship with his pretty awful-sounding wives and how he explains his struggles raising a child with special needs.

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond

Falling squarely into my Read Harder category is Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond. This 2017 Pulitzer Prize winning book explores eviction culture, which is not a phrase I’m familiar with but which totally makes sense. Just like poverty begets poverty, so does a cycle of evictions beget more of the same.

In Evicted, Desmond explores the relationship between evictions and poverty. His research included living in a trailer park, shadowing landlords and in-depth interviews. The end result will change the language future researchers will use when talking to people about evictions.

This book is at times very hard to read, but moves long more quickly than you might think. Desmond focuses on eight families and two landlords. The backgrounds of each is very different, spanning age and race, which helps make the stories more universally applicable. While the focus is Milwaukee, it’s easy to make connections to any other city.

By reading this book, you will get a new understanding of poverty and economic exploitation.

Beartown by Frederik Backman.Beartown by Frederik Backman

Frederik Backman is one of the authors whose books I will always check out. They are rich on character development and deep backstories. For his past few books, I’ve listened versus read them. Joan Walker did the audio for both Britt-Marie Was Here and My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, and she’s wonderful. Her accents! So good. After confirming that Beartown was read by someone else, I moved to the paper version. It’s been nice moving back and forth between format, letting me see how it changes the experience.

I was most taken with how Backman describes community, values and culture: “What is a community? It is the sum total of our choices.” And “values is the fact that we trust each other. That we love each other.” And “culture is as much about what we encourage as what we actually permit.” Isn’t that beautiful? I like it as a way to frame what’s happening in the world. If you look outside and don’t like what you see, you get to make a choice. Are you choosing to let it remain that way? Are you permitting behavior you don’t like? Because you get to help co-create your community and what you see is as much the result of your actions as your inaction.

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline.A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

Every piece of art has a back story. Be it a picture, a song, a vase or a photograph – the finish piece is influenced by a story. In A Piece of the World, Christina Baker Kline shares the back story to Christina’s World, a painting by Andrew Wyeth. Heavily researched, though slightly fictionalized, A Piece of the World  is the story of Christina Olson. Her life is very much confined both by geography and physical ability. Aside from a few brief trips outside of town, Christina spends most of her life on her family farm. An incapacitating illness makes everyday tasks difficult. Despite this small space in which she lives, or maybe because of it, Christina becomes very close friends with artist Andrew Wyeth, who later paints a picture of her.

That much plot summary is enough, I think, for you to look at Wyeth’s painting with a new set of eyes. And the more f this story that you read, the more you will be able to read into the painting. Just this one painting had so much back story. And if you assume even half as much inspiration behind other pieces of art, than there are so many more incredible stories to be told.

Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris.Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris

I love David Sedaris. I have read all his books and many of his essays. I go out of my way to listen to and watch interviews with him and will happily recommend his books. I hope that establishes my admiration of him so what I write next won’t be interpreted as dislike. You have to really like Sedaris to be into Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002. I enjoyed it, but think it also felt like a lot of inside baseball. Like, I was able to connect certain entries with other events, but read as a book straight through… without any knowledge of the author and his life… It would just be a harder read. So if you love Sedaris, check this out. Otherwise, go read one of his other books.

The Reason You're Alive by Matthew Quick.The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick

When I saw that Matthew Quick was coming out with a new book, I preordered it, which I do not do often. I’ve written before about how I love his writing and the way he is able to depict mental illness and mental quirk (not the same thing, I know) in a way that is both funny and respectful. It’s a gift.

What I enjoyed about The Reason You’re Alive is that the main character, David Granger, reminded me of a good friend who is polar opposite of me in terms of his political beliefs. We don’t ever talk about politics, or anything tangentially related to them, because we disagree so vehemently. Reading things from Granger’s point of view was nice because, while I thought most of what came out of his mouth was offensive, the Quick was able to write it in such a way that I could see the good in the person and even the logic behind some of the beliefs with which I disagree. I laughed out loud at several point and thoroughly enjoyed this book.

At Home in the World by Tsh OxenreiderAt Home in the World by Tsh Oxenreider

This book is the story of how Tsh Oxenreider and her family traveled the world over the course of nine months. I enjoyed it more for the thinking it got me doing on my own travel then for the actual story, but that contemplation is worth four stars.

When I saw the table of contents and that she visited 19 countries in nine months, I cringed a little. It seemed so American, and not in a good way. More like a “let’s go on a 10 country tour of Europe in one week” approach to traveling. It’s been in resistance to that approach that I have developed my own style of travel, which is slower and tries to me more immersive. The only place where I didn’t feel like I was being forced acknowledge my own pudginess was in the Oxenreiders’ approach to Arica. Those chapters were hard for me to read. The second largest continent didn’t get much love from their travel itinerary. The logic for their choices was … logical, and theirs. It also seemed to barely scratch the surface.

When I wasn’t critiquing the plan by which some countries were experienced, or cringing at the lackluster experiences in Sri Lanka, my intended destination later this year, I was struck mostly by three thoughts:

  • One was Oxenreider noting that she travels to remember her smallness in the world. I love that. It completely resonated with me as I think about some of what I try to achieve when I leave home. It’s so easy to get caught up in the details of life and it can take a brand new setting to remember how little of it matters or how unimportant so much of it is.
  • I love this line. “I meet feel more American than when I’m abroad.” Despite my knocks on Americans above, it’s only when I travel that I am challenged to identify by my country of origin. It is only then that I start really thinking about the privilege and costs that come with being an American.
  • Oxenreider and her husband travel with their three children and say this of the reason behind it. “We want to show them the world while they’re young. The earlier they see the world, the more normal it is for them. And the younger they start raving, the more normal it is for them. And the younger they start traveling, the better travelers they become.” So much THIS. I’m forever grateful for my grandparents giving me the opportunity to leave the country at 17 because of the pattern it set for the rest of my life. I hope I can help others in the same way.

If you’re a traveler yourself, I recommend this book as a sort of meditation about your own wandering. If you’re a parent considering traveling with young ones, I think this is a good example of how it could work and your reaction to their approach might help you know if it’s for you or not.

The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want by Diane Mulcahy.The Gig Economy: The Complete Guide to Getting Better Work, Taking More Time Off, and Financing the Life You Want by Diane Mulcahy

I am really surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I picked it up as a sort work-related professional development activity to help me better understand a work style I am uncomfortable with. I found myself marking pages and telling people about this book much more than I do many novels.

What struck me in this book were the exercises around defining your values and ensuring that your personal and professional activities both reflect and support those values. There were similar activities with finances, asking if you’re funding a life you want or a lifestyle you don’t even enjoy. As someone who struggles to define long-term, concrete goals, both personally and in my relationships, the way author Diane Mulcahy frames these exercises is great for me.

By the end of it, was I ready to run out and join the gig economy? Nope. Does it still freak me out? A little. But do I get it? Definitely. I’m envious of my friends who have already adopted this employment style and no longer as concerned about them and their future well-being.

Those are my books I would recommend. Have you read anything fabulous so far this Summer? Anything you think I should check out?

Taking the Time for Self-Care and Trying Not to Fly So Close to the Sun

Every now and then, you read something that really resonates with you. Five years ago, I read this post from Kristen Howerton on Rage Against the Minivan, which says: “Mark and I have a little phrase we use when we’ve tried to do something awesome that ended up being too much of a good thing: we flew too close to the sun.”

That phrase, flying too close to the sun, is my life so much of the time. Wonder Boy and I get invited to things and our discussion usually goes something like this:

We got invited to do XXX. Wanna do it?

Or

It’s been too long since we’ve done XXX. Let’s schedule some time!

Here’s the part of the discussion we almost never have: ”Hey, our schedule is pretty full. Should we just say no?” Or, “Hey, you look like you’re about to fall asleep walking you’re so tired. Why don’t we pass and take it easy?”

In short, we don’t often say no. When we do, it’s couched in reasons and apologies and niceties. “No” is a complete sentence.* I need to say “No” more often. It’s a part of self-care that I’m not doing.

Around the new year, I did something really unusual for me. I signed up for a daily subscription meditation, self-improvement thing from Daily Om called “A Year to Clear What is Holding You Back!” My reaction to it is about 80% skeptical, but the $10 I spent has been worth a few of the helpful nuggets. This week the focus is on self-care and the question today asked about types of self-care that take us out of our comfort zone. It’s a timely question for me.

Several months back I won a Snooze or Cruise at work, which is a half day you can use without dipping into days off. As a rule, I don’t use time off unless I’m going somewhere. Days off are like gold to me and I carefully protect them. This free half day has been burning a hole in my pocket, though, and I decided to be frivolous with it – at least frivolous by my standards.

Last night I went to the Tegan and Sara concert and it was wonderful. I sang, I danced and stayed up past 1 am on a school night. Before I went to bed, I didn’t set my alarm so I could snooze and show up at work late. You guys! I got out of bed at 11 am. It was glorious! I feel refreshed and happier than I did yesterday. That contest prize was one of the best ones I’ve won and it has me reconsidering (only a little!) my take on the best ways o use paid time off. Doing nothing but sleeping when I could be going somewhere instead is outside of my comfort zone, but this morning was also much-needed self-care.

I’ve been flying way to close to the sun and I need to make some changes. I need to say no more often and with less excuses and I need to take care of myself more.

How do you make time for self-care? And how to you keep from flying too close to the sun? Seriously, I need tips because I need to make this a priority.

*”No” is a complete sentence is not an original thought, but too many people claim it online and in print for me to attribute to anyone accurately.

The Challenges of Being a Reader: A Month in Books

My shtick of late is to always have two books going – one audio that I listen while in the car and while walking to work and a paper one to read in bed, at the gym and when I find spare time. It’s a great plan, but financially prohibitive if I buy the books. I’ve been relying heavily on my local library, with some used books thrown into the mix. I love the library. LOVE. But waiting for books to come available does has its downsides. On occasion, I find myself reading filler books. Combine that with the duds that naturally fall into any mix, and it means that a month in books can be filled with ups and downs. This past month certainly was. If you can look past the duds, though, you’ll find some real gems.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

In my ongoing effort to read books on the banned list, I read Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. It reiterated my belief that all banned books are banned out of fear, which is too bad and seemingly counterproductive to the goal of banning. After all, I never would have found out about this novel had it not been banned.

The plot idea behind Two Boys Kissing is a novel one. It’s told from the perspective of gay men who have died and are looking down over current gay boys, sort of like angels. These men who have passed on have the benefit of knowing how things were versus how they are, of knowing how the AIDS epidemic effected their population in the 1980s and of having grown. It is from their perspective that you hear about boys who are contemplating suicide or running away from home. It’s from them that you hear how wonderfully one boy’s mom handles her son’s coming out and how another boy might be able to handle his parents rejection.

I’ve never read anything like this before and really liked it.

Eventide by Kent Haruf.Eventide by Kent Haruf

Eventide is the second in the Plainsong trilogy by Kent Haruf. My mom passed these on to me saying that she loved them but that my dad found them too slow. That’s sort of a mixed endorsement, so I’ve not been rushing to read the books.

I enjoyed Plainsong but it was sloooow. Eventide was the same way, but I knew what to expect this time. Do you have anything in your life that is kind of boring but which you appreciate for it’s steadiness and sameness? That’s how I felt about this book, and the series up until now. It’s  selection of well-told stories about small-town America and the exciting plot twists are barely exciting and that’s sort of lovely. In a time of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train where the focus is on the plot twist or the unreliable narrator, breaks of slow and steady are just fine by me.

Thinking in Systems by Donella H Meadows and Diana Wright .Thinking in Systems by Donnella H. Meadows

I read this for work. Pro: I got paid for reading! Con: This isn’t the sort of book I would ever read of my own accord. Ever.

Last year during my annual review, I had to select a development activity that would help me in a competency related to work. I picked systems thinking and selected a suggested book because I like to read so how bad could it be? I was a sucker! After complaining about how bad the book selection was, Thinking in Systems was recommended to me as an alternative. It was tremendously better, but still a little wonky.

Did you watch The Wire? No? Stop reading this and go watch that. Seriously. Then come back and I’ll continue with what this book is about. You did watch it? Perfect.

You know the drugs dealers on The Wire? Well, they are a perfect illustration of systems thinking. In the show, the dealers create demand by giving people free or cheap access to drugs. Then they drive up the price, which makes the buyers desperate, which leads to crime, which involves the police. Both the increased use of drugs and the rise in crime has an effect on the students in the school system, which also involves police. This gets the notice of the politicians, who are in bed with the unions, and the journalists, who are trying to piece together the puzzle. Even if you stop the problem of right now, it will start again because it is cyclical. And that’s my bastardized summary of both the show and systems thinking, so now you don’t need to read the book. But seriously, you do need to watch the The Wire.

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day.The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

My entire knowledge of the legal system is informed by Law & Order – both the original series and SVU. While I am not sure why I like those shows, I know I do. From that, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day. Was it a deep, literary experience that will stay with me for years to come? Nope. Was it an enjoyable distraction from everyday life? Yep.

The main character in The Day I Died is Anna Winger. She has a mysterious past that comes out in fits and starts throughout the book. She also has an expertise in handwriting that I found fascinating. (Can you really know about someone’s insecurities, impotence or predilection for drinking just from their handwriting???) Rader-Day writes a fast-paced story that is entertaining until the end.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham.Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

There are certain prolific authors I count on to be consistently entertaining. I don’t require anything beyond entertainment from them. These include Michael Crichton, Jodi Picoult and John Grisham. I don’t include any of these writers on my favorite authors list, but if stuck at the airport with nothing to read, I’d happily pick up one of their books. Earlier when I said that the library sometimes leaves me in a lurch while I wait for books to become available? I rely on these same types of authors then. This time, FAIL.

John Grisham has written almost 40 books (based on a quick internet search), so I don’t feel terrible saying Rogue Lawyer was a dud. The main character is an ass and it was just unenjoyable. If you’re stuck waiting on the library or need a book at the airport, skip this one.

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear.Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

Much like Rogue Lawyer, I picked Journey to Munich because it was available right away from the library as an audio book. I’ve always enjoyed World War II stories and I love a good mystery or spy story, so what could go wrong? Nothing really, but the only way I can write about this book is to look up what its about because I’ve completely forgotten. That, to me, speaks volumes.

 

 

Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence.Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrenc

As part of my attempt to read harder, I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I picked up from the library book sale last year. The copy I had was such an old edition that I was constantly reminded that this book, published in 1928, is old. Why is that important? Because it was also one of the filthiest books I’ve read in a long time, with many uses of the words f*** and c***. Here’s a quote that seems representative, though cleaner.

Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis … he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine.

I’m not easily offended by language – just surprised – so Lady Chatterley’s Lover was okay from that perspective. I think I probably could have told the whole story in about one chapter instead of 19, but it was a good addition to my read harder campaign. And a nice reinforcement of this quote:

There is no new thing under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan.The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Always on the lookout for a new side hustle, or primary hustle, The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan has me wondering if I could open some sort of traveling bookshop. It’s like an expansion of my earlier book-inspired idea to hand out literary prescriptions, and involves little overhead. We used to have book mobiles when I was in grade school. Do you think those could still work? Only for adults, too? Serious question.

This book is about a woman named Nina who is laid off from her librarian job and spins that event into a job change in Scotland, and cute boys are involved. It’s a great book for beaches and traveling. And career inspiration.

The Goldon Age by Joan London.The Golden Age by Joan London

When an author I love, particularly one who writes about books, makes a book recommendation, I listen. A while back, my mom and I attended a book reading by Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, and he suggested The Golden Age by Joan London (not that Joan London). I read it on a recent trip in Florida and it was lovely. Maybe lovely is the wrong word, because it wasn’t the happiest book, but it was beautifully written. Its about polio patients in a care home in Australia in the 1950s. That’s not something I’ve ever read much about, so I was particularly interested. Check it out.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.Lilac Girls  by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly wrecked me. I mean, I wholeheartedly recommend it, but it wrecked me. I read it on the beach (it’s not a beach read), while drinking too much (it’s not a book to be read while over-served) and surrounded by surgically enhanced people vacationing in Miami (it’s not a book to be read around people who freely engage in optional surgeries). And still, despite these less than perfect surroundings, love.

I mentioned earlier that I enjoy World War II novels. I do, but the terrain is well traveled and it’s hard to find stories that introduce you to something new. Lilac Girls explores a concentration camp where women were operated on to study the effects of war on people. By this I mean that terrible experiments were performed on perfectly healthy people just to answer, “What if…?” What’s interesting about this book, though, is that it s told from the perspective of several characters, including a female doctor who performed the surgeries. It takes you into head spaces you’d probably rather not enter, and I think that’s such an interesting achievement by an author.

While I absolutely do not recommend you read this on the beach with a cocktail in hand and fake breasts all around you, I do suggest that you read Lilac Girls. It’s wonderful.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Earlier, I referred to this as “a time of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train.” I didn’t mean that as a good thing, though I think many people would disagree with me. Into the Water is Paula Hawkins newest book, following her success with Girl on a Train. I think this book is awful. It’s also a New York Times bestseller, so I know I don’t speak for the people on this one. But seriously. In English class when your teacher would tell you to show, not tell? Hawkins didn’t get that message. At so many points in this book there is some hurdle in the plot and the resolution is for a character to say “and then this so this,” even if it makes no logical sense at all.

I’m the dumb-dumb who read this book despite not liking Hawkins’ earlier novel. If you loved Girl on a Train, like so many people did, you might love this. If you didn’t, don’t make the same mistake I did and read this book.

April: My Month in Books

I recently signed up for a new email newsletter called Make America Read Again by Hillary Copsey and a standing section in the newsletter is called “Read Harder.” I love this sentiment. It aligns with what I’ve been trying to do this year in terms of reading classic novels and books that challenge me. The month of April included no classic novels, although one retelling of a classic novel that challenged me in unintended ways, but did include several books that pushed my thinking.

Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick,Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick

I love all novels by Matthew Quick. All. To my knowledge, the only one I haven’t read is the Silver Linings Playbook, but that’s only because I saw the movie first and it’s just so out of order. What I like about Quick is that he writes about mental illness and social awkwardness and general weirdness so well, so respectfully and with such a great infusion of humor. In Sorta Like a Rockstar, a YA novel, Amber Appleton lives on a bus and is surviving with little help from her mom but lots of help from an oddball support system she’s created for herself. Also, her pet dog is named Bobby Big Boy, or Thrice B, and I love that. If you don’t enjoy YA novels, skip this. Otherwise, I thoroughly recommend.

And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer.And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer

I’m not sure where I found out about And After the Fire (I wish I could annotate my To Read list in Goodreads), but it was all right. I didn’t find it to be amazing, but definitely interesting. Don’t listen too closely to me on that though, because it turns out last year I gave a book only one star and then it later went on to win a Pulitzer. So…
And After the Fire is the story about an original piece of music from Johann Sebastian Bach that was gifted to a Jewish woman and then later stolen during World War II. It jumps back and forth in time between people learning about the music and the story behind how the music was gifted. I’ve read many stories taking place in World War II and this one was unique. I’m not sure why it fell flat for me, but I think it had more to do with the present-day aspects.
Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amanu Al-Khatahbeh

Amanu Al-Khatahbeh is the founder of MuslimGirl.com, which is a place for Muslim girls to connect and own their own narrative. What Al-Khatahbeh has created is amazing and her story, as told in Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, is interesting. I struggled reading this because I think the book has flaws from a literary perspective, but I’m hesitant to state them for fear of them sounding like critiques of her or her story. Where I left in my own internal conversations was that I was happy I read this and I that I intend to view it as one piece of a series of stories. It’s my job to find other women’ stories that I can add to the collection – stories that represent Muslim women but women of different ages and more varied experiences. All that said, I’d recommend reading Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age. It’s very clear at the end of the book that Al-Khatahbeh has a long, successful career ahead of her. By reading the book now, I feel like I am a little getting to the party, but still ahead of many others.

Gunslinger by Stephen King.

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

Here’s the deal. I read this book because it’s going to be a movie this summer starring Idris Elba. I think Elba is one of the most handsome actors out there, and that was motivation enough for me. All that said. I. Did. Not. Understand. ANY. Of. This. Book.

Maybe the movie will make more sense to me?

 

 

The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon.The Song Rising (The Bone Season #3) by Samantha Shannon

I read the first in The Bone Season series in 2014. In the introduction of the first book, Samantha Shannon stated it would be the first in a seven-part series. I thought that was such a audacious statement to say about your first novel that I was hooked before I started. The Bone Season series is dystopian fiction that pulls from all of the tropes you know, but it’s darker than many of the books I read and complicated without getting too bogged down in its huge cast of characters. If you’re interested in a new sci-fi series, check this one out.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Earlier this year I read Pride and Prejudice and just could’t see what the fuss was about. Eligible is a modern day retelling of that classic novel and set in my hometown of Cincinnati. It should have made the classic novel knowable to me, right? I hated it even more. I don’t think that’s the fault of Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing, though. If’ I am being picky about the writing itself, I’ll say that I thought placing the plot in Cincinnati was a bust because she included way too much detail. Had she tried less and maybe halved the localized details, I would have been more of a fan. Listening to characters running routes was like listening to Siri, in not a good way. That gripe aside, my main issue with the book, and the one it’s based on, is that I find the people to be deplorable. By setting the story in Cincinnati, Sittenfeld successfully pulled out every aspect I disliked about the wealthy girls at my high school and amplified those traits tenfold. I happily invite anyone to sit down with me and explain why either Eligible or Pride and Prejudice is beloved. Until then, yuck.

The Winemakers by Jan Moran.

The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran

If you’re looking for a fluffy Summer read, check out The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran. It’s an entertaining romance that takes place in vineyards both in California and Italy. There is a near-incestual aspect of the plot that’s a little gross, but aside from that, grab a glass of wine, sit outside and enjoy.

 

 

 

Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins.

Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins

Wonder Boy is obsessed with Phil Collins. Loves him. Named his car Phil Collins in homage. So when I started reading Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins, it was sort of a joke and sort of a way for me to expand my knowledge about my husband’s favorite musician. I was being a little glib, but also honest, when I rated this book as such: First half gets four stars and second half gets three, just like his career. Glib but accurate. The earlier part of Phil Collins career is fascinating and hearing him tell of it is like going back in time to great music history. As he aged, though, his insecurities got in his way. I don’t think that’s me being judge-y; he says as much. For music fans and people who love music trivia, I would at least suggest the first half of the book. When he gets to marriage number two, you can probably set it aside.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance.Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I have a lot of friends and family who grew up poor and have their roots in Kentucky. Reading Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis gave me such insight into their life. I have increased appreciation and admiration for the people who “got out,” by which I mean moved out of poverty, earned an education and ended a cycle of poverty that potentially goes back generations. J.D. Vance, the author, is strikingly honest in this book. Because he grew up partially in Middletown, Ohio, which is just up the highway form me, a lot of his stories hit close to home, literally and figuratively. I can’t recommend this book enough, have already suggested it to many and am looking forward to hearing him speak in September at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Long Ago and Far Away by John Coyne.

Long Ago and Far Away by John Coyne

Although the plan itself feel very long ago and far away, last Fall, Wonder Boy and I were planning on visiting Ethiopia. As in my norm, I started researching by getting lots of novels that take place in that country. And then the trip had to be cancelled due to political unrest and my books started collecting dust.

Well, our visas are still good and we’re planning for this Fall and Ethiopia could (unlikely) be on the table as a destination, so I went back to my bookshelf. Long Ago and Far Away is about a groups of young people’s experience in Ethiopia in the 1970s just before the Ethiopian Civil War, as told in flashbacks. By having the different characters reflect on that time in Ethiopia, just before the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie, author John Coyne is able to share the anxiety and danger of being a resident in that country at that time without distracting from the main plot line. Despite the fact that the book is really about murder and isn’t exactly happy, Long Ago and Far Away made me more excited to visit Ethiopia. Travel research success.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan.The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Remember when I said one goal for reading this month was to “read harder” or challenge myself? Well, The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan certainly fits the bill. It was good for me though, especially during this tumultuous political climate where, for the first time ever, I find myself a little scared to travel the world. Did this book about suicide bomber make me feel better about traveling? Of course not! But it gave me the teeniest, tiniest, most minuscule encouragement to try and learn more about the violent situations I read about before making judgement. My main takeaway from the book is the nothing is as simple as it might appear on face value. How I’m translating that to action is to try and keep myself better informed and to do so from multiple perspectives.

George by Alex Gino.George by Alex Gino

My second favorite April read was George by Alex Gino. For whatever reason, I added all of the top ten banned books for 2016 that I haven’t yet read to my reading list. Common theme: people are scared. That’s the only reason I can think of for why anyone would ban books.

George is a delightfully sweet book about a girl who is born a boy. It’s a feat of playing with pronouns and challenging me to be more careful in how I apply the words she, he, his and hers. It’s gives guidance on how to be supportive, under the guise of a children’s book. I’ll be keeping this one in mind as I interact with questioning young folk and suggesting it to kids and adults who are doing the same. Banned by damned.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave.Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave

Do you like to be able to guess how a book will end? I don’t. I mean, I feel clever when I do, and sometimes it helps prevent heartache or reduce the terror. But in general, I want to be surprised. I like when I story doesn’t follow the tried and true course. A lot of people I know loved La La Land but hated the ending. I thought the movie was just okay but loved the ending. I don’t think it’s me being contrarian, although that’s certainly a possibility. Life just doesn’t always work out so neatly and I don’t believe books should either.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave is about a family at the brink of implosion. Georgia returns home because her relationship is falling apart. She’s in good company because her parents and brother are experiencing the same. The Sonoma County vineyard her father runs is in the process of being sold, which means the foundation Georgia could always rely on is going away. Throughout the story, pieces fall apart and fit together and people gets their acts together. If you’re like me, you’ll complete the puzzle in the first quarter of the book.

This was a nice story. A nice, forgettable Summer read that is great for any vacation or time in the park.

Wanderlust: Seeing the World via Public Transit

When you visit a new place, how do you try to ensure an authentic experience? For me, it’s through public transit. While I certainly don’t accomplish it in every new place I visit, public transportation has provided with me with an inexpensive insight into many new places. That realization dates back to my second international trip when Delicious and I realized how cheaply we could explore Portugal. At that point, budget was one of our top priorities so it was wonderful. A side benefit was that we saw the countryside and met a lot of new people. Since then, I’ve ridden tuk-tuks, subways, trans, buses, junks, motorbikes and boats. It’s my favorite way to travel and, I think, gives me the best exposure to a place and its residents.

Riding the suite, or subway, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

 

Riding the train to Aguas Client, Peru.

 

Riding in a junk in Halong Bay, Vietnam.

 

Riding in a Tuk Tuk in Ica, Peru.

When you’re fulfilling your wanderlust, how do you travel?