Oct 20, 2014

Books Read From Ohio to Halfway Around the World And Back

My Weeks in Books

If nothing else, vacation offers a wonderful time to catch up on reading. I’ve been growing my To Read list for a while now, without making much progress at actually reading the books. For a recent two week trip, I packed eleven books (it’s always better to have too many than not enough!) and read eight.

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Several of my books for this trip were selected based on previous reads from the same authors. That was the case with my first book, Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. The Lowland was one of my favorite books from last year and I find just about everything Lahiri writes to be perfection. Unaccustomed Earth did not let me down.

This book of short stories looks at the differences between expatriate Bengali parents and their American-born or American-raised children. The stories overlap some, but the merging of story lines isn’t really necessary. Each stands alone just fine. One regret I do have is reading these stories all in one go during a plane flight. They would have been better spread out over a period of days or weeks. That just didn’t fit with my make-more-room-in-my-luggage-by-reading-and-giving-away-books plan.

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If someone I don’t know well asks for a book recommendation, I always suggest Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese. The book has appeal for people of such a wide variety of interests and it’s just so good. I’m not sure why, but I had never explored Verghese’s other books and just happened upon The Tennis Partner while at the used bookstore. I can’t say enough how happy I am that I read Cutting for Stone first. It’s a much better novel and the one I’m choosing to associate with Verghese.

The Tennis Partner is about a relationship between a doctor and a medical student. The two bond over tennis and find themselves looking forward to their scheduled matches as a release from the stresses of life – both at work and at home. Through the character of David Smith, Verghese offers an interesting exploration into addiction and the practice of medicine. Beyond that, the book simply wasn’t memorable for me.

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I listened to The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as an audio book. In this mystery, Sherlock Holmes must help Henry Baskerville after the mysterious death of his uncle, Sir Charles. Family lore has it that an enormous hound resides on the moors in Devon, threatening the Baskerville family. Henry doesn’t want to meet his end on his newly inherited estate.

I enjoyed the rural setting for The Hound of the Baskervilles. The story itself dragged on a bit in the middle but was, in the end, really quite good.

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I have no shame in admitting how much I loved The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – both the book and the movie. That book was my only basis for comparison when I started Looking for Alaska, but it might have been the perfect measuring stick.

Looking for Alaska takes place at a boarding school and involves the relationships between a group of students. Like any group of friends, one person is really the glue holding everyone together and in this instance it’s a girl names Alaska. Like any good teen story, the characters in Looking for Alaska all carry their own baggage. And drama ensues.

Green excels at young adult novels. They might not be the deepest reading, but they’re thoroughly enjoyable. I have more reaction to share on this book, but I’ll do that in a later post.

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Here’s my confession. The book Gone Girl? I hated it. And I know it’s this whole phenomenon now and the movie is supposed to be so good, but I can’t get past the fact that I just didn’t get into the book. I say all that so you understand what I mean when I say that fans of Gone Girl will love Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight. I mean, if I’m going to give a back-handed compliment, I want you to be aware that I’m aware of what I’m doing, right?

In Reconstructing Amelia, Kate Baron learns that her daughter has committed suicide. What is a seemingly simple case of teen taking her own life becomes much more complicated when Kate gets an anonymous text: “Amelia didn't jump.” That leads Kate and readers down a path to solving the real story behind Amelia’s death.

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I learned about The Girl Who Fell from the Sky by Heidi W. Durrow from Kat Chow on an episode of Pop Culture Happy Hour. I knew very little about the book except that it might be heavier reading offering an exploration of race. It was that, but so much more.

Durrow is the daughter of an African-American enlisted Air Force man and a white Danish woman. It is from this background that she draws as she writes about Rachel, who shares the same racial background. After a family tragedy of epic proportions, Rachel moves out West with her grandmother. There her racial identity moves from unimportant or undefined to very clearly, according to Rachel’s grandmother, African American. Her peers see Rachel's hair and eye color and have their own thoughts about her race.

Durrow offers a great exploration of race when it isn't so clearly defined as well as mixed race relationships and how they play out in families, society and self-identification. The Girl Who Feel From the Sky is definitely a worthwhile read.

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A Woman of Substance by Barbara Taylor Bradford is an epic romance novel that’s pretty predictable. I feel guilty writing this knowing that I passed on the book to my sister (but I really think she might like it!) but about 2/3 of the way through A Woman of Substance I sort of wondering if I'd read it before. Clocking in at 906 pages, I feel certain I could have halved the length by editing down lengthy descriptions and the tiresome number of times people commented on the beauty, wit and cunning of the main character.

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Remember when just a little while ago I said about John Green, he “excels at young adult novels”? That opinion is diminished a bit by my reading of An Abundance of Katherines, also by John Green. I love a good Young Adult novel and don't normally mind that I'm not the target audience. Maybe this book had a little too much Young in the Young Adult?

If nothing else, vacation offers a wonderful time to catch up on reading. These were the books that accompanied from Ohio to Nepal and back.

Oct 6, 2014

Is Hearing a Book the Same as Reading a Book?

A woman I work with “reads” while she works. She does this by listening to audio books while she does her work. I have a number of questions about this.(How good is her work? Is that even doable? What???) but the main one I get stuck on is, Is that really reading?

My brother listens to a lot of audio books and he usually qualifies it. “I’m reading… Well, listening to it…” That clarification he feels like he needs make – I get it. But I’m not sure it’s necessary.

I’ve recently started listening to audio books for the first time since I used to get books on cassette at the library. I’m qualifying the books as having been read. By me. But I’m not sure if that’s true. Since no actual reading is occurring. That seems like an essential element, you know?

What’s great about an audio book, particularly one read aloud by the right person, is that the tone and inflection of voice helps explain the words I might not understand. There are descriptive passages I typically get bored with in books and skim. With an audio book, I hear it all. For period pieces or novels with unique dialects, the audio helps add context to what’s being said.

What I love about paper books is the tactile nature of it. If you ask me about part of a book, I can usually remember if that part was in the first or second half of the book and if the text was on a right or left page in the book. Touching, holding and smelling the book gives me other senses by which to take in the story.

I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts on my iPod and iPhone and while I don’t remember all of them, I think most of it sticks. I read 50-80 (paper) books a year and a lot of those are so forgettable that I’m not sure I could tell you about them a week later. (This mostly applies to the chic lit and beach reads.) I’m curious to see how this audio experiment goes. Will it stick?

What do you think? Does listening to an audio book count as a reading a book?
 Does listening to an audio book count as a reading a book?

Oct 2, 2014

Reflecting on Mahatma Gandhi's Words on His Birthday

Live as if you were to die tomorrow.
Learn as if you were to live forever. 
- Mahatma Gandhi
The above quote by Gandhi, who was born this day in 1869, summarizes my perspective on living and learning pretty much perfectly.  Two very short sentences with very big meaning.

Learning? I have that down pretty well. I love to take classes and I try to push myself to read books that teach me about new cultures, places and time periods.

Living like you might die tomorrow is harder though.

When Wonder Boy and I first started dating, he lived by the mantra, "You can sleep when you're dead." We've long since given that up because I really like sleep. He's a pretty big fan, too. But the spirit of that, sleeping when you're dead, is that we shouldn't make all of our decisions based on a work week. That sometimes having fun means staying out late. Or waking up early.

I don't think what Wonder Boy was saying is too different from "Live as if you were to die tomorrow."

Implementing that philosophy in life is difficult because, realistically, sometimes my favorite part of the day is curling up on the couch next to Wonder Boy with dinner in lap and watching The Wire, or whatever our current favorite television series is. If I knew I was going to die the next day, would I do that? Probably not. But it makes me happy so I think its worth doing.

Finding that balance is hard. Seizing life. Enjoying life. Being happy. Sometimes those things are contradictory.

But as a goal towards which to strive, this is pretty good. "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever."

Inspirational quote from Mahatma Ghandi.

Oct 1, 2014

BOOK IT is Back!

Do you remember BOOK IT? I think I started the program in the third grade. For every certain number of books I read, I earned a free pizza. I ended up earning a LOT of free pizza. So much pizza that my teacher brought my mom in for a meeting and said I couldn’t actually be reading all of the books I was claiming.

I proved her wrong by being able to discuss the plot-lines. Non-competitive in gym class, I was a competitive reader. And I loved pizza.

So imagine my joy upon hearing that BOOK IT is coming back!!!

I know I can participate in it (right?) but I am so happy to know that my nephews might get to. Books plus free pizza is a winning combination!
BOOK IT is backl