Reading List

Reading List: July 5, 2016

Heat & Light: A Novel, by Jennifer Haigh

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell: A Novel, by Susanna Clarke

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea, by Chelsea Handler

Dreams from My Father, by Barack Obama

First Love, Last Rites: Stories, by Ian McEwan

On Deck:

The Rowan Tree, by Robert W. Fuller

Mr. Kiss and Tell, by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan

Wuthering Heights, by Emily Bronte

Waking Kate, by Sarah Addison Allen

The Beggar King, by Oliver Potzsch

Before the Fall, by Noah Fawley

Modern Lovers, by Emma Straub

The Veins of the Ocean, by Patricia Engel

Sleeping Giants, by Sylvain Nuevel

Missing, Presumed, by Susie Steiner

Lost Lake: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen

First Front: A Novel, by Sarah Addison Allen

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Hello Again

It’s been a while. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

A few months ago, I stumbled onto a wonderful blog called Modern Mrs. Darcy. Anne is a reader – an avid reader. She posts reviews, recommendations, reading lists – and my personal favorite – literary flights. After a few weeks of following her blog, I realized we have very similar tastes in books, and began a list of her recommendations.

Then I picked up a book and started reading.

Summer is usually the easiest time to get lost in a book. Work slows down. Week long vacations loom. Porch sitting beckons.

For me, this year has been a glaring exception. Eric and I recently purchased our first house, and between the house-hunting, the closing process, and the packing – life has been cluttered, inconvenient, busy, loud and stressful. But I found that sitting in front of the TV with my fiance was just not a relaxing way to calm the noise. It only made it worse.

So I picked up A History of God. This is a book I purchased in 2007, and never made it past the first chapter. I love learning about history and religion, and have always wanted to be more educated. Raised in Judaism, Christianity and Islam have always fascinated me. Unfortunately, this book was far too dry, and while I did finally finish the first chapter, having unhappily powered through, I remain 5 paged into the second, and have decided to let it go. There are far too many unread stories left to spend my time reading something out of stubbornness or guilt.

So then I went to Barnes and Noble, a real life, brick and mortar bookstore, and bought The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. Every few weeks, I’ll pick it up and read another story. I’m new to her as an author, but her writing is gorgeous and sad.

I decided what I really wanted and had been missing terribly, was a story you could get lost in. I’ve had Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell on my Kindle app for ages, reading a few pages at a time, but never delving into it. One night, I picked it up, and just barrelled through. I’m only just past Part 2, but it’s a lovely.

THEN I heard about Book of the Month, and got & Sons and Heat & Light in my first subscription. & Sons was a gorgeous novel, sad, funny, disturbing, and familiar. Review to come. I’m almost finished with Heat & Light, and I have some issues with it, but overall it’s another great, eye opening novel.

I’ve also read Garden Spells (another review to come), The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up (a Modern Mrs. Darcy recommendation) and My Name is Lucy Barton (an Oglethorpe Book Club recommendation from my favorite professor).

I’ve started up on Audible again, and listened to The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (another MMD recommendation, but as a continuation of Veronica Mars, and narrated by Kristen Bell herself – it didn’t take much convincing). I’m also nearly finished with Chelsea Handler’s Are You There Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.

Lastly, Eric and I read The Gunslinger together. I started on a lark, I was sitting on the front porch, reading the first few pages, when he came out to join me. He asked what I was reading, I told him and gave him a brief description. He was really interested in reading it as well, so I asked if he wanted me to read him a few pages. He said yes, and we ended up reading the whole book together. Sometimes on the front porch after work over an ice cold beer. Sometimes in the car on a trip down to Louisville or up to the beach. We didn’t read it every day, but it was just a very nice way to spend time together that didn’t involve getting lost in another 3 hours of loud comedies on TV. I’m sure this is something we’ll continue with the next installment.

So I guess that’s a fair summary of what I’ve been up to. I’ve had a lot of thoughts on reading and writing lately, and I really just want to start writing some of it down. I won’t make any proclamations about the structure of this blog, but there are new reviews to come, and I may reach back through the last 2 years and write about a few more books that have stuck with me. Who knows?

What I do know is that I love the feeling I get when I’m in a season of reading. Embarrassingly, I’ll go months without picking up a book, but once I do and the floodgates open, I feel more possibilities. I feel happier and more content. That’s the beauty of literature, I suppose.

Book Reviews

Review: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – April 2013

is everyone hanging out without me Firstly, I’ve learned that I really need to write my reviews much closer to the time that I finish the book. And this is especially true with audio books. It’s much more difficult to go back and refresh my memory for the details.

That being said, I really enjoyed this audio book. I love that Mindy Kaling narrates, because she is inherently funny and, much like with Tina Fey’s Bossypants, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me (And Other Concerns) feels like an extended intimate stand-up routine. Kaling weaves a story of growing up in Boston, dating, working, managing a career, and being single (all while being a “woman of color,” natch). I love hearing completely relatable personal stories and hilarious anecdotes from women I admire.

I have two complaint with the audio book format for this particular book. The first is that Mindy Kaling uses a ton of lists, and hearing them over and over feels very repetitive and not terrible funny. I don’t think I would have this problem if I were just reading the text, and I can’t really explain why. I think it has something to do with the nature of intimate story-telling and listening to the writer narrate, that makes that specific writing trick underwhelming when heard (and not when read).

Also jarring was her use of two male voices, so that some vignettes were more like scenes in an audio play, rather than a simple story being told. I think this only bothered me because it was unusual, but it didn’t take away any enjoyment.

So. The book was good. Legitimately enjoyable. But not great. It hasn’t really stuck with me in the way that some of the other books I’ve read this year have.

I really wish I’d written this sooner. 3.5 Stars

Book Reviews · DNF · Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts III and My First DNF: Beautiful Creatures

Become a Better Writer by Learning to Become a Skilled Reader First

I came across this surprisingly poignant article on reading and writing. The first section, “Skip Sections”, struck a cord with me. The images of the eye-tracking study are particularly familiar, as I am regularly guilty of reading only bolded and bulleted information in long blog/web entries.

Then came the “Quit Altogether” section. I’ll get to that in a moment.

The remainder of the article, which I did actually read in detail, was very smart with helpful tips and inspiring quotes. I’m sure I’ll go back and read it again (see: Nabokov, Vladimir), and perhaps take notes (see: Parrish, Shane). I love the idea of reading material outside of one’s comfort zone, which is partially what this little project of mine is all about. Sure I have some favorites authors in here, but memoirs and essays? Historically, those have not been my bag, baby.

Anyway, I definitely recommend the article, so have at it.

DNF: Beautiful Creatures

I can’t remember the first time I saw the trailer for Beautiful Creatures, but I do remember that I was very excited. Southern Gothic? Check. Supernatural? Check. Decent Acting Talent? Check.

Because the movie was based on a YA novel, and because YA novels are notoriously “easy” reads, I decided to check out the book first. I downloaded a sample chapter onto my Kindle and, within 3 pages, decided not to finish it in that medium.

I thought perhaps listening to it would be better, the reader potentially giving it more depth with his performance. I purchased it through Audible, and listened to about 45 minutes (one commute to work) before deciding that, no, the narrator added nothing.

So I caved and rented the movie the other day, thinking perhaps it would give me more insight, and I could go back to the audiobook afterward. But unfortunately, the plot and dialogue were just too convoluted and stunted, respectively, to warrant any more time. It’s unfortunate, really.

So. I quit altogether. “Reading is meant to be a fun activity. Your brain doesn’t want to slog through something it finds boring.” Or offensive. There’s too much good stuff out there that I haven’t read yet to spend anymore time on something so dreadfully, depressingly boring.

Firstly, I know that I am not Shakespeare, or Faulkner, or Gaiman. I write this little blog for fun, to improve my skills, and if I raise a decent amount of money, I’m happy. So, please know that I am fully self-aware when I give this next criticism.

The writing is bad. Like SO bad. Like O.M.G. bad. The Stereotypes. And Tropes. Are bad.*

The dialogue, the names, everything just smacks of my first attempts at writing short stories in high school. Any southerner, teenager, or black person who reads it should be offended. You have to hide your NYT so your town doesn’t judge you? Everyone still calls the Civil War the War of Northern Aggression or the War Between the States? A mammy magical negro? REALLY?

No thank you. So for the first time in a long time, I Did Not Finish. I highly recommend skipping all iterations of this trashy attempt at cashing in on the Twilight craze.

*Game of Thrones Season 3 Spoilers

Book Reviews

Review: The Graveyard Book – March 2013

the graveyard bookNobody Owens, Bod to his friends, is a normal boy growing up in a decidedly abnormal way. The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, opens with the horrific triple homicide of Bod’s family when Bod is only a year or so old. Through a series of miracle-like coincidences, baby Bod makes his way into a nearby graveyard at the exact same moment the man Jack is committing the murders. Once the residents of the graveyard realize the murderer is still searching for the innocent and helpless little boy, they decide to protect him, granting him the Freedom of the Graveyard.

An ominous beginning for such a future hero. The Graveyard Book follows Bod through childhood and adolescence, adventures and education, and finally to his inevitable encounter with (not really a SPOILER if you understand story structure at all) the man Jack.

I liked this book. The world of the Graveyard was fully fleshed out (pun intended) and felt real and a little magical. The story is told through third person limited perspective, and this worked really well because it kept the mystery in the context of Bod’s perception. Bod doesn’t receive a normal education, and therefore he doesn’t act or respond to things in the way a “normal” child would. He is mature for his age in some ways, and yet believably naive in others.

My only minor complaint is that I don’t think this is a Children’s Book, as it’s being categorized  but I’m kind of a prude when it comes to dealing with death.

Overall, it’s not my favorite work from Mr. Gaiman, but it’s an enjoyable and quick read. 3.5 Stars

Random Thoughts

Here I am, Back Home Again

I bet you thought I’d forgotten you. I did not. I’ve finished about 6 books in the past 4 months. Admittedly, that puts me very far behind on this project, but I’m working hard to catch up. You’ll be seeing reviews of the following over the next few days:

In between my Mad Men rewatch and recovery from my wisdom teeth extractions, I promise to catch up. Somehow. I’m about 16 books behind, but that’s why God created audiobooks, amirite?

Book Reviews

Review: What I Talk About When I Talk About Running – March 2013

WITAWITARHaruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is a lot of things, but first and foremost it is a series of personal essays documenting a writer’s training program leading up to the New York City Marathon. It is a memoir, chronicling  the life of a former smoker and bar owner, novelist, professor and runner. It is a memory of one man’s journey from Athens to Marathon. It is running as a metaphor for writing and writing as a metaphor for running. It is a beautiful story about aging gracefully. It is a sad and heartwarming story of the inherent tragedy of an aging athlete.

This book was lovingly crafted by Murakami to tell a very intimate story about his own life, his own experiences, and his own struggles with a very personal sport. I related to some parts and found myself inspired by others. The fluid storytelling, the beautiful imagery, and the painstakingly detailed physicality were all so incredibly written that I was engaged from the first words, and didn’t let up until the last.

One note – I would not recommend listening to this book. The narrator was great, but Murakami jumps around so often in his personal timeline that I found it hard to keep up, and had no easy way to reference the When. Obviously for me, this did not detract immensely from the book, but it was enough that towards the end I was a little frustrated.

Overall, I would definitely purchase this book and keep it around to read again from time to time. 5 Stars

(See also: Random Thoughts II)

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts Special: Google Reader

+ The prognosis isn’t good. Google is dying. 2005-2013, RIP.

I use Google Reader daily. It is my lifeline to the outside world when I sit at my desk for 8-10 hours any given day. Google Reader clues me in on movie news via Pajiba. It tells my what my favorite bloggers have eaten. It keeps me informed about the goings on in my industry. And it shows me ALLTHEPRETTYPEEKTURS. So finding out that Google had decided to can my beloved break-time cultural oasis was…difficult. I took it pretty hard.

1. Denial – This can’t really happen, can it? No. They’re just trying to shore up more interest in the site. Surely with a petition, Twitter campaign, bottles of hot sauce and subway sandwiches and KICKSTARTER, we can undo this madness. It’s not really real. This isn’t real life.

2. Anger – How can Google do this? I mean seriously? Don’t they understand how vital Google Reader is to the blogging community. To the blogging industry as a whole? And what about us lowly desk jockeys who use it as our one stop (read: one URL) shop for all things media – news, pop culture, daily living? What are we supposed to do? Bookmark every website and visit them ALL? That’s RIDICULOUS!

3. Bargaining – What does it really take to run Google Reader anyway? Some server space? Surely we can band together and pay for that ourselves. C’mon Google. Just give us the technology and we’ll handle everything from here.

4. Depression – Wow. I can’t even look at you now. It’s too hard. After all we’ve been through, to know that it’s all over – just like that. I just want to curl up into my WordPress/Tumblr/Blogger and cry out all my feels.

5. Acceptance.

Random Thoughts

Random Thoughts II

+ I have officially read as many books this year as I did last year. I don’t feel like that means much, other than the fact that I’m reading more. I don’t feel terribly accomplished or smarter. I have, however, been enjoying the challenge more than I expected I would. Reading doesn’t ever feel like homework. I guess that’s because I’ve chosen books I know I’ll like. Of course, there are a few books that continue to hang out in my “Currently Reading” list ::cough::Great Gatsby::cough::Devil In the White City::cough:: because I lose interest and pick up something shinier and newer ::cough::The Night Circus::cough. But even the lingering books manage to win me back eventually. 

There are nights now when I choose not to even touch the TV remote, and these nights constantly surprise me. Usually they are nights when Eric won’t be home until after 9:00 and I know I can get a solid amount of reading done. In the past, I would have chosen to watch TV, because I have several guilty pleasure shows that Eric not only refuses to watch, but will not even stay in the room for. These shows are backlogged now, and that’s fine. I’m sure Elena hasn’t finished choosing between Damon and Stefan, and Emma hasn’t saved Storybrook from Regina yet, so I’m not missing much. And I love rediscovering that passion I had as a kid, when all I wanted to do was sit and read for hours. I mentioned previously that I wasn’t back to that point yet, but I’m feeling closer.

Eric and I took a trip this weekend with some friends and we had a fabulous time. We played board games, watched movies, went shopping – this was all fantastic. But also fantastic was the 45 minutes I spent on Saturday afternoon, curled up in a blanket on the porch, sipping a stout (it’s a new thing I’m doing – I drink stouts now), reading The Night Circus; or the hour I spent in bed on Sunday morning, quiet but for rare soft snores next to me, inching closer to finishing The Night Circus. The Night Circus was a book I hated putting down. It reminded me of when I devoured Lord of the Rings my senior year of high school. Of course I felt that way about The Hunger Games trilogy last Christmas, but this was different. This imaginary pull to finish the book was more satisfying, and I can’t explain why. Maybe I’ll have a better understanding later. I do have 45 more books to go, after all.

+ I purchased Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (WITAWITAR) from Audible on a whim. It was an inexpensive book that I could potentially listen to on my drive to and from the cabin this weekend. I don’t consider myself a runner in practice. I haven’t run since last summer for so many reasons (excuses), and even when I was running, I walked a lot. But when runners talk about running, and when they talk about a shared feeling that only runners feel – I can relate. So I wanted to hear what one of the world’s living literary legends had to say about it. He has a lot to say, and I’m really loving it. It’s quite inspiring. If I have the time before I actually finish the book, I’ll write a proper Notes on Reading post, but until then, I just wanted to jot down my thoughts on it. Murakami is charming and funny, which I suppose shouldn’t be surprising. I thought maybe this book would be a sort of self-help inspirational. It is not, or at least not in the obvious sense. I call it inspiring, of course, but it isn’t forced. WITAWITAR is a very sweet, very personal memoir from an aging runner, and it makes me want to lace up my shoes and hit the pavement again.

Book Reviews

Review: The Night Circus – March 2013

the night circusThe circus arrives without warning.

This is how The Night Circus begins, and this is how it ends. From Amazon:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway: a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them both, this is a game in which only one can be left standing. Despite the high stakes, Celia and Marco soon tumble headfirst into love, setting off a domino effect of dangerous consequences, and leaving the lives of everyone, from the performers to the patrons, hanging in the balance.

The novel is, at first, a series of vignettes, introducing character after character. It also spans several decades, and jumps back and forth to an almost dizzying effect – much like the circus itself.

I loved this book. It set out to tell a fantastical fairy tale, and it accomplished that in the most charming and vivid way. The imagery was everything I had hoped for when I picked it up at Barnes and Noble. I would recommend this book to just about anyone.

That said, the novel is not without faults. Because it is chalk-full of colorful characters, and because it jumps through time in nearly every chapter, the dizzying effect makes it difficult to narrow down an emotional attachment to anyone in particular. Though the two protagonists are obvious from the start, Morgenstern does not spend a terrible amount of time crafting their emotions or motivations. Instead, she focuses on their technical training and their execution of beautiful illusions. She focuses on the circus itself and it’s dreamlike mysteries. She focuses on those just outside the circus who are affected by its wonders. So when the two magicians finally fall in love, though it feels natural, it also feels a little empty and unearned.

This was almost a perfect book for me: it was an historical fiction, it contained fantasy and magic, it was beautifully told with style, and it was a fairly easy read, though not depthless or bland. I felt like there was just one more element, something bubbling under the surface that was never revealed. It fell just short. Short of what, I can’t say. But honestly, that undefined lacking is only a minor concern. This novel transported me, and that’s the best compliment I can give to any story. 4 Stars