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.

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Bossypants & Audio Books

I read an article recently that discussed how best to avoid stress during a long commute. After step 1 (accept your fate and go with it), the article suggested using the time to strengthen your mind. Some suggestions:

  • Download a podcast;
  • Learn a new language;
  • Listen to an audio book.

I had an aunt who suffered from MS and was legally blind for as long as I can remember. She was bed ridden since before I was born and did not much enjoy watching television all day, every day. She listened to audio books. Lots and lots of audio books. And I would crawl onto the bed with her, curl up in her arms and listen to them as well. Look, this woman was smart and funny and kind and loving and wonderful, but her taste in literature was incredibly dull. I think I may associate audio books with the unbelievably boring things she listened to in my youth.

And yet. Once I was all grown up, I did try to listen to an audio book of my choosing. One that was contemporary, with beautiful imagery and hilariously fun characters. I was on a long road trip with a friend, and I had been endlessly gushing about this incredible novel by an up-and-coming Brooklynite author named Jonathan Safran Foer. The book was Everything Is Illuminated, and it continues to be a favorite of mine (as long as I choose to forget that totally off key movie version starring Elijah Wood). We purchased the book to listen to on our 12 hour drive home. I can’t tell you why, but I hated the experience. Maybe the book was too complicated to keep track of, maybe I hated the narrator, or maybe I was just too distracted. Whatever the reason was, I decided that audio books were not for me.

I read tons of healthy living blogs every day, and there are several runners who preach the audio book gospel to help pass the time on a treadmill or a long run. Between these inspiring women (who in my opinion, are obviously never wrong), as well as a slew of friends on Facebook constantly “liking” Audible, I finally decided I needed to give this fuddy-duddy innovation another try. For my first book, I chose Tina Fey’s Bossypants, as narrated by Tina Fey.

And you know what? It’s been marvelous. I’ve listened to it on my commute for the last two days, and once while I was exercising on a recumbent bike. This audio book has actually started to make me look forward to traffic!

This is a shocking revelation, I know.

But I have a few questions now.

  1. Is listening to an audio book “cheating”? I don’t mean for the purposes of my blog, because I’m totally counting them and donating a dollar for every one I finish. I mean in the larger sense – is listening to an audio book the same as reading a traditional book or is it a step closer to seeing the movie version? I suppose on the one hand the reader is still using his imagination to fill in the world of the book, but on the other hand, he isn’t required to devote total concentration and become immersed as he would reading a traditional book.
  2. Is the content of the book different based on the format? In Bossypants, Tina Fey regularly makes jokes that are audio book specific, or that reference a bonus PDF that comes with the audio file. Is this common, and am I therefore missing out on other content that is traditional format specific?

I’m almost finished and a review is forthcoming. I’ve already got my next (March) audio book lined up, Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), as narrated by Mindy Kaling. And some random guy.

I’d like to stick with more simple subject matters when listening to audio books: comedy, memoirs, beach reads, etc. Leave a comment with your favorite “brain candy” to help me pick my book for April!

Notes on Reading

Notes on Reading: Gone Girl

I’m about 20% through Gone Girl, or so my Kindle tells me. This is a novel I have heard g.r.e.a.t. things about. Everyone I know who has read it loves it. It has amazing reviews. I know there has to be a brilliant payoff.

And yet.

I am not a fan of either character. The wife, Amy, is too…just so. A rich and cultured New Yorker with the exact right friends and the exact right relationship. She’s a tad too controlling, a tad too pretentious, and a tad too needy. And the husband, Nick – well he’s just not likable. The way he talks about his wife and his marriage, with the tiniest hint of sociopathy, it makes it very difficult to sympathize with him. And I know this is exactly the type of characterization that Gillian Flynn intended, and I know that 80% of the novel is yet to unfold and I’m sure that I’ll gain insight and fall in love with the story eventually. But how do you barrel through until you get to that point?

Obviously I’ll finish the book, of that I have no doubt. But I wish it were a tad easier for me to feel invested in the outcome.