Book Reviews · DNF

DNF: A History of God

I bought this book in 2007, half a year out of school, still trying to impress the boys reading Noam Chomsky and The Economist.

I’ve always found religion, history, and human nature fascinating and full of layers. At 22 years old, with more time on my hands than I knew what to do with, and fresh out of new episodes of Friday Night Lights, I wanted to read books that piqued my interest and enlightened me. Or at least I thought I did.

Non-fiction, even the most highly rated and captivating, has always bored me. I wish it didn’t. I know there is so much to learn from memoirs and academic essays. But the books I’ve found the hardest to push through (with a few exceptions) fall squarely into the non-fiction category.

Unfortunately, this book joins that list. I have picked it up and started from page 1 more times than I can count. In 2007, I thought perhaps I needed more patience, less distractions. I bookmarked page 17 and left it to sit. I picked it up, started over, let it sit. Picked it up, started over, let it sit.

Earlier this year, I picked it up again. Craving some exercise for my brain, begging to be enriched, I thought “Now is the time!”

And I finally, after 9 years, finished chapter 1. As a Jewish person, reading such a detached and historical depiction of the Hebrew tribes was difficult and eye-opening. But the style is still dry and any hint of story telling is still far too academic and impersonal for me.

In a work of non-fiction like this, the detachment is probably for the best. There is no judgement of religion, no qualitative assessments, no clear preference. But I’ve found that those sorts of author-biases are what drive me to continue. So this is obviously just a personal preference, but this book is not for me, and after almost a decade, I’m putting it down for good. 2 Stars

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

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)

Book Reviews

Review: Bossypants – February 2013

bossypantsFirst audio book of 2013 completed! Achievement unlocked.

This is a book that I was sorry to see go. I listened to it on my drive into work and on my way home every day for a week. I listened to it while I tried my very best to find motivation for a bike workout. And I listened to it with my boyfriend, the two of us lounging around, engaged in nothing but shared laughter. Tina Fey is a goddess.

Bossypants is a memoir. And a self-help book. And an extended recording of stand up. And a verbal history of SNL (circa 1997-2008). It is funny, irreverent  and heart-warming. Kind of. It’s kind of heart-warming. Mostly it’s just funny. As in laugh out loud hysterical funny. From the awkward teenage nostalgia, to tips on improv, to struggles with breast-feeding, this book has it all, and “it all” is comedy gold.

The book maneuvers through personal history, with anecdotes and familiar names (Alec Baldwin), and I knew to expect that. (“It’s kind of like a book version of SNL — lots of funny shorts. It’s what I think of when I think of Tina Fey.” Krista, Pajiba, Cannonball Read III.) But my favorite interludes, which were equal parts surprising and obvious, were her takes on women in comedy. Her struggles and frustrations were are certainly not exclusive to her industry, but her sense of humor and her intelligent writing eloquently pointed out a prevailing mentality that we baby-makers are faced with every day – “No one wants to watch a sketch with two women.” I won’t water down her brilliance with a recap of my own, but I really do hope that the men reading (or listening to) Bossypants learned something about the female voice, and how we are constantly muffled by ignorance and misogyny.

This is a must read. It’s easy, hilarious, intelligent, and all around pretty fantastic. 5 Stars

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!