Monday, August 21, 2017

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Title: Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 330
Genre: Fiction
How I Found It: A friend loaned it to me
Date Completed: 7/12/17

Summary: A quirky Seattle mother struggles with social interactions. When her daughter requests a trip to Antartica, things start falling apart.

What I Thought: Before we went to Michigan for my father-in-law's surgery, a friend gave me a few books she thought I might enjoy. This was one of them. I picked it up about a week into our trip and burned through it in a day. It had me laughing and thinking about personality and social interactions. 

After reading the book and looking it up on Goodreads for this post, I realized that Semple also for Arrested Development. This makes total sense to me. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

What's Next?

It feels so amazing to be done with the 100 Best Novels challenge. As I mentioned on in my posts earlier this week, I have been working on that list for over four years. Because I am a goal-setter, I have thought throughout that time about how I would like to challenge myself next. So, here we are to talk about just that.

Before we do, I do want to acknowledge how very much I am looking forward to reading utterly and completely for pleasure in the next few months. I've read so much heavy material in the past few years because of the list. I really pushed myself through the last twenty or thirty books. So, for a while, I want to read fiction that feels fluffy and good. Books I want to devour, not slog through. I know any new challenge will come with some books I'm not so interested in, so I don't want to jump into anything too quickly.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - Picking Favorites

If you've been hanging around this week, you know I have been reflecting on my time spent reading Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list. It took me four and a half years to finish this monstrous challenge, so it's not surprising I have a lot to say about it. Check out my posts from earlier this week regarding what makes a classic and diversity in literature

On this last day of retrospection, I want to hit on the two questions I got asked most often when I told people about this challenge: What has been your favorite book? and What has been your least favorite book?

My reflections the last two days were broader in scope, but today I want to get granular. I've spent time talking about big picture stuff and recognizing why books matter even if they aren't to my personal taste. Today, however, is my 30th birthday and, thus, I find it perfectly acceptable 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - Why Diversity Matters

This week is all about my journey to finish the monstrous 100 Best Novels challenge. I am taking time to reflect on various aspects of my journey and thoughts I had along the way. Yesterday, I talked about what makes a book a classic in the first place. Tomorrow, I'll be sharing my favorites (and least favorites) from the list. 

Today, though, I wanted to talk about my biggest takeaway from this challenge. Over the past four years, I've told a lot of people about my efforts to read these books. If they inquire further about my experience, this is what I share. These are the thoughts I have not been able to shake for years. This is the sentiment which has weighed on me since very early on. 

In fact, I even talked about it in my post announcing that I was taking on the challenge. Throughout the whole journey, I have been so aware of this issue. I watched it manifest itself in countless ways as I read through the list. So, I want to spend some time talking about it today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - What Makes A Classic

In February 2013, I embarked on a challenge.  I determined to read through Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels. The list was compiled in 1998, so, by now, it is leaving out a good number of years of English writing. Of course, it's not like they picked anything too close to 1998 anyway. It's one of several such lists which were written at the end of the millennium. I chose the Modern Library list in part because it included Ulysses by James Joyce. It's often touted as the best novel ever written, so I wanted to include it. Go read my review of it to see what I thought about that.

Back when I started the challenge, I expected to finish in two years or so. I certainly did not expect it to take four years. Had I done the practical math at the time, I should have known it would take this long or even longer. I've really pushed myself the last year and a half or so to complete this before my 30th birthday (which is Thursday!).

Four and a half years later, I have completed the challenge. It feels amazing to have done something so big. Throughout the experience, I have developed a lot of thoughts and opinions about literature, the challenge, and the purpose of reading. This week, I want to share those thoughts with you. 

I started writing one big long post, but I quickly realized I have more thoughts than anyone wants to read in one sitting. So, I'm breaking by reflections on this challenge into three days. Tomorrow, I'll be I'm discussing diversity in literature. Thursday, I'm picking favorites - and least favorites! - from the list. And, as a bonus, on Friday I'll be looking ahead and considering what challenge to take on next. Make sure you come back every day this week to read the whole series of posts.

Before we dig into specifics, though, I want to look at this challenge through a larger lens. 

What Makes A Classic

I set off on this challenge because I recognized some big gaps in my "classical" literary education. I wanted to rectify that. These days, after having read 100 "classics," I have some thoughts about what even gives a book that classification. Who gets to decide what a classic even is? After reading this list, I have some complaints I'd like to file with the Modern Library board. Granted, they were not specifically defining these books as "classics," but putting something under the heading of 100 Best Novels certainly grants it a similar gravitas.

Monday, August 14, 2017

100 Best Novels Roundup, Vol. 6

This is it! I've completed the 100 Best Novels challenge! Every day this week, I'll be back with more thoughts on the challenge as a whole. Today, however, I have the final individual book reviews:
Point Counter Point

Title: Point Counter Point
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publication Date: 1928
Pages: 432
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 7/5/17

What I Thought: I didn't dislike this book, but it wasn't what I was expecting at all. After reading Huxley's most famous novel, Brave New World, I was expecting something similar in genre. This is totally different, though certainly not bad. Overall, it was definitely enjoyable. I think, though, I would have gotten much more out of this had I lived in the era in which it was published. Huxley famously based many of the characters in the novel on real people in his social circle. Since those personalities are no longer well known to the general public, or even someone like myself who makes a habit of reading historical classics, I felt I lost a lot of the intended experience. The book is still good if you don't know who the characters are meant to be, but I continually got the feeling it would have been better if I had known more of the backstory. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe

Friday, August 11, 2017

Captive - Aimée Carter

Title: Captive
Author: Aimée Carter
Publication Date: 11/25/2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Dystopian / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I read the first book in the series, Pawn.
Date Completed: 7/10/17

Summary: Kitty's position posing as the Prime Minister's niece remains precarious. As she attempts to get increasingly involved in the rebellion against him, she finds herself trapped.

What I Thought: For some reason, I cannot figure out where I stand on this series. I think it boils down to this: I love the plot, I hate the characters.

The setup and plot of these books are really interesting. I think the premise is great, if a little boilerplate for the dystopian genre these days. Still, I think Carter has some great ideas and she keeps me guessing, which is always a feat.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tribe - Sebastian Junger

Title: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
Author: Sebastian Junger
Publication Date: 5/24/2016
Pages: 192
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I read it for the Pantsuit Politics book club.
Date Completed: 7/9/17

Summary: How is "civilized" society affecting us on an individualized level? Junger looks specifically at veterans and how we are (or are not) set up to welcome them back home. 

What I Thought: This is probably not something I would have picked up on my own. I hate to admit it, but veterans' issues are typically not my area of interest. Don't get me wrong, I greatly respect our troops and am so thankful for the sacrifices they and their families are making. After dating a National Guardsmen in high school and going to his boot camp, I had a glimpse of how tough that life is and knew immediately it wasn't for me. Those people are amazing. However, there are only so many issues in which one can be passionately interested. Veterans issues have been lower on my radar than others. Partially because I think if we solve some of the bigger issues, those solutions will bleed over into the military world. Maybe that's naive, but it's where I've been at. All that to say, I support the troops immensely but have never spent a lot of time reading about or learning about their experiences. I fully admit my own shortcomings there.

So, when my absolute favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics, announced this as their next book club read, I picked it up with a small amount of trepidation. Small mostly because I'm in for anything Sarah and Beth suggest. Seriously, if you are not listening to them, you should be. The amazing Monica turned me on to them and I have, in turn, hooked at least two or three more listeners. 

The book. You're probably wondering about the book. That's why you come here, after all...

Monday, August 7, 2017

Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy
Title: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Author: Bryan Stevenson
Publication Date: 10/21/2014
Pages: 336
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Kevin's worked gave it to all the employees to read.
Date Completed: 7/5/17

Summary: Stevenson has spent his career advocating for death row inmates in the Deep South. In this book, he reflects on specific cases from throughout his career and the systemic discrimination in our justice system.

What I Thought: This book is so powerful. Let me state up front that I recommend you read it. Racial divisions in our country seem to be an eternal problem and, as a white person, my privilege can make it easy to look away. We must not do that. Stevenson opens the door to the stories and lives of death row inmates in Alabama and other southern states. They are stories of broken hearts and broken lives. And, if you are like me, they will make you want to join Stevenson in the fight for a more just justice system.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little Nobody
Title: Scrappy Little Nobody
Author: Anna Kendrick
Publication Date: 11/15/2016
Pages: 275
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I am a fan of Anna Kendrick
Date Completed: 7/5/17

Summary: Anna Kendrick looks back on her life thus far. She covers her childhood days on the stage, her early work in independent films, and some of her more familiar work, including that time she got nominated for an Academy Award.

What I Thought: I was really looking forward to this book. I like Anna Kendrick a lot. Kevin and I both love Pitch Perfect and I've really enjoyed Kendrick's work in a number of other things. If you watch interviews with her or follow her on social media, she seems quirky and accessible in a way that is often rare in Hollywood. 

She certainly also comes across as quirky and accessible in the book, at least in part. Somehow, the same vibe you get from Kendrick's Hollywood persona did not translate all the way to the page. Her humor is perfect for Twitter and social media, but in a longer format, she comes off as stiff and disconnected. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Nix - Nathan Hill

The Nix
Title: The Nix
Author: Nathan Hill
Publication Date: 8/30/2016
Pages: 628
How I Found It: My book club is reading it. 
Date Completed: 7/4/17

Summary: A son whose mother left in his childhood. A mother whose life wasn't at all what it appeared to be. Decades later, a strange event involving a candidate for president throws them together again. 

What I Thought: I don't know that I ever would have picked this one up. My book club selected it as our long summer read and so here we are. 

Though I would not have chosen it myself, I did enjoy the book. It winds several stories together, ultimately being about family and the parent-child relationship. Hill has a nice writing style and he did a good job weaving together the stories. The interludes focused on secondary characters felt important and enjoyable, even though they added little to the main storyline. I like when even less prominent characters are given the time and space to be developed. Hill really did a good job fleshing out their motivations.

In a lot of ways, this book is all about motivations. What makes people do the things they do? Why do people stay? leave? act? ignore? What are the triggers that push us and, consequentially, shape our stories? 

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 2017 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

July News 

It's hard to believe the end of summer is here. I know some of you will protest that characterization, but, for those in the world of higher ed, summer ends with July. Not that I haven't been doing fall prep all summer, but it begins in earnest this week. I've got syllabi to finalize, pre-semester meetings to attend, and all that jazz. Thankfully, by this time, I'm usually ready for it. Plus, it feels a little weird knowing this may be my last year working exclusively as a professor. I'm hoping I have transitioned fields by this time next year. Your guess is as good as mine as to what that new field may be.

July was pretty good for us, albeit completely exhausting. We spent the first half of the month in Michigan with my in-laws. My father-in-law had major surgery to remove some cancerous parts of his body. He's doing really well physically; surgery went wonderfully and he's recovering like the fighter he is. Still, it was a big deal and we obviously wanted to be there to support him and the family. Two weeks is a long time to be anywhere, but spending it in a hospital isn't the most fun. We are so thankful we both have jobs that gave us the flexibility to go for so long, but I was so happy to be home, too.

While we were there, we did a lot of helping, but also a lot of sitting around. Hospitals are particularly good for that. I finished 11 books in 12 days. Perhaps one of my most prolific period of reading ever. It was impressive even by my own standards. Once my father-in-law came home from the hospital, my pace slowed down, but I still got to read so much. That was really nice, especially after June was kind of a dud month for me.

Speaking of June, I told y'all last month about how I'm buckling down on fitness. The journey continues. I've lost over 10 pounds, which is so exciting. I'm definitely stronger than I was at the start of the summer and I'm slowly seeing my body change in exciting ways. Seeing as I turn 30 in August, I'm so thankfully to be entering a new decade of my life as a strong, healthy, balanced person. That feels better than I could have imagined. I mean, I still completely loathe exercising and watching what I eat, but I do love seeing the results. I'm trying to ease up on myself some as I head into the school year. I know I need to continue to work toward a sustainable, balanced lifestyle. I don't want to burn out or reach my goal and then settle right back into life as it was previously.

The big reading news is that I finally finished the 100 Best Novels challenge!! It feels amazing and surreal to be done. I have a big post coming your way in a couple weeks reflecting on the experience. Definitely be watching for that as I have, unsurprisingly, a lot of thoughts.

That's the update for July. Not much else happening. I'm hoping August is great. I love birthdays and this is a big one. Adult birthdays always kind of suck a little, but I'm really hoping that won't be the case this year. I want so badly to have a fun, enjoyable, birthday. While I normally stay out of the spotlight, I love birthday attention. Feel free to send some my way on or around the 17th. ;) For now, though, here's what I accomplished in July:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cravings - Chrissy Teigen

Check out my post from earlier in the week to see why I'm talking cookbooks this week. Plus, you won't want to miss my thoughts on Anthony Bourdain's Appetites. Today, though, we're talking Teigen...Chrissy Teigen, that is. 

Title: Cravings
Author: Chrissy Teigen
Publication Date: 2/23/2016
Pages: 240
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: So many of the cooking sites I read have been talking about it. 
Date Completed: 7/4/17

What I Thought: I'll be the first to admit I had mixed feelings about Chrissy Teigen not long ago. It's only recently that I've really even known who she is. The release of this cookbook launched her into my pop culture bubble in a forceful way. Because I hadn't followed her career to date, I was confused as to why people cared about this model's recipes. But, they kept popping up everywhere. People kept raving about the cookbooks. Now that I knew who she was, she seemed to pop up everywhere. After all, her husband, John Legend, is having a pretty successful career himself. Plus, they just had that adorable baby. In the last year, I have somehow gone from feeling very ambivalently about her to following her on Twitter and reading her cookbook.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Appetites - Anthony Bourdain

Since discovering the amazing website Plan to Eat, I have been on a bit of cooking kick again. I mean, I always love cooking but having this website help me organize my cooking life has spurred me to seek out new recipes again. I've always had trouble corralling my recipes, particularly ones I have yet to make but would like to. Plan to Eat is making it easy for me. When I add a recipe there, I schedule it a few weeks or months out so I remember to give it a try when that date rolls around. Plus, the website has about a million other awesome functions. Seriously, if you are responsible for most meal planning in your household, you should check it out. It will save you so. much. time.

Anyway, cookbooks. I don't read them super often, but I do like picking them up every now and then. I have a small collection, but I like reading through them and copying out recipes I may like more than I like owning them, in general. Most cookbooks only have a few recipes I really want to try.

In the past couple years, several celebrity cookbooks have caught my attention. I read two of them over the July 4th weekend, so it made sense to review them together for you. Anthony Bourdain and Chrissy Teigen are certainly an odd couple to pair together, but I really enjoyed both books and their unique approaches to food. Today, I'm talking about Bourdain's book. I'll be back on Thursday to share Teigen's with you. 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The 39 Clues: Beyond the Grave - Jude Watson

The 39 Clues: Beyond the Grave
Title: The 39 Clues: Beyond the Grave
Author: Jude Watson
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 190
How I Found It: Kevin and I have been listening through this series on road trips.
Date Completed: 7/1/17

Summary: Oh these crazy Cahill kids. This time, they're running around Egypt learning about ancient queens and goddesses. All still in the pursuit of their family secret and in avoidance of their dangerous relatives.

What I Thought: If you've been following Kevin's and my adventure through this series, you probably already know everything I'm going to say here. These books are cute, fun, and a bit ridiculous. 

The madness continues here. Once again, Amy and Dan are galavanting all over a foreign country with minimal supervision. How does everyone they run into speak English? Why does their nanny, Nelly, always let them go running off? Our main questions about these books have nothing to do with their main mystery.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Bittersweet - Shauna Niequist

Title: Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way
Author: Shauna Niequist
Publication Date: 7/14/2010
Pages: 252
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I read another book by Niequist, Bread and Wine, earlier this year and wanted more. 
Date Completed: 6/24/17

Summary: Reflections on life, family, and friendship from Niequist. 

What I Thought: I really loved Niequist's Bread and Wine when I read it earlier this year. I mean, stick recipes in a book and I'm halfway to adoration already. Add in faith and some philosophical reflections? I'm sold. 

Once I finished that book, I knew immediately that I wanted to read more of Niequist's work. As with some of her peers, particularly Jen Hatmaker, Niequist makes me feel welcome at her table from miles away. As though I am walking into her home and being welcomed with delicious food, a cold beverage, and an open heart. It's a nice feeling to get from a memoir. I like knowing there are people out there who are living lives not dissimilar to mine. We are dreaming similar dreams, bearing similar burdens, and, simultaneously to those things, having totally different lives. There's a connection of the soul when I read the words of these women. I just know we'd get each other. Shared faith is a powerful connecting point. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Underground Railroad - Colson Whitehead

The Underground Railroad
Title: The Underground Railroad
Author: Colson Whitehead
Publication Date: 8/2/2016
Pages: 306
How I Found It: It's the 2017 Pulitzer Prize winner!
Date Completed: 6/19/7

Summary: When things shift in an even worse direction on her Georgia plantation, Cora sees her chance to run. She finds herself on a long, difficult journey to freedom.

What I Thought: I had high expectations going into this book. The Pulitzer Prize and Oprah's Book Club? It's hard not to expect a lot. 

I'm happy to say it more than lived up to my high expectations. It's a beautiful, heart-breaking book. Whitehead is a wonderful writer. I know some have said they would have preferred the book to be written in first person as they felt the third person narration made the characters feel distant. I disagree. I prefer third person narration and, in this case, it made the interjected chapters about other characters feel more in line with the rest of the book. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Talking to Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede

Talking to Dragons
Title: Talking to Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Publication Date: 1985
Pages: 255
How I Found It: I've loved the series since childhood
Date Completed: 6/17/17

Summary: Years after the cliffhanger ending of Calling on Dragons, the Enchanted Forest is still hanging in the balance. Daystar knows little of the predicament but suddenly finds himself thrust into the center of the fight for the Forest.

What I Thought: I have owned and loved this series since childhood. Yet, somehow, I don't think I ever read this last book. Rereading them now, the third book has definitely proven to be my least favorite of the four, so maybe I got annoyed and quit after that. Or, maybe I realized my beloved Cimorene wasn't the star of the show here and passed because of that. Whatever the reason, I am 90% certain this was my first reading of this book.

I wish I had had the presence of mind as a child to push forward, to see this book as its own entity. While we do meet several familiar characters throughout its pages, it is focused on Daystar and the motley crew he befriends, not our familiar friends from the previous three books. Cimorene appears briefly at the start and finish and, even then, is seen only from the perspective of her son. Yet, the tone of the book is more similar to the first and second book than the third. It captures some of the same magic that Wrede had at the start of the series. The characters are mostly different, but the charm and wit are back.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

The Wild Shore - Kim Stanley Robinson

The Wild Shore
Title: The Wild Shore
Author: Kim Stanley Robinson
Publication Date: 1984
Pages: 384
How I Found It: I can't remember, but it's been on my list a while.
Date Completed: 6/11/17

Summary: Set in an apocalyptic future California, Hank Fletcher is a young man who dreams of bigger things than those in his small fishing village. When men mysteriously arrive via railroad from San Diego, he finds himself on an unimaginable adventure.

What I Thought: This book was really interesting. Really...unique. Reading dystopian/apocalyptic books from several decades ago is always an interesting experience. The dystopia genre is so flooded now, mostly with books that fit into a very specific template. 

I didn't realize this book was from the early 80s when I picked it up, so it caught me off guard a bit. The style is different than what is mainstream in this genre now. It's not as flashy or formulaic. Rather, this book moved slower and was more character driven. The romantic relationships were not centralized. Instead, one of the strongest relationships explored in the book is between Hank and the oldest man in the village, who serves as sort of a secondary father and teacher to the young man. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

100 Best Novels Roundup, Vol. 5

Another small installation into my series of 100 Best Novels reviews. After this, I just have two more left to cover. I'm so excited to be almost finished! 
Pale Fire

Title: Pale Fire
Author: Vladimir Nabokov
Publication Date: 1962
Pages: 246
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 6/9/17

What I Thought: I read this classic out of a collection of Nabokov's work. Pale Fire joined Lolita and a few other works. So, knowing nothing about the book, I found myself confused. The novel has a really unique structure which definitely caught me off guard. It's setup as a 900+ line poem and subsequent literary commentary. You see where I'm going here. I thought the poem was the whole thing and the commentary was...a commentary. I was baffled and ever so thankful for Wikipedia helping me sort it out.

While I've grown in my admiration for Nabakov because of Azar Nafisi's high praise, I still struggle to find his work personally captivating. I think there's a lot of depth here, but it's not light summer reading by any stretch. I struggle. But, I thought the structure was fun once I figured it out and it was a nice change of pace from other books on the list. I definitely see why Nabokov has transcended time as a skilled writer. It certainly takes skill to put something like this together. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Doubtful

Friday, June 30, 2017

June 2017 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

June News 

Remember May? When summer felt so fresh and practically all I did was read, read, read? Yeah. That was nice.

June didn't work quite like that. I love summer, but the new routine of the new season has clicked in and things are very busy. The online courses I'm teaching are keeping me occupied and life has been a little hectic. Next week, we're heading to Michigan to spend time with Kevin's family and I'm hoping in the midst of everything going on there I'll be able to sneak in a few books. Plus, we'll be meeting our brand new nephew for the first time ever and I'm pumped about that! I have a book for him all wrapped and ready to go.

Mostly, these days, I feel like I'm getting a lot of random things done. I reorganized our pantry. I reorganized my dresser drawers. I'm doing major lesson planning overhauls for the fall. I started volunteering regularly. I'm looking for jobs. Oh, yeah, and I'm exercising. A lot.

At the start of June, I finally decided to buckle down when it comes to my health. I'm not particularly unhealthy, but I haven't been in good shape in years and I've put on 30 pounds since 2010. I'm still within a healthy weight range for my height, but I'm not comfortable with how I look these days and I finally decided to do something about it. It's not about the number on the scale, but I'm seeing that move some and it's been exciting.

I'm exercising every day, sometimes twice a day. I'm counting calories. Eating healthier. The whole deal. I'm working insanely hard and I have a great support system in Kevin and in one of my dear friends who is serving as my de facto personal trainer. It's such hard work and it takes up so much of my time. I hate basically every second of it. However, exercise is becoming a habit and I'm getting stronger. I can run farther than I have ever been able to before (still not far) and I'm learning a lot about what a healthy, balanced diet looks like for me. That's the key, I think: balance. I want this to be sustainable, to be a lifestyle change. As I get ready to turn 30, I know it will only get harder from here. I'd love to be at my goal weight by the end of the year - or at least to a place where I feel strong and healthy.

So, not many books this month, but I've been spending my time well and profitably. That's a win in my book.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

100 Best Novels Roundup, Vol. 4

As I near the end of the 100 Best Novels challenge, I've been condensing my reviews into these roundups. Here are mini reviews of the novels I've read recently:
A Bend in the River

Title: A Bend in the River
Author: V. S. Naipaul
Publication Date: 1979
Pages: 326
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 5/14/17

What I Thought: This is one of the novels from the list that I just feel ambivalent about after finishing it. I liked the beginning. I liked the stories about the small village in which protagonist Salim lived. I liked hearing about the villagers and the way of life in the antiquated world they inhabited. However, as the town grows and original characters fade out and make way for different people in Salim's life, I struggled to stay engaged. It became about political intrigue and illicit affairs rather than family connections and village life. I wasn't as interested in that. Or, at least, I did not expect it and had become attached to the first part of the novel. 

I did definitely enjoy reading a more diverse selection from the list. Naipaul brings a very different perspective of the world to his writing and his characters reflect that. It's a nice change. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Doubtful

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

10 Best Books I've Read This Year (Expressed in Meryl Streep GIFs)

Every once in a while, I like to jump in and join The Broke and the Bookish family for Top Ten Tuesday (these are the same friends that do #TBTBSanta in December!). It's an opportunity for book bloggers around the Internet to talk about the same thing once a week. It's a fun way to connect and also to talk books with you Read.Write.Repeat. readers. Please jump in with your additions to my Top Ten list!

10 Best Books I've Read This Year
(Expressed in Meryl Streep GIFs)

In case knowing my ten favorite books so far this year wasn't enough for you, I've decided to spice up this post with some Meryl Streep GIFs. I mean, she is a queen. If you're like me, you're probably feeling like this about now:
It all started with one GIF and (d)evolved from there. Some are a bit of a stretch, I know, but why not? It's all for fun anyway!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Movie Monday: The Scorch Trials

The Scorch Trials
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials

Book Title: The Scorch Trials
Release Year: 2015

Summary: After escaping the maze, Thomas, Teresa, and the others are facing a new challenge. They head across the barren land in hopes of finding refuge from WICKED. 

What I Thought: Sigh. This movie series seemed doomed from the start. 

I talked about this a lot with the first movie (follow the link to that Movie Monday if you want a delightful High School Musical 2 flashback). There were too many changes from the book. I didn't even like the book version of The Scorch Trials that much, so it follows that the story plus the sloppy rendition of it into film wouldn't work for me. 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Shockaholic - Carrie Fisher

Title: Shockaholic
Author: Carrie Fisher
Publication Date: 11/1/2011
Pages: 176
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've been reading Fisher's writings since her death.
Date Completed: 5/29/17

Summary: Fisher returns with another memoir, a look at her joys and tragedies through her unique comedic lens. 

What I Thought: I really enjoyed Wishful Drinking, the memoir Fisher wrote before this one. It was the first thing of Fisher's I had read and it certainly whet my appetite for more. Her untimely passing at the end of last year was so tragic and I think made many of us want to know her more as a person, beyond the fictional persona of Princess Leia. Isn't is sad that we often don't recognize people for their talents until they are gone?

Fisher actually references her inevitable death several times in this book, which was a bit disconcerting considering her recent passing. She certainly had no qualms about discussing the eventuality, but it makes it sadder in many ways to have seen which of her predictions came true and which did not.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

Title: Gilead
Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publication Date: 10/28/2004
Pages: 247
How I Found It: It's a well-known, popular novel.
Date Completed: 5/28/17

Summary: An elderly father writes to his young son about life, faith, and their small town of Gilead, Iowa. 

What I Thought: This Pulitzer Prize winner has long been on my list to read. I know so many have raved about it, including Barack Obama and Rachel Held Evans. Now, having read the book, I understand why.

It's literary fiction at it's finest. It's a beautiful book about family, faith, and friendship. It's set in the mid-1900s and told from the perspective of an elderly pastor, John Ames. Ames is purportedly writing to his young son, the blessing of a late-in-life marriage. 

One could certainly argue that not much actually happens over the course of the book. A fellow pastor and friend's long lost son returns home and Ames struggles with his presence in town and his relationship to both his own family and the Ames family. Beyond that, there is little actual plot. Rather, the book is about ordinary life, the beauty in mundanity, the reflexions of a man who has reached the end of his life and is assessing its virtue. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Calling on Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede

Calling on Dragons
Title: Calling on Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Publication Date: 1993
Pages: 244
How I Found It: I've loved the series since childhood.
Date Completed: 5/25/17

Summary: Once again, the Enchanted Forest is under threat from a bunch of magic-stealing wizards. Queen Cimorene heads out with her motley crew of friends in hopes of resolving the situation before it's too late.

What I Thought: Though I read the first book in this series countless times as a child, I think I only ever made it this far once. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I ever even read the last book. We'll see how much, if any, of it is familiar to me once I read it. I definitely did not remember much of this one, although the ending was familiar. 

Since I'm not sure I have ever read the last book in the series, I don't want to speak for it yet. Of the first three books, though, I find this one to be the weakest. Morwen the witch, a character who I genuinely adore, plays the central role rather than Cimorine. I think that was a miscalculation on Wrede's part. Fiesty Princess Cimorene is what endeared me to the series to begin with. I like Morwen quite a bit as well, even more now that I am an adult and her sensibility seems impressive rather than droll, but she doesn't carry the story in the same way. I find her cadre of cats excessive and a bit obnoxious, though I do like their dry humor. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven - Susan Jane Gilman

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Title: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Publication Date: 3/24/09
Pages: 320
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm not sure.
Date Completed: 5/25/17

Summary: When Gilman set off on a round-the-world trip with her college friend Claire, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. Their first stop was 1980s Communist China, hardly an easy start. It proved to be a far more challenging place than either of the girls anticipated, though not for the reasons they would have expected. 

What I Thought: This book is such an interesting journey. It starts out largely as a travel memoir. Two recent college graduates embark on a trip around the world rather than get jobs after graduation. As a display of their intense hubris, they start with Communist China. 

The first chapters focus on the culture shock and just what an undertaking it was to travel to China during the 1980s. Though China has its challenges now, to be sure, being a Westerner within its boarders was an even more intense experience back then. Gilman's descriptions of the dirty accommodations, public "bathrooms" (a.k.a. troughs over which multiple people would squat at once), and intense language barriers felt overwhelming just to read about. It reminded me on the simplest level of my trip to Japan in high school. There were huge cultural barriers, but at least we had clean, safe places to stay and guides to help us navigate the world around us. It's easy to understand why the hubris of Gilman and her friend Claire fell away more with each day of their trip.

It wasn't just their hubris that began to disintegrate, however. It starts with slight suggestions early in the book. Something is not quite right with Claire. The stress of the experience is impacting her in a different way than it is Gilman. Or maybe Gilman just doesn't know her college friend as well as she thought she did. As the book goes on, it becomes less and less about the travel and more and more about two girls in a desperate and dangerous situation miles from home.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pawn - Aimée Carter

Title: Pawn
Author: Aimée Carter
Publication Date: 11/26/13
Pages: 347
Genre: Dystopian / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR since somewhere around when I started this blog.
Date Completed: 5/21/17

Summary: In a world where every person carries a rank between I and VII, equality is an illusion of the system. It's nearly impossible to rise above your station and you certainly have no hope of reaching the upper echelons of power. So, when Kitty Doe, a III, finds herself swept into the world of the VIIs, she must adapt quickly or face deadly consequences.

What I Thought: Over the years, I have read a lot of dystopian YA novels. It's such a huge subgenre within the world of young adult literature. For goodness sake, I even did my masters thesis on The Hunger Games. Nevertheless, I have a really high standard for these books. It's so easy for them to go badly for me. It takes a lot for me to really fall for a series. I enter each new series with trepidation and hope for the best.

I have had Pawn on my TBR for literally years. I think it was one of the very first books I added to my list when I started this blog over five years ago. Somehow, though, every time it has come available through my library's digital collection, it hasn't seemed right for the moment. I'm trying to do a better job lately, though, of reading intentionally through my list, even if something doesn't feel ideal for that moment. So, here we are. Years since adding it, I've finally completed it.

It was good. It was. But not great. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Movie Monday: Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: Under the Tuscan Sun

Book Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Release Year: 2003

Summary: A newly divorced woman heads to Italy at the insistence of her friends. There, she finds new life in a villa and the Italian community surrounding it. 

What I Thought: I totally fell in love with the memoir upon which this film is very loosely based. It was charming and engaging and left me wanting to book tickets to Tuscany immediately. 

The movie was fine, not bad. But certainly not as magical as the book. For one thing, they've totally changed the story. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Still - Lauren F. Winner

Title: Still
Author: Lauren F. Winner
Publication Date: 1/31/12
Pages: 240
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I honestly can't remember
Date Completed: 5/20/17

Summary: In the wake of her mother's death and her divorce, Winner contemplates faith and her crisis thereof. 

What I Thought: I've been reading about faith journeys recently. As I get older myself, I'm coming to a better understanding that faith is just that - a journey. I think I've always known this on some level, but the truth of that is becoming more real to me these years. 

As Winner notes, the faith journey typically begins with a burst of enthusiasm and fervency. Kathy Escobar talked about the same thing in her book, Faith Shift. While Escobar approached the journey from a more academic nature and covered a variety of stages, this book by Winner focusing on what Escobar would call the Shifting stage. The ground is moving under your feet and you're not sure where things are going to land.

For Winner, this stage was ushered in specifically by her mother's death and her divorce. Though the two events were years apart, each impacted her faith in big ways, as one might expect. Winner doesn't give many details about either event in the memoir. In fact, as she points out, calling this a memoir at all may be a bit of a misnomer. 

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

A Wrinkle in Time
Title: A Wrinkle in Time
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Publication Date: 1962
Pages: 211
Genre: Children's Literature / Classic / Fantasy / Science Fiction / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I haven't read this classic in years, but I picked it up at a used book sale recently.
Date Completed: 5/16/17

Summary: Meg and Charles Wallace Murry, along with their friend Calvin, are whisked off on a terrifying and tremendous in hopes of rescuing their father.

What I Thought: I haven't read this book in so long. It has been years. I know I read it once as a child and I had a loose recollection of the plot. It has been long enough, though, that much of the book still felt delightfully fresh to me.

I know there is a fresh adaptation of this coming soon, and so when I both picked up a copy at a used book sale and then there was one in a book of old books my mom gave me, it just felt like all the sides were pointing to a reread.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

10 Books About Politics and Activism I've Recently Added to My TBR

I'm starting something new around here. A lot of my book blogging friends have been doing it for ages and I'm jumping on the bandwagon. It's Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, there's a different top ten list that book bloggers around the world post their own version of. I don't plan on participating every week, but I want to start doing the ones that feel relevant to my reading life. Here's what you'll typically see at the top of these posts:

Every once in a while, I like to jump in and join The Broke and the Bookish family for Top Ten Tuesday (these are the same friends that do #TBTBSanta in December!). It's an opportunity for book bloggers around the Internet to talk about the same thing once a week. It's a fun way to connect and also to talk books with you Read.Write.Repeat. readers. Please jump in with your additions to my Top Ten list!

With that said, let's get started! I'm really excited about today's topic. These are books I cannot wait to get my hands on. 

10 Books About Politics and Activism I've Recently Added to My TBR

Monday, June 5, 2017

Strangers in Their Own Land - Arlie Russell Hochschild

Strangers in Their Own Land
Title: Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right
Author: Arlie Russell Hochschild
Publication Date: 8/16/16
Pages: 288
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: My favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics, discussed it for their book club.
Date Completed: 5/14/17

Summary: Hochschild, a member of the UC Berkeley community, sets out to Louisiana to answer what she calls the Great Paradox. Why do some southern conservatives often vote against their own interests?

What I Thought: Oh, man. I could talk about this book for days. It is SO GOOD. I'm gonna try and reign myself in a bit, but prepare yourself. I have a lot of thoughts.

I picked up this book after the ladies at Pantsuit Politics talked about it for their podcast book club. By the way, if you aren't listening to their podcast, you must. They are on fire and the perfect companions for interpreting our crazy world with nuance and empathy. Once I heard the podcast conversation about the book, I knew immediately that it would be a must-read for. I had also recently had a conversation about American poverty and politics with a dear friend, so I texted him and we decided to read it together. No luck so far getting our spouses interested. We haven't actually chatted about the book yet, but I wanted to share my thoughts while I still have the book from the library and it's all still fresh in my mind.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Morning Star - Pierce Brown

Morning Star
Title: Morning Star
Author: Pierce Brown
Publication Date: 2/9/16
Pages: 524
Genre: Dystopian / Science Fiction / Fiction 
How I Found It: I read the first two books of the series. 
Date Completed: 5/14/17

Summary: System-wide war erupts as Darrow and those loyal to him attempt to end the dictatorial rule of the Golds. 

What I Thought: I've had an interesting journey with this series. I've liked it, overall, but I've also felt really bored with it at times. The first book was easily my favorite of the series. I struggle some with book two. This one felt so far removed from book one, I'm not even fully sure how I feel about it. 

First off, let me say how thankful I am that Brown included a "Previously On..." type intro. He summarizes the story of each of the first books in a couple paragraphs. Man, did I need that. If you remember when I read Golden Son, you remember me complaining that it had been too long since I read Red Rising and I was hopelessly lost for a while. Including this summary of previous books did not completely eliminate that feeling for me here, but it definitely helped a lot