Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 2018 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

January News 

This has been a weird month. I headed back to work, but the routine was quickly derailed by snow days and an unpleasant bout with the flu. My sleep schedule is so out of whack and I feel like I'm exhausted all the time. Plus, the start of the semester always feels a bit chaotic as I adjust to new students and ensure lesson plans and syllabi are set. Everything combined just feels strange this year. It's hard to quantify, but things just feel a little off. Not necessarily in a bad way, just like I can't quite get my feet underneath me.

Part of that is probably that our normal routine is really off because of experimenting with Kevin's diet. As I mentioned last month, he's doing a Paleo/SCD diet to try and help with his auto-immune struggles. It's meant we really haven't gone out to eat or do date nights, which is hard for us. We bond over food and eating out is our favorite treat. It's also meant way more food prep all the time. It's just been a big shift all around and it doesn't seem to be working, which is a big disappointment. We're reintroducing soy and rice this week, but keeping him off dairy, gluten, corn, and most sugars. Even though I haven't been doing the diet, eating has felt like a very isolated and lonely activity this month, which takes so much of our typical joy out of it.

I did read some great books this month. I'm excited to be getting, slowly, back into my reading groove. I haven't had tons of time for it, but I've really enjoyed what I have had time for. I already think this TBR challenge is great because I'm feeling so free to just cut things from the list. I started reading Alias Grace and just wasn't feeling it, so I stopped about 50 pages in. If you know me, you know I almost never fail to finish a book. However, I'm trying to make the most of my reading this year. There are so many books in the world and I don't have to like them all. I'm giving myself permission to say no, even partway through, and that feels delightful.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Nine Parts of Desire - Geraldine Brooks

Nine Parts of Desire
Title: Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publication Date: 1994
Pages: 255
Genre:  Faith / Historical / Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I really like Brooks's fiction work.
Date Completed: 1/15/18

Summary: Years of on-the-ground research and relationship building paved the way for Brooks to write this fascinating look into the lives and dreams of Muslim women across the Middle East.

What I Thought: I picked this up because I am such a fan of Brooks's fiction work. I was unaware she had a previous life as a journalist and nonfiction author and I wanted to explore that side of her writing. It comes as no surprise that Brooks brings the same fabulous attention to character and beautiful prose to her nonfiction writing. 

I've made an intentional effort in the past few years to read more about people and cultures outside of my own experience. This book fits perfectly into that pursuit. To my own regret, I don't have a lot of relational experience with Muslims. I have known some, certainly, but I've never been close enough to consider someone of that faith a friend. It's something I would like to change in my life. For now, though, I'm learning about the faith and culture through books like this one. 

Though Brooks wrote this book nearly twenty-five years ago, it still holds so much insight into the daily lives of Muslim women and their history. Brooks includes lots of history of the faith and the women who influenced the prophet Mohammad in his day. I found that aspect particularly interesting as I know so little about the history of the faith. For instance, Muhammad only began receiving revelations on the status of women and marrying multiple wives after the death of his first wife, to whom he was married for twenty-four years. That kind of fascinating information is scattered throughout the book. As Brooks points out, knowing the circumstances in which Mohammad received many of his revelations about women can be a very different experience for someone of the faith versus a skeptic. To an unbeliever, some of the revelations just look too convenient. However, I know people who are not Christians say the same about Christian beliefs, so I tried to take that into consideration as I read. 

This book is part of my 2018 TBR Challenge!
Brooks also spends a lot of time on the politics of Muslim women. She celebrates their victories. Pakistan, Turkey, and Bangladesh have all had a woman serve in their highest political office, something the United States has yet to achieve. However, as most of us are aware, many Muslim women in the Middle East face intense political restrictions everywhere from the ballot box to the driver's seat of a car. She explores the lives of ordinary women and famous women such as Queen Noor of Jordan. Brooks clearly gained the trust of countless people which gave her incredible access and information that, especially at the time, would have been impossible for most journalists to obtain.

As Brooks points out, "the nature of the Arabic language [means] that a precise translation of the Koran [is] unobtainable." This ambiguity has created so much of the turmoil we see in the Muslim world. Brooks explores those dichotomies with grace and nuance. I would love to see an updated version of this book, particularly since I know things have changed significantly in many of these countries since the Iraq War. Still, even with the significant passage of time, this book is an amazing look into a world so foreign to so many of us. There is a lot to learn here, especially for those of us in American for whom these cultures can feel so distant. 

Quotes I Loved:

  • "Muslims see the West's sexual revolution as an inevitable reaction to churches that tried to suppress and make shameful the God-given sexual urge." 
  • "Women bear the brunt of fending off social disorder in the Catholic tradition because they aren't considered sexually active, and in the Muslim tradition because they are."
I read this book in participation with
Roof Beam Reader's 2018 TBR Pile Challenge.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Yes, very likely
Other Books By Geraldine Brooks: Year of Wonders / People of the Book / March / The Secret Chord

A Reduced Review: A powerful look at the lives of Muslim women throughout the history of the religion; this book is both educational and an enjoyable read thanks to Brooks's extensive research and skill with words.

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Secret History - Stephanie Thornton

The Secret History
Title: The Secret History: A Novel of Empress Theodora
Author: Stephanie Thornton
Publication Date: 7/2/2013
Pages: 448
Genre: Biography / Historical / Royals / Fiction
How I Found It: I've had this on my list for a while.
Date Completed: 1/3/17

Summary: Born into poverty, Theodora ended her life as Empress of the Roman Empire. Thornton imagines what that life may have been like, based on the little historical information we have about the woman. Thornton's Theodora is feisty, determined, and indefatigable. 

What I Thought: I honestly knew very little about the Empress Theodora. I knew there was once an Empress Theodora married to Emperor Justinian. That's about it. A bit shameful, but true.

Picking up Thornton's historical fiction account of the woman's life, then, has been long overdue for me. I read The Tiger Queens, another book by Thornton which focused on the women in Genghis Khan's life, a while back and really loved how Thornton crafted such rich stories from such little historical information. She's done the same here. Despite being a powerful empress, there is relatively little trustworthy historical information available about Theodora. Thornton discusses this in her end notes. Normally, I don't love historical fiction because the inaccuracy of it grates on me. Somehow Thornton's work doesn't do that. What little we do know about this woman is nearly as speculative as Thornton's embellishments and changes.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Off the Sidelines - Kirsten Gillibrand

Off the Sidelines
Title: Off the Sidelines: Raise Your Voice, Change the World
Author: Kirsten Gillibrand
Publication Date: 9/9/2014
Pages: 224
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm trying to prepare for the inevitable 2020 presidential race by reading the books of some of the likely Democratic nominees. 
Date Completed: 1/2/17

Summary: Senator Gillibrand recounts how she got into politics and what has motivated her to stay in the tumultuous world. 

What I Thought: Here is how Senator Gillibrand begins the introduction to her book:
"If I had a daughter, I would tell her certain things. I would tell her that it's great to be smart, really smart - that being smart makes you strong. I would tell her that emotions are powerful, so don't be afraid to show them. I would tell her that some people may judge you on how you look or what you wear - that's just how it is - but you should keep your focus on what you say and do. I would tell her that she may see the world differently from boys, and that difference is essential and good."
What an opener. 

I was hooked from that first paragraph, despite the fact that I started this book at 1am on January 1st. I needed something to wind down my thoughts after our NYE celebrations and, in the moment, this felt like the right book to start the new year on. In retrospect, I could not have picked a better first book of the year. A lot of book bloggers plan out the book on which they will begin the year, but I never have. Both this year and last year have been happy accidents. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

Diana - Andrew Morton

Title: Diana: Her True Story - In Her Own Words
Author: Andrew Morton
Publication Date: 6/27/2017 
Pages: 448
Genre: Biography / Royals / Nonfiction
How I Found It: My OTSP Secret Sister sent it in her September package for me!
Date Completed: 12/30/17

Summary: First published in 1992, this biography of the late Princess of Wales was explosive. It was the first real exposé on the Wales' marriage - and it was fueled by Diana herself! Now, twenty years after her death and 25 since the original edition, Morton has added two and a half decades of the story and included edited transcripts of the interviews Diana gave for the book.

What I Thought: When I pulled this out of a package from my OTSP Secret Sister (it's a book blogger gift exchanges that extends throughout the year), I was thrilled. Clearly, my secret sister was paying attention to my avid interest (read: obsession) with the British royals. In the letters we've been writing back and forth this fall, we've quite enjoyed gushing together about all the recent exciting news for the family.

It normally takes me forever to read the books actually on my shelves, but I prioritized this one over break. I wanted something just like this - a delicate balance of light and substantive. It was perfect for reading during the holidays. 

Friday, January 19, 2018

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry - Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Title: Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
Author: Neil deGrasse Tyson
Publication Date: 5/2/2017
Pages: 222
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 12/27/17

Summary: Ever wanted to know more about the universe and physics but find scientific writings way beyond your comprehension level? This book was literally written for you.

What I Thought: I probably never would have picked this up if not for the nonfiction branch of my book club. I feel like I say that about every book they pick, but that's part of why I love participating. I always learn something and find myself pushed to think critically. This book was no exception. 

Tyson has become a bit of a scientist celebrity. As weird as I find that cognitively, I also love that we have scientists whom we celebrate and whose careers we follow. Our culture would be a whole lot better off if we tracked a few more STEM professionals a few less reality stars. Tyson even came to Elon University (where Kevin works) to speak at convocation a couple years back, but we didn't get tickets in time. 

If you know me, you know I'm not a science person. It was consistently my worst subject in school. I only passed chemistry by bribing my smartest friend with pizza rolls so she would tutor me. I have a basic understanding of earth science, astronomy, and biology, but chemistry and physics are really beyond the pale for me even now. As much as I hated science classes, I see them as a highly valuable part of my liberal arts education. I am a better person because I had to take those classes. Just like science-minded students are better people because they have to take my humanities classes. 

This is the deepest dive I have done into the science world in....a long time. I watch The Big Bang Theory and I like to watch the new Bill Nye series on Netflix sometimes while I cook, but that's about as far as I go into this world. Tyson's book is, in many ways, the literary equivalent of Bill Nye's show. Thank goodness for scientists who are bringing their work down to a normal human level for people like me. Just like those science classes in school, this stuff makes me a better, more rounded human being.

Ok, ok. So, the book. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Americanah - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Title: Americanah
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publication Date: 5/14/2013
Pages: 477
How I Found It: It's been critically acclaimed since its release, but I finally picked it up because the Pantsuit Politics book club read it in December.
Date Completed: 12/24/17

Summary: Ifemelu and Obinze are high-school sweethearts at their school in Lagos, Nigeria. They intend to spend their lives together, as all high-school sweethearts do. Life, however, distributes them to opposite sides of the planet and they both must learn what it means to be an immigrant and a Nigerian. 

What I Thought: Much as I felt after reading The Book of Unknown Americans, Americanah gave me a fresh perspective on what it is like to be an immigrant. Adichie lays the practicalities and emotions of the experience bare. She does not glamorize, but rather takes a magnifying glass to the ups and downs of life in a new country. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Movie Monday: Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Show Title: Big Little Lies

Book Title: Big Little Lies
Release Year: 2017

Summary: California mommy wars are real, women are complex, and a murder investigation is imminent.

What I Thought: I really loved this book, which I honestly picked up mostly because I wanted to read it before watching this star-studded adaptation. I loved the book for its drama and willingness to tackle tough issues with grace and nuance.

The show delivers on that same front. It did not keep me guessing as much, but I imagine that is because I already knew the twist. So, there was nothing to guess. Can't fault it for that! 

I think the show did an even better job in some ways of portraying these women as complex. The actresses involved did an amazing job presenting the public and private versions of their characters. This had to be especially hard because we don't get the inner monologue that Moriarty is able to give us. All that information had to be portrayed in facial expressions and body language. It's no surprise AT ALL that Nicole Kidman won a Golden Globe for her performance or that Laura Dern won one for hers. I imagine this show will clean up pretty well at the Emmys also. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Harmony - The Prince of Wales

Title: Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World
Author: Charles, Prince of Wales
Publication Date: 11/2/2010
Pages: 336
Genre: Royals / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember exactly, but it obviously stemmed from my interest in the royal family.
Date Completed: 12/22/17

Summary: Charles, Prince of Wales opines on his famously pet topic: environmentalism and caring for the Earth properly. 

What I Thought: When I learned the Prince of Wales had written a book, I honestly did not know what to expect. Prince Charles has long been known as an environmentalist, although it was his father, Prince Philip, that really started the interest within the family. His Royal Highness has gotten himself in trouble a few times over the years because of his outspoken nature on the subject, even as it relates to political decisions, which the royal family are supposed to steer clear of. Knowing all of that, I knew the book would likely be fairly preachy. Anyone familiar with HRH's personal history knows the man can have that tendency.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Crows of Beara - Julie Christine Johnson

The Crows of Beara
Title: The Crows of Beara
Author: Julie Christine Johnson
Publication Date: 9/1/2017
Pages: 300
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours graciously provided me with a copy to review.
Date Completed: 12/23/17

Summary: Annie's life is falling apart. She's an alcoholic fresh out of rehab, trying to reconcile with the consequences of her previous life. With her marriage in shambles and her job hanging by a thread, she heads to Ireland to manage a big account. There, she finds herself fighting old and new demons and trying to discover her new self while juggling old responsibilities. 

What I Thought: I have gotten away from book tours in the past couple years. I always have a few scattered throughout the year, but I don't do nearly as many as I did when I started blogging. This book was a reminder to me of the joy of book tours. They introduce you to things you would never read otherwise, books that are often outside of comfortable genres. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

2018 TBR Challenge

I started this blog because I wanted to read 52 books in one year. That challenge seems small now; I've read over 100 the past several years. It was that challenge, though, that pulled me back into reading for pleasure. I had not done nearly as much of it throughout my high school and college years. Through that goal, I rediscovered the passion I felt for books as a child.

Then, I took on the 100 Best Novels challenge. It took four years, but it felt amazing to accomplish. I feel much more versed in classic literature and have cultivated some strong opinions about what it means to be a classic anyway. It also opened my eyes to the importance of celebrating diverse authorship. 

I've spent a lot of time thinking about what will come next. I am a goal-oriented person; I like having something concrete toward which I am working. When I finished the 100 Best Novels challenge this summer, I mused about my next challenge. I floated several different ideas and the pros and cons of each. Now, at the start of the year, I'm ready to announce my decision. 

I'm going to tackle my TBR (to-be-read) list. Like, really tackle it. I started actively keeping the list in Goodreads in January 2013, although I've had an "On Reserve" page of books I want to read since I started my blog in January 2012. As of now, I have just under 350 books on my Goodreads list. I did a purge of it a few months back, so that number feels relatively solid. That is a whole lot of books.

I'll add this image to every post that falls under the challenge.
Now, the list is also always growing and morphing. New books come out or come to my attention. My interests shift and change. It's not a static list by any means. So, how is this going to work logistically?

I thought about laying out a bunch of rules for myself, but I still want to feel the freedom to add books as will. I know I won't get through 350 books in a year. That's a pipe dream. However, between reading and more intense purging as I go, I think I can get the list down to 200 by the end of 2018. That's a big goal, but a hopefully realistic one. I'd love to get closer to 100, but I have to have a life, too. 

I'll be marking my progress in each month's chapter update. Realistically, this means removing 12.5 books from the list each month. 12 books is a big reading month for me. Plus, figure in the fact that I usually add 5 or so books a month. Let's round up and say I'm dealing with 20 books per month. Wow, that's a lot.

Obviously, some of those will come off because I delete them from the list. I want to get serious about removing books from the list I just don't care to read any more. I want to be an intentional reader. This may mean quitting part way through some books, a practice with which I have a very hard time. 

As a part of this, I'm taking the natural step to join up again with the Roof Beam Reader 2018 TBR Pile Challenge. I did this challenge in 2015, which is the last time Adam hosted the challenge. I loved it then and was disappointed to see it go while he wrote his doctoral dissertation. His challenge, specifically, is to pick 12 books off the list that have been there for over a year. While I'm hoping to do way more than that this year, here are my official picks for that challenge:

My 2018 TBR Pile Challenge List
  1. Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
  2. The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
  3. Beloved - Toni Morrison
  4. Out of the Silent Planet - C. S. Lewis
  5. The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff
  6. We Two - Gillian Gill
  7. In Defense of the Fatherless - Sara Brinton
  8. Salt to the Sea - Ruth Sepetys
  9. Evolving in Monkey Town - Rachel Held Evans
  10. The Thousandth Floor - Katharine McGee
  1. Nine Parts of Desire - Geraldine Brooks
  2. A Darker Shade of Magic - V. E. Schwab
So, there it is. My next reading challenge. We'll see how this goes. I'm cautiously optimistic. I hope at the end of this year, I feel good about the intentional reading I have done and also am more discerning about what I put onto the list in the first place!

Friday, January 5, 2018

2018 Blog Goals

I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this post. After I finished the 100 Best Novels this summer, I began mulling over what what would come next for me as both a reader and a blogger. On Monday, I'll deal with what comes next specifically as a reader. Today, though, I'm doing my annual post laying out goals for the blog. 

Before I do that, though, I want to take a minute and reflect on the goals I set forth for 2017 and see how those played out. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

2017 Chapter

Happy New Year!

Ok, so technically Monday was the kickoff to 2018, but this post is my traditional way to start the new year here on the blog.

As I do every year, I'm laying out everything I read and some stats from the past year. Coming on Friday, I have a post looking forward where I wax loquacious about goals and such. For today, though, I'm still focused on 2017 accomplishments.

Let's start with some highlights:

  • I read 126 books. This is down from 136 last year, but I read a lot of heavy stuff this year. 
  • Readership was all over the place this year. I think Google is messing with SEO algorithms. Some months were huge and some were not so much. Overall, though, I'm not worried about this. I basically don't do anything to actively seek readership. I do this for personal pleasure and am especially thankful for those of you who show up here consistently. 
  • I finished the 100 Best Novels challenge! This was such a huge undertaking and I'm so proud to have finished it.
  • The Read.Write.Repeat. Facebook presence has stayed stable, but I've gotten increasingly active on Twitter. Like or follow if you haven't already! 
  • I continued the monthly "chapter" posts and some off and on Movie Mondays as well as a few Let's Talk About... posts. I haven't done one of the LTA posts since the spring, but I'm hoping to bring them back in the new year. In fact, I have one brewing right now. I have some thoughts to share about the latest installment in a certain blockbuster science fiction franchise.
  • I started offering personalized book recommendations last year and they are consistently the way people most engage with the blog (besides reading). I've done nearly 100 of them since starting the service. They are fun and I've made a better system to manage them better.

Monday, January 1, 2018

December 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

December News 

Happy New Year! I hope you rang in the mile marker last night safely and happily. It's always such an invigorating time of year, despite the fact that I struggle to stay up late enough to mark the occassion. We'll get to talking about the future in a bit (mostly later this week), but today I'm looking back on the last month.

December has been a nice reprieve. It really was a long, crazy year for us. I needed these last few weeks of peace and self-care. I had not really read much for the last couple months, so it was nice to get in some concentrated time over the Christmas break.

I took a full week off of blogging, which is something I haven't done in a long, long time. I felt a little guilty at first because I had posts I could have just sat down and pounded out, but I didn't feel like it. It was another intentional way this month that I gave myself a pass. I'm trying to do that more. I don't have to do everything all the time. It's ok to say no to things.

Honestly, I don't feel as though I have much to report here this month. I feel like the early "chapter" posts of 2017 were so nice and substantive and here I am limping to the finish line. Hopefully, I can reignite some of that thoughtful, impassioned spirit in the new year.  I'm planning to get back on the exercise and healthy living train starting today, as are many of you, I'm sure. We're actually starting a Paleo/SCD diet today in hopes that it will benefit Kevin's auto-immune struggles. I'll let you know how that goes. I'm not going full Paleo, but all meals we eat together will be. Of course, I have some blog goals as well for the new year. Make sure you come back on Friday to read my post talking about that exact thing.