Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Reading Challenge...Accepted?

When I was in college, I started writing down every book I read in a notebook. Looking back, I eagerly cataloged every Mary Higgins Clark book that I read outside of school, but it seems I didn't deem books I read for class as worthy of recording. As an English major, that's a...strange oversight. (Although I also distinctly remember not finishing Pride and Prejudice for years after it was assigned in class...a class in which I got an A on my character study of Mr. Bennett. Brilliant writing skills on my part or state-school education? Let's not dissect it.) 

Even though other methods of book tracking are more searchable and less likely to be forgotten about, I've stuck with my old notebook. (I toy with the idea of using an online spreadsheet instead, but then I read The Bone Clocks, which seized me with FOLPFAHNI (fear of losing power forever and having no internet). 

Along with my book tracking, some years I set a reading goal. Lately, I've seen a trend toward reading challenges that are meant broaden horizons. Book Riot started a reading challenge last year, and they've just released the 2016 challenge. The 2016 challenge has some wonky items that range from potentially awkward (read a book aloud to someone) to weirdly specific (read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the past three years).

However, Modern Mrs. Darcy published a reading challenge that is meant to help you succeed--read a book you've been meaning to read...read a book that has been banned...read a book that intimidates you. These, friends, are things we can succeed at. 

Do you set a yearly reading goal? Is anyone interested in following Modern Mrs. Darcy's challenge and sharing what you read for each category? 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

More Holiday Advice, or At Least You Aren't Being Attacked by a Whale

Since my dealing-with-Thanksgiving tactics came a day too late, let's get a jump on Christmas.

First, survival stories. Is your family nosy? Do they disapprove of your life choices? Do they think that Don Lemon is a good reporter? Well, tell that to the guys who escaped from a Siberian gulag and then walked across the Gobi Desert and the Himalayas. Or to the guys who were attacked by a great whale.*

NPR's Book Concierge is pretty amazing. It offers the standard categories--fiction, nonfiction, etc.--but also areas like It's All Geek to Me, Rather Long, and Rather Short.

If you need a short-ish volume to read on the flight home, try this list from Maureen Corrigan. Always, always trust Maureen Corrigan. She will not steer you wrong. while her reviews are rarely out-and-out negative, if she says that a book is "just OK," you have been warned. Her story happens to include my favorite book of 2015, The Tsar of Love and Techno**, and also a few that are on my TBR list: The Mare, No Better Friend, and The Story of the Lost Child.

Ever one to put things into perspective, Sarah Vowell talked about her new book, Lafayette and the Somewhat United States, on Conan. "Do you have feet? Do you shoes? At Valley Forge, that's what we call a Merry Christmas."

And then there's this, from the author of the awesome pop culture book, Slaughterhouse 90210:

My sibling is re-posting Ted Nugent on Facebook, so some of us do indeed need your prescriptive Thanksgiving survival content, thanks.

What are all of you planning to read over the holidays?

*The movie version of In the Heart of the Sea is about to be released. It stars Chris Hemsworth, who I am thankful to for being the only funny part in that new Vacation movie. It is a terrible, terrible, NSFW, NSF People Who Like Movies, NSF People with Working Brains movie. (If you liked this movie, I only ask that you let me know so I can never, never take movie recommendations from you.)

**Anthony Marra, the author of The Tsar of Love and Techno and A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, lives about 30 minutes from me. Who is surprised that I haven't started stalking him? [raises own hand]

Friday, December 11, 2015

November Book Review

I read some really great books in November. I read Mary Kubica's books, The Good Girl and Pretty Baby. I really liked The Good Girl because it was suspenseful and dark. It was compared to Gone Girl but I would compare it more to Girl on the Train. I like how she made the "bad guy" so likeable. Pretty Baby was also dark and twisty. My Literary Sensei abandoned this book on page 62 when Kubica referenced a comic sans font on the character's business card.

My other dark and twisty book was Gillian Flynn's short story, The Grownup. I pre-ordered this book and read it while my child was in gymnastics. I did look up so she would know that I was paying attention but I also needed to take a breather from Gillian's craziness. The first page grabs you because it is so shocking and not what you expect (even though you should expect this from her). It starts with being vulgar yet hilarious and then turns into a ghost story. I really liked this one but I am big fan of all her books.

Our Book Club choice was Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. This was a tough read at first but I am glad that I stuck with it. Interesting characters gave us plenty to discuss at our Book Club gathering.

I read The Paris Wife by Paula McLain and loved it! Honestly, I didn't know much about Hemingway and picked the book by it's cover. I loved the story and the author did an amazing job at describing Paris. I felt like I knew exactly where she was at and felt all the feelings of Hadley.

My fluff book of the month was Plum Lucky by Janet Evanovich. This is a between-the-numbers book in the Stephanie Plum series. These are light and funny books that are perfect for something quick to read or to recover from dark heavy books.

The self-help book of November was Money Making Mom by Chrystal Paine. She is the Moneysaving Mom and has a daily email and blog that I follow. I enjoy that she reminds her readers regularly that she's not perfect. It would be easy to see that she can "do it all" but she's very down-to-earth and has a self-deprecating sense of humor that I enjoy. Her book was very good because it was truly helpful. It is catered to the SAHM demographic but also good for anybody turning a hobby into something more. I was eager to read this one as I was in the early stages of getting my coaching website started.  The book guides you from the start of your idea to launching and everything in between. It had tough love and also encouraging pep talks along the way. She gave excellent and helpful examples from herself and other women that succeeded and also some that failed. My favorite line from the book is "don't spend so much time planning, brainstorming, and preparing to launch that you never actually push the start button."

My favorite book of November was The Apothecary by Maile Meloy. I read a wonderful article by her in Town and Country. It was an essay for the Manners and Misdemeanors section about patience and it was just what I needed to read at the time. I have read it over and over again and made copies for others to read. Unfortunately, it's not on the internet (c'mon T&C!). Within a few days of reading the article, I saw that Maile Meloy was going to be a guest speaker at Parnassus, releasing her third book in the Apothecary series. This a Middle Grade/Young Adult series but one that any adult would like. She started off writing adult books but was asked by a friend to write a young adult book in hopes of having a movie idea (still in the works). I really enjoyed hearing her speak and even asked a question (gasp). I brought my copy of her article and she was so pleased that someone read it. She tried to find it on the internet, too. I absolutely loved this book and immediately texted and emailed my reading buddies to say, "you must read this!". One review described it as a mix between Harry Potter and Nancy Drew. It was just a great story that was creative and allowed me use my imagination. I also liked the pictures. When she mentioned the artist, the audience ooohd and aaahhd. I was clueless, but gave an impressed look to my seatmate.

Currently reading: The Hypnotist Love Story by Liane Moriarty.

Have you read any of these books? What was the best book you read last month?

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Go Set A Watchman: Let’s talk about this

Like many of the fine folks who contribute to this blog, I’m from Alabama. And, therefore, I have a soft spot for Harper Lee and To Kill A Mockingbird. You can imagine the range of emotions I felt when I learned that she had a “new” book coming out this year ... but the controversy surrounding it made me a little sick to my stomach. I can think of few things worse than someone taking advantage of an author’s dementia for monetary gain. An article from The Onion summed up my feelings perfectly.

But, I had to read it. I had to. In October, I borrowed my brother’s copy of Go Set A Watchman (her caretaker gets no money from me!) and finally finished it over Thanksgiving.

This book is no To Kill a Mockingbird. I don’t think I would have finished it if it hadn’t been the Harper Lee book. It didn’t have the same driving plot, intensity, or life lessons.

However, there is some great writing in the book. Parts are clever and felt very real. The south is hot and muggy. Ice cream on a hot day is delicious and can take you back to memories of your childhood. Games you played as kids had hidden meaning you might not have realized at the time. She says all of that better than I just did.

I was perhaps most enraptured with the scene where Scout’s aunt throws a fancy party. Scout/Jean Louise would come in and out of conversations, hearing only bits and pieces of them as she was simultaneously frustrated with her aunt and the party in general. The bits of conversations were spot on, and the scene perfectly put people in certain groups that they would be in at a party.

I also have to admit that this book felt slightly like The Help in the way the protagonist was the fish out of water in the southern town – and especially at that party – because of her life, her ambitions, and her marital status. It irked me that the comparison was so easy to make, and I think it's because this book just doesn't have the plot it needs to feel unique or to be about more than a girl coming home for a visit and feeling like everyone is the absolute worst.

And, let’s talk about one thing that struck me throughout: At times, this book felt like it was trying to be a young adult novel or a romantic novel. Scout and Henry (who is her longtime boyfriend at this point) talk a great deal about their relationship, and she gives him advice on women quite a bit. I also didn’t expect to learn the story of Scout getting her period. In other words, there were scenes in here I didn't expect. Sometimes I felt like I was reading a Sweet Valley High book, Are you there God? It’s Me, Margaret, or a new version of Catcher in the Rye (because Scout sure seemed to feel like her town was full of phonies).

There is one good point at the end about the importance of not tying your conscience to someone else's conscience (or at least your perception of it). Also, in a related note, Atticus wasn't the evil character I feared he would be after hearing rumors about this book. He was definitely not perfect, but he wasn't the raging racist I expected; he was really just more of a pragmatist than the prophetic voice we met in Mockingbird. Still, it's disappointing. But, also, he's not real, so it's not worth getting actually upset about (I'm talking to you, WORLD AT LARGE).

I want to talk about this book. What did you think? Was the ending satisfying? Did you end up hating Atticus? What did you like? What didn’t you like? What did you learn?

Who else has read this book and wants to talk about this with me?