Tuesday, February 3, 2015

For the Record: January 2015

For being a month of chaos, I've had some surprisingly rewarding reading.  Most of the chaos has to do with our house project...we found out that the landlord of the house we are renting does not want to extend our lease beyond the 2-year mark: March 15 (he wants it vacant in hopes of selling it quicker...it's been on the market since October and not a single person has come to look at it, but so it goes.)  However, our new/old house won't quite be ready for us to move into.  And as if that weren't enough, we have a mandatory business trip March 11-15.  Fun, right? Thankfully, we were able to convince our landlord to give us to the end of the month, so that will help a bit. In the meantime, I'm packing and trying to make all the final design decisions and purchases while we try to figure out where to stay in April while our house gets buttoned up.  Sounds like reading is providing just the escape I need.

10 Books (3,226 pages) Read in January: 
[10 books (3,226 pages) year-to-date]

1 Nonfiction:
  - From Sea to Shining Sea (for Young Readers), Peter Marshall & David Manuel (3) I didn't realize when I bought this book (in preparation for beginning American History studies with my 10yo) that it was a continuation from The Light and the Glory—a book that I knew took a heavy providential view of the USA. Since I'm piecing together my own curriculum, I pre-read the book and found the expected as well as the unexpected.  The expected: Euro-centric focus, with the simplistic viewpoint that good/bad things happen because people are good/bad. The unexpected: a good mix of early American tales that help to show the variety of leaders and circumstances that helped to found the USA. Turns out, it'll be a good base to springboard from in combination with my other texts.

2 Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, Robert C. O'Brien (5) What a wonderful book! I read this aloud to my 10yo and we didn't want it to end.  I loved the writing, the pacing, the mix of character development and plot.
  - Pippi Longstocking, Astrid Lindgren (4) Also read with my 10yo, this is re-re-read.  Pippi is always hilarious and a little ridiculous. We were amused to find that many of Pippi's comments sounded just like what a 7yo friend of ours would say. We are blessed with funny friends!

3 for the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge:
  - The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt (4.5) I listened to the audio version (which I highly recommend) beginning sometime in December. While the drug use and some other slightly depressing topics made for heavy reading (listening) in the middle of the book, I found it very well done overall.  The writing was great, and the ending really brought the whole thing to a higher level. [A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade]
  - Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple (4...or maybe 3.5) I finally caved and bought this after pretty much everyone loved it, and I have to say that the quirkiness did win me over in the end.  The first half was a little strange to me—the tone was too light and irreverent for the subject matter somehow. By the end it seemed to open up and become a little more honest and enjoyable. I'm always a little afraid that I'll read something light and fluffy and it'll be the end of me somehow, so it's nice to find something that proves my fear unfounded. [A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)]
  - Bark, Lorrie Moore (3) My book club read Moore's Who Will Run the Frog Hospital last year, so I was looking forward to reading her new collection of short stories.  This is a short collection of eight stories that all seem to revolve around people in some sort of mid-life turning point. While her writing is quite good, every story left me depressed which only made me glad to finish the book. [A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people)]

1 Classic:
  - Main Street, Sinclair Lewis (5) This is exactly my sort of book: humorous with serious themes, well-written, great character development and a little bit of history.  More here.

3 Others:
  - Texts from Jane Eyre, Mallory Ortberg (3) This was a really cute idea, and it was a lot of fun to flip through. Gone With the Wind was especially funny to me.  However, it doesn't hold up much past a casual browse. The conversations all start to sound the same and not many made me audibly chuckle.
  - The High Divide, Lin Enger (4) Received from the publisher via LibraryThing. I loved the time period (post-Civil War) and setting (Minnesota to Montana). The writing reminded me of Robert Morgan (Gap Creek) and the very great value of family.
  - The Salinger Contract, Adam Langer (3.5) From a Book Riot Quarterly box, this literary thriller is not something I'd pick up on my own but I found it enjoyable anyhow. Written in a unique style that made it feel more like a friend telling you a true story than as if you were reading a novel. Quick and interesting.


2 Current Reads:
  - Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen. My current audio book - no big shocks for me since I love history and I'm a renegade homeschooler ;) but still interesting to listen to. The tone is a little irritating—all scandal and condescension—but I've been trucking along anyhow.
  - Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham. What can I say...this won the First Line Contest when I was auditioning books to read next. I'm not much into it because I had a crazy busy weekend scrubbing floors and scouring stoves, but it'll be underway soon.


On My Nightstand:
What to read, What to read.  Well, I just ordered a bunch of new books from my local book shop, so who KNOWS what I'll jump into next.  It's gonna be one of these:


Sunday, February 1, 2015

Main Street by Sinclair Lewis

In recent years I've found great enjoyment from American fiction that was written from 1910-1930. Most notably, Willa Cather has been a favorite, but Edna Ferber's So Big was an enlightening view on the era, and Sinclair Lewis has been wonderful as well. I started with Free Air that I bought in a fit of Cover Love last year (the cover art was too adorable...fortunately the book was just as great) and followed up with Main Street.


I'm fascinated with the period in general—when Victorian ideals clashed with Modern sensibilities and no one yet knew which would win. With burgeoning advances in transportation and communication, people from rural areas started flooding into the cities for all the exciting opportunities they held for both the entrepreneur and the independent woman.  And yet, this is when Prohibition came in to being and women had yet to earn the right to vote, which illuminates the very great division in the beliefs of the American people. Flappers and Activists aside, though, how did life look for the relatively mainstream citizen? How did life look from within? These are the answers that fiction provides in a far more complete manner than nonfiction can manage.

In Main Street, a college educated girl tries to come to terms with small town living and finds that her visions of the perfectly cultured community are harder to realize than she'd dreamed. Even though her husband, Dr. Kennicott, is a kind and loving husband (generally speaking) Carol finds herself disillusioned and misunderstood.

As a window on the inner workings of marriage, we see the comparison of the husband's desire for a simple cozy home life contrasted with the wife's desire for stimulation and culture. While some might view Carol's schemes and obsessions as proof of a shallow, flighty nature, I thought it reflected more on the futility of being trained for a greatness with no hope of fulfillment.

As a commentary on small town life vs. big city life, I thought it was spot on.  Lewis didn't weigh in fully on one side or the other, but showed the good and bad in turns. In a time when small town life seemed idyllic, Carol's hope of finding the perfect small town didn't seem as absurd as it may now. Similar to many things in life, the good parts are more apparent when you can look at it from some distance.

The next book on my radar from this time period is Booth Tarkington's Pulitzer Prize winning The Magnificent Ambersons. Do you have any experience with Tarkington or Lewis?

Thursday, January 8, 2015

The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

It was the narrator of the audio version that convinced me to jump into this chunkster—David Pittu did a remarkable job throughout this 32+ hour listen.  I do have a physical copy of the book thanks to Powell's Indiespensable subscription, but since I got hung up on their pick of The Best of McSweeney's, I fell (all the way) behind in my Powell's books.  Turns out, I'm glad I listened to it instead. That way I could halfway space out while the main character was wasting his life away in Vegas (not my favorite place.)

Donna Tartt can sure write characters; I love that about an author. Theo's dad was almost too similar to an in-law I have, and Xandra was entirely fun to imagine.  Boris, Hobie, Pippa, Kitsey...this was one of those rare books that helped me create very real portraits in my head.

Epic in scope, I can see why it took the Pulitzer—even though it was quite different from the other recent Pulitzers I've read (Tinkers, Olive Kitteridge). It really did show a slice of America, from New York City to Las Vegas, with a wide variety of culture and reality. The biggest downside to this book is that the middle half was much longer than it needed to be. The first and last quarters were captivating but the middle was just a downer, (I'm sure the teen drinking and drug use helped with that.) It wasn't a slog to get through, it was just kind of depressing. There didn't seem to be any hint of redemption to come.

The thing that really made me appreciate The Goldfinch, for there were moments when I didn't think it was possible for me to walk away liking this book, was how Tartt tied it all together in the end.  Not the plot points necessarily, I'm sure there were a few unraveled ends somewhere, but with the big-picture ideas and themes.  I loved how she touched on the faults in the "Be Yourself" mantra:

"A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don't get to choose our own hearts.  We can't make ourselves want what's good for us or what's good for other people. We don't get to choose the people we are."

By the end of the book, Theo seemed to have finally found a way to begin living intentionally, realizing that his life didn't have to be mere survival. He may have started the story as a victim, and he may have subconsciously identified as one throughout most of his formative years, but thanks to good people like Hobie, he found a way to shift his perspective.

This is the first book I've completed this year, and the first I'll count towards my Read Harder challenge.  I can only hope that it is a sign of good reading to come in 2015.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2014 in Review (the BIG post!)

Even though 2014 was crazy, it wasn't nearly as stressful as 2013.  14yo daughters are better than 13yo daughters, and renovating a house without a contractor is better than renovating with one...at least in these particular instances.  Looking back, there were good things about being too busy to blog.  I read what I wanted to read, for the most part (the exception being the classics that I didn't have the mental fortitude to conquer.) I do like having goals and challenges, but—as with most things—there needs to be balance and moderation.

Biggest success this year?  Two things: This was the year of really solidifying an appreciation for audiobooks.  This also [inadvertently] became a year of re-reads.  Not in the traditional sense necessarily, although there were a few titles that I'd read before. But I also read multiple books by new-to-me authors, and multiple books on the same subject, and found it to be rewarding.

Biggest goal for 2015? To enjoy pulling my books out of storage and revisiting all those old friends, to continue to chip away at reading books from my shelves and at the same time to continue to support my local independent book shop.

I read fewer books this year than I have since 2007, and yet I'm not dissatisfied.  I do hope to fit in more classics next year, but if the number is low again next year I don't think I'll mind so much.

I felt a lack of nonfiction and classics this year, but it looks like my nonfiction was on par—only my classics count was low.  My other stats are comparable to previous years, looking at the percentages, with one of the most interesting (to me) being the fact that my best reading months center around April, and my worst happen at the end of the year.  Makes sense, now that I think about it.

How many books read in 2014?
(10 less than last year, and 26 less than 2012...but there's always next year!)

NONFICTION -  17% (12 books)  [14% (11 books) last year]
FICTION -  83% (57 books)  [86% (68 books) last year]
  • CLASSICS - 9% of Fiction (5 books) [18% (12 books) last year]
  • JUNIOR / TEEN - 37% of Fiction (21 books) [22% (15 books) last year]
  • ADULT FICTION - 54% of Fiction (31 books) [60% (41 books) last year]

Male/Female authors?
FEMALE - 52% (36 books) [52% (41.5 books) last year]
MALE - 48% (33 books) [48% (37.5 books last year]

OLDEST? Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility, 1811
NEWEST? Nora Webster by Colm Toibin, October 2014
# WRITTEN BEFORE I WAS BORN? 14 [28 last year]
# WRITTEN THIS YEAR? 14 [8 last year]

Longest book read? Cloudsplitter by Russel Banks @ 758pp
Shortest book read? The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman @ 96pp
Number of "chunksters" (450+ pages)? 11 [8 last year]
Any in translation? 2 (4 last year)

Best/Worst Reading Month?
Best—March - 9 books [April & May last year w/11]
Worst—May - 3 books [June, November, & December last year w/4]

TOP FIVE of 2014: (I only had four 5-star books, and eight 4.5-star books, so this wasn't very difficult to figure out.  I didn't include Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility, since it isn't new to me...it is an all-time favorite, though, a cherished reread that I highly recommend!)

The Lighthouse Road by Peter Geye (stunning setting, wonderfully full characters)
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson (fascinating history of quickly changing time/place)
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (sweet first love, complex story)
I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe (Civil War...the only book that made me cry)
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr (beautifully written, unique perspective on WWII)


and a comparison chart just for the fun of it--

So, it looks like my NonFiction reading and my Junior/Teen Fiction is right on par with where it has been, but my Adult Fiction and Classics are down.  I wish I'd been able to fit in a few more classics but overall I'm pretty happy with my reading year.


Nonfiction: 17% (average rating 3.36)  [last year's average rating was 3.91]
5 stars:
4.5 stars:
  - The Devil in the White City, Erik Larson
4 stars:
  - 12 Years a Slave, Solomon Northup
  - MFA vs. NYC, ed. Chad Harbach
  - What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund
  - Jane Austen Cover to Cover, Margaret C. Sullivan
3.5 stars:
  - Under the Overpass, Mike Yankoski
  - Seven, Jen Hatmaker
3 stars:
  - Loving Our Kids on Purpose, Danny Silk
2.5 stars:
  - Judging a Book By Its Lover, Lauren Leto
2 stars:
  - Half-Broke Horses, Jeannette Walls
  - The Souls of All Living Creatures, Vint Virga

Classics: 9% of Fiction(average rating 3.9) [last year's average rating was 3.96]
5 stars:
  - Sense & Sensibility, Jane Austen
4.5 stars:
  - Free Air, Sinclair Lewis
4 stars:
  - All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
3 stars:
  - Oil!, Upton Sinclair
  - Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather

Adult Fiction: 54% of Fiction (average rating 3.89) [last year's average rating was 3.64]
5 stars:
  - The Lighthouse Road, Peter Geye
  - All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr
4.5 stars:
  - The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion
  - The Interestings, Meg Wolitzer
  - I Shall Be Near to You, Erin Lindsay McCabe
  - The Road From Gap Creek, Robert Morgan
  - Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
  - Nora Webster, Colm Toibin
4 stars:
  - Lexicon, Max Barry
  - The Dog Stars, Peter Heller
  - The Moon Sisters, Therese Walsh
  - The Sisters Brothers, Patrick deWitt
  - Cloudsplitter, Russel Banks
  - The Sisters Mortland, Sally Beauman
  - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin
3.5 stars:
  - Breathing Lessons, Anne Tyler
  - Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, William Kuhn
  - The Dinner, Herman Koch
  - The Position, Meg Wolitzer
  - Flora, Gail Goodwin
  - The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, Susan Jane Gilman
  - Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
  - The Good Lord Bird, James McBride
  - The Best of McSweeney's, ed. Dave Eggers
  - One Plus One, Jojo Moyes
  - Wake, Anna Hope
3 stars:
  - Middlesex, Jeffrey Eugenides
  - Me Before You, Jojo Moyes
  - Longbourn, Jo Baker
  - Ade, Rebecca Walker

Junior/Teen Fiction: 37% of Fiction (average rating 3.83) [last year's average rating was 3.83]
5 stars:
  - Eleanor & Park, Rainbow Rowell
4.5 stars:
  - The Children of Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren
4 stars:
  - Because of Winn-Dixie, Kate DiCamillo
  - The Magic Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
  - Folk of the Faraway Tree, Enid Blyton
  - The Yellow Phantom, Margaret Sutton
  - Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry
  - The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, Stephen Collins
  - More Than This, Patrick Ness
3.5 stars:
  - The Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Speare
  - The Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson
  - The Whipping Boy, Sid Fleischman
  - Master Cornhill, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
3 stars:
  - Along Came a Dog, Meindert DeJong
  - Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A.S. King
  - King Dork, Frank Portman
  - The Gate in the Wall, Ellen Howard
  - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne
  - Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein
2 stars:
  - We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Monday, January 5, 2015

For the Record: December 2014

December ended up being a surprisingly good reading month for me, especially considering that my overall reading time has been down this year. I decided to spend the last week of the year starting a classic instead of trying to race through a couple of smaller books, giving me time to pull together my year-end stats. Here's what I read this month:

7 Books Read in December: (69 year-to-date)

1 Nonfiction:
  - Jane Austen Cover to Cover, Margaret C. Sullivan (4) I loved the covers in this book, especially the campy ones, but the bonus lesson on the fashion and fads of publishing in general was fascinating...an unexpected treat. This is the perfect example of a worthwhile coffee table book - suitable for one minute's perusal or one hour's reading and information (and entertainment) to be had either way.

2 Gifts to my Kiddos (that I had to read first!):
  - The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil, Stephen Collins (4.5) For my 15yo son, a graphic novel that is just as wonderful as the title itself. The illustrations and story line were wonderful - funny yet serious.
  - More Than This, Patrick Ness (4) For my 14yo daughter, another adventure from her favorite author.  This is rather Matrix, but the delivery is fully Ness.

4 Others:
  - Nora Webster, Colm Toibin (4.5) I was only partially sold on Brooklyn, but I decided to give Toibin another chance. I found this well-written character study fully captivating, though surely the Irish setting helped with that. Unlike Brooklyn, this novel spends more time exploring the main character's inner thoughts and feelings instead of leaving them only hinted on (and focusing on the character's actions instead). I loved how the story touched and prodded at how we come to think of ourselves as we do, and how we can change. It ended rather abruptly with no real closure, but in a way that was symbolic of the story in general.
  - One Plus One, Jojo Moyes (3.5) I read this enjoyable little modern day romance with my book club. I thought the characters were more fully developed than in Me Before You, and the plot felt less emotionally manipulative, so I liked it more.  The plot is a pretty basic formula, but it didn't matter all too much while reading.
  - Ade, Rebecca Walker (3) I thought the poetic writing would carry this short novel for me, but it ended up feeling overly wrought. I could relate to the feeling of landing in a corner of the earth where you feel like you belong, but the dreamlike quality of the love story was hard for me to connect with.
  - Wake, Anna Hope (3.5) The post WWI London setting of this story was enough for me to overlook some of the little issues of this book, (mediocre present-tense writing, a large cast of characters that were hard to tell apart,) but there was a major issue that it couldn't redeem. Even after reading the book, many parts didn't make sense until I went back and read the synopsis a few times. The fact that I was interested enough to read the book even through waves of confusion says something in the book's favor, but I still can't get behind the idea that reading the synopsis is a necessary part of understanding the plot of a book.


2 Current Reads:
  - The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. My current audio book - I've made some progress on this book but still  have a little ways to go.  The writing and pacing is wonderful, but the characters are pretty depressing.
  - Main Street, Sinclair Lewis. I enjoyed Free Air so much at the beginning of the year, and I've been wanting to read Lewis again since then.  His observations on the common quirks of everyday people make me so happy!


On My Nightstand:
I thought I might read these before jumping into Main Street, but that didn't happen. These are still on my nightstand:


Monday, December 29, 2014

Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge for 2015

I've decided to join Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge for 2015. I think I'll be able to complete most of it from books I already own (excluding the one published in 2015 for obvs. reasons) so I'm expanding the challenge to include the goal to read from my shelf.  Hopefully this challenge will be a good bridge to reconnect me with the world of book blogging once my house project reaches completion in the next few months.  Here are the 24 categories with my potential picks:

A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25
     : The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, Carson McCullers

A book written by someone when they were over the age of 65
     : All That Is, James Salter

A collection of short stories (either by one person or an anthology by many people)
     : Bark, Lorrie Moore

A book published by an indie press
     : The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure, C.D. Rose (Melville House)


A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ
     : The Hours, Michael Cunningham

A book by a person whose gender is different from your own
     : We Are Not Ourselves, Matthew Thomas

A book that takes place in Asia
     : Please Look After Mom, Kyung-sook Shin

A book by an author from Africa
     : We Need New Names, NoViolet Bulawayo


A book that is by or about someone from an indigenous culture (Native Americans, Aboriginals, etc.)
     : Caleb's Crossing, Geraldine Brooks

A microhistory
     : The Big Burn, Timothy Egan

A YA novel
     : Looking for Alaska, John Green

A sci-fi novel
     : The Killing Moon, N.K. Jemisin (from a Book Riot Quarterly Box)


A romance novel
     : The Girl You Left Behind, Jojo Moyes

A National Book Award, Man Booker Prize or Pulitzer Prize winner from the last decade
     : The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt

A book that is a retelling of a classic story (fairytale, Shakespearian play, classic novel, etc.)
     : Mr. Fox, Helen Oyeyemi

An audiobook
     : Uncle Tom's Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe


A collection of poetry
     : The Portable Dorothy Parker

A book that someone else has recommended to you
     : The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

A book that was originally published in another language
     : Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak

A graphic novel, a graphic memoir or a collection of comics of any kind
     : Les Miserables, Stacy King (Manga Classics)


A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure (Read, and then realize that good entertainment is nothing to feel guilty over)
     : Where'd You Go, Bernadette, Maria Semple

A book published before 1850
     : Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen (annotated version by Belknap)

A book published this year
     : ???

A self-improvement book (can be traditionally or non-traditionally considered “self-improvement”)
     : Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, Barbara Kingsolver


Pass it on!