Wednesday, May 10, 2017

april: 14, 15 & 16

beowulf (i listened to the audiobook of this - which i hadn't read since high school - and totally loved it.  the narrator had an excellent voice, and i enjoyed the lyrical language and the easy-to-follow plot (i don't often do well listening to fiction, because my mind tends to wander a bit and then i get lost).  but i guess i shouldn't be surprised to have enjoyed it so much - beowulf was written to be read or recited aloud!  big thumbs up if you're into this sort of book.)

murder on the orient express, by agatha christie (i nerded out and read this along with a senior english class at my school, attending class once a week while they read it and participating in discussions (and taking reading quizzes!).  i hadn't read any agatha christie before, and this is such a popular book in our canon that i wanted to have read it; it was an easy read and i was definitely entertained by it, but it hasn't turned me into a christie or poirot devotee.  one agatha christie book might be enough for me!)

the little old lady who broke all the rules, by catharina ingelman-sundberg (this was my book club's pick for last month, and you can totally skip it.  it claims to be in the genre of a man called ove, but i loved that one and didn't much care for this one.  not sure if this one didn't stand up well in translation, or the swedish are into different things in their literature, or if i just didn't care for it.  really fun premise, but the book dragged for me.)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

march: 11, 12 & 13

with a spring break trip to france in the works, i planned my books this month to compliment the trip!

the paris wife, by paula mclain (i didn't love circling the sun, so i was slightly skeptical of this book, which has the same premise (take a real woman and create historical fiction around her life), but this book worked so much better for me than circling the sun did.  this book tells the story of hemingway's first wife, hadley, and the five years they spent living in paris together before getting divorced and moving back to north america.  if you are a hemingway fan - or a paris fan! - this is definitely worth a read.)

the nightingale, by kristin hannah (this book was recommended to me by becky a few years ago, and i finally got around to reading it.  an aspect of WWII that i really didn't understand until very recently is the perspective of people who lived in occupied france.  FASCINATING.  this book, though fiction, helped me understand that time in france very well - the nuances of how horrible it was.  again - so cool to read this while in paris, and i may or may not have cried on the plane ride home while finishing it up.)

a moveable feast, by ernest hemingway (so i had hadley's (somewhat fictionalized) version of things from the paris wife, and a friend lent me this book, hemingway's memoir of the very same time period: those five years in paris.  i loved this book, and would so recommend that people read the two books together like i did.  i hadn't read any hemingway since college and was reminded of how much i like his writing style.  it was interesting to see his (actual) perspective on the fictionalized events of the paris wife (hadley really did lose the manuscripts of all his early work by leaving it in a train station!).  i also loved the idea of 60 year old, nearing the end of his life hemingway reflecting back on his life when he was in his 20s.  it was a quick read!)

Saturday, March 4, 2017

february: 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10

this month i read:

family life, by akhil sharma (i would never have picked this book up if my book club hadn't chosen it for this month's selection, and i ended up really enjoying it.  apparently david sedaris has been talking up this book, which seems like as good an endorsement as you can get. the book is a coming-of-age story of an indian boy who moves to america with his family.  it grew on me as i read, and then when i googled the author after finishing the book i learned things that made me appreciate the book even more.)

the longest day, by cornelius ryan (i listened to this audiobook in preparation for my trip to normandy in a week.  it was published in the late 1950s, so i was skeptical that it would stand the test of time, but it turns out there's a reason people point to this as the definitive book on the d-day invasion: it is fascinating nonfiction that reads like fiction.  the book is split into three parts - the wait, the night (when the paratroopers landed), and the day (of the invasion from the sea).  i learned a ton and hope it helps me appreciate seeing the beaches in person.)

the wonder, by emma donoghue (i loved room but this one kind of disappointed.  interesting premise...but it wasn't a page turner.  skip this one and read room instead.)

seabiscuit: an american legend, by laura hillenbrand (another audiobook - this one i had to check out from the library three separate times to get through it all.  the ultimate question one should ask oneself before starting this book: how much do you care about horses?  did i learn some fun facts: yes.  was i charmed by the meteoric rise of seabiscuit: yes.  did i really want to listen to second-by-second accounts of horse races from 70 years ago when i was driving to work: no.  this is another one where you should read the author's other bestseller - unbroken - instead.)

the sun is also a star, by nicola yoon (ugh, a third i would put in that same category - i liked everything, everything better than this one, though i read this in three days and was charmed by it.  if you like YA fiction you should familiarize yourself with this author!)

Sunday, February 5, 2017

january: 1, 2, 3, 4 & 5

super female-heavy january of reading!  off to a fast start.  this month i read:

the sixth extinction, by elizabeth kolbert (i actually listened to this one on my drive to north carolina for christmas and finished it up when i got back to houston.  really really enjoyed this pulitzer-prize winning nonfiction about the extinctions of 13 different species throughout world history.  so many fun facts came out of this!  big thumbs up.  audiobook was well narrated, too.)

lab girl, by hope jahren (ugh, i LOVED this book, too.  part memoir, part nonfiction about plant biology, this was unexpectedly FANTASTICALLY written and super touching.  don't let "memoir of a female scientist" lead you away from picking this book up.  it's so much more.  particularly loved the commentary on adult friendships and on finding love in your 30s.)

lilac girls, by martha hall kelly (this was our faculty book club pick, and we're going to be skyping with the author in a few weeks!  the book follows three women during world war II - one german doctor, one polish woman who is imprisoned in a concentration camp, one american philanthropist.  i liked this book but didn't love it - it was interesting that parts of it were based on real women and a true story, and it was kind of an unusual holocaust story (no jewish characters).  i'm not rushing out to recommend this to people, but i had no trouble getting through it.)

all the bright places, by jennifer niven (a young adult book that's getting a lot of YA press these days. the author is no john green nor is she rainbow rowell, but i did enjoy this book - add it to your list if you're into YA.)

difficult women, by roxane gay (this is a book of short stories that was in places funny, in places devastatingly sad.  this was the recommendation of the independent bookstore in houston that i frequent, and was published in january so i felt very fancy that i was reading it so shortly after it was published.  i tend to stay away from short stories because i find it hard to dive into a character only to have them disappear forever at the end of the chapter, but i've read some good short story collections recently - this included - that are changing my mind about that.  some of these stories have really stuck with me.  thumbs up.  since i'm in the process of cultivating myself as a nasty woman, the subject matter and title seemed appropriate for early 2017.)

Sunday, January 1, 2017

my year in books

a recap (mandatory):
2010: i read 15 books.
2011: i started my book challenge with the goal of reading 25 books; i read 38.
2012: 34 books
2013: i read 34 books again
2014: 32 books.
2015: 35 books
2016: in year six i read 58 books because...i'm not sure.  less tv?  (maybe)  pop sugar book challenge motivated me?  (probably - the social experience of talking about the challenge definitely did something for me)  my social life sucks?  (i don't think so...but now i'm questioning that)

2016 broken down:
33 books written by women
25 by men
(a little more of a gender balance than last year)

41 fiction books
17 nonfiction
(a pretty consistent ratio for me)

13 diverse books (as in, the main character or the author is not white) - this is almost double the number from last year.  i'm proud of that.

my favorite books of 2016?  between the world and me, by ta-nehisi coates (nonfiction) and a man called ove, by fredrik backman (fiction).  read this books immediately.

i'm going to do another reading challenge in 2017 - comment or email/text/facebook me if you want to play along with me this year and i'll make sure you're clued in to the details!  i'm not trying to beat 58 books because that is absurd, but i am trying to find books i'll love, read them, and talk with others about them.  and that sounds like a good intention with which to enter 2017.

december: 53, 54, 55, 56, 57 & 58

i didn't complete the 2016 reading challenge i'd embarked on (4 categories short!) but i did check off three more categories this month and end with 58 (!!) books read this year.  not sure how i killed my previous year's reading record so forcefully, but i did.  this month i read:

we should all be feminists, by chimamanda ngozi adichie (this is my "book that's under 150 pages" - it's super short and worth reading, even though at this point we all know we should be feminists.  right?!  because i'm unfriending everyone who disagrees.  i'm a newly minted adichie fan so i had to read this one.)

whistling vivaldi, by claude m. steele (this is my "self-improvement book" because, yes, i get to decide what counts as self-improvement.  this will improve me because it will help me better support underrepresented students.  bam!  i facilitated a faculty book club this fall where we read this book and had some pretty excellent conversations and connections about the role of race and gender in the experiences of our students.  this was a re-read - i first read this in grad school and knew it would be perfect for getting the little diversity book club off the ground.)

slade house, by david mitchell (this is my "book recommended by someone you just met," and that "someone" is a person who works at an independent bookstore in st. paul, MN and wrote one of those little index cards that tells you why you should read a particular book.  other things this book had going for it: i'd heard good things about the author and the book was short (ha - i have high standards at this point).  this is a mystery that was described as spooky and was totally accurate.  i don't often get creeped out by books, but this one did it for me at points.  now, it was just okay - as in, i read it and all, but i wasn't totally captivated by the plot line and i didn't fully care about the fate of the main characters - and that's important to me.  in fact, after reading it i took mitchell's cloud atlas off my "to read" list because i just didn't love his writing style.  can anyone convince me i should add it back?)

just mercy, by bryan stevenson (mandatory reading.  stevenson writes about criminal justice and race in a hugely readable and very powerful way.  also mandatory reading of the same genre: the other jim crow and watching: 13th.  but this book is so personal, because it's part-memoir of his life and because he talks about individuals on death row in a very humanizing way.  it's hard not to be totally drawn in to this one.)

empty mansions, by bill dedman (i listened to this one, mostly on my drive to north carolina for christmas, and i was totally captivated by this, too, though for different reasons.  it's the story of a woman who inherited 300 million from her father - and became a (bizarre) recluse, dying in a hospital at 104 and giving most of her fortune to her nurse.  i love getting inside looks into the lives of people who live really differently than me, and this is a story very well told.  lots of googling ensued about what has happened since the book was published a few years ago.)

the forgetting time, by sharon guskin (a quick read with a compelling plot - a child believes he had a different mother before his current mother and she decides to believe him - that i enjoyed but won't be rushing out to recommend to everyone i know.  vivid characters and a well-constructed plot.)

Saturday, December 17, 2016

november: 51 & 52

november was incredibly stressful, mostly because i did not see the stress coming and did not mentally prepare for it. ugh!  as a result, i didn't finish a single book until the thanksgiving break.  this month i read:

girl waits with gun, by amy stewart (detective novel with a twist - based on a real life female detective in 1910s new jersey.  well-developed characters, but the plot moved a little slowly for me.  i liked this one but won't be rushing out to recommend it to everyone i know.  this was a school book club read and i got the book for free - woo hoo!)

everything, everything, by nicola yoon (a lovely YA novel about a girl who has an autoimmune disorder and can't leave her house - but falls in love with the boy who moves in next door.  ugh i love a good YA novel.  this was a super quick read for me and i totally fell in love with the characters and the writing style and the little twist that happens near the end.  have definitely added the author's next book to my list!  highly recommend if you like YA.)

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

october: 48, 49 & 50

50 books!  who am i?

barbara the slut, by lauren holmes (this is my "first book you see in a bookstore" - i went into brazos bookstore, my local independent bookstore, and kept my eyes averted from the books until i found a saleswoman.  i told her to lead me to my "first book i see," and make it a good one.  i told her some books i'd read recently, and she showed me this one.  poof!  i had to buy it.  i would NEVER have picked up this book on my own (the cover has the word "slut" spray painted on it), but i was totally into the short stories contained within.  success!)

the muse, by jessie burton (i read this for my online bookclub - two storylines: one in london in the 1960s and one in spain in the 1930s.  two well-rendered and vivid worlds and an exciting mystery about how exactly they will come together (which of course they do).  i'd recommend it!)

before the fall, by noah hawley (the same bookclub's pick for the previous month, which i didn't do because i had other reading commitments.  a private plane crashes, and only two people survive.  why did it crash?  i'm not rushing out to recommend this to everyone i know, but it was a good vacation read - if you go away for a long weekend, this book would happily keep you company.)

7 categories left to fulfill in 2016!  eek!  gotta get back on track if i hope to finish on time!