Bookworm

Bookworm: July 2018

I started gathering up my list of what I've read this month and did a bit of an incredulous double-take - how the heck did I possibly power through as much as I did this month? Then I realized it's been a super-stressful month which, for me, triggers acute insomnia, which in turn means I'm often up reading for an hour here or there over the course of a night when I get frustrated with my own inability to sleep like a normal human. So there you have it - a ridiculously robust July reading list! 

Also, I dog-sat Leia the first weekend of the month, and pretty much all I did was this, because Leia is my favorite dog in the world and I mostly want my entire life to be cuddling and playing with her (ideally while also reading a plethora of books).

Loved: 

Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond: Dave recommended this to me almost immediately after we moved in, and I picked it up recently in a darling local bookstore. Guys, I couldn't put it down. The author wrote an ethnography, essentially, on life below the poverty line in the rental market of Milwaukee, WI. The stories he illustrates are deftly told and left me simultaneously frustrated, saddened, and grateful for my own good fortune. I need to unpack this further in its own post - such a fantastically impactful read, proving (once again) that Dave has surprisingly excellent taste in literature. 

Next Year in Havana, Chanel Cleeton: I half-heartedly read along with the Reese Witherspoon Book Club from time to time, largely because her books are generally popular (or become generally popular, once selected by her). This one sucked me in right away - set in Havana during the Cuban Revolution and in present day, it's a love story to both people and places, and highlights how once we love either, they never really leave us. 

Fake Plastic Love, Kimberley Tait: I liked this much more than I was expecting after a very lukewarm first chapter - two college friends take very divergent life paths, one into the world of banking and one into lifestyle blogging. As I straddle both worlds (sort of?), I laughed and grimaced in equal parts. The characters and settings are so idealized as to be nearly caricatures, but that just added to the excellent beach-read tone of the entire work (I read this in an afternoon in the pool). 

My Oxford Year, Julia Whalen: Kels recommended this to me and I'm so glad she did! Loosely based on the Ali McGraw classic "Love Story," Verdi's "La Traviata," and Alexandre Dumas's "La dame aux camélias," our protagonist, Ella, receives a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford for a year. She must balance love, her professional career, and her own best interests along the way among a series of dramatic (and unforeseen by me!) twists and turns. Super enjoyable and a very quick read. 

Enjoyed: 

When Life Gives You Lululemons, Lauren Weisberger: The author also wrote "The Devil Wears Prada," and this is told in part from the perspective of Emily Charlton (portrayed by Emily Blunt in the movie) from that iconic chick-lit classic. It's escapist, frothy, fun, and everyone comes out happy in the end, which I think makes for a perfect July insomnia read, don't you?

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recomment, Katarina Bivald: A friend from college recommended this on one of my numerous "what are you reading?" posts on FB, and it was sweet and wholesome and lovely in every way. A young, socially awkward Swedish woman comes to rural Iowa to meet her elderly pen pal, only to find said pen pal has died. The ensuing events are the stuff of a Nora Ephron movie waiting to happen, I swear. Read this over tea when you're having a cranky day and it will make you smile! 

The Devlin Diary, Christi Phillips: The sequel to "The Rossetti Letter" (see "Re-reads" section, below!) finds our young researcher at Oxford solving mysteries with her hot professor, falling for another hot professor, said other hot professor ending up mysteriously dead, and all the while a parallel story about codebreaking and serial killers in Restoration England is raging like, every other chapter. Again, this is historical fiction with very little history and VERY much fiction, which is fun and escapist and enjoyable. Think "The Tudors," not the BBC! 

Jane Austen: The Secret Radical, Helena Kelly: I loved this, as I've been going through a bit of a Jane Austen renaissance and I enjoy just about anything that explores her life and writing further. The book picks apart a different Austen novel every chapter and peels back the layers, revealing (hypothetical) critiques of everything from social class stratification, primogeniture, the clergy, the military, and censorship embedded in Austen's works. A fascinating, if not entirely convincing read!  

Georgiana Darcy's Diary, Anna Elliott: I love a good "Pride and Prejudice" spinoff, and this perfectly fit the bill for an e-reader book to pick up and put down on my phone while waiting in lines. Picking up after P&P and told through diary entries by Mr. Darcy's younger sister, it's sweet and Hallmark-trite but still warm and fuzzy. 

From Pemberley to Waterloo, Anna Elliott: See above - same premise, just further into the action. 

Kitty Bennet's Diary, Anna Elliott: See above again - this time reforming noted flibbertigibbet Kitty Bennet and pedant Mary Bennet. Big fan. 

Tolerated: 

A Lady's Guide to Selling Out, Sally Franson: EH. This was such a letdown because it was recommended publicly by a Minnesota writer I adore, and she recommended it largely because it was set in Minnesota - and yet there was absolutely zero Minnesota in it. I wanted a MN version of Curtis Sittenfeld's lovely "Eligible," specific and tangible and indelibly of a place, and this was not that novel. Also the plot was insipid, the heroine didn't inspire me, and I found the entire novel simultaneously predictable and irritatingly convoluted. 

Re-reads: 

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos: I've waxed rhapsodic about Marisa de los Santos so many times here, but as I'm sitting here the phrase "lighting truths like candles" popped into my head, and that's from this gorgeous story of screwed-up families, failed and budding relationships, and how we all somehow come together. The best read for anytime you need new faith in love, language, or life in general. 

The Rossetti Letter, Christi Phillips: A young researcher in Venice teams up with a sexy Oxford professor to solve a centuries-old mystery about the Spanish Conspiracy of 1618. There's also a parallel story set during the Spanish Conspiracy, and it's all deliciously frothy, Philippa Gregory-esque historical fiction - light on history, heavy on fiction, which is exactly as it should be for a good escapist read. 

Titus Andronicus, William Shakespeare: Such such such a good tragedy, one that I think often gets overshadowed by "Macbeth," "Hamlet," and "Othello." Even "King Lear," for that matter. It's DARK. Pick it up! Although I don't recommend it for the car dealer - it doesn't pair well with Muzak and sales pitches. 

 

Bookworm: April/May 2018

Wow, I'm getting in a bad habit of forgetting to post these - it's not for lack of reading, that's for sure! 

Loved: 

The Love Gap: A Radical Plan to Win in Life and Love, Jenna Birch: I know this is ever-so-basic of me, and could read as pathetic, but I read my first self-help book and, guys, I loved it. This was a funny, tongue-in-cheek peek at why women of my generation who are ambitious and career-focused are more single than ever before, and it was incredibly eye-opening for me. I've been single for a LONG time, crew, and while I'm okay with that about 92% of the time, that 8% is super annoying. This was a fun reminder that this, like all phases of life, is a season, and that I've got it pretty damn good after all. Highly recommend. 

The Gilded Years, Karin Tanabe: So I read this because I found out Reese Witherspoon and Zendaya are co-producing a movie based on the book, and I loved it. Telling the tale of the first black woman to graduate from Vassar College - by passing as white, I could not put this down. Excellent light, interesting and different historical fiction!

Enjoyed: 

Coming Home, Rosamunde Pilcher: This was recommended on a blog I'm obsessed with, and I liked it for what it was while still thinking it was a bit...blah. It chronicles the lives of two wealthy British families pre-, during and post-World War II, and it was a crumpet-light version of "Atonement" or "Downton Abbey" basically. Fine, but maybe not the most memorable choice. 

Forever is the Worst Long Time, Camille Pagan: A poet, James, meets his soulmate - but she's engaged to his best friend. The novel tracks this love triangle over the ensuing decade or so, with enough twists and turns to derail a bullet train along the way. I found the plot refreshing, but the writing style didn't suck me in or keep me particularly interested. It would be a great beach read, but maybe don't expect your world to change? Idk - I'm realizing my standards are probably much too high for "quality" literature these days. 

Meghan: A Hollywood Princess, Andrew Morton: DUH you didn't think I was going to go into the Royal Wedding without reading the first authoritative Meghan Markle biography to hit the market, did you? I've got some bones to pick with this one - namely that Morton's assessment of Meghan seemed to swing wildly between adulatory and condemning - and I think a lot of the sources used have their own, very biased agendas. That said, I learned a bit about my new Duchess of Sussex, so it was worth it! 

The Hamilton Affair, Elizabeth Cobbs: Also DUH, my "Hamilton" obsession has not abated one bit. This focused the narrative on Eliza and Alexander Hamilton's love story and relationship, and it cast a lot of things that get glossed over in the musical and buried in the biography in a new light. It was fun! Read it! 

Tolerated: 

Nemesis: The True Story of Aristotle Onassis, Jackie O, and the Love Triangle That Brought Down the Kennedys, Peter Evans: Confession: For as much of a Kennedys/Jackie O enthusiast as I am, this left me cold. I was supremely uninterested in the arcane political machinations of the Onassis-Kennedy rivalry, and a LOT of the book felt like it was based on conjecture, supposition, and unreliable sources. Eh. 

The Wedding Date, Jasmine Guillory: My mistake: I assumed any novel with a Roxane Gay cover blurb was bound to be in her vein of writing - elevated, provocative, incisive and utterly gripping. Instead, this was a completely run-of-the-mill, insipid romance novel. The only thing that sets it apart from your standard modern-day bodice ripper was the attempt to shoehorn in racial controversy (the female love interest is black). AND, adding insult to injury, if I'm going to read a cheap romance novel, I expect sexy sex scenes. This book, on the other hand, mostly implied a lot of oral sex and hinted at prolonged sexy time with a whole bunch of "they were late to dinner." "He missed his flight." WHATEVER, CAMPERS. 

Re-reads: 

None these past months! I was too busy marathoning "Suits," watching six different telecasts of the Royal Wedding, and working my butt off! Whee! 

See you next month! Any recs? 

Bookworm: March 2018

The library was like something out of a good dream, if you're the kind of person who dreams about libraries, which I am...the smell of books, row upon row of shelves, and lots of rustling. The rustling - part page turning, part whispering, part shushing, part quietly shuffling feet, part just the books and people breathing - is so much my favorite part of any library that it's possible I imagine more rustling than is actually there. - Marisa de los Santos, "I'll Be Your Blue Sky"

Loved: 

I'll Be Your Blue Sky, Marisa de los Santos: I have perennially adored Marisa de los Santos's writing for the better part of thirteen years now, and this did not disappoint. Her way with words and her evocative, tactile imagery has always sucked me in. I pre-ordered her newest novel at least four months before it came out, and read it in under four hours. Finishing it felt like coming up for air. Just an absolutely gorgeous offering from a writer I will always love. 

Enjoyed: 

Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America's Favorite Obsession, Amy Kaufman: I NEEDED something to cleanse my "Bachelor" palate after Arie shat all over my Minnesota girl Becca's life in the finale, and this was just the ticket. Kaufman, a writer for the LA Times and noted "Bachelor" franchise enthusiast, has put together one of the most readable, well-researched, gossipy behind-the-scenes books on the show that I've ever read - and I've read most of them at this point. Extra love for the contributions from celeb fans of the show...such a fun addition!

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K Dick: Wade texted me out of the blue mid-month and asked, "The Man In the High Castle - is it pretty conventional alternate history, or...is there something weird about it?" So of course I had to download and read it immediately, and I couldn't put it down. There's definitely something weird about reimagining the outcome of World War II with Germany and Japan as the victors, and I had a blast discussing the myriad plot twists and bizarre quirks with Wade. Definitely recommend for anyone looking for a liiiittle bit of a mind trip! 

In Twenty Years, Allison Winn Scotch: This one really sucked me in - the story of five friends brought together twenty years after their college graduation to rekindle their relationships pulled at my heartstrings in a very specific way, and I thought the writing was just the right mix of pretty and prosaic. Would be a great beach read for all you spring breakers! 

Harry: Life, Loss, and Love, Katie Nicholl: We're approaching peak royal wedding fever in my world right now, and of course I pre-bought and immediately read the new Prince Harry biography in advance of the wedding (May 19, campers - mark your calendars!). I really liked it, but the vast majority of it wasn't new news to me, and I felt like it was a bit light on Meghan Markle, which is the real reason I wanted to read it in the first place. Guess I'll have to go binge-watch "Suits" instead...

Tolerated: 

The Marriage of Opposites, Alice Hoffman: I'm not sure precisely what I didn't love about this novel, and that lack of ability to pinpoint it is bothersome to me. The story of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro's Caribbean and Jewish antecedents sounded riveting on paper, but I think the novel suffered from a surfeit of ancillary characters and side plots that sidetracked me more often than not. That said, it started a resurgence of my interest in Impressionism, so here's to that at least! 

Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov: A diatribe: I have always struggled with Russian literature - I loathed Dostoevsky and Tolstoy when I tried them both out in high school - and a friend recommended Nabokov as a more modern, palatable alternative. I ordered "Lolita" because it is, obviously, his most famous and enduring work. And I loved his style of writing and the vivid, imagery-driven, colloquial phrasing of the work. That said, I felt incredibly...icky all the way through, largely because of the subject matter being treated with that vivid, imagery-driven phrasing. For those unfamiliar, "Lolita" centers around a 37-year old man's obsession and sexual relationship with a 12-15 year old girl. Sorry, but reading pedophilia, fictional or not, is just REALLY not something I will ever enjoy. YIKES. Hoping I can find something else of his with slightly more mainstream subject matter, because I genuinely did enjoy his style of writing, apart from the squickiness all the way through the book. 

Life and Other Near-Death Experiences, Camille Pagan: I downloaded this after seeing it spoken highly of by an Instagram "influencer" I follow, and I'm sad to say I was disappointed. I expected something with a lot more depth based on her reviews, and instead found that it was basically chick-lit (plus cancer and a gay husband). The highlight, for me? A lot of it took place in Puerto Rico, Culebra and Vieques, all places I've been and loved. Eh, otherwise. 

The Vacationers, Emma Straub: I expected to like this a lot more than I did based on Straub's other work, but I always struggle when I can't find even one likable character in a work, and this was a classic case of that happening. It's definitely an interesting premise - a family vacations with their adult children and gay best friends in Spain after infidelity rocks their marriage - but I found myself checking how many pages were left more than once, and that's never a good sign in my book. 

Re-reads: 

Love Walked In, Marisa de los Santos: Like I said, I've loved Marisa de los Santos for over a decade now, and this, her first work, is perhaps my favorite. Told in alternating chapters by a quirky-if-underachieving thirty-something and her boyfriend's eleven-year-old daughter, the way it delicately illustrates mental illness, fear and love still keeps me riveted every time I re-read it (this was probably the sixth or seventh time...oops.). 

Belong To Me, Marisa de los Santos: The sequel to Love Walked In, this picks up a few years later and tracks all my original favorites, plus adds a new cast of characters that I love just as deeply. The way that this novel illustrates losing a loved one to cancer chokes me up to this day - the imagery is so rich, I can't not feel it. 

Falling Together, Marisa de los Santos: This was the first of Marisa de los Santos's works for adults that left the characters of her original novels, but it's still really beautifully written. The plot does a little less for me - two friends on a quest around the world to seek their other long-lost bestie, while grappling with their secret love for each other along the way? Eh, not quite as much my thing...but the beauty of the writing more than makes up for it. I seriously cannot recommend her highly enough. Read her, and tell me that you did, and love her right along with me!

Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler: I just read this for the first time last fall, and had to re-read it in light of the upcoming STARZ mini-series adaptation. I loved it just as much the second time - the story of a young waitress trying to make her way in one of New York City's elite restaurants, and figuring out who she is along the way is one that really resonated with me for some reason. Maybe it's that I think of Spoon and Stable the whole time I read it? Who knows. Pour yourself a fancy glass of wine and enjoy this one. 

Bookworm: February 2018

"A river of words flowed between us." - Ernest Cline

 

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Loved: 

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline: Oh my gosh I could not put this down, and ended up with a horrific sunburn from sitting poolside for about five hours reading it. My interest was piqued after seeing the movie trailer, but it was a rousing endorsement from Wade that ultimately got me to make the purchase. Set in a dystopian, virtual reality future, this was "Hunger Games" meets "Divergent" meets "The Matrix" in all the best ways. 

Enjoyed: 

Victoria, Daisy Goodwin: Eh - I feel like I just keep trying and trying to like Queen Victoria and I just kind of...don't. This novel riffs on the Masterpiece series, and was a fast enough read that I didn't have time to get bored with its myriad historical falsities and inaccuracies or the trumped-up love story at the heart of the plot. 

What Matters in Jane Austen? Twenty Crucial Puzzles Solved, John Mullen: As a lifelong lover of Austen, I actually really enjoyed this dissection of significant aspects of her novels. Examining everything from the weather, to use of first names, to the presence (or absence) of servants, it provided a lot of context to read deeper into my favorite texts. Maybe a full Austen re-read is necessary soon...

Breaking The Rock: The Great Escape from Alcatraz, Jolene Babyak: A caveat - this was not particularly well-written or edited. That said, I'm on a major Alcatraz/prison kick after our trip out to the island on my birthday, and this account of the circumstances surrounding the island's most dramatic escape attempt was well-researched and super interesting to me, given my current fascination. A weird little niche read, kind of a fun change!

Tolerated: 

This Is Your Life, Harriet Chance!, Jonathan Evison:  I had heard really good things about Evison's work, and I think this was a letdown for me because the whole thing felt incredibly disjointed and somewhat flat. I saw both of the major twists coming about four or five chapters before they actually were revealed, and I couldn't get invested in any of the characters or their issues. It was...solidly meh. Oh well!

Re-reads: 

None this month - a short, busy month calls for a short, busy reading list! 

A literary Lately I'm Loving

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Hiiiiiiiiii guys! So I'm noodling with the idea of trying to write a daily post in February - I've been so writers' blocked lately (can "writers' block" be verbified? Is "verbified" acceptable for use?) and I feel like that, coupled with laziness, has made me think it's okay to just...not write, which it isn't. SO here we go - with the spirit of doing some kind of writing daily, whether it's good, bad, or indifferent, here's me thinking a bunch about books, because I read SO MUCH last month, and because I'm so excited about both the book I'm currently reading and a few I have on deck. 

- First off, a hot take of sorts. I know a lot of people are deeply devoted to *their* medium of book delivery - whether it be physical books, audiobooks, or e-readers. I'm an omnivore when it comes to books - at any given time, I usually have at least one hardcopy book going, along with an audiobook for those lovely California commutes and usually at least a book apiece in Scribd, Kindle, and iBooks. It drove my mom crazy when I was little that I would be reading a dozen books at once (and that the corresponding stack HAD to sit on my nightstand no matter what) - I like the flexibility the modern options for reading grant me. 

Along those lines, this article on The Millions fascinated me. The gist? Ownership of physical books has been shown to be correlated with increased wealth. The article decries this as completely the wrong reason to appreciate, collect, and cherish physical books - citing a plethora of better, more soulful reasons than aesthetics and advancement. I'm inclined to agree with the writer - I have an impossibly hard time letting go of books, and love to re-read favorites - but I guess that, in my mind, anything that gets a person reading is worth it (even if it means audiobooks or eBooks all the way). 

- I am a longtime Twitter user, and over the nine years I've had an account the rabidity with which I use the medium has vacillated wildly. I'm currently in an "on" phase (hit me up at @MissSchweg), and one of my favorite accounts I've followed in the last several months is Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster). Yes, I follow a dictionary on Twitter. This is in no way related to the phase I went through as a child where I tried to read my dad's stunning old college dictionary, cover-to-cover. 

The account is worthy of a follow for a variety of reasons - it elaborates on common word choice errors, illustrates the evolution of words and colloquialisms, and expounds on words relevant to holidays, social events, et cetera. Most significantly, however, the account subtweets - radically - at our esteemed leader, calling him on his BS, explaining some of his more interesting word choices ("bigly" comes to mind, as does "braggadocious") and offering veiled commentary on the latest occurrences in the political world. I found this article on a day in the life of the account's manager to be so fun, interesting and eye-opening.  

- One of the points I always (try to) hammer home with people when they react incredulously to the amount of reading I do is that the act of reading is universal. From the fourth millennium BC, reading has been part of civilization, and today it has been estimated that 83% of the world's population is literate. I loved this peek at photographer Steve McCurry's book, "On Reading," which showcases the mind-boggling variety of the world's readers...it made me appreciate the sheer banality of my reading spot of choice (curled up in my ancient gray overstuffed armchair, usually swaddled in a ridiculously plush blanket, with a beverage of some kind close at hand). 

- Can reading make you happier? I was immediately sucked in by this (admittedly clickbait-y) title on The New Yorker - with the amount I read, I thought, I must be happy if it can! The actual point of the article, that books are therapeutic and that there is an entire genre of therapy that has evolved around that premise, intrigued me (and still does). Their elucidation of why books are effectively making people "happier" was more what I was expecting - an increased capacity for empathy, stronger social perception, and more refined ability to interact? All worth picking up a book if you ask me, and definitely all things that would make me happier. 

- And in that vein, I fell madly for this article on the world's required reading lists. Although my personal list of "books to read," housed in my "Life Lists" Excel workbook (NERD ALERT), just crested 525, I couldn't help but add a few, reminiscing on some of my favorite high school required reading as we went. Fun story: in 10th grade Honors English, I had already read the entire curriculum at the beginning of the year, so my fantastic teacher (hi, Mathison!) designed a bunch of mini-units for me to do instead of/alongside the regular curriculum. In one of those units, she introduced me to Willa Cather; in another, CS Lewis - both of whom have become longstanding loves of mine, and for that I will be eternally grateful to her.