Bookworm

Bookworm: December 2017

"In a weak moment, I have written a book." - Margaret Mitchell

Loved: 

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Bryn Greenwood: This was a gorgeous and somewhat disturbing book I plowed through in about three hours on a flight - the story centers on a broken meth-cooking family in rural Kansas, and on how the young daughter of the family comes to find herself in an underage relationship with a much older man. The writing is powerful and the story is completely unexpected - a must-read, if you ask me. 

Fierce, Aly Raisman: I have an enduring fascination with the Olympics and with Team USA Gymnastics, so I tend to read everything that comes out on either of those topics. I have so much respect for Aly Raisman's two-time Olympic performance and her hard-work ethos. Definitely recommend this quick and inspiring read!

Enjoyed: 

Rhett Butler's People, Daniel McCaig: After finishing "Gone With the Wind," I usually re-read "Scarlett," but found out about this book a few months ago and subbed it in instead. It's not my favorite - but it was a fun, light, interesting continuation of the Rhett-and-Scarlett canon from a fresh perspective. 

September Girls, Bennett Madison: I started and stopped this one twice before I got into it, and I'm glad I did power through - at first I was really not a fan of this semi-fantasy "bewitched mermaids doing creepy things in a North Carolina seaside town" story, but it hooked me in a bit harder by the end. It was fine - probably a better beach read, honestly. 

Tolerated: 

The One Memory of Flora Banks, Emily Barr: This was hands-down one of the worst books I've ever read. The premise, of a teenager with short-term memory loss who goes off to find a guy she kissed on a beach and ends up in Lapland, is far-fetched...the writing is elementary at best...and I legit wouldn't have finished it if I hadn't been stranded on a plane surrounded by strangers who wouldn't shut up. Do not recommend. 

Re-reads: 

Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell: This is one of my all-time favorite books, and I just really needed to re-read it after starting the movie on the flight home from Thanksgiving. Such a classic. 

Girls in White Dresses, Jennifer Close: I read this for the first time right when it came out, so I was probably 24-25 and didn't really enjoy it at all. On a second read, older, the themes of love, relationships, personal satisfaction and settling hit home much harder and, while I still didn't love it, I did really enjoy it this time around. 

Bookworm: November 2017

Usually I start these monthly reading round-ups off with a literary quote by one of the authors I read in that month. This month, however, I'm feeling particularly cracked out on holiday festiveness (more to come) and have been quoting this little cutie on repeat, in the most appropriate and inappropriate situations...so enjoy! 

If ANYONE wants to give me books for Christmas, I'll love you forever and ever (and also be very excited about them, I promise!). 

Loved: 

Salvage the Bones, Jesmyn Ward: Being totally honest, it took me a bit to get into the rhythm of this novel, set in rural Mississippi in the run-up to Hurricane Katrina. The writing, though, has a very visual quality I tend to value in books - evocative imagery always sucks me in when all is said and done. The description of the hurricane and its immediate aftermath alone makes this a book worthy of recommending highly. 

Girl Logic, Iliza Shlesinger: Dave, Laura and I are obsessed with Iliza Shlesinger - her acerbic, take-no-prisoners humor is so fantastically fun. In novel form, her intelligence and thoughtful consideration of what it means to be a woman in this day and age come through even more clearly than in a standup set, sprinkled liberally, of course, with laugh-out-loud moments. 

Enjoyed:

Everything was pretty polarizing this month, honestly. And that's almost more fun than being lukewarm on something, isn't it?! 

Tolerated:

The People We Hate at the Wedding, Grant Ginder: I have a really hard time with books where I can't get invested in the characters, regardless of the reason. I found Ginder's cast of misanthropes particularly two-dimensional and unappealing - all of them so mired in resent and their respective pasts that I couldn't get any sense of development in them, or root for them in any way. I'm disappointed - I've read great reviews of this book, and it was a total let-down.

What Happened, Hillary Clinton: I listened to this in audiobook form - all 18 hours of it - and I have such mixed feelings about the book as a whole. At the end of the day, I think I finished the recording with a lot more respect for her, although at times I think her desire to justify actions led to a palpable bias in the narrative that I struggled (and still struggle) with across the board. Worth it, solely for the insight into some of the "why" behind the "what," but I didn't love any of it. 

Re-reads: 

Henry V, William Shakespeare: A classic. One of my favorite memories is reciting passages of this out loud with Michael years ago at the Chateau de Liz, and revisiting it was like catching up with an old friend. A pro move: reading the soliloquys out loud - in perfect iambic pentameter, of course. 

White Oleander, Janet Fitch: This was an over-break read for me - I'm slowly bringing books from MN to CA in my suitcase every time I travel, and started this one while home. It's dark - incredibly dark - but the writing is equal parts harsh and beautiful, which I am drawn to even on a second read. 

Bookworm: October 2017

"She's the main character in her story, just like I'm the main character in mine." - Marisa de los Santos

Loved: 

House of God, Samuel Shem: I read this at Dave's behest, as he said this more perfectly encapsulated his experience as a medical intern and resident than any other piece of writing. The book is iconic among those circles, and with reason - reading it left me shaken, in a truly significant way. Its pull-no-punches style and near-callous description of how the medical profession erodes humanity hit me in very weird places. A must-read, at least in my opinion, for anyone who is/cares about a doctor/nurse/medical professional. 

The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Genevieve Valentine: A Jazz Age riff on the iconic "Twelve Dancing Princesses" fairy tale, this drew me in with its intensely imagery-driven writing. I've always been a sucker for Prohibition-era fiction, and everyone knows that fairy tales have a special place in my heart and on my bookshelf.

The Precious One, Marisa de los Santos: I have loved Marisa de los Santos for the better part of a decade now, and her latest novel didn't disappoint. She has a gorgeous way with words that creates a richly-textured, incredibly evocative reading experience, and this tale of estranged family, lost loves, and navigating colliding worlds kept me riveted from the first page til I closed the cover.

The Alice Network, Kate Quinn: I followed the Reese Witherspoon Book Club on Instagram a few months ago and have, without exception, really loved her picks - she's an enormous bookworm, which just makes me like her even better! Also on the list of things I love: the World Wars, and this novel's parallel stories of espionage and revenge touch both of them - could it get any better?

Enjoyed: 

Talking as Fast as I Can, Lauren Graham: Huge "Gilmore Girls" devotee here...I really enjoyed Lauren Graham (Lorelai)'s behind-the-scenes account of filming the original series and the reboot, as well as peeks at her rise to fame and the relationships she's built along the way. This was honestly the first audiobook I genuinely, actually enjoyed from start to finish. 

Emma: A Modern Retelling, Alexander McCall Smith: Jane Austen is and always will be my girl, and as I grow up I'm realizing that I may be a lot more Emma Woodhouse than Elizabeth Bennet, oh the horror. McCall Smith relocates Emma and her motley crew to modern England, replacing buggies with Mini Coopers and governesses with ESL teachers. It was a charming, light, happy reminder of the original novel I loved. 

Saints For All Occasions, J. Courtney Sullivan: On paper, I should have liked this better - I'm blaming the fact that I read it on a series of cross-country flights from NYC to San Francisco. The story of two Irish immigrant sisters in Boston, and the fallout of one major mistake in both their lives, is told ranging from the 1950s to 2009, with plenty of other narrative voices chiming in along the way. I liked it, but preferred other offerings from Sullivan. 

Tolerated: 

Julie and Julia, Julie Powell: Another audiobook narrated by the author, and I have to say I think that ruined it for me. Powell's memoir is negative and cranky enough to begin with, but narrated in her grumpy monotone? It took so much of the fun out of the experience. Just watch the movie - or, even better, go out for French food instead!

The Last Queen, C.W. Gortner: I must have had this book for years - it had a Notre Dame Bookstore sticker in the cover - but I don't think I ever actually read it. Telling the tale of Queen Juana of Spain, a contemporary of Henry VIII, it was simultaneously smutty and dry...a poor attempt at channeling Philippa Gregory, and frankly nobody should try to channel Philippa Gregory in the first place. 

Vintage: A Novel, David Baker: Eh. This had its moments of charm, but overall the gastronomic, vinophilic mystery of a lost war vintage and a struggling, alcoholic writer left me lukewarm. And hungry. 

Re-reads: 

A Company of Swans, Eva Ibbotson: Every so often, I need Eva Ibbotson's beautifully written, just-the-right-amount-of-complicated, love-wins-out-over-all romances in my life, and last week was one such time. This is probably my favorite of her novels - I first read it at the age of about fourteen - and this is easily my dozenth reading. I think it's one of those novels whose familiarity just makes me fonder of it, in the end. 

Bookworm: August/September 2017

I completely forgot to post a reading roundup in August, which is a crying shame because I have been on an excessively good reading kick in the last several months! In case you couldn't tell from my crowdsourcing of recommendations back in July, my rapidly-growing list of books to read is filling up and improving in both quality and quantity. 

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Loved:

Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari: Dave let me borrow this in August and it was such a great surprise to enjoy it as much as I did! I expected some kind of comedy-heavy, intellect-light book about the traps and pitfalls of modern dating, but Aziz's legit scientific research approach added an entirely unexpected depth to the book. Definitely recommend for anyone currently fighting his or her way through the world of falling in/staying in/getting over love!

Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead: This was on several reading lists of people whose taste I really enjoy, and it did not let me down. I'd previously read Shipstead's debut, "Astonish Me," and enjoyed it, but this was a much more mature, darker take on interpersonal relationships and the foibles and weaknesses of very flawed characters. Set at a wedding weekend in the wealthy enclave of Nantucket, I genuinely disliked and pitied most of the characters simultaneously - a coup for the author.

Eight Hundred Grapes, Laura Dave: Not going to lie, I mostly picked this up because the author's name is my roommates' names combined, and because the book I was looking for wasn't in stock at Barnes and Noble...that said, I fell HARD for the story of an unraveling vineyard family in Sonoma County. Had it not been set in one of my favorite places in the world, I think this would have gone in the "enjoyed" bucket - but it would be a great poolside read regardless!

The Hopefuls, Jennifer Close: I read this while I was in D.C. for training, kind of on purpose...after a weekend with Kaitlin in the capital, I was fascinated by the culture of the city. I loved the dramatic unraveling of two marriages and two friendships set against the ruthless, cut-throat, demanding world of major politics...a perfect "beach"/chick-lit read, but one that was well-written enough to transcend the genre a bit. (Side note: I ardently disliked Close's first novel, "Girls in White Dresses," so enjoying this so much more was a pleasant surprise!)

Being Mortal, Atul Gawande: Oh my goodness I chowed through this like a hangover cheeseburger. Gawande, a renowned surgeon and gifted writer, explores the American approach to aging, death, and end-of-life care in exquisitely sensitive, thoughtful depth throughout this book. I couldn't put it down - it truly changed how I think about elder care, nursing homes, hospice, resuscitation, a whole gamut of issues I had very little knowledge of or desire to research. I SO recommend this for a meatier, enriching read. 

Homegoing, Yaa Gyasi: This is another one that I just couldn't put down...it's been on so many bestseller/must-read lists, and it completely deserves that spot. The story starts off with two half-sisters in Ghana in the 1700s - one of whom is sold into slavery, and one of whom lives a life of relative privilege married to a white Englishman. The story then splits and follows their family trees down through the generations to present day. The writing is stunning and the story is gut-wrenching in a completely visceral, intense way. 

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Enjoyed:

Why Not Me?, Mindy Kaling: My first foray into audio books, mostly to use up Scribd credits, was charming and fun. Laura mentioned listening to comedians' audio books, so I've been doing that on the way to work. Kaling's narration was fun to listen to, but I just don't love the audio book format. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it more if I had actually read it? 

The Girl With the Lower-Back Tattoo, Amy Schumer: Another audio book by a female comedian, one that I enjoyed a bit more than Mindy Kaling's, if I'm being perfectly honest. What made this a better experience, I think, was that it went a lot more in depth on very serious issues...sexual assault, body positivity, aging/dying parents, crises of faith in modern love...and Schumer's narration had a soulful, almost mournful quality that I found really engaging. 

A Little Bit Wicked, Kristin Chenoweth: Kristin Chenoweth is a soapy little bubble of light and fun, and that is exactly what this autobiography is. It's frothy and a little Jesus-y and occasionally veers into excessive self-praise, but I love Broadway and I love her, so I enjoyed it all things considered. 

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Tolerated:

Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance: I picked this up primarily because the whole world seemed to be freaking out about it, and I was sorely underwhelmed (as was Dave, who read it at the same time I did). While the story offered a few new insights into the common tropes of lower-class/blue-collar/suburban poor America, the writing style was so simplistic it left me bored. I set this one down for other books and picked it back up again three separate times before I finished it. Eh. 

Option B, Sheryl Sandberg: I know I should have liked this book, hypothetically speaking. And not adoring Sheryl Sandberg in the cradle of Silicon Valley Lean In Culture might actually put me on the fast train out of here. But I genuinely didn't like this book and thought it could have gone a lot deeper into the act of grieving, into the power of interpersonal relationships, and into the resilience that has led Sandberg back to the top after an unspeakable personal tragedy. 

Sourdough, Robin Sloan: Another one that I feel like I should have liked better than I did! Boooo! This was a science-fictiony, sort of dystopian riff on San Francisco startup culture in which a woman dissatisfied with her tech job, where her company is literally attempting to automate all human-driven processes, finds herself oddly drawn into the world of making sourdough bread. A bizarre underground farmer's market, a sourdough culture with a mind of its own, and a mysterious benefactor behind the scenes all just added to the weirdness, and I never really felt like I got invested in anything or figured out who anyone was in the entire novel.

Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne, Christopher Andersen: THIS WAS SO EGREGIOUSLY TERRIBLE. Anyone who knows me knows I'm an ardent royals-watcher, and I was intrigued by the idea of discussing how women shape the behind-the-scenes power of the British throne. Instead, this was a gossipy, almost gross imagination of false rivalries in the British royal family, and it at times promulgated such glaring inaccuracies that I found myself audibly expressing my general disgust. Do not recommend. 

Re-reads: 

It's Okay To Laugh (Crying Is Cool Too), Nora McInerny Purmort: This collection of essays by a Twin Cities woman who lost her husband to a brain tumor a few years ago is raw, heartwarming, and refreshingly honest at every turn. Nora doesn't sugarcoat, doesn't make light of anything, and doesn't fall into the all-too-easy trap of triteness. I absolutely adore this book, even on the third or fourth read. 

The Taming of the Queen, Philippa Gregory: Not much to say about this one - it's a classic Gregory "Henry VIII bodice-ripper sex intrigue novel" and I had it on my phone on a day when I needed something to read between appointments. It follows Katherine Parr, his last wife, and also gets into the Protestant-Catholic thing quite a bit. A good read if you're into old-timey sex and power.

 

Bookworm: July 2017

“Did you ever want to be a writer?” “No,” she said, and she would have told him. “I only wanted to be a reader.” 
― Ann Patchett, Commonwealth

Loved: 

Commonwealth, Ann Patchett: The most gorgeously-written story of two dysfunctional families, and how their lives intersect through affairs, death, and heartbreak for over fifty years. I couldn't put it down - devoured it in a day. Highly, highly recommend.

A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin: I picked up this collection of short stories at one of my new favorite places in the Bay Area, Dog Eared Books in the Mission. The staff at Dog Eared slip handwritten notes into the inside covers of the books - jokes, reviews, recommendations and commentary - and I find that utterly enchanting. This was a fairly new foray into the world of short stories for me! I prefer to sink my teeth into a lengthy novel, but taking these bit by bit and reading one or two a day was a really fun way to experience the sparse, vernacular-driven writing. A book to nibble, rather than devour (unlike "Commonwealth!") 

The Opposite of Loneliness, Marina Keegan: "A Manual for Cleaning Women" got me on a short story kick, and I finally visited this collection, which was all the rage a couple years ago. The backstory is tragic: Keegan, a 2012 Yale creative writing graduate, was killed in a car accident just five days after her college graduation. Her parents, along with her Yale mentor, compiled her writing into this mesmerizing collection. I laughed out loud, cried, and at certain points had to reread sentences/paragraphs multiple times because they were just so evocative and gut-wrenching. If you haven't read this, do yourself a favor and read it, as soon as possible. 

Enjoyed: 

Rich People Problems, Kevin Kwan: The third book in the "Crazy Rich Asians" series, it made me laugh and was a perfect light beachy read for evenings with a glass of wine on the deck. The title kind of says it all - it was incredibly amusing and I really enjoy Kwan's bizarrely textured, totally foreign world. 

Tolerated: 

Nothing this month! How nice!

Re-reads: 

The Shadow Queen, Margaret Pemberton: I owned this book when I moved to California, but weirdly, I have no memory of actually reading it. I find Wallis Simpson (the woman for whom King Edward VII abdicated the throne back in the 30s) fascinating in a really weird way, but this novel left me kind of lukewarm. It's an easy read about a super interesting historical figure, but I think it could have been better.