Bookworm

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. 

 

Bookworm: January 2018

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Lol, I went a bit nuts this month. Having the whole first week of the month off from work for winter holiday AND being totally sidelined by illness for that week forced me to pound through more books than usual, due to being so down-and-out, and I re-read a few more than I usually do. A good month, all said and done! 

Loved: 

Rich and Pretty, Rumaan Alam: This was one of those books where I recognized someone I knew in one of the main characters and it hit me like a deeply solid, impactful gut-punch. Those little moments of recognition kept happening - in so many of the phrases, the vignettes painted throughout. It's a gorgeous examination of the complexities of female friendship and I recommend it VERY highly. 

Texts from Jane Eyre, Mallory Ortberg: I blew through this in an hour, went back and read most of it again immediately after, and forced it upon Dave and Laura during our post-cocktails wind-down for the evening. It is SO deliciously witty and on point - the reimagining of literary heroes and villains through the modern medium of texting is a juxtaposition any bookworm would adore. 

Enjoyed: 

Single State of Mind, Andi Dorfman: As a shameless "Bachelor" franchise fangirl, this was of course on my list for the month - I was not a huge fan of Dorfman's first effort, but this resonated a bit more for me. Despite the shameless namedropping and privilege-flaunting, a lot of her musings on life as a single woman in her late twenties struck me as worth remembering - I found myself highlighting in my eBook as I read. Worth it, I think, if you're a "Bachelor" lover too - otherwise, eh, skip it. 

Daughter of Empire, Lady Pamela Hicks: I've heard this autobiography mentioned several times as a great behind-the-scenes peek into the early years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign, and I picked it up as a quick, light read. It was gossipy and fluffy and totally fun; while the insights to the Queen's early reign were there, I enjoyed it just as much for the Downton-esque drama portrayed throughout the author's chronicle of her life in post-Imperial India and as a titled debutante in post-war London. 

Dazzling Brightness, Roberta Gellis: A retelling of the Hades and Persephone myth that fuses in a little romance and a little sci-fi. This was by no means "highbrow" or "quality" literature, but I read it, and its two sequels, in about a day each (largely poolside). I'm thinking about diving deeper into mythology...we'll see! 

Shimmering Splendor, Roberta Gellis: The sequel to "Dazzling Brightness," a myth-meets-romance-meets-magic retelling of the Eros and Psyche myth. It was good - again, an easy and undemanding read that reminded me a bit of Philip Pullman or Tamora Pierce. 

Fitness Junkie, Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza: Everyone in the world seemed to have this on their lists last year, so I'm a bit late to the game - that said, this biting satire of the world's obsession with health, wellness, and fitness made me legitimately laugh out loud a few times. The story itself - a workaholic faced with the conundrum of losing either weight or her company - was a bit surface-y, but this would be a great beach read regardless of its lack of deeper significance. 

Tolerated: 

Enchanted Fire, Roberta Gellis: The third in the myth trilogy I read, and I didn't like it half as much as the first two. This reimagining of the Orpheus and Euridyce story was largely set on Jason's Argo, and was way too pedantic and bickery for my taste. I slogged through it, unlike the first two, and was relieved when it was over. 

Re-reads: 

Scarlett, Alexandra Ripley: I went on a "Gone With the Wind" binge toward the end of December and picked this up as soon as I got back to the Bay Area - it was the perfect old familiar friend to get me through being sicker than most of my adult life. I love that it gives Scarlett and Rhett a happy ending, with stops in Charleston, Savannah and Ireland along the way. 

Crown Duel, Sherwood Smith: We marathoned the Harry Potter movies early in January and it got me jonesing for a good fantasy book. This one, originally published in two volumes, is a sort of "Hunger Games" meets "The Crown" meets "Potter" with a little helping of Tamora Pierce in there - it's an extremely quick, light, escapist read that I have enjoyed on and off for over a decade now. 

Little Women, Louisa May Alcott: I clearly needed to start 2018 off with some of my favorites, and Alcott is a perennial love of mine. I could write volumes on how much I adore "Little Women," but I'll forbear...needless to say, sometimes a familiar old treasure is the best kind of book. 

Little Men, Louisa May Alcott: Again, Alcott's a go-to for me as a literary equivalent of comfort food, but I don't love either of the sequels to "Little Women" as much as I love the original. Still a good old friend to visit, though! 

Jo's Boys, Louisa May Alcott: More of the same as "Little Men" here, but it's always fun to watch Alcott's little heroes and heroines grow up. 

Eight Cousins, Louisa May Alcott: This novel, and its sequel (below) are two of my favorite Alcott works - wholesome and charming and just the right amount of preachy, coupled with being super-fast reads. Highly recommend for fans of "Little Women" who haven't read them before! 

Rose in Bloom, Louisa May Alcott: See above - seriously, pick them up. They're also available in the public domain through Project Gutenberg - one of my favorite sources for my oldies-but-goodies.