Monday, March 19, 2018

Books on My Spring TBR

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

It's TBR check-in time! This time I only have three holdovers from my Winter TBR list, which is pretty good for me.

1. America's Public Schools by William J. Reese
I'm hoping to get a job with an organization that works with K-12 education and that background knowledge was one of my weak spots (since I've always been in higher ed). Stuff on education can be really divisive so I thought finding a historian's overview would be a good starting point.

2. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
This continues to be on my TBR list... but it's at the top now! And I have a hold on the ebook!

3. Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland
This is another repeat. I think I would have read it by now if my library had a digital version, but instead I'll have to find time to read my hard copy.

4. Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie
I'm getting so close to finishing all the Hercule Poirot books! There are only a few more.

5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
It feels like everyone has read this by now but me, so I put a hold on the audiobook.

6. Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
This comes out at the end of April and I'm so excited!

7. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
Still on my TBR list, but I have a hold on it now so I should get the audiobook soon.

8. Magician's Gambit by David Eddings
I've started on my goal of rereading the Belgariad and Malloreon via audiobook, although I have to say that the series' narrator is super weird and inconsistent with his fantasy accents and it's a little annoying.

9. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
I've finally gotten through most of the "must read" classics on my TBR list and am now onto the lesser-known classics.

10. Watership Down by Richard Adams
I've read this before but my online book club is reading it for our April discussion, and it's been long enough that I need to read it again.

I've gotten away from my goal of reading 50% off my actual TBR list, so I'm going to have to swing the pendulum back soon!

What's on your spring TBR?

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

What I've Been Reading Lately (Quick Lit)

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit to bring you some short and sweet reviews of what I've read in the past month. For longer reviews, you can always find me on Goodreads.

The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University by Kevin Roose: This was excellent, and it's shocking that Roose wrote this at age 19 because the writing is fantastic. Roose took a semester off from Brown University to spend at Liberty University in order to better understand evangelical culture. The book was at turns fascinating, amusing, enlightening, and confirming of my own thoughts and beliefs. I think there's a lot to reap from it, whether you grew up evangelical or have never met an evangelical.

The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles by Julie Andrews Edwards: This was kind of a cross between The Wizard of Oz and The Phantom Tollbooth (with a bit of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory thrown in). It was cute and creative. I had trouble getting on board with the main characters, though, because they essentially spent the book trying to invade the Whangdoodle's space for no other reason than pure curiosity, even if in the end their visit ended up being a blessing.

Night Film by Marisha Pessl: This book is intense, in a good way. It's suspenseful and twisty and fascinating and incorporates mixed media to great effect, including newspaper clippings, website screenshots, and magazine articles. Every so often there's a twist that flips everything 180 degrees. Just don't expect super-likable characters or a sensitively diverse cast.

The Stand by Stephen King: This was my first Stephen King, and his writing is just phenomenal in the way he's able to develop characters and describe settings. It was an in-depth, detailed imagining of life in the months after a super-flu kills almost everyone. Unfortunately it was also super racist... and not so good with the female characters either... or people with disabilities...

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values by Robert M. Pirsig: I enjoyed this more than I expected once I got in the rhythm of it. It's a semi-autobiographical depiction of Pirsig's explorations in philosophy that led to his mental breakdown, about which he (or the narrator) is reflecting while on a cross-country motorcycle trip with his son. I found the book's ideas interesting but not earth-shattering or immediately applicable to my life in any obvious way, or else I'm sure I would have become another one of Pirsig's devoted fans.

Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin: Rubin talks about the research on habit-building within her own framework of the Four Tendencies. She unfortunately pads this out with lots of verbatim conversations with her friends, family members, and acquaintances, and she is too fixated on weight for my taste. This is one of those books where the value of the content doesn't match the quality of the execution, so I would actually highly recommend it despite having a lot of problems with it!

Third Girl by Agatha Christie: This is a middle-of-the-pack Poirot mystery for me. I always enjoy one with Ariadne Oliver in it, but it's clear that Christie was getting tired of writing Poirot by this point. All in all, not one I'd go out of my way to recommend, but not one you necessarily need to skip either.

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Julie King and Joanna Faber: I found this just as valuable the second time through — maybe more now that my son is old enough to use many of the techniques. I'm also reminded how useful these techniques are for people who aren't children! I hope to revisit this book again in the future for a valuable refresher.

What have you been reading this month? Share over at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

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Monday, March 12, 2018

Top Ten Books that Surprised Me

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is about books that surprised us in either a good way or a bad way. I decided to share a little of each.

Books that Surprised Me in a Bad Way

1. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
This book has gotten rave reviews from every corner, and I can't understand it. Besides the truly awful romanticizing of suicide, it just didn't seem that well-written to me — the characters seemed two-dimensional and like stand-ins for different ideas. I was surprised and disappointed.

2. I Am an Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler
I thought the writer of The Vagina Monologues would have another slam-dunk here, but this book was terrible. It read like a checklist of issues, for each of which Ensler tried to put herself inside the head of, say, a child factory worker in China with minimal research. The writing wandered and the audience was unclear, unless it is "middle-aged women who think this book would be really great for teens," which seem to be the people rating it highly on Goodreads.

3. None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio
I was so excited to see a popular book about an intersex character, and then I was shocked at how transphobic this book is, on top of just being a really terrible plotted and predictable YA book. The main character's intersex condition was also not handled well by the author, and as a non-intersex person she was not the right person to write a self-loathing story.

4. Sophie's Choice by William Styron
I knew enough about what the "choice" mentioned in the title was that I was really surprised that 1) it doesn't happen until the very end of the book and 2) the main character isn't Sophie, but a sex-obsessed writer based on Styron himself who spends pages and pages on "humorous" interludes about his inability to get any. All the characters were terrible and the payoff at the end was not worth the slog to get there.

5. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
Donoghue's Room is one of my favorite books ever, so I was surprised at how much I disliked this one. The plot was draggy, the main character was painfully slow on the uptake, and the overarching theme of "Boy, Catholics are dumb, huh?" wasn't one I (as a Catholic) appreciated.

Books that Surprised Me in a Good Way

1. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
I expected this book from the 17th century was going to be a slog, but I liked it much more than I expected. It was amusing and satirical and sweet, and while parts were repetitive or inconsistent, there were enough good parts to keep me going. It's still not one of the best books I've ever read, but it was enjoyable enough.

2. Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
This book got so much criticism for its limited applicability that I was surprised to find that Sandberg falls all over herself at the beginning making disclaimers about that exact thing, and then proceeds to share a lot of really excellent advice for that specific audience (men and women who work in white-collar jobs or aspire to do so). I thought it was practical and inspiring, and I never felt shamed for my own choice not to "climb the ladder."

3. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I had heard very mixed reviews of this book before picking it up, but I loved it! It was like all my favorite things in one book. I think maybe a lot of people misunderstood where the book comes down on technology, as I've heard rants against it both for being anti-technology and for implying the technology improves everything. I found it to be a great parable about how technology has a role to play in our lives, but that doesn't make it the be-all end-all.

4. MWF Seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche
Man, this book was slammed by Goodreads readers, but this is one of the very rare occasions where I liked a book better than most. At first I found the author hard to relate to (I'm not looking for a friend to get brunch with every Sunday) but I enjoyed seeing the wide range of approaches she took to making new friends and her spot-on observations about the awkwardness of making friends as an adult. It was this book that first prompted me to join a book club, and several book clubs later I'm still grateful for that push!

5. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
I don't read a lot of celebrity memoirs, and I picked this up just because of my love for the Matilda movie, so I really wasn't sure what I was going to find between the covers. But it turned out to be amazing and relatable and such a beautiful book about life. A wonderful surprise!

Which books surprised you?

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Monday, March 5, 2018

Top Ten Quotations From the Past Year's Reading

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This was a Top Ten Tuesday topic back in 2015, and I decided to take the same approach I did then — export my saved quotations from Goodreads and then look at just what I read in the past year.

1. "We love films because they make us feel something. They speak to our desires, which are never small. They allow us to escape and to dream and to gaze into eyes that are impossibly beautiful and huge. They fill us with longing. But also. They tell us to remember; they remind us of life. Remember, they say, how much it hurts to have your heart broken. Remember about death and suffering and the complexities of living. Remember what it is like to love someone. Remember how it is to be loved. Remember what you feel in this moment. Remember this. Remember this." - Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
This is one of my favorite moments in the book, when the main character realizes she doesn't need her life to play out like a movie script because all movies are trying to do is capture the best parts of living anyway.

2. "That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us. What's the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?" - The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This is a great moment, when Starr and her Asian friend realize they've both let their white friend get away with saying offensive things because they were each too uncomfortable to make a scene, and they make a pact not to let it happen again.

3. "Fear is good. In the right degree it prevents us from making fools of ourselves. But in the wrong measure it prevents us from fully living. Fear is our boon companion but never our master." - Moloka'i by Alan Brennert
This is advice given to a character who's afraid of breaking rules, even ones that are imposed on her without good reason — a feeling I can relate to as a rigid rule-follower.

4. "In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don't. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color 'criminals' and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you're labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination—employment discrimination, housing discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, and arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it." - The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
I could fill a whole post with passages from this book (go read it!) but this one kind of sums up the book's thesis, with a nice jab at the problem of "colorblindness" as well. A close second would be the part where she blows apart the idea that individual choice plays the largest role in who gets locked up.

5. "'You're not alone, and you're not the one in charge,' Mother said gently. 'Ask for help when you need it, and give help when you can. I think that is how we serve God—and each other and ourselves—in times as dark as these.'" - The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
I read this book soon after Trump's inauguration, and it was a helpful reminder for me of what I have control over and what are and are not my responsibilities right now.

6. "Forgiving isn't something you do for someone else. It's something you do for yourself. It's saying, 'You're not important enough to have a stranglehold on me.' It's saying, 'You don't get to trap me in the past. I am worthy of a future." - The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
I've heard many variations on this theme over the years, but it's always nice to have a well-worded reminder.

7. "Jealousy is a disease, love is a healthy condition. The immature mind often mistakes one for the other, or assumes that the greater the love, the greater the jealousy — in fact, they are almost incompatible; one emotion hardly leaves room for the other." - Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
I think this leaves out a key piece — you can love a person but not trust them — but the general idea is solid, that a healthy, loving relationship between two people is characterized by less jealousy, not more.

8. "'But you know, there's an upside here. Because when you spend so much time just intensely wanting something, and then you actually get the thing? It's magic.' All of a sudden, I feel like crying. In a good way. In the best way. Because I know exactly what she means. It's butterflies and haziness and heart eyes, but underneath all that, there's this bass line of I can't believe this. I can't believe this is me. I can't quite articulate the sweetness of that feeling. It's finding out the door you were banging on is finally unlocked. Maybe it was unlocked the whole time." - The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
I related hardcore to this book's protagonist, and especially this idea that inspired the book's title: Once you finally find someone who loves you, you realize that your lack of success in love before didn't actually mean there was something fundamentally wrong with you, and that's an amazing feeling.

9. "Some people ask: 'Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?' Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women." - We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
See also: Why we say "Black Lives Matter."

10. "There's no 'should' or 'should not' when it comes to having feelings. They're part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings." - The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
There are a lot of quotations I could have pulled from this book — I literally got a desk calendar full of them after reading it — but much of Mister Rogers' wisdom centers around feelings, and this is a nice overall reminder about the role feelings (should) play in our lives.

Which are some of your favorite book quotations?

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Best of the Bunch: February 2018

Today I'm sharing the best book I read in February.

It looks like I'm finally out of my reading slump! Of the 11 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads, which is more than I've had in a long time. These are the two:

Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Both books are truly well done, but for the sheer joy factor, I'm going to say the best of the bunch was...

I'm so glad When Dimple Met Rishi lived up to the hype! It was an adorable, feel-good romance that was predictable but not as much as I expected. I loved that we get both Dimple and Rishi's perspectives, so there is a balance of Rishi's respect and reverence for tradition along with Dimple's desire for independence and frustration with her mother's focus on looks and marriage. Rishi is sweet and dorky and a genuinely good guy who also can't manage to have a civil conversation with his brother. Their emotions at every moment rang true to me — they felt like the college freshmen I live and work with and remember being. I laughed out loud at multiple points, and teared up near the end. If you're looking for a light, sweet read or just want to remember what it was like to fall in love for the first time, this is a great pick.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Ten Books I Could Reread Forever

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I don't do much rereading — it's limited almost entirely to when my book clubs pick books that I've already read — and I've also thoroughly weeded down my physical book collection, but there are certain books that I own or would like to own because I think they're worth revisiting. Either they're just so enjoyable that I want the experience of reading them again, or they have more wisdom that I could possibly absorb in a single reading. Here are ten books in this category.

1. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
Vanderkam has a number of questions and exercises that are worth revisiting at different times in one's life. I did a time diary for a week when my son was a baby, and then I did it again when he was a toddler to see what had changed. Now that I'm looking at getting a different job, it would be worth going back through this book to revisit some of the questions about priorities and structure.

2. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
I've read this twice now, and I found it just as engaging and useful the second time through. Gawande, in the midst of a more straightforward journalistic narrative about end-of-life care, introduces a number of opportunities for the reader to reflect on what makes life worth living for them and for their loved ones. It's one that's worth reading once for the overall message and then revisiting at different stages of life — when parents are getting older, when a loved one has a terminal illness, when one is faced with one's own end-of-life plans.

3. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
I've only read this once, but I remember finding the book's message valuable and powerful. Given how little I remember of it, though, I think the lessons about vulnerability and courage are ones that I probably need to revisit on a regular basis.

4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I've reread these books more than any other books (I mean, not counting the picture books I've read to my son a bajillion times). I'm hesitant to start another reread just because there are so many other books I want to read and these take a long time to get through them all, but I do miss being immersed in that magical world.

5. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This is my all-time favorite book, though I've only read it twice. When I reread it (for a book club, of course), it made me cry again, even though I knew what was going to happen! It's such a beautiful story and masterfully written, and I wouldn't mind being stuck on a desert island with it.

6. Matilda by Roald Dahl
This is another one that simply brings me joy, in this case for my feeling of connection with the main character. I look forward to reading this with my kids someday.

7. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This one I also reread in the past few years for book club, and I enjoyed it just as much the second time through. I love the conversational tone of the narration, the colorful characters, and the many themes to unpack about identity and culture. I think I could probably find something new each time I read this.

8. Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
I keep saying I need to reread this and I haven't yet! Ah! I read it before I was a parent and while I now try to apply many of his principles, I'm sure I could use regular reminders. This and the Faber/Mazlish books are worth coming back to again and again.

9. Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I absolutely adore Nadia Bolz-Weber and just about lost my mind when I got to spend an entire weekend in the same room as her during the recent Q Christian Fellowship conference. (I was too nervous to actually go up and meet her.) Her books are compassionate no-nonsense messages that essentially boil down to: "Christians suck a lot, but that has nothing to do with whether God is real" and "People in general suck a lot, but that doesn't give you an excuse not to love them." That's something I could be told every day and still struggle with.

10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This book makes my little word-nerd heart happy. I can't wait to read this one with my kids, except for my fear that they won't love it as much as it deserves to be loved.

Which types of books could you reread again and again?

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Monday, February 19, 2018

Ten Types of Books I'm No Longer Interested In Reading

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

So I'm thinking that this week's topic, "Books I've Decided I'm No Longer Interested In Reading," is referring to individual books — like, "These books were on my TBR list and I've decided to take them off the list." But seeing as I am very stubborn and determined to get through the books on my original TBR list, this didn't seem applicable. So instead I came up with some general types of books that I used to be interested in reading and have decided I'm not anymore.

1. Books with low ratings
Gone are the days when I'd pick up a book based on a recommendation without first checking what the wisdom of the Goodreads crowd says. Having exported and analyzed all my reading data, I know that while there are plenty of books Goodreads has loved that I have not, there is almost never a book that Goodreads hated that I love. It's just not worth my time when there are so many good books out there. (Anything below 3.7 is questionable; anything below 3.5 is a no-go.)

2. Books written partly in Spanish
This really goes for books with large portions in a language other than English or French, but I seem to see the most recommendations for books with Spanish passages or dialogue. I know no Spanish, and so this just means I end up missing big chunks of the book. This was the case for the highly recommended The Borderlands/La Frontera, which has whole sections in Spanish, and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I read on an airplane and therefore did not have access to my Kindle's Translate function for all the Spanish dialogue. There are certainly plenty of readers out there for these books, but I do not have to be one of them.

3. Entire series (if I don't like the first one)
Occasionally I feel out of the loop because I haven't read, say, the whole Divergent series, but I just did not like the first book enough to care what happened next. If this means the validity of my opinion on the first book is lessened because I don't have the whole picture, so be it.

4. High fantasy
I don't read a ton of SF/F generally, but some of the more contemporary books look interesting despite their fantastical elements. I've tried and tried, though, to read some of the classic high fantasy, and there's just nothing that comes close to my beloved Belgariad and Malloreon series.

5. Humor books (that aren't memoirs)
I used to be a big Dave Barry fan — it's one of the things my husband and I first had in common — but as I got older and more progressive, too much stuff just rubbed me the wrong way. This also goes for books like Lamb, which I know people adore but which I just found too icky in too many places. It appears that I much prefer to seek out humor as part of memoirs like Let's Pretend This Never Happened, where the humor is at no one's expense but the author's own.

6. John Green's recommendations
I love John Green as a person, and I've enjoyed most of his books, so I used to seek out the books he recommended, until finally I determined that I disliked most of them. Apparently I like what he writes but not what he reads.

7. John Steinbeck's books
Steinbeck shows up on so many "Books You Should Read" lists that by this point I've read six of his works: Of Mice and Men, East of Eden, The Grapes of Wrath, The Pearl, Travels with Charley, and The Red Pony. I haven't hated any of them, but I also haven't liked any of them enough to want to recommend to other people. I think it's time to admit that I'm not a Steinbeck fan.

8. Short story collections
I've tried a number of short story collections, and I have yet to find one that I genuinely enjoy. There are a few individual short stories that I've liked but none that I've truly loved. I think there's something inherent to the format — the lack of deep character development, world building, or plot complexity — that doesn't mesh well with my tastes.

9. Tony Morrison's books
Like Steinbeck, I've read a number of Morrison's works: Beloved, The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Sula. They're the type of books that I can appreciate in sort of an intellectual, academic way, but in which I struggle with getting immersed as a reader of the story. I've heard Jazz and A Mercy both recommended recently, but I thought, you know, maybe it's time to admit that her books just aren't for me.

10. Traditional Christian books
When I was in high school, I ate up books like Lover of My Soul, The Case for Christ, and Passion and Purity, but then mainstream Christian media got more and more politicized and I also learned more about the problems with things like purity culture. Only recently have I found alternatives, like the work of Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans, where I feel able to be challenged in my faith again without being repulsed by the nonsense some of the big-name Christian authors spout.

Which types of books no longer make it onto your TBR list?

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