Sunday, September 15, 2019

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.

It's been kind of a light reading month, as I've spent most of my free time working on the launch of my new podcast, Blessed Are the Feminists. (Our third episode comes out today!) Hopefully now that we've gotten things rolling I can fit in some more reading time for this next month.

Severance by Ling Ma: This book seemed like it would be fascinating to analyze, but it was just meh to read, in my opinion. If you like deep, symbolic literary fiction, then this may be right up your alley. But if you're looking for something funny or action-packed or just internally coherent? I wouldn't recommend it.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: I mostly enjoyed this, and I think it's well done, but I was left with some questions and annoyances. I can see why it's popular, but it wasn't a favorite for me.

Guardians of the West by David Eddings: It's always a joy for me to be back with these characters. Overall, this is a solid start to this series. It has banter, mystery, and cleverness, which is what I look for from Eddings.

Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Zaretta L. Hammond: I can see why my organization has made it a priority to get our staff up to speed on Zaretta Hammond's work. This is a very strong guide to culturally responsive teaching that's grounded in extensive research and brain science. I would highly recommend it for all educators.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez: This was a mostly positive mixed bag for me. I'm glad that this book exists, as it can be helpful to have a fictional narrative to break apart myths about a certain group of people. But if you already don't believe in those myths, and you just want a solid story, then I think this is fine but not terribly compelling.

How to Be a Perfect Stranger: The Essential Religious Etiquette Handbook ed. by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida: This is actually a reference book, but I read it straight through because it's an interesting overview of all the major North American (US & Canada) religions/denominations. This would be a great starting point if you're ever invited to a service or special event by someone of another religion, or you could, like me, read it straight through to get an understanding of the diversity of beliefs and practices in the United States and Canada.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Kindred, and House of Leaves
Five years ago I was reading: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Sister Citizen, and The Fire Next Time
Ten years ago I was reading: Sounder

Monday, September 9, 2019

Ten Books On My TBR I’m Avoiding Reading

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

This is a great topic this week! As I've mentioned before, I have a to-read list that I capped some time ago and have been working through while I put everything else on a less-obligatory-sounding "might want to read" list. It will take me some time to get through everything anyway, but there are definitely a handful of titles that are probably going to be put off a little longer than the rest. Here are some of them and the reasons why!

1. Damaged Goods by Dianna Anderson
I was actually interviewed for this book but have since changed my viewpoints on a lot of things. I stopped reading Anderson's blog after its tone became endless outrage about everything, and the criticisms I've seen of this book are in a similar vein. However, I'm still interested to see what she put together.

2. Everything that Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor
Since putting this on my list, I have figured out pretty conclusively that I don't like short story collections. I also got this recommendation originally from John Green and have determined that he and I have extremely different tastes. Nonetheless, I've never read any of O'Connor's work, and I'd still like to... someday.

3. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
At some point I'd like to catch up on this phenomenon, but I'm generally not a fan of high fantasy, I'm especially not a fan of long fantasy books, and I don't like starting series that are still in the process of being written. I'm sure I'll get to it eventually.

4. The Glass Bead Game by Hermann Hesse
I put this on my list because it was featured in some Entertainment Weekly article about "books you must read in your lifetime" and I was in a phase where I wanted to read all the books that were described that way. However, I've become a bit disillusioned by the genre of "philosophical classics by white men," which is how I envision this book, and I also did not really like Demian, so it's going to be a while until I tackle this one.

5. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice
I don't generally pick up books involving vampires, but I put this on my list because it's well-loved by so many people. I abandoned the only other Anne Rice book I ever picked up, which doesn't give me a whole lot of confidence, but I do want to try this one because I think it's probably actually pretty good.

6. Outlander by Diana Galbadon
I haven't picked this up yet for most of the same reasons I listed for the A Song of Ice and Fire series above, plus there's a time travel element, which I like only if it's handled a very specific way.

7. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
The title of this book somehow led me to believe it was a quirky, humorous book, but it turns out it's a political satire, which is not the way I like my humor. I'm envisioning it as similar to Vanity Fair, which I did not enjoy.

8. Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
This book is over 1,000 pages long, and with so many other books on the list, I am hesitant to commit that amount of time to a single one. Plus I've seen at least one review from someone I follow that was not very positive. I'm still interested in it generally, but I probably won't make an effort to start on it anytime soon.

9. Shōgun by James Clavell
Same as above — it's a long one. And I'm raising my eyebrow a little at a white guy writing an Asian saga. But then I've heard very good things, so we'll see.

10. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
Yes, someday I will tackle Proust, but it sounds like he requires a lot of concentration, and I don't have a lot of leisure time for reading dense prose and pondering philosophy these days.

Which books have you been putting off? Do you want to make the case for me to move any of these higher on my list?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Small Animals, Kaffir Boy, and House of Leaves
Five years ago I was reading: The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Stolen Lives, and White Teeth
Ten years ago I was reading: The Poisonwood Bible

Monday, September 2, 2019

Ten Books I Enjoyed That Were Outside My Comfort Zone

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

This week we're talking about books we enjoyed that were outside of our usual reading comfort zone. Back in 2016 I talked about recent reads that were outside my comfort zone, but this time I'm trying to look at the broad range of books I've read and figure out which books I've truly liked despite their being outside my usual genres. As I said in that past post, I tend to read pretty broadly, but there are definitely some genres I'm less inclined to pick up.

1. American Gods by Neil Gaiman
The combination of "fantasy" and "over 600 pages" is generally enough to steer me in the opposite direction, but this book managed to suck me in and then was incredibly rewarding of my patience. Since reading this I've found that I have a taste for "low" fantasy (set in our world with other-wordly elements) over "high" fantasy (set in a made-from-scratch other world), but I'm still not keen to pick up much in this genre and definitely not if it requires a time investment. This, though? This was stellar.

2. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
I find a lot of literary fiction to be good but not great; I usually enjoy the read but it doesn't stick with me. I also tend not to be a big fan of books without much plot. (I really did not like Mrs. Dalloway.) Yet I found so much to love in this quiet story about the lives and friendship of two couples, and I'm glad to have picked this up.

3. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
I stay far, far away from horror as an HSP, but I gave this one a go after it was recommended by a friend. There were definitely a few horrifying moments, and one scene I had to skim over, but on the whole this was a well-written, intriguing, satisfying book, and I'm so glad I didn't miss out on it!

4. How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings by Sarah Cooper
There are a lot of these tongue-in-cheek humor books out there, and they're amusing to flip through for 90 seconds in a bookstore, but I rarely want to sit down and read one, and when I do I generally find that the humor gets old very quickly. This one, though, I had put a hold on (via ebook) when I first heard about it, so I read the whole thing on my phone one afternoon and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Cooper manages to maintain the sarcastic "advice" tone throughout while delivering a pitch-perfect takedown of sexism, harassment, and double standards for women in the workplace.

5. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
I don't read much in the way of true crime (see above re: my sensitive nature) but I could see after reading this why it's considered a classic; it's extremely well written. I'm still not sure how I feel about the "nonfiction novel" as a category, but I'm glad to have read this nonetheless.

6. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I read very little science fiction, partly because I'm a world-building snob and partly because a lot of it has, shall we say, problematic angles. (I'll spare you my rant on Leviathan Wakes right now.) At first I thought there would be too much to keep track of in this book, but once I got my head around the book's universe, I genuinely enjoyed everything from the explorations around gender to the characters' high-stakes political dilemmas.

7. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I don't read much fantasy, and I especially don't read YA fantasy, because the percentage of books I've enjoyed in this genre is minuscule compared to those I've suffered through. It was only because I kept seeing this enthusiastically recommended all over the blogosphere that I picked it up, and then I managed to get two men in their 30s hooked on the series as well. It's just so good, particularly on audiobook.

8. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
There are very few books referred to as "sagas" that I've actually enjoyed, but this was one of them. (Maybe because it manages to stay within a single character's lifetime so it doesn't jump around quite as much as "multi-generational" sagas.) It was immersive and heart-wrenching and unpredictable and so damn good.

9. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
I have a weird thing about time travel plots, but after reading this I realized that I only dislike plots with voluntary time travel, where a character is intentionally going back in time to change something. Henry's time travel is involuntary, and he's not able to change anything that's already happened, so that alleviated my time travel-related anxiety. I'm also not a big fan of literary fiction with love stories because there are so many ways they can be done poorly, but somehow this book managed to hit exactly the right spot for me.

10. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
I very rarely pick up anything that could be considered a "celebrity memoir" because 1) I just don't follow celebrities closely enough to know who most of them are and 2) the ones I've read have been hit or miss. Wilson's memoir was interesting, though, because although it was undoubtedly her celebrity that got the book published (and she does have some fun stories from the set of Matilda), it's really a fantastic, beautiful memoir that's just about life, and surprisingly I found her life very relatable.

What is your reading comfort zone, and what's outside of it?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Kaffir Boy and Reading People
Five years ago I was reading: The Mystery of a Hansom Cab, Someone Knows My Name, and White Teeth
Ten years ago I was reading: The Poisonwood Bible

Friday, August 30, 2019

Best of the Bunch (August 2019)

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

Of the 8 books I read this month, I had one 5-star read, so that's my Best of the Bunch!

White Fragility isn't trying to convince anyone that racism exists. Instead, it's written to white progressives who believe that racism exists and may even be actively working to fight it at a societal level, but at the same time want you to know that they are not racist, they are super woke and would never say anything offensive, and how dare you suggest that they themselves might have said something problematic? What I appreciated most about this book was how many specific examples DiAngelo includes, both of experiences with people in her workshops and of her own experiences being called out on problematic comments or having uncomfortable feelings related to her socialization as a white person. In her vulnerability, she demonstrates that there is no such thing as having "arrived" at some kind of post-racial state as a white person. I'd say this is a must-read for all white Americans (and probably most white Westerners around the world), but I think it's most important to be read by the white progressives it's addressed to — the people who consider themselves "woke" and other people the real problem. It's a short book, so there's no excuse not to read it.

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Ancillary Justice
Five years ago I was reading: Totto-chan, Someone Knows My Name, and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Ten Books I’ve Read That I’d Like In My Personal Library

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

This week's topic is books we've read that we'd like in our personal library. As I've mentioned before, I've pared my personal library way down to just books I've read and love and want to lend to people. However, there's room on the shelf for a few more... I looked over the books on my wish list on PaperBackSwap and ones on my Goodreads favorites list to compile a list of ones I don't own but would like to. Now that I have a custom book stamp, hopefully I can increase my chances of getting back the books I lend out!

1. Ask a Manager by Alison Green
This is an excellent reference guide for hard conversations at work, and I recommend it frequently. I'd love to have a copy on hand to lend people!

2. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
This is usually the book I name when asked what one book I wish everyone in the world would read. Definitely one to have on hand to share!

3. The Belgariad, Vol. One & Vol. Two by David Eddings
I have my old mass market paperback copies of these books from middle school, except for Pawn of Prophecy, which I've twice lent out and not gotten back. Rather than re-buying the book a second time, I decided I'd prefer to get hardcover versions of the new combined volumes that put books 1-3 in Vol. One and books 4-5 in Vol. Two. There are really two story arcs, not five, so I think this is a better way to break it up anyway. And it will save room on my bookshelves!

4. Fed Up by Gemma Hartley
I've recommended this book to so many people in the last year, and I am especially trying to get it into the hands of men with female partners. I really ought to have my own copy to lend out!

5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This is a close second for that question of a book I wish everyone would read; this one, at least, should be read by every American. Another one I ought to have my own copy of by now!

6. The Malloreon, Vol. One & Vol. Two by David Eddings
Although I have all five copies of these books still, I'd like to replace them as well to match the Belgariad hardcovers and condense that space on my shelf!

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Despite being less than thrilled with her latest books, Kingsolver is still one of my favorite authors, and this work is her chef-d'œuvre. I have a copy of The Bean Trees that I got free, but still don't have this one.

8. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
How do I not own any of Albertalli's books? I adore everything she writes. I wouldn't mind owning all the Creekwood universe books, but I definitely need to get this one.

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
This book is alongside The Poisonwood Bible on my Ideal Bookshelf print, but I have yet to make my real bookshelf match my ideal bookshelf! Literary fiction doesn't always capture me, but this story of two friends matched at birth has stayed with me.

10. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Well, I had a copy of this book, and then I lent it to someone years ago and never got it back, so it's high time I replaced it!

Which books would you like to own?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Ancillary Justice
Five years ago I was reading: Tempting Faith, Someone Knows My Name, and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden

Monday, August 19, 2019

Top Ten Favorite Tropes in Fiction

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

Tropes are usually talked about as a bad thing, but every work of fiction makes use of at least some tropes. (Just browse TV Tropes and you'll quickly find this to be true.) Some are tiresome, but some are actually enjoyable. Here are ten that I don't mind popping up in the books I read. (You may notice some themes — I didn't want to include example titles because of how many involve plot twists!)

1. All of a character's seemingly unrelated actions suddenly come together in one brilliant plan.
You thought that Bob just had a bunch of quirky habits, but it turns out everything he's been doing all along suddenly connects together in a spectacular way!

2. The cartoonish villain who poses a real threat but ends up outwitted in the end.
See my favorite literary villains for some examples (especially #5 and #6)!

3. The "everything you thought you knew was wrong" plot twist.
This might be better described as the "Sixth Sense" plot twist, when a revelation causes you to see everything that came before in an entirely different light, but also makes perfect sense as soon as you hear it. The secret was hiding in plain sight the whole time!

4. The petty thief/spy who's part of the band of good guys but can't break old habits.
"Where did you acquire this valuable item that we happened to need right now?" "Um, it's probably better if you don't ask."

5. Someone's random, obscure talent suddenly comes in handy to save the day (or the world).
Bonus points if it's something that all of the other characters made fun of for the entire book, and now all of their lives depend on it.

6. The female character who shows up a group of men with her common sense.
This is that female leader who's reluctantly included in a men's council and ends up cutting through their crap to have the best and most logical ideas. They've been too busy trying to one-up each other to realize how convoluted their plans have gotten!

7. Slow-burn romances. All of them.
I can't stand most "love at first sight" plots. But having the first kiss come after several books in a series, during which the characters slowly become closer? Yes, please.

8. The character you forgot about or thought was minor shows up unexpectedly to save the day.
You thought that person was just comic relief or a charity case or some other small side plot near the beginning, but it turns out they're the person who's going to save our hero(es)!

9. Characters (especially friends and family members) exchange insults as a form of love.
I love a good banter, and not just as part of a romance. Sometimes you understand how close two characters are because of how they tease each other or come up with creative insults for one another.

10. The book's ending somehow circles back to a theme or a location from the book's opening.
Sometimes this can be forced, but much of the time it's poetic or clever. This can also happen over an entire series, like The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain.

Based on these favorites, do you have any recommendations for me (no spoilers)?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Golden Compass and Ancillary Justice
Five years ago I was reading: Geek Love, Someone Knows My Name, and The Cross in the Closet
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden

Thursday, August 15, 2019

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.

There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America by Alex Kotlowitz: This was a well-written book, and I think it would have had a bigger impact on me had I not already read several similar books. In following one family in the Chicago projects, he manages to walk the line between hopelessness and false optimism.

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie: Christie wrote this very last novel as her mental faculties were fading, and boy does it show. This book reads like one of those memes: "I forced a bot to read every single one of Christie's books and then write a Tommy & Tuppence novel." It could more accurately have been called "Tommy and Tuppence Go Senile and Do a Lot of Housework."

When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park: Despite the sometimes simplistic middle grade style, I learned a lot from this work of historical fiction. It explains, using stories a child can understand, why Koreans resented being taken over by Japan, and it shows the characters taking actions big and small to resist the Japanese and hold on to pride in their culture.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis: I can definitely see why this book is known for being problematic. The "bad guys" is this book seem to be pretty clear stand-ins for Middle Eastern Muslims, who are depicted as being crude, unwashed, and uncivilized. Outside of that, I found it to be a decently plotted if not terribly enthralling adventure story.

Imperium by Ryszard Kapuściński: If you are very interested in the former Russian/Soviet empire, or you like detailed and far-ranging travelogues, then this book is for you! I learned a lot, but I also almost put the book down partway through because it was such slow-going. It's a good book for a niche audience.

Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D.: This is one of those books where you can either get hung up on specific questionable beliefs underneath the author's recommendations, or you can focus on the efficacy of the recommendations themselves, which is my preference. It's definitely meant to be read by couples together, so keep that in mind. If you and your partner are willing to approach the book with an open mind and focus on the outcomes more than the validity of the central theory, then I think this is definitely worth a read.

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino: Unlike the podcasts where I first learned about ethical non-monogamy, this book is way more focused on sex as a reason for having multiple partners. It's fairly comprehensive as a guide to considering opening up a monogamous relationship, but I wasn't thrilled with the way she talked about the LGBTQ community at times or some of the specific recommendations she made around rule-setting.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo: This book deserves all the attention it's getting! It's an incredibly clear and concise guide to the assumptions most white people hold about racism and why they therefore get outraged at the suggestion that they might not be perfectly woke and post-racial themselves. I highly recommend it, particularly for those in the target audience of "white progressives."

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The End of Your Life Book Club and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Five years ago I was reading: Geek Love, Someone Knows My Name, and The Cross in the Closet
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden