Friday, November 29, 2019

Best of the Bunch (November 2019)


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

Of the 5 books I read this month, I had one 5-star read. That's my Best of the Bunch for this month!


I had heard of Whistling Vivaldi for years, and I had heard of "stereotype threat," but I didn't realize that this book was an in-depth look at that phenomenon by one of its foremost researchers. I appreciated the careful way that Steele pulled apart what stereotype threat is and is not and showed the exact way that that was pinpointed through various research studies. I found both the study designs and the results fascinating. Steele also uses his research and that of his colleagues to explore ways that stereotype threat can be reduced. I think this book is a valuable complement to reading about bias and privilege, which are related but distinct concepts. We can't ignore the realities of both conscious and unconscious bias, but understanding stereotype threat and the ways to combat it can help provide additional tools for creating a more inclusive and equitable world.

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: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and Crazy Rich Asians
Five years ago I was reading: We Are Water, Dreams of Joy, and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Ten years ago I was reading: What the Dog Saw and Other Adventures

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Monday, November 25, 2019

Ten Books About the Native American Experience


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

This week is a Thanksgiving freebie. This time of year means grappling with the complicated history of Thanksgiving as a holiday, and it seemed like a good time to highlight some books that center on the experience of Native Americans. I've included six that I've read and four that I have on my to-read list.

Books I've Read


1. The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
As a popular YA novel, this provides an age-appropriate introduction to the challenges and contradictions of living on a reservation while attending a white school, based on Alexie's personal experiences. On the other hand, since I read this there have been multiple allegations made about sexual harassment by Alexie, so you may want to seek out alternatives.


2. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
Brown is not himself part of any indigenous people in the United States, but due to his careful and thorough research, this is considered one of the definitive histories on the United States government's betrayal and destruction of Native Americans during the 19th century. It's a brutal but important read for all Americans.


3. Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko
I read this in school and wasn't a huge fan of it as a novel, but it did introduce me to concepts like assimilation vs. tradition and helped me understand the way that the United States has exploited its indigenous peoples and then turned its back on them.


4. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
This is one of the best histories I've read — it's both incisive and humorous, keeping a conversational tone while absolutely destroying misconceptions about the state of Native American rights in the modern era. If you thought that the government's betrayals were far in the past, you'll think again after King's focus on just the past few decades.


5. Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese
This book transformed my understanding of the residential schools that indigenous children were forced to attend, from misguided attempts at Westernization to abusive hellholes of modern-day slavery. This is a tough book to read, but I'm glad to have read it.


6. The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse by Louise Erdrich
This is one I read in college and wasn't a huge fan of (I didn't like my professor very much) but I'd like to reread it someday, and I definitely want to read some other Erdrich. I'm pretty sure the protagonist of this book is white, but the majority of the story takes place on an Ojibwe reservation. (Erdrich's mother is half Ojibwe.)

Book I Want to Read


1. In Search of April Raintree by Beatrice Culleton


2. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie


3. Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich


4. There There by Tommy Orange

What other books would you recommend?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: An Absolutely Remarkable Thing and Crazy Rich Asians
Five years ago I was reading: The Fire Horse Girl, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors, and Walking the Bridgeless Canyon
Ten years ago I was reading: Telling Lies

Friday, November 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.

A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres: Scheeres does a fantastic job bringing to life both Jones and the various people from Peoples Temple she profiles throughout the book. I got a sense both of how Jones could draw so many people to him in the first place and how he kept them under his control as he started to become more and more paranoid. It's unflinching but not gratuitous in the descriptions of what people underwent at Jonestown, and it will give you a much richer understanding of this piece of history in a relatively quick read.

An Untamed State by Roxane Gay: This fictional account of a kidnapping in Haiti is broken into two parts: what Mireille undergoes at the hands of her kidnappers, and Mireille's attempts to go back to her previous life while dealing with PTSD. The writing at the beginning isn't super strong but it's worth sticking with it to get into the meat of the story. It's dark and brutal but well written, and it will stay with you.

Possession by A.S. Byatt: It took me quite a while to get through this one. I liked the mystery aspect of it, and the story was good, but the structure was a bit too meandering at times for my taste. I don't have any strong feelings that make me want to recommend this book, but I don't regret the time spent listening to it.

Whistling Vivaldi: How Stereotypes Affect Us and What We Can Do by Claude M. Steele: I was familiar with the idea of "stereotype threat" before reading this book, but I was missing many of the key components that make it so fascinating and so pervasive. I found this book a valuable complement to reading about bias and privilege. We can't ignore the realities of both conscious and unconscious bias, but understanding stereotype threat and the ways to combat it can help provide additional tools for creating a more inclusive and equitable world.

King of the Murgos by David Eddings: The plot isn't terribly compelling in this one, but what makes these books enjoyable for me — the character relationships, the banter, the one-liners — is all still there. I have no way to gauge if someone who hadn't read this series growing up would enjoy it, but I'm still really liking the reread.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis: Well, that was a weird and racist end to the series. Lewis decided to double down on the offensive stereotypes of Middle Eastern Muslims in this book, and the plot is kind of strung together to prop up a bunch of different theological arguments he wanted to work in. Not worth the read unless you are a completionist and feel the need to read the entire series.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Born a Crime
Five years ago I was reading: And the Mountains Echoed, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Cordelia's Honor
Ten years ago I was reading: Bonk

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ten Great Bookmarks


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

This week is all about bookmarks! I don't read a lot of physical books anymore but I do have a small collection of bookmarks; most of them are from my former workplace, but I wanted to share five that aren't. Then I found five that I don't own but I like a lot!

My Bookmarks


1. Bonjour!
I don't remember where I got this one, but I'm pretty sure I got it in high school after I started studying French. I like the simple design.


2. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
When I ordered the box set of this web series, it came with two bookmarks. On the back side of this one is a (now faded) picture of the male actors on the show; I don't know what became of my bookmark with the women on it.


3. Mom poem
This was in one of the first Mother's Day cards my husband bought me after our son was born.


4. Shh! I'm trying to read
As you may be able to tell, I've had this bookmark for a long time. It sums up what I want to say to people who try to talk to me while I'm reading!


5. Smart Women Read
This was a gift to the members of one of my book clubs from the founder on the one-year anniversary of the book club. It's too thick for me to want to use it in any of my books, but I keep it in my reading area as a memento.

Bookmarks I Like






What's on your favorite bookmarks?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings and Things I Should Have Told My Daughter
Five years ago I was reading: And the Mountains Echoed, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Cordelia's Honor
Ten years ago I was reading: Bonk

Monday, November 4, 2019

Ten Gothic Reads for Autumn


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

This week, we're talking about books that give us autumn vibes. As the leaves fall and the wind sweeps a chill through the air, a lot of people turn to Gothic novels, both classic and modern. It's a good time of year to get in the spirit of reading about old, echoing mansions, mysterious things happening in the woods or the attic, rain beating against the windowpanes, and the shadows lurking around corners. Here are the ten of the most well-known ones that I've read. (You'll notice some overlap with my recommendations for rainy day reads.)


1. Dracula by Bram Stoker


2. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley


3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


4. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde


5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier


6. The Secret History by Donna Tartt


7. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson


8. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield


9. The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins


10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

What novels would you recommend for this time of year?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Stride Toward Freedom and March: Book Three
Five years ago I was reading: Pastrix, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Cordelia's Honor
Ten years ago I was reading: Driver's Ed

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Best of the Bunch (October 2019)


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

Of the 6 books I read this month, I had one 5-star read. That's my Best of the Bunch for this month!


The Magician's Nephew is my favorite of the Narnia books that I've read so far. (I've got one left.) There were many parts I enjoyed that were funny or sweet or just satisfying. And as always, Lewis shows that he is an excellent study of human nature. This book, to me, was the best plotted and least problematic of the series. It also apparently took Lewis the longest to write, which is not surprising. If I were making a recommendation for reading this series, I think I'd recommend reading just this and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

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: March: Book Three and Unsheltered
Five years ago I was reading: Breath, Eyes, Memory, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, and Cordelia's Honor
Ten years ago I was reading: The Pigman

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Monday, October 21, 2019

Top Ten Books I'd Retitle


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

This week's topic is books that we would give different titles to. I did a search through my Goodreads reviews and found ten books for which I'd mentioned wanting to change the title or subtitle. Here they are!


1. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein
Why change it? The majority of this book is about probability and forecasting, which are not actually the same thing as risk management, as becomes quite clear from reading the book itself.


2. America's Public Schools: From the Common School to "No Child Left Behind" by William J. Reese
Why change it? The book was published in 2005, and if the author had waited just five more years then this history of public schools spanning four centuries could have been subtitled "From the Common School to the Common Core"! So much more satisfying.


3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein
Why change it? It's a spoiler. The book opens with a section labeled "Verity" and if it weren't for the title of the book, I would not have guessed that that might refer to the person narrating that section, which is an important plot point.


4. How She Does It: An Everywoman's Guide to Breaking Old Rules, Getting Creative, and Making Time for Work in Your Actual, Everyday Life by Anne Bogel
Why change it? The subtitle is disingenuous. The book is not actually for "every woman." It's written for women in male/female marriages who have or plan to have children and want to do at least some work for pay. It's fine to write for a limited audience if you don't pretend that it's applicable to everyone.


5. Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff
Why change it? Many of the things Goff "does" are not so much evidence of his love as evidence of his lawyerly wealth, like flying his kids to 30 different countries on a moment's notice, and he seems oblivious to how much of what he "gets away with" is evidence of his privilege, not just a cute metaphor for being a Jesus freak. The book would be more honestly subtitled A Story of Wealth and White Male Privilege.


6. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez
Why change it? This isn't really about love so much as it is about a guy who can't get over being rejected and continues to pursue the woman he wants for the next 50 years (while also sleeping with literally hundreds of other women). A more accurate title would be Sex and Obsession in the Time of Cholera.


7. An Ordinary Man: An Autobiography by Paul Rusesabagina
Why change it? This book is not just a memoir but also an important overview of the Rwandan genocide, and the title doesn't capture the gravity of the story within. You have to read far enough down on the cover to see that it's the book that the movie Hotel Rwanda was based on.


8. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
Why change it? The subtitle makes it seems as if politics and religion are given equal treatment within this book. While Haidt is able, over time, to see the perspectives of both liberals and conservatives, he does not seem equally able to see the perspectives of the religious and non-religious, but instead sees religion only as a potentially beneficial delusion. He cannot seem to conceive of a person who is politically liberal and also religious.


9. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Why change it? Between the title and the cover design I had the impression that this was a whimsical read in the vein of The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, but instead it turned out to be a heavy read about a sad, lonely man taking a painful cross-country walk while thinking about all of his regrets in life. I would have appreciated a title that more accurately captured the mood of the book — you know, something like The Long, Difficult, Depressing, Painful Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.


10. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Why change it? I really disliked the plot twist in this book, and people's reactions to that seem to be, "You shouldn't be surprised; the title is We Were Liars!" OK, but it wasn't the protagonist lying to us — she has amnesia, but she's honestly reporting what she's experiencing and what she remembers as she remembers it. It has nothing to do with why the friend group called themselves Liars.

Which book titles would you change?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: It's OK Not to Share and Unsheltered
Five years ago I was reading: Bad Feminist, High Fidelity, and Frankenstein
Ten years ago I was reading: A Day No Pigs Would Die