Sunday, November 30, 2014

Best of the Bunch: November 2014

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

Of the 10 books I read this month, four of them earned 5-star reviews from me:

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America by Thomas King

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

These were all excellent books that I highly recommend, but there is no doubt that the best of the bunch was...

You don't often find books this honest, and you almost never find a "Christian book" this honest. If I could give it more than 5 stars, I would have. Bolz-Weber immediately dispels the idea that becoming a Christian does some kind of Extreme Makeover for your life. She swears a lot (including in the book, just as a heads up), she has a lot of tattoos, and she calls herself a misanthrope who gets irritated with other people really quickly. But she also loves Jesus and sees God's work everywhere, so she's not going to walk away from her faith just because she doesn't fit the mold of what other people expect. She separates Christianity from the many trappings it's acquired over time and talks about living in the way she feels called to live as a person of faith, which is a lot more difficult when it can't be reduced to "don't swear" and "be friends with these kinds of people." A really excellent book.

What is the best book you read this month?

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Monday, November 24, 2014

Finding Time to Read

About a month ago I was thinking about how people often ask how I manage to get through so many books in a week, month, or year. I thought I would start keeping track of my reading time each day as a way to illustrate how I fit reading into each day. I had a pretty consistent schedule -- I would run Monday, Wednesday, and Friday while listening to audiobooks, read a little bit of a hard copy book in the evenings after dinner, and then read for about half an hour on my Kindle before bed.

Well, the week I started tracking my reading, I injured myself running on Monday -- pulled a muscle in my chest -- and had to miss work on Tuesday, so I just lay around and read most of the day, plus I couldn't run again until Friday. I decided that week was pretty atypical, so I stopped tracking and started up again the next week (the week of November 9th).

That week, we had an unusually busy week, having friends over for dinner one night, attending a fundraiser another night, attending a play another night, attending a party on Friday, and hosting our own party on Saturday. Additionally, we had a massive wind storm followed by freezing rain and ice, so my running partner and I took a break and decided to run again on Saturday, except she accidentally slept through her alarm that day. Once again, this was a pretty unusual week, so I decided to keep tracking for another week.

Then I came down with a horrible cold that caused me to miss work for most of the week and also prevented me from running for the first half of the week.

I decided that the elusive "typical week" probably wasn't going to happen, and that it was just as well that I show how reading fits into an unexpected, ever-changing schedule. Obviously I read a lot more than usual on the days I was home sick from work, but I also slept a lot and missed out on a lot of audiobook time due to my limited running schedule and not doing much housework.

I would be interested to redo this again in a few years after we have a child, when presumably I will not have hours to myself in the evenings to lay around and read. I recognize that that's not something that everyone has the luxury of doing, but at this point in my life it's the way I spend much of my free time. (Also why I will stare blankly if you try to involve me in a conversation about recent TV shows that are not Doctor Who.)

Without further ado, here are two solid weeks of my reading time:

Sunday, November 9:
12:18pm: Listened to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee part of Chapter 11 while putting away laundry and making lunch (18 minutes)
4:23pm: Took a walk and finished listening to Chapter 11 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (38 minutes)
8:17pm: Read two chapters of Cordelia's Honor (42 minutes)
9:20pm: Listened to beginning of Chapter 12 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while getting ready for bed (7 minutes)
9:34pm: Read 9% of And the Mountains Echoed before bed (35 minutes)
Total reading time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

Monday, November 10:
6:52am: Listened to half of Chapter 12 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while going for a run (36 minutes)
7:53am: Listened to more of Chapter 12 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while unloading the dishwasher (15 minutes)
10:41pm: Read 4% of And the Mountains Echoed (20 minutes)
Total reading time: 1 hour, 11 minutes

Tuesday, November 11:
8:45pm: Read one chapter of Cordelia's Honor (23 minutes)
9:29pm: Read 9% of And the Mountains Echoed (39 minutes)
Total reading time: 1 hour, 2 minutes

Wednesday, November 12:
8:03pm: Read three chapters of Cordelia's Honor (68 minutes)
9:44pm: Read 5% of And the Mountains Echoed (29 minutes)
Total reading time: 1 hour, 37 minutes

Thursday, November 13:
4:55pm: Read two chapters of Cordelia's Honor (30 minutes)
10:12pm: Read 10% of And the Mountains Echoed (36 minutes)
Total reading time: 1 hour, 6 minutes

Friday, November 14:
9:57pm: Read two chapters of Cordelia's Honor (48 minutes)
11:15pm: Read 8% of And the Mountains Echoed (27 minutes)
Total reading time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Saturday, November 15:
12:34pm: Listened to the rest of Chapter 12 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while playing Jetpack Joyride and snacking (35 minutes)
2:22pm: Read 35% of And the Mountains Echoed (140 minutes)
5:01pm: Listened to Chapters 13 & 14 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while making dip for the party (67 minutes)
11:08pm: Listened to the beginning of Chapter 15 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while getting ready for bed (11 minutes)
11:35pm: Read 8% of And the Mountains Echoed (28 minutes)
Total reading time: 4 hours, 41 minutes

Sunday, November 16:
4:12pm: Read the last 7% of And the Mountains Echoed (27 minutes)
5:13pm: Listened to Chapters 15 & 16 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee while playing Jetpack Joyride (62 minutes)
7:03pm: Read three chapters of Cordelia's Honor (72 minutes)
8:52pm: Read 9% of What Alice Forgot (31 minutes)
Total reading time: 3 hours, 12 minutes

Monday, November 17:
11:43am: Read three chapters of Cordelia's Honor (53 minutes)
1:11pm: Finished Cordelia's Honor (77 minutes)
4:16pm: Listened to Chapter 17 and part of Chapter 18 of Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (53 minutes)
5:55pm: Finished listening to Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (51 minutes)
7:18pm: Read intro and first two chapters of The Inconvenient Indian (61 minutes)
Total reading time: 4 hours, 55 minutes

Tuesday, November 18:
3:38pm: Read three chapters of The Inconvenient Indian (72 minutes)
5:08pm: Read part of another chapter of The Inconvenient Indian (17 minutes)
7:17pm: Read a chapter and a half of The Inconvenient Indian (45 minutes)
8:33pm: Listened to two chapters of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors while getting ready for bed (23 minutes)
9:11pm: Read a chapter of The Inconvenient Indian (20 minutes)
9:38pm: Read 6% of What Alice Forgot (21 minutes)
Total reading time: 3 hours, 18 minutes

Wednesday, November 19:
2:25pm: Finished last two chapters of The Inconvenient Indian (52 minutes)
7:19pm: Read 19% of What Alice Forgot (66 minutes)
Total reading time: 1 hour, 58 minutes

Thursday, November 20:
3:06pm: Read 2% of What Alice Forgot on the Kindle app on my phone while waiting for the doctor (4 minutes)
3:30pm: Read 7% of What Alice Forgot while waiting for my strep test results (25 minutes)
5:16pm: Read 7% of What Alice Forgot (27 minutes)
8:04pm: Read six chapters of The Fire Horse Girl (34 minutes)
9:50pm: Read 7% of What Alice Forgot (20 minutes)
Total reading time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Friday, November 21:
6:52am: Listened to four chapters of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors while going for a run (52 minutes)
3:38pm: Read 6% of What Alice Forgot on Kindle desktop app after finishing all my tasks at work (19 minutes)
4:10pm: Read 4% of What Alice Forgot on Kindle desktop app (15 minutes)
6:23pm: Read 4% of What Alice Forgot on the Kindle app on my phone while Mike was getting a haircut (15 minutes)
10:22pm: Finished What Alice Forgot (89 minutes)
Total reading time: 3 hours, 10 minutes

Saturday, November 22:
11:10am: Read 10% of Walking the Bridgeless Canyon (46 minutes)
1:23pm: Read one chapter of The Fire Horse Girl while eating (6 minutes)
1:55pm: Listened to five chapters of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors while taking a walk (51 minutes)
8:03pm: Read seven chapters of The Fire Horse Girl (58 minutes)
11:40pm: Listened to two chapters of The Last Summer of the Death Warriors while getting ready for bed (23 minutes)
Total reading time: 3 hours, 4 minutes

Some final observations: I spend more time reading every day than I realized. Even on the days when we had stuff going on in the evenings, I still fit in at least an hour of reading before bed, and even on that busy week I read for more than 10 hours. It's not unusual for me to read for a solid hour in the evening (again: things I expect to change with kids), but I also do a pretty good job of getting in 15 minutes here and there while unloading the dishwasher or waiting somewhere. If I didn't have so many podcast subscriptions, my audiobook listening would go way up, since I spend a lot of housework time and my Tuesday-Thursday morning walks listening to podcasts.

When and how do you fit reading into your day? If you recorded it, would you spend more or less time than you think reading each day?

If you're looking for my reviews of the books I finished in the past two weeks, you can always find them on my Goodreads page!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Top Ten Sequels I Can't Wait To Get

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Today's topic is sequels I'm looking forward to. I've mentioned I'm not a big reader of series, and books with sequels fall in the same sort of category. However, I manager to come up with a few sequels / the rest of series I'd like to read.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
I've read The Golden Compass twice, though I still remember only bits and pieces of it, and The Subtle Knife once, though I remember almost nothing of it. I never got around to reading the third book of the trilogy. I'd like to read them all through at some point.

Cormoran Strike, #3-7 by Robert Galbraith
I greatly enjoyed the first two books, the second even better than the first, and Rowling says she plans many more. I plan to read all of them unless the quality ends up diving the way the Robert Langdon books did.

The Madness Underneath by Maureen Johnson
I liked The Name of the Star a lot (recommended here), but haven't gotten around to reading the sequel since it came out. I'm probably reread the original first to refresh my memory.

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were enjoyable, so I'm looking forward to the last of the Thomas Cromwell series.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis
Another series where I read the first two (publication order) and then stopped. If I pick up the series again, this is where I left off.

One of the benefits of not reading books the same year they come out is that I'm not sitting around waiting for sequels to be written. There are plenty of books on my to-read list whose sequels or full series ought to be done by the time I pick them up.

What are some sequels you're looking forward to reading?

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Saturday, November 15, 2014

What I've Been Reading Lately (Twitterature)

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Twitterature 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.

This past month was much busier than the month before and I'm also in the middle of some lengthier books, so I only have half as many mini-reviews to share this month as last month. Enjoy!

Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde: Lots of excellent observations on culture and systemic oppression. At times I found her train of thought hard to follow, but there were enough valuable nuggets to make this worth the read.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech: Good fodder for middle-grade discussions of identity and loss, with a well-done plot twist near the end. The American Indian references were oddly shoehorned in, but the story is good regardless.

Bad Feminist: Essays by Roxane Gay: A collection of essays that started off strong and then turned into a series of disconnected book reviews (and movie reviews and current events commentaries). Good thoughts, but wish it had been put together differently.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley: Way better as an audiobook. Still suffers from the drawn-out descriptions common to early 19th century literature, but it's clear why it's survived and been retold in so many ways since its first publication. Lots to ponder and discuss.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby: The main character was annoying, and I didn't get most of (musical, British, or 90s) references. Too narrowly focused and self-indulgent for my taste.

Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith by Michelle DeRusha: An enjoyable and relatable story of what it's like to be a rational-minded, skeptical faith seeker. No bland platitudes here; this is an honest look at what belief means in real life.

Breath, Eyes, Memory by Edwidge Danticat: Good story, poor execution. Danticat tried to shove too much trauma in one book without delving deeply into any of it.

Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint by Nadia Bolz-Weber: Fantastic, brutally honest memoir of being a Christian who doesn't fit the mold but loves Jesus too much to give it all up. Funny, relatable, piercing, highly recommended.

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

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Top Ten Characters I Wish Would Get Their Own Book

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Today's topic is about characters we wish had their own books, either minor characters or other main characters whose points of view aren't the focus of the real book.

SPOILERS ABOUND for the books listed here. Proceed with caution!

1. Alba DeTamble from The Time Traveler's Wife
Alba inherits main character Henry's time-traveling tendencies, but from the glimpse we have of her she seems to have more control over her abilities than Henry does. She also lives in a world where her condition is named (CDP: Chrono-Displaced Person) and better understood. In what ways is her life different from Henry's, and in what ways does she have the same challenges he did?

2. Dante Quintana from Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
This book is told from Aristotle (Ari)'s point of view, so we don't get to see much inside Dante's head. We don't know much about his year in Chicago apart from what's in his letters to Ari, and we don't get the whole story of his coming to terms with his sexual orientation. Dante seems much less angry and brooding than Ari, so the same story from his perspective would be very different.

3. Denny Swift from The Art of Racing in the Rain
I know that much of what makes this book great is that it's told from the perspective of Denny's dog, Enzo. Still, with all the crap that Denny goes through over the course of this book, and the fact that he comes off as a genuinely good person, I would find it interesting to get his own perspective on things.

4. Hazel Jones from The Language of Flowers
Hazel's upbringing is set up to be better than Victoria's, but it's still bound to be difficult as Victoria and Grant learn to be the parents they never had. And certainly Hazel will learn to express herself in the language of flowers, but presumably not with as much anger and misanthropy as Victoria. I would be interested to hear her story.

5. Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series
Hermione is, obviously, a main character, but she's not the main character, so there are aspects of her experience we miss out on. Also, we never get to find out whether she was able to reverse her parents' memory modification and get them back in her life. And how will she be as a parent if her children aren't as naturally studious as she was? These are the things I think about.

6. Mi Mi from The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
Although this book tells the story of Tin Win and Mi Mi's relationship, it is Tin Win's story, as well as his daughter Julia's. We get to discover how Tin Win feels to gain "sight" through Mi Mi, but less about how Mi Mi feels to gain mobility through Tin Win, and very little about her life after he leaves. It would be a very different story if told from her point of view.

7. Mrs. Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
Mrs. Bennet gets a bad rap for obsessively trying to marry off her daughters, but she has her reasons for doing so. With all the Pride and Prejudice spin-offs out there I'm sure someone has written from Mrs. Bennet's perspective, but probably not with writing as skilled and sharp as Austen's. It would be a very different story if it were primarily the story of a woman with five unmarried daughters and a sarcastic husband who refuses to acknowledge their perilous financial situation.

8. Mrs. Cooke from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
This is the one character in the book who doesn't have much agency for a lot of the story (besides Fern, obviously), but she ultimately proves to be resilient and rebuilds her life around what's important to her. I would love to know more about her own journey, of which we only get glimpses from Rosemary's perspective.

9. Owen Dunne from The Art of Fielding
There are a number of intertwining relationships in this book that involve five main characters, and Owen is the only one of the five whose perspective doesn't get shared. He is the character who affects those around him but who remains somewhat of a mystery himself, seemingly unaffected by much of what happens around him. What is it actually like inside his head?

10. Silk from the Belgariad and Malloreon series
It's been too long since I reread these books. Silk was my favorite character, though he was definitely more of a "sidekick" than one of the main characters. He's cunning and devious and funny. I would have loved if Eddings had written a book with Silk as the main character.

Which characters' stories would you like to hear?

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Friday, November 7, 2014

Digitizing My Reading

If you look at the formats in which I've read books over time, you'll notice some drastic changes...

("Null" indicates books I read before I started recording my reading in 2006.)

There are actual three major shifts in my reading formats, which could be labeled "Jessica starts getting her books from the library" (more hardcover), "Jessica discovers OverDrive at her local library" (more audiobooks), and "Jessica buys a Kindle" (more ebooks). (There's a little blip of couple of ebooks I read in 2010 on my iPod Touch using the iBooks app, but that was not an ideal format.)

This graph shows what percentage of books I read each year were in each of these formats. From this, you might be tempted to conclude that, in recent years, I've largely replaced hard copy books with digital books. But in reality, I've only converted some of my hard copy reading to digital. It's more accurate to say that having access to digital formats has caused my total reading to skyrocket:

I seek out books first on OverDrive now because it's quick and easy to download to my Kindle, and less quick but still easy to download audiobooks to iTunes (and WAY faster than when I used to import audio CDs in order to load them on my iPod). Books get automatically returned when they expire. I still make trips to the library when books aren't available digitally or I don't want to read them in that format, though I try to consolidate my trips so that when I drop off a book that's due or pick up one on hold, I pick up another one that's only available in hard copy.

I bought a Kindle right before we moved cross-country, and I was a reluctant ebook user at first, particularly when I discovered that I couldn't lend out the vast majority of books on Kindle. Once I realized that our new library had OverDrive, though, and it offered books in Kindle format, I started borrowing like a fiend and never looked back.

I'll be the first to admit that not all books are ideally read in a digital format. My e-reader is a black-and-white Kindle Touch, so anything that has pictures goes on my hard-copy-only list. I preview narrators before downloading an audiobook, and I'll sometimes stop and return it if I end up not liking the narration.

But I've found that many, many books are just as easily enjoyed digitally as in hard copy, and some even more so. I tend to appreciate classic literature much more when it's read aloud to me (Frankenstein was a recent example of this). And I love the Kindle feature that lets me touch and hold a word to get a definition; I'm way too lazy most of the time to look up a word I don't know in a hard copy book. (Sometimes I catch myself wanting to press down on the word on the paper!) It was also way easier to tackle War and Peace and Roots as audiobooks than it was to tackle A Suitable Boy in paperback.

I don't think that digital reading will ever fully replace my hard-copy reading, but I'm definitely not in the "but that book smell! but I like to hold it in my hand!" camp anymore.

How do you feel about digital books, whether ebooks and audiobooks? Have you changed the format you read most often over time?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Top Ten Books I Want to Reread

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I'm generally not big on rereading. There are so many books on my to-read list (357 and counting at the moment) that the time spent rereading a book feels like time taken away from a new story I could be exploring or a new nonfiction book I could be learning from. However, I've reread quite a few books in the past year or so thanks to my various book clubs, and I've gained an appreciation for revisiting old books. With a good book, you catch new things the second time around and just have a different reading experience when you're not turning pages to find out what happens next in an unknown plot.

I recently created a "want to reread" shelf on my Goodreads. It's a mix of books I read a long time ago (mostly classics I read in middle school) of which I remember little except that I enjoyed them, nonfiction books whose lessons I want to keep fresh in my mind, and books with plot twists that will most certainly provide a different experience the second time around. Here are some of the highlights:

1. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
I read this book last year when I was unemployed and doing some soul-searching about what kind of work I wanted to do and how I wanted to make the most of my time generally. However, the book is geared toward people who have a normal routine of some sort, not those in an in-between period, so now that I've been at my job for over a year I'd like to revisit this book and apply some of the lessons to my current weekly use of time.

2. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver
This was my first introduction to Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favorite authors. I only remember a few snippets from the book, but they clearly made an impression on me because they've stayed with me. I've recommended this book to a few people now, so I feel like I should go back and see if it's as good as I remember.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I remember clearly that I read this in eighth grade for our monthly book reports, because by that time in middle school we were supposed to get our plot summaries down to a paragraph and spend the rest of the report doing analysis of the book. The plot was so long and complex I couldn't cut it down to less than two and a half pages, so I wrote five pages of analysis to compensate. I loved the book but now remember almost nothing about it except for what I think was the plot twist. After 15 years, it's time to reread it.

4. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Another first read from a favorite author. I probably read this in grade school, and I don't think I've picked it up again since. I know it's a classic children's book and one I'll probably share with my kids, but first I want to read it again myself.

5. Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
One of the best books I've read this year. I love his parenting philosophy maybe even more than Faber and Mazlish's (Liberated Parents, Liberated Children and How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk), though it's very similar. Right now, though, it's all theoretical to me. I want to revisit this book more than once after we become parents both to remind myself of his suggestions and to see how well they hold up.

6. Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
I read this one in middle school and called it my favorite book for quite a while. Again, I remember only bits and pieces, including the plot twist in the middle of the book that I shared with my classmates during my oral book report. (I'm not sure if the spoiler made them more or less likely to want to read it.) It's time to reread it and remind myself what made it so good.

7. Room for One More by Anna Perrott Rose
This was the book that first interested me in adoption, which we're now in the midst of pursuing. It also first opened me up to the idea of having a large family. I want to reread this, especially after we have kids, to remind me that a little chaos and mess in a family is OK as long as there's enough love to go around.

8. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Emma Orczy
Another middle school classic read about which I remember very little except the plot twist. I'm interested to reread it with that in mind to see how the story is constructed.

9. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I love Bill Bryson's histories, and this book is both history and science packaged in his signature readable format as he explores everything from the cosmos to cells. I remember learning a lot from this book, but I'm not sure how much of it I've retained.

10. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
I read this book in fourth grade and proclaimed it my favorite book for the next few years. I don't remember much about it except that there's a romance between a Jewish girl and a German soldier around the time of World War II, and I was fascinated by the Holocaust at the time. The ratings on Goodreads are so-so but that seems to be mostly due to students who were forced to read it for school and hated it. Since I loved it as a kid, I'm wondering how it will stand up to my scrutiny as an adult reader.

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