Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Best of the Bunch: June 2016

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

Of the 9 books I read this month, I again had just one 5-star read, which was surprisingly similar to last month's pick.

When Breath Becomes Air has gotten a lot of positive press since it came out this year, but I think it's deserved. In this memoir of a doctor turned patient, Kalanithi's writing conveyed well that his love of literature was equal to his love of neuroscience and neurosurgery. Working in literary allusions and quotes as appropriate without relying too heavily on them, he writes eloquently about his decisions at each stage of his diagnosis, and how knowing that his time was limited didn't really change the fact that he didn't know how much longer he had. You'll want to break out the tissues for his wife's epilogue.

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

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Top Ten Least Favorite Books (That I Didn't Abandon)

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

I skipped the past couple weeks because, despite my goal to read more books published this year, I've only read two so far this year and I know of one(?) yet to be published that I want to read. But this week is a freebie, so I can definitely join in!

I previously shared books I abandoned, but I realized I haven't yet shared books I finished but disliked. (A couple showed up on my list of books that were hard for me to read.) I don't claim this is an exhaustive list because I'm sure I've blocked out some terrible books I read long ago, but these are the ones I definitely gave 1-star ratings to.

1. The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt
This book was a gift from my mother-in-law, so I felt obligated to finish the whole thing. What I took away from it was that Byatt created more characters than the reader could possibly keep track of, had most of them have sex with as many other characters as possible, and then killed off the majority of them. Also the book had terrible editorial inconsistencies.

2. Confessions of a Counterfeit Farm Girl by Susan McCorkindale
One month I was looking for funny books and took suggestions from my Facebook friends. Never again. This memoir was so terrible. It's written by a woman from the city who went to live on a farm with her family. What I remember of it was basically like, "OMG my manicured nails are so dirty. You can't wear high heels in the mud. Haha." It was whiny and repetitive. No thank you.

3. A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon
This book showed up in our apartment, and my husband was like, "Oh, [coworker] wants you to read this." I thought it was a personal recommendation and so I struggled through it, but it turns out she hadn't even read it, and I guess wanted to know if it was any good? It wasn't. The writing was overly complex, they made constant unfounded generalizations, and the "theory" seemed to be that children need to be with their mothers 24/7 or they will be doomed for life. I do not understand how this book has such high ratings.

4. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
I actually watched the very mediocre movie of this before reading the book, and I was surprised that the movie ended up being more interesting. Spoiler: They don't go to the center of the Earth. They go down a very long tunnel, across a subterranean ocean, and then get blown out a volcano and go home. Also, lots and lots of boring (and outdated) science. I only finished it because it was short and Simon Prebble is a good narrator.

5. Love Does by Bob Goff
This book is ridiculous. I think it's probably popular because people hear Bob Goff speak and then buy his book. Many of the things he "does" in the book are not so much evidence of his love as evidence of his lawyerly wealth 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. There were good lines throughout, but the book just encapsulated everything I hate about American Christian Culture as a commercial entity.

6. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
I know a lot of people love this book, and I gave Sedaris another try later and enjoyed Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. This book, though, I mostly found disturbing and not at all funny.

7. Milkrun by Sarah Mlynowski
Another failed result of my attempt to get humor recommendations from my Facebook friends. I don't have a problem with "chick lit" as a genre (and have enjoyed a number of books in that category), but this one was a dud with a shallow, annoying narrator.

8. Must Love Dogs by Claire Cook
This was another case where the movie was surprisingly better. The movie had a narrative thread, whereas the main character here just seemed to date a string of guys and then eventually pick one. It was boring and I did not understand the character's motivations for anything she did.

9. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
I was massively disappointed by this book. I don't know how they managed to turn this into a musical that is so narratively coherent and has such fantastic wordplay. The author doesn't commit to anything in this book. Stuff happens, there are mysterious signs and books that we never get to learn anything else about, and everything is unresolved, like: There's a scarecrow. Elphaba wonders if it could be Fiyero. And then we literally never find out. It was one of the most frustrating reading experiences ever, and then I tortured myself by reading the sequel, Son of a Witch, which answered exactly zero of my questions.

10. The Younger Gods by David & Leigh Eddings
David Eddings wrote some of my favorite books, the Belgariad and Malloreon series, and then at the end of his life he and his wife turn out one final series. It has all this buildup, and then the ending is the equivalent of "and it was all a dream." Seriously, it's like he got tired and just wanted to finish it and wrote the worst ending ever. And this, my friends, is why I try never to start a series unless it's all been written and people genuinely recommend the entire set.

What are your least favorite books?

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Wednesday, June 15, 2016

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.

We actually squeezed in two weekend vacations recently, and I managed to get a good bit of reading done! I've also run through a slew of short audiobooks, which has helped me feel like I'm keeping up with my TBR list. Here's what I've gotten to in the last month!

The Name of God Is Mercy: A conversation with Andrea Tornielli by Pope Francis: This was a good overview of what the Year of Mercy is all about. The first half is a Q&A with a journalist, and the second half is Pope Francis' announcement and explanation of the Year of Mercy and how Catholics can most fully celebrate this jubilee year. There were parts here and there that were a bit vague or that I didn't really agree with, but on the whole I found it a really good explanation of what this year is all about.

Will I Ever Be Good Enough?: Healing the Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers by Karyl McBride: This is a good, not great, self-help book that I think is probably useful to some people but over the top for many. I picked it up because Captain Awkward references it frequently. I do think the basic structure of the book is useful, and that McBride's exercises are probably helpful for people who have extremely destructive mothers or mother figures, but otherwise there are better books you could read — or you should just visit a counselor.

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson: The writing in this was beautiful, on the whole, but the subject matter wasn't a good match for me. It's a dark book steeped in sex, violence, abuse, drugs, prostitution... you name it. There are few likable characters and just about everyone has made a huge mess of their life. I can see how other people like this book, as I liked a lot about it, but not enough to want to recommend it.

Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulness and Homosexuality by Wesley Hill: I was hoping for a thoughtful explanation of the case for celibacy, an explanation of how the author has embraced this part of his identity, and an encouragement for churches to better support their single and celibate members. Instead there was a drive-by face-value review of the "clobber passages," and then a really depressing story of Hill's loneliness and his conclusion that he just has to bear his cross like Jesus. The contrast to me was clear between the people I know who feel called to celibacy and those like Hill who feel like they have no choice.

The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien: After putting off reading this trilogy forever, I enjoyed this first book more than I expected. I liked the character relationships and, for the most part, the plotting. The characters aren't exactly one-dimensional, but they do tend to fit into familiar character molds, though I think that's OK for an adventure story like this. I can see why people like the series, even if I didn't fall in love with it myself.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer: This was a reread for book club, and I determined this time that one reason I dislike the book is that the author seems to be mocking his protagonist. Between this and Everything Is Illuminated, I don't think Safran Foer's larger-than-life characters and bizarre plots are for me.

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie: I've started rereading Christie's books as one of my reading goals for the year, and reading this first one made me glad I did. I thought I'd figured it all out, that I saw exactly what our narrator couldn't see, and then she fooled me in the end anyway. It's delightful to be back in Hercule Poirot's company again.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl: I've read a number of concentration camp accounts by now, but this one was definitely different in its detached, clinical approach. The first part of the book details the three stages a concentration camp prisoner goes through, and the second part describes Frankl's approach to psychotherapy, called "logotherapy," about finding meaning in one's life. I think this is probably worth a read, but it wasn't as life-altering as I expected it to be based on other people's descriptions.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: This was a beautifully written memoir of Kalanithi's transition from doctor to patient as he faced his own terminal diagnosis. His meditations on time, values, and legacy were incredibly powerful. I'm glad this has gotten the attention it has.

The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien: I had a harder time getting through this one compared to the first one. The company's all split up, and rather than bouncing back and forth and building suspense, Tolkien gives us the three stories one right after another, each time starting back at the breaking of the fellowship. It was still enjoyable, though, and I'm looking forward to reading the finale of the trilogy.

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie: This was enjoyable as expected. I was able to keep up while still being surprised, which is really all I ask for from a good murder mystery. Also, I couldn't help picturing Giraud as Gilderoy Lockhart, which made everything more amusing.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty: This was an enjoyable enough read, if not as brilliant and powerful as Big Little Lies or What Alice Forgot. Moriarty's writing of individual scenes is still excellent, but the overall plot I found rather predictable and not that compelling.

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

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Monday, June 6, 2016

Ten Reasons I Love Reading

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

This week's topic is "ten reasons I love X" and one of their suggestions was "reading." I remember a while back when some students at the college where I work had to write an essay about why we should read books, and they were struggling to come up with ideas. I thought, there are so many good reasons to read books! Here are ten of the reasons I love to read.

1. Being entertained.
I think this is why most people read! Whether it's in books, movies, TV, or just listening to someone, we humans love a good story.

2. Understanding and empathizing with other people better.
There have been plenty of studies showing that fiction readers can get inside other people's heads more easily and understand what they're going through. I definitely find I'm more open to relating to someone who's different from me more easily if I've read books about someone like them.

3. Learning new things.
Everyone at our work has to take the "StrengthsFinder" quiz when they're hired, and my top strength is "Learner." I'm a huge fan of nonfiction and love the chance to better understand some aspect of the world or history.

4. Connecting with others who have read the same books.
This is why I love book clubs — it's fun to discuss books with other people. You can learn a lot about someone by their reactions to a particular book. (I also love this article about a father and daughter reading the same books.)

5. Having relatable examples to draw on when making a point.
When trying to explain something to someone else, it can help to reach for an analogy they'll understand. The more books I read, the more likely I am to find a story that mirrors what I'm trying to say.

6. Understanding references in popular culture.
My husband is way more into comedy than I am (movies, TV shows, stand-up), but I love when I get to be the one to explain a joke to him because it references a book he's never read!

7. Challenging my pre-existing beliefs.
As much as we seem to exist within echo chambers of our own beliefs nowadays (unless your Facebook feed isn't as locked down as mine is), there are definitely books, like The Hidden Brain and The Righteous Mind, that have challenged what I thought I knew about other people's thought processes (and my own!).

8. Finding inspiration or tips to apply to real life.
Most of the things I learn from books are just interesting tidbits about the world, but occasionally I'll run across an idea that is absolutely transferable to my daily life. I followed the processes laid out in The Happiness Project and The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up to great success, became a vegetarian because of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and have applied principles from Switch to my work.

9. Being able to recommend books to other people.
As I shared in a previous post, I love when people ask me for book recommendations! One of the great things about reading a wide variety of books is that I can tailor recommendations to the person or the specific type of book they're looking for.

10. Always having something to occupy the time, no matter where I am.
One reason I've moved more toward digital books is that I always have a book with me, usually at least two — one on my Kindle app and one on audiobook. Getting stuck in a long line or waiting room is just an excuse to read a few more pages, and I don't mind doing chores when I can have a good narrator in my ears at the same time.

Why do you love reading?

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