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.

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

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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Thursday, February 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.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco: This was a fun and fairly quick read. I found the book enjoyable to read, funny if not laugh-out-loud so, and vaguely helpful as a career guide (maybe if I were 10 years younger it would have been more helpful). I had some frustrations with the editing and organization, but it's a short book and I'd say it's worth the read.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin: I read most of this twisty thriller in one sitting, and I was impressed by the many ways in which the author keeps the reader in suspense. It was a skillfully plotted book that I think anyone who loves suspenseful novels will enjoy.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley: I can definitely see why this has been such a popular children's book: it has adventure, suspense, and lots of horse talk. It's a bit dated and a bit predictable, but overall I enjoyed the read and think kids today would still enjoy it.

The Clocks by Agatha Christie: This one had an unusual and delightfully creepy premise that's unlike most of Christie's closed-set murder mysteries. I liked that the solution was simple but unexpected. This ranks up with my favorite Poirot novels.

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith: This is like a book version of The Art Assignment (which it predates). Each page suggests an experiment or new approach to experiencing, observing, or documenting the world. There are different prompts that would be good creative jump starts for visual artists, writers, actors, and scientists.

The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers: This collection does a nice job of demonstrating the unique person that Fred Rogers was and the breadth of wisdom that he shared. We could all benefit from these reminders about how to be the best kind of human, especially coming from someone who modeled everything he taught.

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild: This book seeks to explain what the author calls the Great Paradox — that the areas of the country most devastated by pollution are also most populated with conservative voters, who vote for candidates supporting deregulation and less oversight. This book doesn't offer a step-by-step plan for winning over the South to the Democratic Party again or solving the environmental crises that make up the main focus of the book. But it did provide me with a fuller picture of some of my fellow Americans, and for that it was worth the read.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: This one lived up to the hype — it was an adorable, feel-good romance that was predictable but not as much as I expected. 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.

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson: This was basically what I expected — a cheesy (no pun intended) business metaphor in book form. What I didn't realize was that the book is extremely short and is pretty much just the cheese metaphor story. I didn't find it particularly valuable or revolutionary.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: This was pretty much exactly the bittersweet, heartwarming piece of historical fiction it was billed as. I learned more about Japanese internment camps and about Seattle jazz in the 1940s. I can't say I recommend this as a great love story, but as a family drama and a work of historical fiction? It's great.

Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards: This was a sweet children's book in the vein of other classic "orphan girl" stories like A Little Princess. Ten-year-old Mandy finds an abandoned, overgrown cottage and sets about making it her own secret home. It was predictable but sweet and worth checking out.

"Multiplication Is for White People" by Lisa Delpit: As a compilation of others' research on race and education, this is excellent. Where Delpit inserts her own beliefs and theories, they tend to be anecdotally based and sometimes contrary to existing research. The end result is a mixed bag; you could probably get more out of one of the many other sources she cites.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: There's a reason this is a true crime classic. I was surprised that it's not set up to be suspenseful, but that ended up being a wise choice so we could get deep dives into the lives of the victims, the killers, and the detectives simultaneously. As long as you're not bothered by Capote filling in the gaps with his own imagined scenes and conversations, it's a great read.

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

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Favorite and Least Favorite Book Couples (From the Past Year's Reading)

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

This week is a "Love Freebie" for Valentine's Day. In past years I covered things I like and dislike in book romances, favorite fictional couples, and best male-female friendships in books, plus a recent post on book crushes, so I felt like I might have exhausted my options. But then I thought, maybe I've come across more fictional couples in the past year's reading that I could talk about — and I have. Here are five whose relationships I enjoyed, and five that I didn't like as much.

Post contains spoilers for these books: Americanah, Birdsong, Everything Leads to You, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I'll Meet You There, The Nightingale, Turtles All the Way Down, The Upside of Unrequited, and When Dimple Met Rishi.

Favorite Book Couples from the Past Year's Reading

1. Emi and Ava (Everything Leads to You)
I loved this book so much, and I liked seeing Emi and Ava become friends and then something more. Even when things were complicated and stressful, their relationship was a source of comfort and healing.

2. Skylar and Josh (I'll Meet You There)
I can't say I was a big fan of Josh as a person, but overall I liked their slow-burn romance that developed amid a bunch of other painful life issues, and how they encouraged one another to make it through.

3. Dana and Kevin (Kindred)
They worked as a team to try to deal with the challenges of involuntary time travel, and Kevin recognized that he could never truly understand what Dana was going through even while still doing his best.

4. Molly and Reid (The Upside of Unrequited)
There's something so sweet about two misfits finding a fit with one another and experiencing the pure joy of being with someone who really wants you for the first time.

5. Dimple and Rishi (When Dimple Met Rishi)
Both these characters were so great, and they pushed each other to be their best selves.

Least Favorite Book Couples from the Past Year's Reading

1. Ifemelu and Obinze (Americanah)
I enjoyed this book for its observation on race and culture in America, but I never cared too much about the main characters' relationship, and so I couldn't feel too enthused about Obinze leaving his wife to be with Ifemelu.

2. Stephen and Isabelle (Birdsong)
Stephen was super rape-y toward Isabelle in the first part of the book — pursuing her and touching her before she gave him any encouragement — and then after they got together Isabelle bailed rather than tell Stephen she was pregnant. It was not romantic at all.

3. Henry and Keiko (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet)
There was no reason the author needed to make their friendship into a romance — it felt forced. And for as much as he talked about thirteen being an age of maturity in Chinese culture, I still found it hard to care too much about two 12-year-olds falling in love.

4. Isabelle and Gaëtan (The Nightingale)
From the moment Gaëtan was introduced, with his bad-boy persona and crooked smile, I knew he was going to be a love interest, and it just felt so unnecessary. If I was traveling alone in a war-torn country and some swaggering guy came up to me I would be terrified, not want to run off and sleep with him.

5. Aza and Davis (Turtles All the Way Down)
With all the focus on Aza's character development, there wasn't much energy put into giving these two any sort of chemistry. Their relationship felt like a stand-in for an idea, there to make a point about Aza's mental illness but not getting any sort of authenticity of its own.

Which book couples have stood out in your mind from your recent reads?

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Ten Books That Have Been on My TBR List the Longest

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

I'm happy to report that there's only one book still lingering on my TBR list from the last time Top Ten Tuesday did this topic! That would be embarrassing if all of those books were still on my TBR list. Here are the new ten that have been on the list the longest!

1. Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
This was recommended to me on my old blog back in 2013. I guess it's good that I haven't been in search of a marriage self-help book in the last 5 years?

2. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
This was on some Entertainment Weekly list of the "best books ever" back in 2013, so I added it to my list. I'm decidedly meh about the other Hesse I've read, so I haven't been that anxious to pick this one up.

3. Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine
This was recommended by a fellow blogger back when I had my old blog, and then it was also recommended on Sexplanations at some point. Now that I'm not railing about sex education all the time I haven't been prompted to seek this one out.

4. How to Be a Perfect Stranger by Stuart M. Matlins
Another one recommended by a fellow blogger on my old blog. Apparently I went through a phase of getting book recommendations on my blog! This probably would have been a good one to read before I went to my first Jewish wedding in 2014, but I didn't think of it at the time.

5. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
I'm pretty sure I got this recommendation from the Grammar Girl podcast back when I used to listen to it. It still sounds like an interesting book and I see it pop up from time to time on different people's lists.

6. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John M. Gottman
I don't remember where I first heard about this one — maybe from my cousin? — but I am all about John Gottman and his research on marriage, so I am happy to find out what he says about raising a kid. I suppose now that I actually have a kid it might be a good time to finally pick this one up.

7. The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 by Justo L. González
This was a recommendation from Rachel Held Evans and probably falls in the category of "books I feel I should read." I know bits and pieces of the history of Christianity but not how each "era" led into the next.

8. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
This was another one from that EW Top 100 list. It's one that a lot of people seem to describe as "great" but I don't see a lot of people gushing about how much they loved it, so I have a feeling it'll be a bit of a slog.

9. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
This is the one that's still a holdover from my previous list. I put a hold on it at the library, so hopefully I'll get to it before too long.

10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
This is at the top of my TBR list right now. I downloaded the audio version on OverDrive but one of the files was corrupted (and there's a bug with my OverDrive software that won't let me download an audiobook more than once, ever). So now I have a hold on the ebook version.

Which good books have escaped your memory?

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