Thursday, August 30, 2018

Best of the Bunch: August 2018

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

Apparently either my standards have fallen or I just had a really good month, because of the 7 books I read this month, I had four 5-star reads:

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures by Anne Fadiman

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

I'm not going to go with We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves only because it was a reread and is a favorite book that I've mentioned many, many times here already. So my best of the bunch would be...

I've heard The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down recommended many, many times over the years. (I added it to my TBR more than four years ago.) Through the lens of a specific girl's medical drama, Fadiman shows just how difficult it is for Hmong culture and Western medicine to even begin to understand one another if neither has the time or resources or inclination to make the effort. In the afterword, Fadiman clarifies that this should not be taken as the definitive history of the Hmong people but instead a book about the pitfalls of crosscultural communication, and for that, it is excellent.

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: Infinite Jest and Taken at the Flood
Five years ago I was reading: Paper Towns
Ten years ago I was reading: Lolita

Monday, August 27, 2018

Top Ten Books with/about Teachers

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

This week it's a back-to-school freebie. I picked ten books that either highlight teachers in general or include a memorable teacher!

1. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
I can't remember if college president Affenlight actually teaches... but close enough. He does what no teacher or college president should do with one of their students!

2. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
This quiet book follows the friendship of two college professors and their wives.

3. Good-Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton
This is a sweet novella covering the breadth of one schoolmaster's career at a particular boys' school in England. From a fearful young teacher trying to learn the art of discipline, to a doddering but wise old retiree still living across the street from the school grounds, we see how his life and the life of the school are intertwined.

4. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Obviously this series isn't strictly about teachers, but there are plenty of memorable teachers at Hogwarts!

5. Matilda by Roald Dahl
This book is about a lot of things, but one of those things is the difference that one special teacher can make.

6. Radical by Michelle Rhee
Rhee's memoir focuses heavily on the importance of teachers — both why effective ones should be better rewarded and why incompetent ones should not be protected.

7. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The characters at the heart of this novel are drawn together by one strange teacher, for whom they have to drop all other classes and only take his.

8. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sacher
Mrs. Jewls is the main teacher in this book, but throughout the series we get memorable substitutes, including Mr. Gorf, Mrs. Drazil, and Ms. Nogard. In this world, teachers can turn students into apples or steal their voices via a third nostril.

9. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
McCourt is most well-known for Angela's Ashes, but he wrote two more memoirs, including this one about his thirty-year teaching career.

10. To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite
While McCourt was a white Irishman teaching mostly black American students in New York, Braithwaite was born in Guyana and ended up teaching lower-class white children in the "rough" part of London. Both memoirs are worth a read.

What are some other great books about teachers?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Infinite Jest and The Labors of Hercules
Five years ago I was reading: Paper Towns
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of Sarahs

Monday, August 20, 2018

Top Ten Books to Get You Out of a Reading Slump

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

Some housekeeping first: I can not get Disqus to send me notifications as of my last three blog posts. It just stopped working, and Disqus will not provide personal troubleshooting unless you're a paid customer, which is ridiculous. So I apologize for not realizing I was getting comments on here! If anyone has any suggestions (besides disabling and re-enabling notifications, which I already tried), please let me know!

Most avid readers have had the experience at least once of getting into a reading slump. For me, this looks like making excuses to do other things rather than pick up any of the books I'm currently reading. When I do pick up a book, I can't focus on reading because it's not holding my attention. In those times, it's great to pick up a book that sucks you in and can be read in a couple of days. Here are ten of my recommendations if you find yourself in a reading slump.

1. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
This book is like Forrest Gump meets Ocean's Eleven where Forrest is now 100 years old. After a century of unwittingly getting involved in most of the major world events, our protagonist leaves his nursing home and falls in with a group of small-time criminals. It's bizarre and funny and the characters are delightful, and the book never takes itself too seriously.

2. Bossypants by Tina Fey
This is the female comedian memoir that every female comedian has tried to emulate since it came out. It's both funny and fascinating, a good combination of jokes, true stories, and life advice that you'll eat up in no time.

3. Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas
A suspenseful thriller is one good option for getting out of a reading slump. This book is narrated by a high schooler accused of murdering her best friend, told in nonsequential passages flashing between the fatal Spring Break trip and the trial. It's definitely young adult (having my book club of mostly older adults read it was an adventure) but I loved it.

4. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Frankie isn't allowed to join her school's secret society because she's female, but she finds a way to infiltrate it and pull the strings to get the guys to do her bidding and pull off subversively feminist pranks. It's a fast-paced, suspenseful book as you wait to see if and how Frankie will get caught, and also a great read about some of the less-obvious consequences of a patriarchal society.

5. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
If you've somehow managed to get this far without reading this yet, this will definitely pull you out of a reading slump. Even my husband, who rarely reads, blew through this in no time at all because he couldn't put it down. The farther in you go, the twistier the plot becomes!

6. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
I dare you to read this without laughing out loud! Lawson is hilarious and weird and has the most bizarre true stories.

7. Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
"Shit," I thought to myself, "I'm going to be late to New Testament class." So opens this amazing, honest, beautiful, cranky memoir about how to navigate being a Christian when you generally hate people but just can't stop believing in God. This may just pull you out of a reading slump and a faith slump.

8. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This is another book that my non-reader husband couldn't put down. It's more or less a straightforward adventure book, but set in a virtual world in the near future with a puzzle to solve that requires both skill and knowledge of '80s trivia.

9. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
This book about early-onset Alzheimer's definitely isn't a fun or light read, but I did find it very readable and would recommend it as a book to get absorbed in when everything else is too dense or dry at the moment.

10. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
When all else fails, read an adorable YA romance! Unlike most YA romances, which I find too cliché (it was love at first sight!) or dramatic (OMG which boy will I choose?), Dimple and Rishi are both sweet, realistic characters who are trying to navigate conflicting life priorities and expectations.

What books would you recommend for a reading slump?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Infinite Jest and We Should All Be Feminists
Five years ago I was reading: The Age of Innocence and The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of Sarahs

Wednesday, August 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.

A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf: This was a reread for book club. She argues well that without the societal and monetary structures in place, even women of genius did not have the ability to write good fiction in previous centuries (previous to the 20th century). The structure she uses of a fictional narrator is a little odd, but I think ultimately it works to showcase her points.

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater: It's hard to pitch the end of a series just right, and this certainly wasn't perfect, but it hit a lot of beautiful notes along the way. There were a few aspects that bugged me, but overall I enjoyed this finale to the series and wouldn't mind rereading the series someday.

Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay: I do not understand how this book is so highly rated. The writing is awful and the two main characters have no personality. They are just stand-ins meant to educate us on the author's key points, while the present-day narrator also goes through a bunch of personal drama for no apparent reason. There are so many better books out there, both about the Holocaust and the occupation of France during World War II.

Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, Persistent, and Energetic by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka: The techniques in this book are helpful, but the more important aspect is simply the acknowledgement that yes, your child is "normal but more" (her phrase) and they're not the only one out there. We're already using many of her techniques, but the overall philosophy was still excellent (even if the book seems targeted at stay-at-home moms with high-earning spouses).

Precious Little Sleep: The Complete Baby Sleep Guide for Modern Parents by Alexis Dubief: This book is primarily for parents of newborns, so I'm tucking it away for our next kid, but I still liked it a lot. Rather than selling a particular sleep method, Dubief boils down the existing methods into two main buckets and then shows you step by step how to accomplish each approach. Her humor didn't always land with me, but I'd recommend the book anyway for the valuable information.

Enchanter's End Game by David Eddings: It's unfortunate that this series ends with my least favorite parts of high fantasy — there's a lot of political and military strategy combined with the characters walking long distances. I still enjoyed finishing out my reread of this series, even though I previously enjoyed the follow-up Malloreon series more and am looking forward to rereading that.

The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon: This is a compilation of several things I don't like in one book: hardboiled detective novels, alternate histories, stereotypical female characters, and self-loathing, alcoholic, lying protagonists who break all the rules and put themselves in constant danger. Despite all that, it was moderately interesting and kept me reading, but I can't say I'd recommend it.

The Professor and the Madman: Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester: This was a very interesting story told by not a great writer. At times the information given was directly contradictory, which was frustrating, and the book could have been better edited. Still, if you're interested in the OED's history, then it might be worth the less-than-stellar organization and writing.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler: This 100% stood up to rereading and is still one of my favorite books. I love everything, from the fascinating segues into psychological experiments to the ruminations on memory, from the heartbreaking family drama to the larger-than-life character of Harlow. I'm looking forward to my book club's discussion.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Infinite Jest and Bel Canto
Five years ago I was reading: The Age of Innocence and The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of Sarahs

Monday, August 13, 2018

Top Ten Bookish Websites

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

This week's topic is our favorite book blogs or bookish websites! I went to my Feedly to see which sites I subscribe to and came up with ten — here you go!

1. 500 Books
I'll admit I skip over Gabby's book reviews because I already follow her on Goodreads, but I enjoy her Top Ten Tuesday contributions and her monthly wrap-ups. We have similar taste in books so I like to see what she's reading!

2. The Ardent Biblio
I learned about Rikki and Michaela from Modern Mrs. Darcy's What Should I Read Next podcast and have been following them since. They have great weekend roundups of bookish links from around the web and what they're reading, and they plan and host these intense literary-themed dinner parties.

3. the (book) supplier
My fantastic book club co-organizer! Eli posts quick reviews (Sticky Note Reviews), thought-provoking discussion questions, the occasional Top Ten Tuesday, and interesting videos about recent reads and life in the field of education.

4. Bookish and Awesome
I don't remember how I originally came across Shelumiel's blog, but I've been subscribed for a while. Unfortunately, he hasn't posted since May, so I don't know if he's planning to return to blogging.

5. Bumps Along the Way
I was already following Diana on Goodreads when I found her blog and discovered that 1) our sons are both adopted and 2) we went to the same university! They just adopted their second after a long waiting period, while we're still in the waiting period for our next one. I like hearing about what books her older son is into as well as what she's reading!

6. Disability in Kidlit
This site is no longer posting new articles, but it's well worth diving into the archives. Even though it specifically focuses on kidlit, it's made me as a reader much more conscious of the portrayal of disabilities (good and bad) in all the books I read.

7. Goodreads
Obviously I adore Goodreads the site for tracking my reading, but I also follow their blog. I am a huge analytics geek and love when they use their gigantic data set to share the most-read, most-anticipated, or highest-rated books for particular genres or time periods. They also have occasional guest posts by big-name authors, and each week they share which new releases are on the most readers' Want to Read shelves. I love it!

8. Modern Mrs. Darcy
I've been reading Anne Bogel's site since before she focused on books and reading as her niche, and eventually I switched blogs to do the same. She still intersperses the book talk with thoughts on life, which I enjoy, and I look forward to her podcast each week as well. Definitely check her out if you're not already a fan!

9. Read All the Things!
Aj's been reading and commenting on my blog for a while, and I finally realized I wasn't following her blog and needed to be! It's a fun combination of short reviews and bookish lists, my favorites.

10. Writing with Color
This site has taught me as much or more about race in writing as Disability in Kidlit taught me about disability representation. The intended audience is writers, but reading their advice has made me a better reader and person in the world. This site pointed me to this excellent post by N.K. Jemisin on why it isn't an exercise in futility for privileged writers to write about marginalized groups.

What are some of your favorite bookish sites?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Infinite Jest and Bel Canto
Five years ago I was reading: The Age of Innocence and The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of Sarahs

Monday, August 6, 2018

Top Ten Possible Book Mashups

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

Administrative note: I've decided to stop using Amazon Affiliate links on my blog. Links will now take you to the Goodreads page for the book in question!

This week's topic was suggested by Rissi from Finding Wonderland. What if you were to mash up two different books to create a new story? I made a list of good books that I thought had a straightforward, one-sentence premise and then randomly generated numbers to find potential pairs until I came up with ten that I liked!

1. American Gods + Geek Love
The gods that traveled with immigrants to America have lost their powers now that few people believe in them anymore. They've been rounded up and turned into a circus sideshow.

2. Blindness + The Likeness
A pandemic of face blindness sweeps the country so that no one can tell anyone apart. When someone is murdered, only the one woman who's immune is able to solve the mystery by pretending to be the dead person.

3. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks + When Dimple Met Rishi
Dimple has landed in an elite prep school, but her parents just want her to get married. She finds out they've arranged for her to marry one of the boys at the prep school, and together the two of them take down the school's all-white secret society.

4. The Giver + What Alice Forgot (= More Happy than Not?)
Alice can't remember the last ten years; it turns out her memories from the past decade are being held by another person, who absorbed the part of her memory she wanted to erase.

5. A Mango-Shaped Space + The Name of the Star
Rory has a near-death experience that causes her to develop synesthesia, which turns out to be key to solving a recent murder.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray + Every Day
A's original form is trapped in a painting, so their spirit has to inhabit a different person every day until the painting is destroyed.

7. Pride and Prejudice + The Art of Racing in the Rain
Imagine all the complex social niceties and the tangle of human emotions that make up Pride and Prejudice, but interpreted through the viewpoint of a very intelligent dog.

8. The Secret History + Dracula
A group of college students study ancient mysticism and determine that one of their own is a vampire, whom they have to kill.

9. Stolen + The Poisonwood Bible
Gemma is kidnapped and taken not to the Australian Outback but to the Belgian Congo, by a missionary who felt called by God to make her his wife.

10. Stranger in a Strange Land + The Time Traveler's Wife
A man is brought to Earth from Mars; it turns out Martians brought into Earth's atmosphere will start to involuntarily time travel. Now he has to adjust to life on Earth during all time periods!

Which books would you mash up to create a new story?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Infinite Jest and Crime and Punishment
Five years ago I was reading: Black Beauty and Flight Behavior
Ten years ago I was reading: An Abundance of Katherines