Thursday, November 29, 2018

Best of the Bunch: November 2018

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

Of the 8 books I read this month, I had four 5-star reads:

Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story by Martin Luther King, Jr.

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

It was a good reading month! As much as I enjoyed and learned from each of these books, there was one that immediately stuck out as one of the best books I've read this year.

It's hard to overstate how valuable I found this book. It's as if Hartley has taken everything I've struggled to articulate about what goes on in my head on a daily basis and laid it all out, not just explaining what it feels like to carry the mental and emotional load in a marriage, but also figuring out how we got here and what we can do about it. Hartley is not naive or optimistic enough to say that women can solve this ourselves if we just did things differently, added another layer to our mental load. But she also admits that the way forward is not just "men need to do better." It requires an honest look by both men and women at their assumptions, ingrained beliefs, stereotypes, and personal standards. I think if this book were not seen as a "women's" book but rightly recognized as one touching on issues affecting all of us, then we might have a chance to forge the new generation of equitable relationships that Hartley envisions.

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: Stranger in a Strange Land and The New Jim Crow
Five years ago I was reading: The Moonstone and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. II

Monday, November 26, 2018

Top Ten Books about Friendship

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

This week's theme is all about platonic (i.e., non-romantic) relationships in books. I previously shared some of my favorite male-female friendships from books, so here are some other friendships — good friendships, sad friendships, female friendships, male friendships, couple friendships, pre-arranged friendships...!

1. Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
I suppose this one could have gone on my previous list, but I honestly remember very little about the characters themselves or their friendship. (I think I read this in sixth grade?) However, I feel like this book is THE classic book about dealing with the death of a friend, which is not something explored in a lot of stories.

2. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood
This book includes the best depiction I've seen of how friendships among young girls can include a lot of cruelty and manipulation. Most books with young (grade school) friendships are cutesy stories geared toward that same age group, so it's rare to see a realistic portrayal of the dark side of these friendships, written for an adult audience.

3. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth E. Wein
This is a memorable, heartbreaking story of a to-the-death friendship between two young women during World War II. How far would you be willing to go for your friend?

4. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
This is a quiet and beautiful story of the friendship between two couples as they navigate life and academia together. The imbalances between them at various points — wealth, career success, marital strength — create real-life tensions that unfold in small, private, recognizable dramas.

5. Frog and Toad Are Friends by Arnold Lobel
My son loves Frog and Toad, so I've listened to the audio recordings of these books many, many, many times (although he's now switched to preferring the cast recording of A Year with Frog and Toad: The Musical, which I must say is quite good). Frog and Toad get on each other's nerves quite a bit, but in the end they're always there for each other.

6. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
It's only appropriate that this story of an unlikely friendship between an angel and a demon would be written by a talented duo of fantasy writers.

7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Although the plot of this book is sparked by a correspondence between a writer and one man on Guernsey, the story is much larger, about the friendships that exist among the inhabitants of this island, particularly in the face of the German occupation.

8. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
I listed this previously as an example of a male-female friendship (between John and Katherine Keeling), but of course the central friendship is between John and Owen. After their friendship survives Owen's role in the accidental death of John's mother, what can possibly break it?

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
Lily and Snow Flower are matched to be laotong, friends for life, a match that is supposed to help each of them rise above their fate in rural 19th-century China. Can their friendship truly survive for a lifetime?

10. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Talk about an unlikely friendship: Laila is brought in as a second wife after Mariam fails to bear a child, and they initially see each other as rivals. But eventually they figure out that they may be each other's best hope to survive their abusive husband.

What other books highlight the many facets of friendship?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Stranger in a Strange Land and The New Jim Crow
Five years ago I was reading: The Moonstone and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. II

Monday, November 19, 2018

Ten Bookish Resources I'm Grateful For

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

In past years for the Thanksgiving freebie I have shared books that helped make me a bookworm and books I'm thankful for. Now I want to talk about other parts of the bookish world that I'm grateful for — how I get books and book recommendations and how I read more books!

1. Book clubs
Besides just being awesome opportunities to discuss a book we've all read, book clubs are great sources of book recommendations! I love when someone else in the discussion has the same likes and dislikes about the book we just read because it means we probably have similar taste, and we can stay afterwards and swap recommendations of some recent favorites.

2. Bookish blogs
For a recent TTT topic, I shared some of my favorite bookish blogs! These are a great way to get book recommendations and also find awesome book-related recommendations, like these gift ideas.

3. Bookish podcasts
I listen to a lot of podcasts, and so I have to enjoy it every week in order to want to still be subscribed. My favorite shows for book recommendations are What Should I Read Next?, For Real, and Get Booked. I also enjoy listening to the Overdue podcast discussions of books that I've just finished.

4. Goodreads
Obviously I love Goodreads for tracking my own reading and sharing my ratings and reviews, but it's also a great source of book recommendations. I like finding new people to follow who have similar literary tastes, and I've filtered my home feed to only show updates that include reviews, so I don't have the frustration of wondering, "But why did you give it 3 stars?" I also like looking through the lists to find books that are highly rated or very popular that I haven't read or books that fit a particular category I want to know more about.

5. Books app
I use the Books app on my iPhone for all my audiobook listening. When I download audiobooks from the library, I drop the files into iTunes and reclassify them as audiobooks so they pop into my Books app. Get an audiobook on CD? I rip the tracks so I can listen to them on my Books app. It keeps track of where I'm at in different books (e.g., the one I'm listening to my son and my own personal read) and lets me listen at 1.25x or 1.5x speed. I'm very grateful to have so much control over my audiobook library!

6. Interlibrary Loan
Sometimes I can't get a book in a digital format or don't want to read it that way (like a graphic novel). If my campus library doesn't have a copy, chances are that some library in their ILL system does. I almost never go to my local county library anymore, even if they have a hard copy on the shelf — why drive there when I can have the same book delivered directly to my campus library within 5 days and can walk to pick it up?

7. Libraries
This encompasses several of the other resources listed here, but I want to give libraries in general a shout-out. I spent almost no money on books despite reading 100+ books each year, and that's thanks to my libraries. Between OverDrive through my county library and hard copies at my campus library, there are few books I can't get my hands on.

8. Kindle Voyage / Kindle app
Before I got a Kindle, I did read one or two ebooks on the Books app on my phone, but my reading skyrocketed once I got a Kindle. I particularly love the newer Kindle I got a couple years ago, which makes it easier to turn pages than my previous model. I also like that it syncs with the Kindle apps on my phone and computer, so I can keep reading wherever I am. I can also brings a dozen books on vacation with me without taking up much space in my suitcase, which is amazing!

9. OverDrive
OverDrive is the primary reason I'm able to read so many books in a year. Anytime I finish a book, I can immediately send a new one to my Kindle or download a new audiobook for my phone. No waiting! And the wish list feature keeps track of the books I want to read, so I can filter by books on my wish list that are available immediately for download. It's amazing.

10. PaperBackSwap
When I can't find a book at the library, or when I love a book and decide I want to own a hard copy, it goes on my PaperBackSwap wish list. When I'm next in line and someone posts a used copy, then I can use one of my credits to have it shipped to me! The books are almost always in good condition, and all I have to do to get another credit is pay Media Mail rates to have one of my old books sent to someone. It's only like $20 a year for a membership, which is totally worth it!

What bookish resources are you grateful for?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The World According to Garp and To Sir, with Love
Five years ago I was reading: The Moonstone and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: Dave Barry Does Japan

Thursday, November 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.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi: This was a reread for book club, which provides a nice overview of 15 years of Iran's history while sometimes skimming over too many details of Satrapi's life during that time. Overall, it's a quick read that's an accessible history lesson and occasionally quite funny while at other times heart-wrenching.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison: Another book club reread, which I followed a bit better on Kindle than on audio. I think Morrison has a lot of good pieces that she tried to cram into a single short novel, which means the impact of any one piece is diluted. Any one passage from this book could be valuable to read and dissect and discuss, but as a novel, it doesn't hang together like I would hope.

Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl: This was an interesting plot wrapped up in one of the most irritating narrative voices I've encountered in a while. If it hadn't been so overwritten, with citations and similes and random facts, then it would have been a lot more readable and enjoyable to read.

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell: This tells the story of Lewis' childhood up through the successful integration of lunch counters at the start of the civil rights movement. I knew most of the pieces of the story, but it was fascinating to be told the entire story as a complete narrative, and the integration of the story with the artwork was excellent.

It's OK Not to Share and Other Renegade Rules for Raising Competent and Compassionate Kids by Heather Shumaker: I found this book very useful, even though I think it's geared slightly more toward teachers than parents. Shumaker invites the reader to question some of the societal rules around raising kids by going deep into what kind of adult thinking is at the root of some of these rules, what kids are really thinking, and how it's possible to move forward in a way that is healthy and safe for everyone while helping kids feel secure and see adults as trustworthy.

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell: It's hard to imagine this story told as impactfully in another format. It's difficult but important to see the brutality that protestors across the South encountered in the early 60s. Even when I was horrified by the events depicted on the page, the bold images and continuous narrative thread made me keep reading.

Real American: A Memoir by Julie Lythcott-Haims: This was the first book I'd read that dove deeply into the personal experience of being a biracial person in America and how it intersects with racism in a particular way. Growing up with an African American father and a white British mother in predominantly white towns, Lythcott-Haims was othered by the whites around her while feeling isolated from the black community. This book is the story of her owning her biracial identity and then eventually embracing her identity as a black woman.

Blue Babies Pink by B.T. Harman: This is technically a blog-turned-podcast, but it's basically a straightforward audiobook. I've heard — and read — a lot of Christian LGBTQ coming out stories by now so there was nothing that surprising, but that didn't mean it wasn't heartbreaking to listen to anyway. If you are either a gay Christian looking for a story like yours, or you don't already have strong opinions about the intersection of faith and sexual orientation but are open to hearing someone's personal experience, I'd definitely recommend this story.

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver: I'm not necessarily sorry to have read this, as there are certainly bits and pieces that will stay with me, but I was disappointed that this was not Kingsolver (one of my favorite authors) at her best. In trying to convey a specific message, she's lost the ability for subtlety and nuance and the whole story suffers as a result.

Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King Jr.: This was fascinating. The civil rights movement generally gets only a few pages in one's history book, which means the Montgomery bus boycott is reduced to a sentence or two. Hearing a detailed account of the logistics and all of the challenges along the way made me better appreciate what an undertaking it was.

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell: This final volume continues the excellent artwork and story of the previous two volumes, focusing this time on the efforts to get black Americans registered to vote. I highly recommend this book series — you will likely learn a lot and gain a greater appreciation for how much the American civil rights heroes risked and sacrificed.

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: I found this a compelling read plot-wise, but the decision to tell the story from 12 different perspectives and try to give every person a personal revelation and a happy ending was a bit much. This was an enjoyable enough read, but I'll stick with recommending her best works.

How to Be Successful without Hurting Men's Feelings by Sarah Cooper: This is a short, tongue-in-cheek "advice" book that pokes fun at the impossible standards women are held to in the workplace. At times it veered off the path a bit, but in general it was spot-on in its humorous takedown of sexism, harassment, and double standards for women in the workplace.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The World According to Garp and To Sir, with Love
Five years ago I was reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1

Monday, November 12, 2018

Top Ten Bookish Gifts I'd Like to Get

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

This week's topic sent me down a rabbit hole of amazing bookish items, with Modern Mrs. Darcy's annual gift guides as my starting point. I already put together a wish list for my birthday this month, but it's not too late to add things for Christmas!

1. Bookshelf phone case
Look! It's a beautifully drawn bookshelf that is subtly Harry Potter themed. I love it!

2. Book Nerd socks
This site has a lot of great sock options for book lovers, but this one spoke to me the most.

3. Custom book stamp
I am very particular about which books are allowed to stay on my bookshelves, which are ones that I love and want to have to lend to others. This self-inking stamp would be a great way to mark them as mine (and nudge people to return them)!

4. Ideal Bookshelf greeting cards
I have a custom Ideal Bookshelf print in my reading nook that I love, and while I couldn't get cards made of my own ideal bookshelf, I picked the "Resistance"-themed ones as my favorite.

5. Ideal Bookshelf wrapping paper
Forget seasonal wrapping paper — there's never a wrong time to wrap your presents in book-themed gift wrap!

6. PaperBackSwap credits
I use PaperBackSwap all the time, but I definitely have more books on my wish list there than I have outgoing books listed, especially now that I've been filling my son's bookshelf primarily with used books from this site. Every year I ask for extra credits as gifts, but no one ever wants to create an account just to buy them. (Although I think you should get an account regardless! It's a great site!)

7. So Many Books So Little Time clock
I have needed something to fill a space on the wall above my reading area. This would be perfect!

8. Tailored Book Recommendations subscription
This subscription service hasn't added a gift option yet, but I'm on the list to be notified when they do! I don't want the version where they mail you hard copies (since I'm so picky about which books get to come into my house and I prefer reading digitally anyway), but I would love the personalized recommendations :)

9. There's a Million Books I Haven't Read shirt
A Hamilton lyric turned bookish? Yes, please!

10. When in Doubt, Go to the Library shirt
Another excellent T-shirt to add to my collection of bookish shirts, in this case with a quotation from my bookish twin, Hermione Granger.

What bookish gifts would you like to get?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The World According to Garp and Birdsong
Five years ago I was reading: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1

Monday, November 5, 2018

Top Ten Oldest Books on my TBR List

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

This week's theme is backlist books that we want to read. Since I rarely read new releases (this year being unusual with a dozen 2018 releases read), my TBR list is pretty much all backlist by the definition of "books that aren't new releases." So I decided to focus on the ten oldest books on my TBR, based on the original publication dates. Here they are, from newest to oldest.

1. The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann (1924)

2. The Bridal Wreath by Sigrid Undset (1920)

3. The Mysterious Stranger by Mark Twain (1916)

4. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham (1915)

5. The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell (1914)

6. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust (1913)

7. Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand (1897)

8. The Tibetan Book of the Dead by Padmasambhava (700)

9. The Upanishads by Unknown (500 BC)

10. The Rig Veda by Unknown (1200 BC)

What are the oldest books on your TBR?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Secret History and Birdsong
Five years ago I was reading: Behind the Beautiful Forevers and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: The Complete Sherlock Holmes Vol. 1