Thursday, May 30, 2019

Best of the Bunch: May 2019

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

Of the 9 books I read this month, I had three 5-star reads:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers by J.K. Rowling

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Two of these were rereads of favorites, so I'll make the new one my Best of the Bunch.

84, Charing Cross Road was insistently recommended by many people for a long time before I finally picked it up. I could not understand exactly how two decades of correspondence between a woman in New York and a bookshop in London could make for a compelling read, but now I understand. Hanff is a hoot! At the core of their exchange is always Hanff ordering books from the bookshop, but it's her sense of drama about the entire endeavor that makes it so delightful to read — begging for books she must have and acting scandalized by versions that are abridged or poorly translated. This book will undoubtedly appeal to fellow book lovers, but I would imagine it's enjoyable for those who aren't voracious readers as well because of the window it provides into an earlier time. The book is under 100 pages and made up entirely of letters and postcards that often don't fill a page, so you can get through it quickly. It's worth the read.

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: Castle of Wizardry and Disunity in Christ
Five years ago I was reading: Member of the Club, Predictably Irrational, and The Checklist Manifesto
Ten years ago I was reading: Metaphors We Live By

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Monday, May 27, 2019

Ten Favorite Books Released in Each Year of the Past Decade

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

This week is not about our all-time favorite books of the past ten years, but our favorite book released in each of the past ten years. This turned out to be extremely difficult, because some of my very favorite books were published in the same year as each other — how could I choose? Here's what I settled on.

2009: What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty

2010: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

2011: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

2012: The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay

2013: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

2014: Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

2015: Accidental Saints by Nadia Bolz-Weber

2016: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

2017: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

2018: Small Animals by Kim Brooks

Which books have been your favorites from the past decade?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Curtain and Disunity in Christ
Five years ago I was reading: Left to Tell, Siddhartha, and The Checklist Manifesto
Ten years ago I was reading: Metaphors We Live By

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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.

My new job has definitely curtailed my reading time, but I've managed to get through a few books anyway thanks to the power of audiobooks. Here's what I've finished in the past month!

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch: I had read a few memoirs previously by survivors of the Rwandan genocide so I thought I knew the basics of the story, but Gourevitch actually spends relatively little time on the months of the genocide itself. He provides the history of Rwanda that set the stage for what happened, but more than that he focuses on the silence of the international community and the huge challenge that was the aftermath of the genocide. If you want to learn more about the Rwandan genocide, I think it's important to read memoirs of actual survivors, but I think this book provides a valuable companion to those stories with a wider view.

N or M? by Agatha Christie: This is the only Tummy and Tuppence book I know I had read before, and I'm not sure if I was actually able to figure out the solution or just remembered it (probably the latter). Nonetheless, I found it quite a delightful read with a clever solution — nothing spectacular, but still good.

Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic: This is an eminently readable and practical guide to designing data visualizations that are most likely to achieve their intended effect. The members of the data team at my work are all reading this book and then working on a pair exercise to practice the process laid out in this book. I'm looking forward to it!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: I found this just as delightful the second time, possibly more because of the excellent audiobook production with five different narrators. It's the perfect blend of solemnity and humor, talking honestly about the German occupation of Guernsey while also providing a post-war setting that allows for some lightness. Balanced with the vast unfairness of what the Germans did during the war, there are several gratifying moments in the book where characters get exactly what's coming to them, and it helps to restore a sense of justice in what is clearly not entirely a fair world.

Sadie by Courtney Summers: This was a listening experience unlike any I'd had before! There are two alternating stories: One is a podcast about a young woman who's gone missing after her younger sister dies, narrated in the popular style of true-crime podcasts; the other is the first-person narrative of this young woman, Sadie. I found the book enjoyably suspenseful while also dealing carefully with difficult subjects. I wouldn't call it a favorite, but I found the writing very well done and enjoyed the unusual format.

Harry Potter à L'école des Sorciers by J.K. Rowling: It was an enjoyable challenge to reread this first Harry Potter book in French, and even better was rewarding myself for finishing a chapter by listening to the corresponding episode of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Both the different language and the experience of revisiting it as a sacred text gave me a new appreciation for the details of the story.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Soldier of the Great War and Half the Sky
Five years ago I was reading: This Star Won't Go Out, Ivanhoe, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of General Ignorance

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ten Movies I Liked as Much as Their Books

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

This week's topic is about book-to-screen adaptations. I've written before about books whose adaptations I liked better than the source material and also adaptations I hadn't seen yet but would consider watching. I don't watch a lot of movies generally, but I'm most likely to watch one if it's an adaptation of a book I like. It's often hard to make a movie that does the book justice, though! I usually like it better in one format or another. Here are ten rare ones that I enjoyed as books and enjoyed again as movies.

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Not the Johnny Depp version (which I've only seen part of) but the classic 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. It's one of the few movies I've seen multiple times and it will always be a memorable childhood classic, just like the book.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I read the book in middle school but finally saw the movie for the first time last year. I'm sure they had to cut out a lot of the plot since it's a giant book and they made it a normal-length movie, but watching it reminded me what I liked about the story in the first place.

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Although I do not lose my mind over John Green's books like a lot of people, I did genuinely like this book and thought they did a nice job with the adaptation. I liked it better than the adaptation of Paper Towns that came out the next year.

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I just recently reread this book, which was as delightful as the first read-through, and then I got my husband to watch the movie adaptation with me. Although they had to change a lot of the plot to avoid having the movie be mostly people writing letters to each other, I still thought it captured the heart of the story.

5. All the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (except the sixth one)
By and large, I thought the movie adaptations, while simplifying the plots of each book, did a nice job of creating the same sense of magic and adventure that the books do. (I will spare you my rant about how they utterly ruined the adaptation of the sixth book.)

6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I was nervous that the movie adaptation wouldn't do this amazing book justice, but it was carefully crafted and stayed true to the story.

7. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
This is another case where they had to rework the plot pretty substantially in order to make it fit into a typical-length movie, but the humorous spirit of the book was still evident in the movie version, and my husband (who had never read the book) enjoyed the movie a lot.

8. Matilda by Roald Dahl
The book and the movie each have a different feel and a different focus, but I love them both for different reasons. This is another one of the few movies I've seen multiple times, and I've reread the book several times as well.

9. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
This is one of Christie's most famous works for a reason, and I was glad that the star-studded movie a couple years ago kept the same general rhythm of the book, even if their Poirot was a nearly unrecognizable version (crying over a long-ago love and his inability to solve the crime — what?).

10. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
I went and saw Love, Simon twice when it was in theaters. It was just so good! Becky Albertalli is one of my favorite authors, and I was happy that they'd taken her first book and given it the feel of a classic teen rom-com.

Which good books have been made into good movies?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Soldier of the Great War and Half the Sky
Five years ago I was reading: This Star Won't Go Out, Ivanhoe, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of General Ignorance

Monday, May 6, 2019

Top Ten Characters Who Reminded Me of Myself

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

This week's topic is characters we've read about in books who have struck some kind of relatable chord with us. All these characters resonated with me at one time or another, even if they don't all remind me of who I am today.

1. Alice Love (from What Alice Forgot)
I read this book — about a woman who has an accident at age 39 and thinks she's still 29, happily married, and expecting her first child — when I was 29 and expecting to become a mother any day. I could relate to her naïve and idealized views of marriage and parenthood even while acknowledging that they were (are) naïve and idealized. (I'm happy to say that 4 1/2 years later I'm still happily married and happily parenting my 4-year-old son.)

2. Emma Woodhouse (from Emma)
Emma reminded me strongly of my high school self. For one thing, she is over-involved in other people's lives, trying to meddle for their own good, and for another, she is clueless about how to figure out if a man is interested in her, reading into signs that aren't there and missing the ones that are. Once my now-husband finally got through to me (a few months into college) that he was interested in me, I stopped having so much time and brainpower to devote to other people's love lives and starting working on my own, just like Emma.

3. Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series)
I realize I'm far from alone here in connecting with Hermione, but nonetheless I do relate to her deep love of learning, her unease around rule-breaking, and her unruly mess of hair (something I recently solved finally by having most of it chopped off!). The only difference is that I would have been happy to get sorted into Ravenclaw and miss out on the all the adventures.

4. Leah Burke (from Leah on the Offbeat)
This is another slice of my high school experience, similar to what I related to in Emma Woodhouse. Leah is the sole single person in a friend group of happy couples, and she starts to feel like she should go out with anyone who shows the slightest interest in her, because maybe that's the best she's going to find. I feel you, Leah, but hang in there — it gets better for both of us!

5. Molly Peskin-Suso (from The Upside of Unrequited)
Another Becky Albertalli book — she really does capture my memories of high school in a way that's relatable without being too painful. Molly is also perpetually single and spends some time flailing around trying to figure out how to dress or act to be "dateable" before finally finding the right person for her. She explains how all of the time waiting makes it that much better when you finally find love (thus the title), something I recognized as how I felt when I met my husband — like, oh, thank goodness I didn't waste time in high school dating a bunch of people, since once I found the right person nothing before that mattered!

6. Patty Bergen (from Summer of My German Soldier)
When I reread this as an adult I was a bit squicked out by the relationship between a 12-year-old and a 22-year-old, but I also 100% saw why this was my favorite book as a 5th grader. Patty was me at that age: She's smart and curious and gets herself into trouble asking too many questions, thinking out loud, and stretching the truth to try to win others' approval and affection. The fondness for my younger self softened my opinion of a book that otherwise would have been a little weird and heavy-handed for me as an adult.

7. Reynie Muldoon (from The Mysterious Benedict Society)
I related to Reynie as a former gifted kid who loved learning and found joy in a gifted program that let me work and learn alongside others who shared my same passion. Although all the members of the Society have different kinds of gifts, they each share the experience of feeling alone and then finding family with one another.

8. Rosemary Cooke (from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves)
I'm not sure if I related to Rosemary specifically or just to the way Fowler describes the experience, through her eyes, of coming to realize that your own memory is fallible and that you are seeing your own past through a specific lens. At different points in the story Rosemary has to revisit her own life story through a different perspective, and the way that was described resonated with my own life experiences.

9. Taylor Greer (from The Bean Trees)
I honestly remember very little about this book, but I know I read it in high school and I remember it being the first time I felt viscerally like someone was taking things from my own brain and putting them on the page in the mind of a character. I very much want to reread this book and see if I can figure out what it was I related to so strongly.

10. Twinkle Mehra (from From Twinkle, with Love)
There's a lot of YA I don't like, but apparently one theme in the books I like is relatability to my teenage self. In this case, I related not just to Twinkle's experiences trying to navigate drama in a friend group (which was high school for me) but also to the way she made mistakes out of a fierce, misguided sense of justice (which was me until probably my early 20s). I'd like to think I wasn't quite as annoying as Twinkle, though.

Which characters have you related to?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Ask a Manager, Half the Sky, and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: The Prophet and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Marley and Me