Friday, August 30, 2019

Best of the Bunch: August 2019

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

Of the 8 books I read this month, I had one 5-star read, so that's my Best of the Bunch!

White Fragility isn't trying to convince anyone that racism exists. Instead, it's written to white progressives who believe that racism exists and may even be actively working to fight it at a societal level, but at the same time want you to know that they are not racist, they are super woke and would never say anything offensive, and how dare you suggest that they themselves might have said something problematic? What I appreciated most about this book was how many specific examples DiAngelo includes, both of experiences with people in her workshops and of her own experiences being called out on problematic comments or having uncomfortable feelings related to her socialization as a white person. In her vulnerability, she demonstrates that there is no such thing as having "arrived" at some kind of post-racial state as a white person. I'd say this is a must-read for all white Americans (and probably most white Westerners around the world), but I think it's most important to be read by the white progressives it's addressed to — the people who consider themselves "woke" and other people the real problem. It's a short book, so there's no excuse not to read it.

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: Ancillary Justice
Five years ago I was reading: Totto-chan, Someone Knows My Name, and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden

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Monday, August 26, 2019

Ten Books I’ve Read That I’d Like In My Personal Library

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

This week's topic is books we've read that we'd like in our personal library. As I've mentioned before, I've pared my personal library way down to just books I've read and love and want to lend to people. However, there's room on the shelf for a few more... I looked over the books on my wish list on PaperBackSwap and ones on my Goodreads favorites list to compile a list of ones I don't own but would like to. Now that I have a custom book stamp, hopefully I can increase my chances of getting back the books I lend out!

1. Ask a Manager by Alison Green
This is an excellent reference guide for hard conversations at work, and I recommend it frequently. I'd love to have a copy on hand to lend people!

2. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
This is usually the book I name when asked what one book I wish everyone in the world would read. Definitely one to have on hand to share!

3. The Belgariad, Vol. One & Vol. Two by David Eddings
I have my old mass market paperback copies of these books from middle school, except for Pawn of Prophecy, which I've twice lent out and not gotten back. Rather than re-buying the book a second time, I decided I'd prefer to get hardcover versions of the new combined volumes that put books 1-3 in Vol. One and books 4-5 in Vol. Two. There are really two story arcs, not five, so I think this is a better way to break it up anyway. And it will save room on my bookshelves!

4. Fed Up by Gemma Hartley
I've recommended this book to so many people in the last year, and I am especially trying to get it into the hands of men with female partners. I really ought to have my own copy to lend out!

5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This is a close second for that question of a book I wish everyone would read; this one, at least, should be read by every American. Another one I ought to have my own copy of by now!

6. The Malloreon, Vol. One & Vol. Two by David Eddings
Although I have all five copies of these books still, I'd like to replace them as well to match the Belgariad hardcovers and condense that space on my shelf!

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Despite being less than thrilled with her latest books, Kingsolver is still one of my favorite authors, and this work is her chef-d'œuvre. I have a copy of The Bean Trees that I got free, but still don't have this one.

8. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
How do I not own any of Albertalli's books? I adore everything she writes. I wouldn't mind owning all the Creekwood universe books, but I definitely need to get this one.

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
This book is alongside The Poisonwood Bible on my Ideal Bookshelf print, but I have yet to make my real bookshelf match my ideal bookshelf! Literary fiction doesn't always capture me, but this story of two friends matched at birth has stayed with me.

10. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
Well, I had a copy of this book, and then I lent it to someone years ago and never got it back, so it's high time I replaced it!

Which books would you like to own?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Ancillary Justice
Five years ago I was reading: Tempting Faith, Someone Knows My Name, and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden

Monday, August 19, 2019

Top Ten Favorite Tropes in Fiction

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

Tropes are usually talked about as a bad thing, but every work of fiction makes use of at least some tropes. (Just browse TV Tropes and you'll quickly find this to be true.) Some are tiresome, but some are actually enjoyable. Here are ten that I don't mind popping up in the books I read. (You may notice some themes — I didn't want to include example titles because of how many involve plot twists!)

1. All of a character's seemingly unrelated actions suddenly come together in one brilliant plan.
You thought that Bob just had a bunch of quirky habits, but it turns out everything he's been doing all along suddenly connects together in a spectacular way!

2. The cartoonish villain who poses a real threat but ends up outwitted in the end.
See my favorite literary villains for some examples (especially #5 and #6)!

3. The "everything you thought you knew was wrong" plot twist.
This might be better described as the "Sixth Sense" plot twist, when a revelation causes you to see everything that came before in an entirely different light, but also makes perfect sense as soon as you hear it. The secret was hiding in plain sight the whole time!

4. The petty thief/spy who's part of the band of good guys but can't break old habits.
"Where did you acquire this valuable item that we happened to need right now?" "Um, it's probably better if you don't ask."

5. Someone's random, obscure talent suddenly comes in handy to save the day (or the world).
Bonus points if it's something that all of the other characters made fun of for the entire book, and now all of their lives depend on it.

6. The female character who shows up a group of men with her common sense.
This is that female leader who's reluctantly included in a men's council and ends up cutting through their crap to have the best and most logical ideas. They've been too busy trying to one-up each other to realize how convoluted their plans have gotten!

7. Slow-burn romances. All of them.
I can't stand most "love at first sight" plots. But having the first kiss come after several books in a series, during which the characters slowly become closer? Yes, please.

8. The character you forgot about or thought was minor shows up unexpectedly to save the day.
You thought that person was just comic relief or a charity case or some other small side plot near the beginning, but it turns out they're the person who's going to save our hero(es)!

9. Characters (especially friends and family members) exchange insults as a form of love.
I love a good banter, and not just as part of a romance. Sometimes you understand how close two characters are because of how they tease each other or come up with creative insults for one another.

10. The book's ending somehow circles back to a theme or a location from the book's opening.
Sometimes this can be forced, but much of the time it's poetic or clever. This can also happen over an entire series, like The Mysterious Affair at Styles and Curtain.

Based on these favorites, do you have any recommendations for me (no spoilers)?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Golden Compass and Ancillary Justice
Five years ago I was reading: Geek Love, Someone Knows My Name, and The Cross in the Closet
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden

Thursday, August 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.

There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America by Alex Kotlowitz: This was a well-written book, and I think it would have had a bigger impact on me had I not already read several similar books. In following one family in the Chicago projects, he manages to walk the line between hopelessness and false optimism.

Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie: Christie wrote this very last novel as her mental faculties were fading, and boy does it show. This book reads like one of those memes: "I forced a bot to read every single one of Christie's books and then write a Tommy & Tuppence novel." It could more accurately have been called "Tommy and Tuppence Go Senile and Do a Lot of Housework."

When My Name Was Keoko by Linda Sue Park: Despite the sometimes simplistic middle grade style, I learned a lot from this work of historical fiction. It explains, using stories a child can understand, why Koreans resented being taken over by Japan, and it shows the characters taking actions big and small to resist the Japanese and hold on to pride in their culture.

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis: I can definitely see why this book is known for being problematic. The "bad guys" is this book seem to be pretty clear stand-ins for Middle Eastern Muslims, who are depicted as being crude, unwashed, and uncivilized. Outside of that, I found it to be a decently plotted if not terribly enthralling adventure story.

Imperium by Ryszard Kapuściński: If you are very interested in the former Russian/Soviet empire, or you like detailed and far-ranging travelogues, then this book is for you! I learned a lot, but I also almost put the book down partway through because it was such slow-going. It's a good book for a niche audience.

Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples by Harville Hendrix, Ph.D., and Helen LaKelly Hunt, Ph.D.: This is one of those books where you can either get hung up on specific questionable beliefs underneath the author's recommendations, or you can focus on the efficacy of the recommendations themselves, which is my preference. It's definitely meant to be read by couples together, so keep that in mind. If you and your partner are willing to approach the book with an open mind and focus on the outcomes more than the validity of the central theory, then I think this is definitely worth a read.

Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino: Unlike the podcasts where I first learned about ethical non-monogamy, this book is way more focused on sex as a reason for having multiple partners. It's fairly comprehensive as a guide to considering opening up a monogamous relationship, but I wasn't thrilled with the way she talked about the LGBTQ community at times or some of the specific recommendations she made around rule-setting.

White Fragility: Why It's So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo: This book deserves all the attention it's getting! It's an incredibly clear and concise guide to the assumptions most white people hold about racism and why they therefore get outraged at the suggestion that they might not be perfectly woke and post-racial themselves. I highly recommend it, particularly for those in the target audience of "white progressives."

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The End of Your Life Book Club and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Five years ago I was reading: Geek Love, Someone Knows My Name, and The Cross in the Closet
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden

Monday, August 12, 2019

Ten Book Characters I'd Want as Best Friends

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

This week's topic is book characters we'd love to be besties with. I definitely overthought this one. Do they have to be adult women in the book or can they be children if I would have stayed friends with them since childhood? Is it just enough to admire someone for who they are, or do I have to see qualities that would specifically make them good friends for me? Are they the kind of person who would want to be friends with someone like me? I eventually had to go with a loose definition of badass female characters who don't seem to have any serious issues that would drive a wedge in our friendship.

Here's the very tentative list of ten I came up with!

1. Amina Eapen (from The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing)
In high school a friend wrote a story about the futures of everyone in our friend group and made me a photographer in Seattle based on my dreams at the time, which may be why I resonated with Amina (a photographer in Seattle at the book's open), or maybe I just related to her feelings of re-imagining her past and her relationship with her parents now that she's settled into being an adult. Either way, she seems like a down-to-earth and caring friend to have.

2. Antoinette Conway (from The Trespasser)
I definitely don't think I'm cool enough to be friends with tough-as-nails murder detective Antoinette Conway, but she would clearly be a good friend to have — candid, loyal, smart, quick on her feet.

3. Clare Abshire (from The Time Traveler's Wife)
Clare's relationship with Henry dominates this book so we don't see her have many friends, but her willingness to go with the flow of Henry's time-traveling condition makes it clear she'd be a loyal and understanding friend to anyone who gave her equal respect back.

4. Elizabeth Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice)
Someone recently met me after hearing about me and said they'd imagined me as Elizabeth Bennet — smart, confident, well-read. I don't know about that, but I do think Elizabeth and I could find enough things to talk about, since we're both more interested in ideas than in gossiping about people.

5. Frankie Landau-Banks (from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks)
Yes, Frankie's just a teenager in this book going through some coming-of-age growing pains as she navigates her place in the world, but it's clear she's got a heart for justice and a maturity that would serve her well as an adult. She'd be a good friend to give me a push to make my ideas happen and make the world a better place.

6. Matilda Wormwood (from Matilda)
After the traumas of her childhood and the clever ways she overcame them, I imagine that Matilda grew into a resilient and loving adult. We know that she loves to read, so she and I would have a lot to talk about!

7. Rhonda Kazembe (from the Mysterious Benedict Society series)
I put in an earlier post that I wouldn't mind trading places with Rhonda, but I'd be happy to have her as a friend as well. She's smart but down-to-earth and doesn't seem to mind taking care of Mr. Benedict, her adoptive father, especially when it's in service of saving the world.

8. Robin Ellacott (from the Cormoran Strike series)
When I was young and a huge fan of mysteries, I dreamed of being a private detective. Robin has that dream job! She goes through enough in the line of duty that I don't think I'd actually want her job for myself, but hearing about it would be amazing, and I admire how quick-thinking and brave she is.

9. Tuppence Beresford (from the Tommy and Tuppence series)
Just like Robin, Tuppence investigates crime. She's willing to risk danger to herself to get to the bottom of a mystery but also has a cheerful personality and just likes getting to know other people. She and Tommy have a long, happy marriage, and I'm sure she was a loyal lifelong friend to many as well.

10. Valancy Stirling (from The Blue Castle)
Valancy's learned that there's no point trying to make other people happy, so I could trust her to be honest with me and that if she's my friend it's because she wants to be. She'd be a good friend to sit with in comfortable silence reading books out on the patio in summer or in front of a cozy fire in winter.

Which characters would you want as your besties?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The End of Your Life Book Club and The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down
Five years ago I was reading: Half of a Yellow Sun and Someone Knows My Name
Ten years ago I was reading: Walden