Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Best of the Bunch: April 2020

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

Of the 7 books I finished, I only had one 5-star read, and it was a reread of a favorite book (my June 2015 favorite):

The Sea of Tranquility had me completely in tears by the end, even knowing how it would end. I love how the main characters are both mature for their age and also extremely messed up. They don't save each other because love doesn't work that way in real life, but they do provide a safe haven for one another. All of the characters generally felt so much more real to me than most characters in YA books, not that I would have made the same choices they did, but that they were three-dimensional characters whose choices and conflicting feelings felt authentic to their own selves. Millay subverts so many YA tropes to create a book that feels fresh and authentic and heart-wrenching.

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: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society and Harry Potter à l'école des sorciers
Five years ago I was reading: Angle of Repose, How to Train Your Dragon, and Finding Your Own North Star
Ten years ago I was reading: The Children's Book
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Monday, April 27, 2020

Ten Books I Wish I Had Read As a Child

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

This week's topic is books we wish we'd read as a kid. Some of these are books that were around when I was a kid that I just didn't happen to read until I was an adult, and some are books that weren't published until I was older but I wish they'd been around when I was young.

1. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
Maybe I would have been into the Little House books if I'd read them as a kid, but as an adult I wasn't super impressed. I liked this story of prairie life much better, and it would have been great to read a true story of a brave young girl when I was young.

2. El Deafo by Cece Bell
I don't think there were a ton of graphic novels and memoirs when I was a kid other than comic books, but it would have been great to have that option. I loved books that were told in unique formats, like those with diagrams that had lots of extra parts to read, and it would have been fun to read a memoir told in a kid-friendly cartoon format. I also didn't know a lot about Deaf culture until I started taking ASL classes as an adult, and getting that introduction earlier in life would have been nice.

3. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I remember when the Ella Enchanted movie came out when I was in high school, but I didn't read the book until I was an adult. For a long time I was afraid it would be uncomfortable to read about Ella being made to do things against her will, so I wish I'd read this earlier, as it's nothing like that! It's an empowering and fun read.

4. George by Alex Gino
This is a book that wasn't published until I was an adult, but I wish there had been more books when I was growing up that showcased trans and gender-nonconforming characters, especially kids. I'm glad my son's generation has these books!

5. Greenglass House by Kate Milford
This is another one that was only published in the last decade, but I would have loved it as a kid. I loved mysteries (still do), and this book is much better both as a mystery and as a representation of diversity than the Babysitters' Club mysteries I devoured as a kid.

6. Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones
This one was around when I was a kid, but I never read it until I was an adult, and I still haven't seen the movie. I think I would have greatly enjoyed this cute fantasy story as a kid and might have gone on to read the sequels as well.

7. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
I didn't discover any of Julie Andrews Edwards' children's books until I was an adult, but this one definitely resonated with my memories of being 10 years old like the protagonist and discovering for the first time the pride of putting in work on projects of my own making.

8. A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass
This book made me feel deep feelings, which I'm sure would have been even more intense as an emotional kid! I also didn't know anything about synesthesia until I was older, but I loved finding out about the diversity of the human experience when I was a kid and this would have been an introduction to yet another interesting characteristic people can have.

9. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
This book didn't come out until I was in college, but man would it have resonated with me as a kid who thrived in my school's gifted program. Some of the wordplay in this book also reminds me of The Phantom Tollbooth, which was a favorite read of mine as a kid.

10. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
I always bring up this book as a better alternative to To Kill a Mockingbird and the one I wish I'd read in school instead. I wish the introduction I'd had to racism in the American South in the 1930s had been through the perspective of a black family rather than a white one, and one where the black man is the hero rather than the victim.

What books would your childhood self have liked?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: N or M? and Storytelling with Data
Five years ago I was reading: Angle of Repose, How to Train Your Dragon, and Finding Your Own North Star
Ten years ago I was reading: The Children's Book

Monday, April 20, 2020

Ten Titles That Would Make Good Band Names

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

This one's pretty self-explanatory — which book titles would also make a good name for a band?

1. Ancillary Justice

2. Crazy Rich Asians

3. Cutting for Stone

4. The Dream Thieves

5. The Left Hand of Darkness

6. Paradise Lost

7. Searching for Sunday

8. Small Animals

9. Strangers in Their Own Land

10. The Thorn Birds

What other book titles would be good band names?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families and Storytelling with Data
Five years ago I was reading: Angle of Repose, How to Train Your Dragon, and Finding Your Own North Star
Ten years ago I was reading: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

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.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston: This lived up to the hype 1000% for me. It was absolutely everything I wanted — flirty banter, deep and heart-wrenching feels, amazing side characters, realistic diversity, and a plot that was predictable enough that I didn't get stressed out but still had plenty of extremely satisfying surprise twists.

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed: I liked this a lot, but I was hoping for more from it. It was clear that Albertalli and Saeed set out to write a book to encourage teenagers to get involved politically and then layered a romance on top of it. I love Albertalli's books in general, but I've found that her collaborations are not my favorites.

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay: I love this book so, so much. It had me completely in tears by the end, even knowing how it would end. I love how the main characters are both mature for their age and also extremely messed up. This book is staying on my favorites list for sure.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: This was my third read of this, and I won't say that I've ever ended this book gushing about how good it was, as it is definitely slow and complex and takes a while to get to the feelings at the center of it, but it never fails to pull on my heartstrings and leave me thinking about the characters and their choices. Whether you read it for the sci-fi world building or the feminist messaging, I hope you also find something to take away from it.

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd: I had high hopes for this one, but it ended up being a bit too bleak and unsatisfying for me, plus I had a really hard time keeping all the side characters straight. I didn't hate it, but in the end it wasn't for me.

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys: I can't believe the ratings are so high on this, except that people tend to conflate "I didn't know anything about X before reading this book" with "This book about X is good." The writing was simplistic, the characters were one-dimensional, and the plot was scattershot. No thank you.

Paradise Lost by John Milton: I don't think I would particularly recommend this for a modern-day reader just for general enjoyment, but if you are at all interested in the development of literature or the English language over time, or you want to see what theology woven in story looked like in the 17th century, it's worth making it through this.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families and Storytelling with Data
Five years ago I was reading: Angle of Repose and Finding Your Own North Star
Ten years ago I was reading: About Face

Monday, April 13, 2020

Ten Books I Enjoyed but Rarely Talk About

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

This week we're talking about books we liked but haven't mentioned much. These are all books I rated 4.5 or 5 stars but haven't mentioned more than a few times on the blog.

1. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Coates is a modern-day James Baldwin, writing about racial identity (and its social and historical construction), police prejudice, and the ways in which his son's experience in today's world is both hopefully different and painfully similar to his own experience growing up black and male.

2. Feeling Good by David D. Burns
I expected this to be a hokey self-help book from 1980, but it's actually foundational for a lot of the work therapists do today to help with depression and anxiety. In clear language with occasional humor, Burns pinpoints common ways your brain will lead you astray and provides concrete exercises to bring those thoughts under control.

3. How to Stop Losing Your Shit with Your Kids by Carla Naumburg
I haven't had the chance to talk about this one much because I just read it recently, but it was a solid 5-star parenting book — concise, practical, and relatable. It's a guide to exactly what the title says, with the acknowledgement that you're never going to be perfect, but you can lose it less often and with fewer lasting consequences.

4. I Bring the Voices of My People by Chanequa Walker-Barnes
Aside from being my favorite read of January, I haven't had a chance to talk about this one much. Without mincing words, Walker-Barnes leads the reader through topics like gendered racism and the problems with racial reconciliation in the church. For all Christians and anyone else concerned with racial justice, I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

5. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran
It's difficult to classify this book, which may be why I don't bring it up a lot; it's like philosophy and poetry set within the framework of a fictional story. Each chapter of this book contains a short reflection on some area of life — love, friendship, work, religion — and while the ideas are perhaps not new, they are all phrased so concisely and beautifully as to make this book worth reading slowly.

6. Spook by Mary Roach
I enjoy Roach's irreverent scientific journalism. In this book, she takes a humorous approach to reporting on what kind of scientific experiments people have attempted to do to "prove" that there is or is not life after death. I read it almost a decade ago so I'm not entirely sure I would enjoy it as much today, but I liked it when I read it.

7. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
I'm surprised I haven't talked about this one more often, but it's been a while now since I read it. It's extremely well written and puts the reader inside the slowly deteriorating memory of a woman with early-onset Alzheimer's. I still haven't gotten to discuss this with a book club, but I think it would be an excellent pick for that.

8. Storytelling with Data by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic
This one I haven't really talked about on here because it's something I read for work, but it's a very good book! If you ever have to present any kind of numerical information, Knaflic has a practical guide to making your visuals as clear and uncluttered as possible so that your audience can absorb the information quickly. I would love if more people took her advice!

9. Stride Toward Freedom by Martin Luther King, Jr.
This was a fascinating first-person account of an event — the Montgomery bus boycott — that usually gets no more than a sentence in one's history books. Of course, it's also a carefully crafted treatise on non-violence intended to make King and his colleagues as sympathetic as possible to others during that time period. But I found it most intriguing for all the historical details I hadn't been aware of.

10. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
I found this account of the year after Didion's husband's death to be strangely relatable, even though her life was so much different than mine. I could envision myself reacting exactly the way Didion did to the circumstances around her, being at once logical and organized and also superstitious and thinking in circles. Seeing her grief unfold in all its peculiarities and minutia was captivating.

What good books have you not talked about often?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: When Broken Glass Floats, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families, and Storytelling with Data
Five years ago I was reading: The Cricket in Times Square, Angle of Repose, and Finding Your Own North Star
Ten years ago I was reading: About Face

Monday, April 6, 2020

Ten Books I Discovered Because of Book Club

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

This week's topic is "Books I Bought/Borrowed Because..." I get recommendations from a lot of sources — friends, podcasts, people I follow on Goodreads — so I don't always remember the reason I borrowed a particular book by the time I read it. My book club reads, however, are memorable for the conversations we have, and also I have a special tag for them in Goodreads. I've been in different numbers of book clubs at different times, as many as four at once; currently two of mine are still active. Here are ten books I probably wouldn't have read if it weren't for one of my book clubs!

1. All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely
The co-organizer of my online book club did her doctorate research on representations of police shootings in YA literature (sorry, Eli, if I butchered that explanation) and nominated this book for discussion. In some ways it's very carefully crafted to share a message — as opposed to the authentically messy edges of The Hate U Give — but I appreciated how well done it was.

2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Although I struggled with a lot of aspects of this book, it had some fascinating world-building aspects and plays around with gendered language in interesting ways. As mentioned previously, I don't read a lot of sci-fi, so it always pushes me out of my comfort zone when my fellow book club members choose sci-fi books to read.

3. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
This one I think I'd heard of prior to it being nominated for book club, but I don't think I would have picked it up on my own. It wove together several different aspects I greatly enjoyed: discussions of the books Schwalbe and his mother read and discussed at the end of her life, an overview of her very fascinating life, and philosophical musings on life mixed with the practicalities of her end-of-life care. I'm very glad book club pushed me to read this one.

4. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
You guys, this book destroyed me. I thought it would be similar to some other memoirs I'd read from Holocaust survivors, but it was powerful and moving in a way I did not expect. If I remember correctly, this was nominated by someone who never actually came to the book club discussion, and it probably wouldn't have been chosen by any of our regular attendees, but I am very glad that it ended up getting chosen.

5. Kingbird Highway by Kenn Kaufman
If I'd read the description of this book on my own, I definitely would have skipped over it — who wants to read a whole book about birding? Turns out, it was a great opportunity to learn a lot about a hobby I knew very little about, while also enjoying an interesting travel memoir and getting some valuable philosophical reflections on how we spend our time as humans. These kinds of books are the reason I love my book clubs!

6. Mink River by Brian Doyle
I never ended up getting to go to the book club discussion for this book because I came down with the flu, but I was glad to have read it regardless! It was the first of Doyle's work that I read, and although I never got to meet him when we worked at the same university, I was glad to have read something of his before his sudden passing. I've since read some of his nonfiction, and I like this novel the best.

7. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
This is a profile of the astonishing co-founder of the Partners in Health global health organization. He brings a perspective on the inherent worth of every individual human being that seems almost foolhardy in the field of global health, but it's absolutely compelling. I think this book would be particularly interesting to read again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the way that deaths are talked about as an inevitability and a statistic.

8. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
This was one of the first books I ever read for the in-person book club that I've now been part of for more than six years. It's the kind of slow, meandering historical fiction that I don't tend to favor myself, but the writing was beautiful and evocative and the characters were the beating heart of the book.

9. Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
This book was published right before the 2016 election, so it wasn't written to "explain" Trump's win, but as my book club read it in early 2018 it was obvious why Trump would have appealed to the individuals profiled in this book. It's a hard, hard book if you're a progressive like me, but it did shed some light on why some people disliked Obama so much and why traditional liberal appeals don't work with a subset of people who distrust anyone trying to make them feel a certain way about other people.

10. When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
Funnily enough, I was the one who nominated this book for book club, but I would never have discovered it if it weren't for that month's book club category, which was books that had won the Oregon Book Award. I looked up the list of winners and then checked them each out on Goodreads and this one looked like the best option. It was the first book I'd read about the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and I appreciated the chance to hear a first-person account from someone who'd lived through it.

Are you in a book club? What books has it led you to discover?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Search Inside Yourself
Five years ago I was reading: These Is My Words, Mary Poppins, Angle of Repose, and Boxers
Ten years ago I was reading: Bird in Hand and Will Grayson, Will Grayson