Monday, December 1, 2014

For the Record: November 2014

So, the year is racing through its final days.  Most years it seems to come too soon, but my house project has made this year seem twice as long (or more) so I'm ready for it.  Progress is good! On the home front we have paint, floors, and cabinets happening, which is much more thrilling than it may sound.

My blog has been nearly nonexistent this year. Multiple times I've considered dropping it altogether, but I've hung in there in hopes of being able to become more active once my house is finished. I really do love the friends I've made and the conversations I've had, on top of how much it helps my mental organization and thought processes in general. So I keep typing, and soon perhaps I'll be able to begin visiting again. I'm hoping to catch all of those delightful year-end posts—I love seeing that overview of the reading life.

My reading this month felt very scattered, partly due to the reread of All the Light We Cannot See, but also because many of the things I read were light in one way or another.

6 Books Read in November: (62 year-to-date)

2 Nonfiction:
  - What We See When We Read, Peter Mendelsund (4) Very simple to read, yet captivating all the same.  There isn't a large amount of text, nor is the main idea fully explored, yet it was pleasing to experience.
  - Judging a Book By Its Lover, Lauren Leto (2.5) I was hoping for either a) some insight, or b) some humor, but didn't find much of either.  As the text was really about the author's own experiences and opinions, it would have been much more enjoyable to read if it had been a series of blog posts instead of in book format. Since I didn't connect with it much, I found it only mildly entertaining.

1 Re-read:
  - All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (5) My book club read this with me this time. I found it just as enjoyable the second time around, and loved hearing other opinions about the story and writing style.  One in my group, a former science teacher, adored the science behind the light and radio waves discussed throughout the book.  At the National Air and Space Museum I saw an exhibit that touched on what she was saying: "Light allows us to see into the past and reveals the nature of things forever beyond our reach." Since only a small fragment of light is visible, there is a rather large portion of light that we cannot see.

1 Classic:
  - All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque (4) My 14yo is reading this for school, so I thought I'd get up to speed. I loved the perspective this was written from—not only because he was German, but because it was written so soon after the war. The years surrounding the Great War were such a pivotal time in modern history; reading literature written during that time has a unique tone that speaks more to me of the era than any current story I've read set in that time.

2 Others:
  - The Best of McSweeney's, Edited by Dave Eggers (3.5) Some good stuff, but a lot of boring (read: overinflated sense of self) stuff also.  This took me 11 months to get through.  Do you have any idea how good it felt to be done?  Mostly it served as a way to get a taste of McSweeney's. It was a beautifully made book, but that was its biggest strength.
  - Code Name Verity, Elizabeth Wein (3) Enjoyable, but a little silly and hard to believe. I enjoyed the focus on women in war, and bits and pieces about aviation, but the writing style clashed with the WWII setting, and the characters never became more than caricatures. Like a cheesy tv program you can't stop watching: good, but also not.


2 Current Reads:
  - The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt. My current audio book - I'm enjoying it but don't get many chances to listen to it.  It's a long one!
  - Nora Webster, Colm Toibin. I'm just barely into it, but am very ready for a virtual visit to Ireland!


On My Nightstand:
I've been toting around The High Divide by Lin Enger (because I need to read it for LibraryThing's Early Reviewers) and Main Street by Sinclair Lewis (because I loved Free Air).


Saturday, November 1, 2014

For the Record: October 2014 (plus Seattle!)

It's November! Congratulations everyone! We've made it to the end of the year.  If I thought life was crazy before, the next two months are sure to prove me wrong.  The weather has finally (FINALLY) cooled down around here.  It was in the high 80s for most of the summer and I am such a wimp in the heat/humidity that I was barely surviving.  Even with air conditioning.  That's how pitiful I am. What can I say...I'm a mountain girl that loves winter and living in SoCal can be rough.  It's so same/same all the time.

Last weekend we took a mini vacation with our daughters (10 & 14 yo) to Seattle.  It was my first time in the city (well, as an adult) and I almost melted from the adorableness of the whole thing.  The mountains and hills, the trees and water, the art and technology, the rain.  Even the downtown areas are so cozy.  I loved it terribly. Though, now that I'm thinking about it, I did just confess how starved I am for weather.  So there's that.

6 Books Read in October: (56 year-to-date)

3 Read Aloud to my 10yo:
  - The Whipping Boy, Sid Fleischman (3.5) Cute, simple, and short.  Perfect way to start our school year.
  - Master Cornhill, Eloise Jarvis McGraw (3.5) Slow to start, but ultimately captivating.  Great for solidifying a picture of London during 1666 with the plague and fire and all.
  - The Gate in the Wall, Ellen Howard (3) Provides a picture of canal life in Britain.  It was enjoyable, but the author was too heavy handed with the dialect to make it truly enjoyable.

1 Audio Book:
  - Burial Rites, Hannah Kent (4.5) Really solid, poetic, biographical fiction. Well written and well read.  This portrayal of the last woman executed in Iceland (close to 200 years ago!) was a fascinating peek at the country while under the rule of Denmark.

2 Others:
  - The Good Lord Bird, James McBride (3.5) This was a National Book Award winner, and I can see why.  It presents a history of abolitionists (namely John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame) in an accessible, enjoyable manner.  Having read Cloudsplitter a few months ago, on the same topic, I found myself thinking that McBride had written the "True Grit" version of the real story. The lack of seriousness was both enjoyable and grating. It was often repetitious, both in story and in writing, which was mildly irritating.  That being said, if I hadn't had recent experience with the topic, I might have enjoyed it more.  As it was, it didn't compare to Cloudsplitter.
  - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne (2.5) I remember seeing the trailer for this movie and thinking it looked good, so when I happened across it in the B&N YA section, I picked it up.  It's super short, and I feel a little terrible for not loving it, but there was just too much left wanting. The end was a bit of a shock, but since I didn't care much for any of the characters, I wasn't hugely impacted. There were a lot of things that were improbable and unbelievable, but instead of feeling magical (like Life is Beautiful) it felt contrived (like The Alchemist).


1 Current Read:
  - All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. Rereading for book club, and it is just as wonderful this time around.


On My Nightstand:
These are the books that are actually, literally, on my nightstand. Whether they'll be the next ones I read or not, I don't know.
  - Stillwater, Nicole Heglet. Impulse buy at my local book shop, set in Minnesota during the Civil War.
  - The High Divide, Lin Enger. From LibraryThing's Early Reviewers, this novel takes place across the plains, post Civil War.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

For the Record: September 2014

I guess the big news this month is that our house project finally feels like it's progressing. We have tile going in and cabinets being built.  I, quite simply, am more than ready for it to be complete and put the whole construction event behind us.

Other great news is that my book club will be reading All the Light We Cannot See in October, so I'll have some people to really discuss it with (yay for book clubs!) and an excuse to re-read it.

I have a great thirst developing for classics, and no wonder.  When looking at my list of books read in 2014, I see only 4 classics.  Four.  This is a reflection on the quality and quantity of available reading time I've had this year in general.  All the more reason to get that house done! And go on more vacations!


5 Books Read in September: (50 year-to-date)

2 Nonfiction:
  - MFA vs. NYC, edited by Chad Harbach (4) I enjoyed this collection of essays, as it shined a light on the general state of publishing in America today.  I heard about it on GoodReads from Carrie (NomadReader) and am glad I had my local book shop order it for me. The variety of writing styles and opinions kept me interested and let me draw my own conclusions.
  - The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown (3.5) I read this with my book club, and thought the last 100 pages (and the pictures) were fascinating.  However, the 275 preceding pages were repetitive and somewhat dull.  I continually compared it to Unbroken and thus didn't enjoy it as much as I could have.  It also fell a little short in the organization. Still, it was a nice little look at Seattle in the 1920s and 1930s, and introduced me to George Pocock: the real star of the story. I'd recommend it if you have a hankering to round out your view on the era leading up to WWII.

1 Read Aloud to my 10yo:
  - Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry (4) My second (third?) time reading this story.  It never gets old.

1 Audio Book:
  - Brooklyn, Colm Toibin (3.5) A few minor issues (and the fact that my feelings hinged on the ending) weren't enough to detract from the loveliness of visiting Ireland for a few brief moments.  The narrator did a wonderful job with that wonderful Irish lilt.

1 Other:
  - The Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson (3.5) Loaned to me from a book club friend, and better than some YA (most notably Please Ignore Vera Dietz) in many ways.  Quick but serious.


2 Current Reads:
  - The Good Lord Bird, James McBride. Bought at my local book shop with no prior knowledge about it, except that it's about John Brown (of Civil War/Harpers Ferry fame) just like the tome Cloudsplitter that I finished earlier this summer.  This one is written in a very different tone and style, and from a different perspective.
  - Burial Rites, Hannah Kent. My current audio book - another wonderful narrator capable of speaking the dialect.


On My Nightstand:
Where to start? I just bought The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I'll be rereading All the Light We Cannot See, and I've a hankering to dive into We Are Not Ourselves.  I'll also be on the lookout for a new audio book pretty soon here? Any recommendations?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

For the Record: August 2014

Me and my friend Elizabeth...friends
since kindergarten!

Oh August. Crazy times.  And now school has begun again, and I'm tired.  We did so much this month! Apart from our house project (which is finally drywalled and seeing finish materials go in) we also went to our 20-year high school reunion and celebrated my grandma's 90th birthday.  On top of all that, we put on a Christian music festival over Labor Day weekend, which really absorbs the entire month in preparation.  All of our kids helped out during the festival, which was great fun, but we are all exhausted now and ready to be back in a routine!

4 Books Read in August: (45 year-to-date)

2 Nonfiction:
  - Loving Our Kids on Purpose, Danny Silk (3.5) Read on the recommendation of a friend...I can see how the parenting approach in this book might be novel for some, but focusing on love and respect (instead of punishment and shame) is second nature to me.  That aside, my only real criticism stems from the brevity of the book itself.  There isn't enough detail to get past the overview stage, leaving many things up to chance.  In particular, the line between teaching kids to take ownership of their problems and having mercy and compassion enough to help them with their problems is quite vague and can easily end up looking more like manipulation than anything else. As an overview of a Love and Logic based parenting style, however, this book fits the bill.
  - The Soul of All Living Creatures, Vint Virga (2) I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing, and was expecting something different than I received. I was hoping to find a book that approached the relationship between animals and people with a graceful yet scientific point of view, and was let down. This book would have been more touching had it simply been a memoir of the author's experiences, and more educational had he utilized his many years of experience in behavioral medicine to explain the situations in more detail.  As it stands his stories feel incomplete, making the book feel rather pointless.

1 from my Shelf:
  - The Yellow Phantom, Margaret Sutton (4) What fun this was! I actually bought it years ago because I loved the cover and was going to use it in some sort of art project.  Published in 1933, the treasure is less about the mystery (which was still enjoyable) and more about the chance to spy on a bygone era through the fashion, the language, the daily life, and the view of New York City way back when. I'm not going to be able to use it in an art project now—I enjoyed it too much.

1 New Book:
  - All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (5) Oh my, what a book! I received it through Powell's Indiespensable subscription, and just absolutely loved everything about it.  In fact, I recommended it every single person I know.  And I want to reread it already.  It was so well balanced that it almost threw me off...the language, the characters, the story...magical.


2 Current Reads:
  - The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown. Captivating nonfiction!
  - The Best of McSweeney's, edited by Dave Eggars. almost done almost done almost done


On My Nightstand:
I haven't had much time to read, which makes me crave it all the more.  I'd like to reread All the Light We Cannot See but don't know if I'll actually do that...I may have packed it away already.  I received some interesting books in my Book Riot Quarterly box that I think I may try to read before they get lost on my shelves, and my Indiespensable shipment will be here any day.  Lots of options!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

For the Record: July 2014

July was a better month than I expected it to be...although some of that was probably at the expense of my husband (sorry hunny).  You see, my summers usually go like this: I'm excited to finally have time to organize my house and finish up projects around the house, and Chris is excited to finally have a school schedule that permits taking vacations.  This year, however, he has an inordinate amount of things he is juggling so we've been at home more than usual.

We got word from our landlord that he wants to put the house we are renting on the market on September 15.  Hopefully it won't sell right away, because the house we are remodeling still has a bit of work to be done on it before we can move back.  Either way, it definitely complicates the remaining months of the year!  Thank goodness I've gotten pretty good at just taking things as they come.

7 Books Read in July: (41 year-to-date)

1 Nonfiction:
  - Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker (3.5) This was an impulse buy at Barnes & Noble.  We ran in to pick up the next couple books in my daughter's Warriors series and this one had such a cute cover. (Plus, I'd heard a friend talking about it, but still...the cover.) Since I've been in the mode of de-cluttering and simplifying, this book's topic suit me perfectly.  I appreciated the chapter about food the most - especially in light of the large homeless population in SoCal - we are truly so abundantly blessed that it is almost hard to fathom.  The rest of the book felt a little repetitive to me, though still easy and enjoyable to read due to the author's conversational blog-like tone.

1 Read Aloud to my 10yo:
  - James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl (3) I had remarkably little Roald Dahl in my childhood.  Like, maybe watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory once.  So I've tried to make up for that with my kids, working through his books little by little.  This one, I have to say, has been my least favorite so far.  I liked the characters well enough, but felt that the story arc was weak.

2 AudioBooks:
  - We Were Liars, E. Lockhart (2.5) All the hype about this book combined with some long plane rides at the beginning of the month made me decide to give the audio version a try.  It was short (nice) but struck me as somewhat dramatic and predictable.  Note to self: resist the hype.
  - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin (4) What a sweet story! Sort of a vanity read due to the wonderful amount of bookish discussion: the authors, the titles, the community. I had to go buy a hard copy so that I could reread it and loan it out.

3 "Obligation" Reads:
  - The Road From Gap Creek, Robert Morgan (4.5) Sent to me from the publisher via LibraryThing...I remembered enjoying Gap Creek back in the day but wasn't sure how that would translate to my current tastes.  I'm happy to say that it solidified my appreciation for Morgan's prose (poetic and contemplative but not overly so).  It took place in the Appalachian mountains (a setting which never fails to remind me of the Sierra Nevada mountains I grew up in) in the midst of the Great Depression and WWII. It meanders through the past the way your memory does: without regard to keeping a strict timeline.  I get it, I appreciate it, but was still confused a few times. Still, it reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in its coming-of-age, reminiscent tone.
  - King Dork, Frank Portman (2.5) My latest book club pick...It isn't hard for me to imagine that many people would like this book more than I did.  There was much about it that was good - funny, deep, etc. I just couldn't get over two things: first, I really don't think I'd like the author himself (he seemed self-absorbed and I'm just not into that); second, I couldn't figure out when it took place and that bugged me more and more as the book progressed. Everything about it felt mid-1980s: the style, the music, the microfilm.  And yet at one point there was mention of a plaque in the high school from the class of 1994.  And that's not to mention the amount of hooking up this kid did, even though he was apparently the dorkiest kid in the class.  It didn't work for me.
  - The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, Susan Jane Gilman (3.5) Sent to me from the publisher via LibraryThing...On one hand, this book was fun to read.  It had the whole immigrant pre-WWI thing happening, it had history and culture, good stuff.  On the other hand, the main character was so annoying (SO annoying) that I was glad to be done with her.  She was self-centered and ungrateful throughout the entire book.  I felt sorry for her husband, poor guy.  What some people call spunky, I call selfish.


1 DNF:
  - Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, Joyce Carol Oates. I was reading this with my 13yo daughter but she felt it was completely implausible and I felt the characters were not up to par with Oates' typical fare. So we stopped.

5 Current Reads:
  - Loving Our Kids on Purpose, Danny Silk. Reading on recommendation from a friend.  It's something I would have enjoyed more...18 years ago? But there isn't anything that strikes me as revolutionary at this point in my parenting career.
  - MFA vs. NYC, edited by Chad Harbach. Still working on this bit by bit. Still enjoying it.
  - The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown. My new book club pick. I'm actually barely into this one but I think it's going to be a good one.
  - The Best of McSweeney's, edited by Dave Eggars. I've picked this up again in an effort to wrap it up.  I had to skip the David Foster Wallace story - I had stalled out on it, just couldn't get through it, and now I'm trucking along again.
  - West of Here, Jonathan Evison. Current audio book. I actually have the physical copy, but was starting to think I'd never read it so I opted for the audio version instead. It's okay so far. The narrator is great, but the writing itself makes for a somewhat detached, disjointed story.


On My Nightstand:
Honestly? Nothing. After I get through the five books I'm currently in, who knows what I'll read? Something quick and easy maybe. All I know is that once September hits, life is going to be crazy.

Pass it on!