Monday, January 30, 2017

Book Review - Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

To read Difficult Women is to take a deep dive into the human condition.  This is not the benevolent humanity found throughout much of literature, but is humanity in all of its beautifully dark, complicated, flawed, brutal, and hopeful realness.  The characters you meet are living their lives in the wake of deep trauma, and in a culture that promotes the forces that allow said trauma.  These characters are so real and vivid, and their circumstances so grounded in reality, that you cannot help but grown in empathy for them.

That is the real skill of Roxane Gay's writing - she doesn't hide you from life's darkness, or hide the darkness from you.  Rather, she places you squarely in the face of that darkness to understand how others in our society live.  The characters may commit despicable or violent acts, but when presented in the context of an entire life, you begin to decode the how's and why's of those acts.  To speak plainly of the difficult aspects of this collection, there are plentiful depictions of rape, domestic abuse, abduction, physical/emotional/sexual violence.  These behaviors appear regularly, so a reader may need time to decompress and process after a story, before moving on to the next.  Maybe not, though, because the characters endure such acts routinely, and aren't able to allow themselves the luxury of decompression, soothing, or escape.

The POV characters in most of these stories are women, one exception being Father Michael Patrick Minty, the main character in the story "Bad Priest".  He was essentially driven into the priesthood by his highly-religious mother, and lives up to the title because he has taken a vow of celibacy but is dating and having regular sex with a young woman in his community.   While reading this story, I couldn't help but imagine his mother being a woman of similar ilk to Margaret White from Stephen King's novel Carrie.  The girl with whom he's having the affair knows who he is, sees him in his hypocrisy, and wants him anyway.

The most affecting story, for me, was "Break All the Way Down".  It portrays the deep abyss of grief in such a heartbreaking yet hopeful way that I was completely transfixed throughout my reading of it.  I felt as though I was there inhabiting the same experiences as the main character - feeling so much guilt, anguish, and despair that she seeks penance through being beaten and mistreated by abusive men.  When I learned why she invites this treatment, it truly and completely broke my heart.

The characters in Difficult Women may seem frustrating, perplexing, and difficult.  However, once you engage with them and their history, and come to know them a little, you find that they are just human beings trying to live their lives in response to what has come before and exists for them now.  They are complicated, beautiful and real, but not difficult.

Librorum annis

Thursday, January 26, 2017

24 in 48 Wrapup

This past weekend's 24 in 48 Readathon, was a pretty resounding success for me!  First, I read for more than 24 hours out of the 48!!  This is the first time, in my (brief) history of readathon participation, that I've ever accomplished this goal!

It wasn't easy, but it was SO MUCH FUN!!!!  The absolute best part is the sense of community that you share with all the other Readathon readers around the world, encouraging each other and sharing your own progress.  Seeing other readers' enthusiastic posts on Instagram and Litsy were really motivating, and also served as a welcome distraction when I needed to look away from my books for a few minutes.

Although I read longer than I expected, I didn't read as much as I thought I would.  In my previous post, I showed my TBR pile that was, admittedly, a bit ambitious, but I really thought I'd complete more books during the 24 hours.  As it stands, I read 4.75 books out of the selected 9 books.  Technically, over 50% completion, which is acceptable, but not great.  Here are the books that I finished, and the one book that I didn't complete before I finished the 24 hour mark.  They will all be appearing in my January reading roundup:

The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

A wife of 30 years is forced to call her whole existence into question after her husband declares that he wants "a pause" in their marriage.  She rents a house near her elderly mother, and begins a summer of self-discovery and exploration.

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

Part study of a complicated young woman, part ghost story, part psychological thriller, this book is quite engrossing, until about halfway through when it makes a sharp detour into another realm and things get weird.

Other Stories and Other Stories by Ali Smith

In her typical stream-of-consciousness style, Ali Smith explores the depths of the everydayness of life.  But with a touch of the bizarre or a smidgen of magical realism thrown in.

The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple

Dorothy Whipple is the mistress of creating completely engaging stories out of events that would seem humdrum and uninteresting.  This collection is no different.  Strained family relations, infidelities, misunderstandings, misogyny, and many other relevant topics are highlighted in this incredible work.

Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh

I've only made it three-quarters of the way through this collection of short stories, and I'm really enjoying just how weird they are.  Every story is so completely different in terms of time, location, characters, and plot, and in ever case the world feels so real and just slightly bizarre.

Next up on my readathon radar is the Dewey's 24-Hour Readathon, taking place on April 29, 2017.  Based on this Readathon experience, I hope to be able to read for the full 24 hours.  I also may change up my reading strategy and TBR a bit.  Consuming all of these short stories and shorter novels, one right after another, made it challenging to keep my focus and to keep the stories straight in my mind.  I also found myself craving a more deep and fully realized world, which you can really only achieve in a longer work.  Therefore, although I do love my short stories, I might be willing to forgo a larger TBR of smaller books in order to have a more well-rounded and engrossing reading experience.  But we'll see.  Sometimes, in the heat of the Readathon moment, the satisfaction of completing a large quantity of books becomes more important.  

Did you participate in the 24 in 48 Readathon?  If so, what was your experience?  And are you considering the Dewey's Readathon as well?

Librorum annis

Monday, January 23, 2017

Book Review - M Train by Patti Smith

Have you ever experienced a situation that was so vivid and complex that you weren't sure whether it was reality or a dream?  That's exactly how I felt when reading M Train by Patti Smith.  She switches artfully from past to present, home to abroad, self to other, and dream to wake.  All the while, you are allowed glimpses into the author's life and how certain experiences and objects have shaped who she is today.

The book's beginning puts the reader in what will become a very familiar location - Cafe 'Ino in NYC.  Although the reader spends some time with her in her Manhattan apartment, you feel as though her true home -the center of her world- is Cafe 'Ino.  She is led there by a cowpoke who uses tough love to encourage her to "write about nothing".  That cowpoke returns here and there, when the author is in need, like a guardian angel (guardian...cowpoke?).  It's a dream, but you would be forgiven if you thought it was reality, because Smith then orders what is her quintessential meal at Cafe 'Ino - olive oil, brown bread, and coffee.  In fact, coffee is a main theme throughout M Train.  The author searches it out on all of her travels in faraway lands, makes Nescafe in her apartment, buys deli coffee to be drunk on her stoop, and of course consumes endless cups at Cafe 'Ino.  To read this book without drinking coffee would almost be an insult to the caffeinated spirit of the work.  Unthinkable.

The reader moves in and out and around the narrative, which is a lyrical, almost poetic, stream of consciousness.  It's almost like you're reading one of Smith's beloved Moleskine notebooks, where she documents her minute observations and encapsulated moments.  She uses those moments to wander back into the past, to explore how situations that occurred many years ago influence the current.  In how M Train plays with space and time, it is really investigating the idea of "time" and showing that it may be an irrelevant construct.  At different moments in your life, time can seem to move at different rates and be imbued with different meanings. Triggers can bring you back to a memory from the past, or propel you to imagining the future.

In the essay "Changing Channels", you follow Smith as she is encamped in her apartment, writing in bed amongst piles of books, pencils, notes, and other bits of a writing life.  She shifts her thoughts toward the poet Roberto Bolano and a goal she set for herself - to write a 100-line poem to him and in his memory.  After a few hours, she returns home and has a conversation with the TV remote control. She then leads you around the apartment and introduces some of her most treasured objects to you.  Each one has a story - a pair of Margot Fonteyn's pointe shoes, a clay giraffe, photographs - but Smith focuses on the desk chair that belonged to her father.  From this simple chair, you learn much about the author's father and her relationship to him.  The chair symbolizes his warmth and comfort, his routines, and also his complicated nature.  The essay then connects her father's chair to Robert Bolano's writing chair, which Smith visited on a previous trip to Spain.  You can see how the narrative jumps and spins and floats around, both dreamlike and completely sober.

There are many reprints of Polaroid photos throughout M Train.  If an object has special significance, there's a good chance you'll find a photo of it somewhere in the pages of the essay.  In some of the pieces, she talks about the process of capturing the images - some only took one try and others took repeated and arduous efforts to get right.  Others will never be seen because they were lost or stolen.  There are photos of graves, deflated balloons, a taxidermy bear, and lots of fabrics.  In fact, the photo that appears on the dust jacket is of Smith sitting at her favorite table at Cafe 'Ino.

If you are a fan of Patti Smith's work, M Train is a compelling addition.  After reading it, you'll feel more connected to her as a creative spirit and as a human being.  Her stream-of-consciousness style feels dreamlike and, at time, a bit manic but always observant and curious.  You share meals with her, travels around NYC and the world, the heartbreak of Superstorm Sandy and its aftermath, and many many cups of coffee.

Librorum annis

Thursday, January 19, 2017

24 in 48 Readathon TBR

This weekend, January 21-22 is the next installment of the 24in48 Readathon.  The goal of this challenge is to read books for 24 out of the 48 hours in the weekend, beginning at 12:01 am in your local time zone. You don't have to read for 24 straight hours, however, which makes it more flexible than other readathons, like Dewey's.  If you have things to do, a job shift to work, or (gasp!) sleep - you can still participate in the readathon and do what needs to be done.

It's not just about the reading, however.  There's a real sense of community amongst all the participants, celebrating successes and rooting each other on to keep reading.  If you're involved in bookish social media, there are reading challenges, hashtags, and fun competitions that you can participate in for prizes.  During the last 24in48, I won a copy of Good as Gone by Amy Gentry for one of my photos!

This will be the first time that I've participated in 24in48 since I've started this blog.  Last time around, I updated my reading status via Instagram Twitter and Litsy, and had an absolute blast!  The readathon has a presence on all of these social media, and you can find their links on their homepage.  I'm planning to post my real-time reading updates on all of these social media channels, so be sure to follow me there if you're interested to see how I get on with things.  I'll also be posting a summary of my reading here in the following week.

Are you participating in any 2017 reading challenges...BookRiot Read Harder, Pop Sugar, etc?  A readathon is a great way to tick a few boxes off those lists!  As with all readathons, it's important to have a strategy in place for optimum success.  That's not only the books you'll be reading, but the eats and drinks you'll need to keep your energy topped up.

The Books

I always select my readathon books in advance, because I don't want to think about what book to read once I've begun.  It's important for me to be able to pick up something else right away once I've finished whatever I'm currently reading at the time.  When it comes to books, I have carefully crafted the criteria that books must meet in order to make any readathon TBR.  Generally they fall into three categories: Short, funny, gripping.  This means that I often choose short story or essay collections, graphic novels/memoirs, short novels, and culturally relevant books.  In addition, my TBR choices need to conform to my #WinterOfWomen17 project - all be written by women.

Here are the books (an optimistically large stack, to be sure) I've got on my 24in48 TBR, in no particular order -

    The Eats

    As I mentioned before, sustenance is important to success.  Because the hours of the readathon are individualized, the options for food and drink are wide and vast.  It might mean that you are snacking on celery and carrot sticks (popcorn and M&Ms) during the wee hours of the morning with some sparkling water.  Maybe you actually want to get some sleep, and start off your readathon with a mug of coffee or tea, and a pastry.  Whatever it takes to keep you reading, make sure you're stocked up on it before 12:01 am on January 21st.  

    And what about me?  I plan to start reading right away, then napping here and there throughout the weekend.  For food, I'm actually thinking of going Gilmore - pizza, licorice whips, toast and butter, Chinese food, copious amounts of coffee, and maybe a salad.  Because, you know, health.  

    Are you up for the challenge of reading 24 hours in a weekend?  If so, grab your books and snacks, log on to whatever social media strikes your fancy, and get ready to have some fun!  I hope to see you there.

    Librorum annis

    Monday, January 16, 2017

    A Little New Year's Book Haul

    Oh those Boxing Day sales.  So tempting.  It's hard not to just have an eensy weensy peek to see if there's anything on offer that I cannot live without.  A little look won't hurt anything, right?  When that website is BookOutlet, it can hurt my wallet a bit.  However, not enough for me not to check it out.  Having found a few goodies, I couldn't resist placing a little order - getting some books for myself that I didn't receive during the holidays.  Here's the glorious haul (cue the angelic choir) -

    •  A Manual for Cleaning Women, by Lucia Berlin
    • Ratio, by Michael Ruhlman
    • The Blazing World, by Siri Hustvedt
    • The Summer Without Men, by Siri Hustvedt
    • Living Thinking Looking, by Siri Hustvedt
    • The Shaking Woman or a History of My Nerves, by Siri Hustvedt
    • Dance to the Piper, by Agnes De Mille

    Also exciting were the January Book of the Month selections, which were available bright and early on the first of the month.  Of the five available choices, I picked the short story collection Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh.  I have yet to read her novel Eileen, but I am interested to see what she does in the short story medium.  I had an extra book credit to use, as part of their Black Friday promotion that got me to join in the first place, so used it on one of last month's picks - Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller.  This will be my first time reading any Fuller, and I'm intrigued!  There was an extra-special surprise in there as well, an exclusive BOTM edition of Gillian Flynn's novella The Grownup.  I suspect that this was included because the company has only just made available a special reprint edition of Flynn's 2009 book Dark Places.  I had no idea this little book was being added to my order, and I'm interested to see what kind of story it has to tell!
    Gillian Flynn's book is hidden behind that little jacket-wrapper.
    • Swimming Lessons, by Claire Fuller
    • Homesick for Another World, by Ottessa Moshfegh
    • The Grownup, by Gillian Flynn

    Lastly, I couldn't help making a small order from The Strand in NYC.  I only get up to the city once or twice a year, so I do most of my book buying online.  I'm especially excited by their signed new editions and huge selection of used books.  When I'm feeling the urge for more beautiful Persephone Books, but not flush enough to make a purchase directly from them, I turn to The Strand.  They don't always have Persephones in stock, but they do from time to time, and I stalk their site and usually make a purchase when they have some in stock that I want to add to my burgeoning library.  Here's what I found this time around -

    • Paris I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down, by Rosencrantz Baldwin
    • They Can't Ration These, by Vicomte de Mauduit
    •  Plats du Jour, by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd

    I'm excited to get to reading these - maybe even this weekend!

    Librorum annis

    Thursday, January 12, 2017

    Book Review - A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes

    In this bittersweet book, readers are treated to a glimpse of real, day-to-day life in Victorian London from the perspective of a young girl.  Molly was the youngest child in her family, and the only girl, with four elder brothers.  The ways in which the children squabble, band together, play, and tease each other will ring true to most of us who grew up with siblings.  The construct of this book is that the author, as an adult, is reflecting back on her early childhood - a time in her life which is punctured by a catastrophic event.  This event is revealed in the final pages of the text, and marks a drastic change for the family.  Until those final pages, however, A London Child of the 1870's is quite joyful and exuberant.

    One of the most surprising parts of Molly's childhood was how progressive her education was, especially for the era.  Molly's mother, who had come from a wealthy and educated Cornish family, encouraged her daughter to be curious and adventurous.  She was allowed to be rambunctious in her play and through her experiences she learned a great deal.  She learned a great deal from the books that her family kept in the house, and was well-versed in Latin, literature, French, and some science.  One subject, in which she admittedly didn't excel, was maths.  However, she wasn't segregated from the sentiments of her time; her brothers were enrolled in schools from a very young age, but it wasn't until Molly was over the age of 10 that she was allowed to attend a nearby school for girls.  In this way, her education was progressive, but she was still required to fit into the societal mold of a Victorian woman.

    Although Molly was certainly aware of the expectations in her time, she did not automatically or happily internalize them.  When she was forbidden from going to the theater or out to other places with her brothers, she would freely express her frustration and displeasure.  There are so many things she wants to do, and places she wants to go, but cannot because she is female.  It gives some context for the reader to then reflect on how far society has developed with regards to the rigidity of gender roles, but also how much further we can go.

    While reading, I was regularly confronted with the ways in which technology has advanced since the Victorian era.  Transportation, especially long-distance travel, was an arduous and dirty ordeal.  Buses were not motorized as they are now, but were pulled by animals across streets that were mostly made of dirt and stone.  Trains were much slower and far less comfortable in their appointments.  Although travel isn't always pleasant nowadays, it is certainly moreso than it was in the author's time.

    One of the greatest takeaways from A London Child of the 1870's was the general freedom that children had in Victorian London.  Running around nearby parks and gardens was not uncommon, and parents didn't constantly chaperone their children.  If a window got broken, as happened when one of Molly's brothers convinced her that a rock wrapped in cloth wouldn't break glass the way a naked rock would, no one seemed to get severely punished.  The author and her family lived in the Islington neighborhood of London, which is quite an urban area today.  On a recent holiday in London, my partner and I stayed at a hotel in Islington, so I am quite familiar with the area as it is in the twenty-first century.  To allow these children to run amok around that area now, it would be quite unthinkable.

    Would I recommend this book?  Yes, I would.  It not only gives a heartfelt and touching portrayal of daily life for a Victorian child, but it shows that the stereotype of that life is not necessarily the reality.  It also provides a perspective from which a modern reader can analyze the societal changes that have taken place and impacted our lives in all sorts of ways.  As with all books that have been republished by Persephone Books, it is beautifully written and quite poignant throughout - a touching and memorable book for sure.

    Librorum annis

    Monday, January 9, 2017

    2017 Reading Challenges and Goals

      I do enjoy a challenge, and that sentiment extends deeply into my reading life.  I've set a Goodreads reading goal for the past few years, and have always exceeded it.  It gives me such joy to accept a reading challenge, haphazardly plan its TBR, and work to meet the challenge.  With my involvement in various bookish social media platforms, I've become aware of what feels like hundreds of reading challenges, so I've decided to take on more than just the standard Goodreads goal this year.  Because, why not.  Here are the 2017 bookish challenges I have accepted (so far)...

    1. Goodreads Goal - I plan to read at least 52 books in 2017.  This is a significant decrease from last year, when I set the goal at 75 books, but ended up reading 137.  Why decide to read fewer books, when I blew the previous goal out of the water?  Simple.  Instead of quantity, I'm focusing on reading some of the larger books on my shelves.  I'm going to spend more time with them, savoring them, and allowing myself to read at a slower pace than I might otherwise.  
    2. Poetry 365 - The first of three Litsy reading challenges.  I'm committing to read at least one poem every day of the year.  I'm already a poetry enthusiast, so this seems like a great way to increase my diet in 2017!
    3. Litsy A to Z - I've decided that 2017 will be the year that I read through the entire Penguin Drop Caps collection.  Two of my holiday gifts were the last two books I needed to complete the series, and the fact that each author's surname starts with a different letter of the alphabet made this challenge seem like a no-brainer.  I'll be stretching my reading here, as well, because although some of the books will be rereads, others will be from new-to-me authors and genres.  
    4. Litsy Reading Challenge - The last of the three Litsy reading challenges is a BINGO-style endeavor that I will work to complete either horizontally, diagonally, or vertically with my reading. 
      Here is a my particular BINGO card, of which there were a few different iterations that challengers might receive.

    5. Book Riot's Read Harder Challenge - This is the reading challenge I expect will be the most difficult for me to complete.  There are a number of different categories and genres that will need to be read in order to complete this challenge - many of which are not in my bookish wheelhouse.  I know that expanding said wheelhouse is the whole point of this challenge, but I am still a bit nervous about this one.  

    So that's it - I know that I'm taking on quite a bit of "required reading" in 2017, but there is plenty of room for flexibility.  For example, I will absolutely allow myself to count a single book for multiple challenge components if applicable.  I'm also continuing with my #WinterOfWomen17 challenge, which will extend until March 20, 2017.  You can read more about that here.  I'm really excited for the challenges themselves, and the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing them, but also about the wonderful books that I have yet to read!

    Are you involved in any 2017 reading challenges?  Are you setting a Goodreads goal for the year?  Let me know!

    Librorum annis

    Thursday, January 5, 2017

    My Reading Year -or- Favorite Books of 2016

    2016 has been an amazing reading year for me, for quantity and quality.  To start off, I read the most books of any year since I've been tracking my reading.  According to Goodreads, I've completed a whopping 137 books this year.  The shortest book was 21 pages long (How Not to Give a F*CK at Christmas by Sarah Knight), the longest was 901 pages long (The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber), and the average length of a book was 242 pages.  I read a mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, essay collections, and short story collections.  I also read in a variety of formats - paper books, e-reading, and audiobooks.

    At the beginning of 2016, I set my Goodreads goal to read 75 books.  So, how did I manage to almost double that total?  One word - audiobooks.  My day job involves a lot of work on a computer, so I have plenty of time to listen to things.  While I do subscribe to a few podcasts, and listen to them regularly, I make a point to listen to a few audiobooks every month.  My local library gives me access to audiobooks through a digital streaming service called Hoopla, and also stocks a pretty impressive array of books on CD.  Through the year, I've determined that I really enjoy the audiobook format for certain types of books.  The first are celebrity memoirs, but only when the author narrates her/his work.  In particular, Julie Powell's Julie & Julia and A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston were really great feels like you're having a chat with these really interesting people.  Another great set of audiobooks are the Complete Arkangel Shakespeare collection.  One of the great series I have read this year was the Hogarth Shakespeare Series.  Before I read any of these retellings, I made a point of re-reading the source play.  I own massive, omnibus of Shakespeare's Complete Works, so reading the play isn't the problem.  What is the problem is being able to connect with the material, because it's meant to be performed for an audience, not read like a book.  The Arkangel productions are full cast recordings of the plays, which allows me to follow along in my omnibus and really appreciate and enjoy the story.

    With all the books I've finished this year, it was really difficult to decide on which ones I really loved.   I finally decided to settle on 5 categories, and five favorites in each.  Not all of these were published in 2016, and they are listed in no particular order.  Here we go -


    1. Crow by Ted Hughes - A grotesque and emotional collection of poems about a crow who embodies all sorts of elements of earth, history, humanity, religion, and time.  Written in the aftermath of Sylvia Plath's death, it is an all-engrossing reading experience.
    2. Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest - An intersection of Greek myth, gender, sexuality and the experience of being human
    3. The After-Party by Jana Prikryl - A debut collection that takes the reader from New York to Italy, to Eastern Europe, and to Canada.  The poems are deeply rooted in a sense of place, yet are imbued with motion.
    4. Errata by Michael Allen Zell - A poetry pamphlet from a small, New Orleans press, focusing on the preparation for and experience of the failed 1984 Louisiana World's Fair.
    5. Why God is a Woman by Nin Andrews - In this collection of prose poetry, the concept of traditional gender roles in patriarchal culture is turned completely on its head. 

    Short Stories

    1. Minnie's Room by Mollie Panter-Downes - A collection of stories that explore the changing British society after WW2.  Republished in 2002 by Persephone Books, most of these stories were original published in The New Yorker between 1947-1965.
    2. Good Evening Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes - Giving readers a sense of everyday life in England during WW2, this collection explores those on the Home Front who deal with the fear, loss, and inconveniences of war.  Republished by Persephone Books in 1999, these stories were written between 1939 and 1944 and appeared in The New Yorker.
    3. Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman - This is constructed as a series of hypothesized dreams that Albert Einstein had, regarding the nature of time and our human experience of it.  Each is short, vivid, and altogether the work is a fascinating thought experiment on the different ways to consider time.
    4. Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra - How do you discuss a work of fiction that is disguised as a Chilean college entrance exam from 1993?  This doesn't follow anything remotely resembling a traditional narrative structure, but is playful, sarcastic, and devastatingly human. 
    5. Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins - A group of 16 stories, of wildly varying lengths, that plays with the concept of White Gaze and the experience of black people in America in the 1970s.  The author was also a groundbreaking filmmaker, and this shines through in many of her stories.

    Essay Collections

    1. The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison - Exploring a wide variety of situations and, more importantly, the people who occupy those situations.  The theme of empathy runs throughout the essays, even though the particular topics diverge from one another quite a bit.
    2. Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman - A celebration of the author's love of books, the written word, and all things literary.
    3. Women in Clothes by Sheila Heti - Part social psychology, part gender study, part documentary, part fine art.  It's a real mixture of graphics and text that work to build a convincing idea of what "clothing", "beauty", and "woman-ness" means in our society.
    4. The Givenness of Things by Marilynne Robinson - One of the most thought-provoking collections I've ever read.  The author identifies herself as a person of faith, but takes a positively humanist perspective on the world.
    5. I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley - A very insightful, funny, and honest collection of personal essays.  I thoroughly enjoyed each and every essay, which is atypical for me.  I especially enjoyed reading about her miniature plastic pony collection!


    1. No Surrender by Constance Maud - Published in 1911, at the height of the Women's Suffrage movement in Britain, this work masterfully straddles the line between journalism and historical fiction.  This was republished by Persephone Books in 2011, a century later.
    2. The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson - Like her partner that Nelson writes about here, this book defies categorization.  It's part memoir, part part poetry, part cultural criticism, part inter-sectional feminist manifesto, and part gender study.
    3. March (books 1-3) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell - A graphic memoir trilogy of Congressman John Lewis' life from his beginnings as the son of a poor sharecropper, to his education and his activism during the Civil Rights era, and finally his political career.  It's truly inspiring!
    4. Talking Back Talking Black:Truths About America's Lingua Franca by John McWhorter - A fascinating argument in favor of recognizing African-American Vernacular English (Black English) as a separate dialect of American English.  Most White Americans understand Black English to be a broken and error-filled form of standard American English.  It comes down solidly in the realm of linguistic racism - a topic before which I was unaware.
    5. An Indigenous People's History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz - This book challenges the dominant narrative of the founding and development of the USA, presenting an alternative (and more historically accurate) perspective from the people who resided in the North American continent before the first European settlers arrived.


    1. Here Comes the Sun by Nicole Dennis-Benn - A native Jamaican who now lives in the USA, the author uses this story to explore post-colonial ideas of class, sexuality, family, tourism, beauty - Jamaica itself.
    2. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson - A very atmospheric novel about a family of women living in a small lakeside town in Idaho.  It envelops you in its quiet, poetic, and dreamlike prose, like a hand-crocheted and infinitely soft blanket.
    3. Human Acts by Han Kang - The fulcrum of this book is the Gwanjgu Uprising in South Korea in 1980, and the government's brutal response to it.  It is an interconnected narrative of person, time, and location, but it really is the spirit that lives within the prose that makes the story so powerful.
    4. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead - This is an incredible book, pulling no punches about the harshness of life for a dark-skinned person in mid-19th century America.  There are moments of joy and comfort, but they are infantismal compared to the brutality and overwhelming suffering.  Yet, amongst all the darkness, there is a sliver of hope.
    5. A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride - The prose of this novel is written in fragments, which gives it a kind of poetic musicality and rhythm.  Essentially the story of a young girl and her unhealthy brother, this story includes graphic portrayals of physical, emotional, sexual, and verbal abuse.  Despite this darkness and bleakness, this is the most heartrendingly beautiful book I have ever read.

    Here's to another great reading year in 2017!  Cheers!

    Librorum annis

    Monday, January 2, 2017

    December 2016 Reading Wrapup

    In December, I read a grand total of twelve books - 7 physical books, 4 audiobooks, and 1 e-book.  Two of those books were re-reads, but the rest were new-to-me.  I know that some people like to do seasonal/holiday reading in December (The Gift of the Magi, A Christmas Carol, Harry Potter, etc.) but that didn't really work out for me.  One book (so small that it's really a self-help/essay) that I read was Christmas-adjacent, but not exactly qualified to be a Christmas read.  Not that I'm anti-holiday reading, but I just had other books that I was in the mood to read instead.  The rest were a mixture of fiction and non-fiction books.  Here are the books that I finished in December, along with a brief review.

    The Elements of Eloquence by Mark Forsyth

    This book provides a deep-dive into why certain phrases are so memorable, and why others tend to be forgotten.  Not exactly a textbook, but it could be considered a manual for linguistically-interested readers.  The author's voice is so hilarious that, even if language-related non-fiction doesn't initially appeal to you, you should give the book a try!

    The Horologicon by Mark Forsyth

    Each chapter in this book represents a component of a person's day - waking up, grooming, transportation, working, happy hour, evening activities, etc.  Within each chapter, the author present's a huge array of words and phrases that were once commonplace in the English language, but have since fallen mostly into disuse.  For example, is there someone in your workplace who -in every meeting- sits there and nods her/his head over and over and over?  That person would be called "nod crafty".

    Am I Alone Here by Peter Orner

    There are over 40 short essays in this book, where the author makes connections between personal experiences in his life and works of literature.  The writing style is unpretentious and full of humor, yet well-crafted and thoughtful.  This is the author's brilliance - it creeps up slowly and without flourish, then hits you over the head with feels.    

    The Liszts by Kyo Maclear and Julia Sarda

    In this beautifully-illustrated children's book, readers are introduced to the Liszt family, who love to make lists of all sorts.  One day, a stranger comes in through the front door and introduces chaos into their highly-ordered lives.   He encourages spontaneity, adventure, and the unknown.  Ever so gradually, he helps the Liszts to relax their list-driven lives.

    Talking Back Talking Black by John McWhorter

    Linguist and academic John McWhorter presents a compelling argument - that the spoken language of many black Americans is not an error-filled or broken English - but is a completely separate dialect.  If you're interested in modern language studies and topics of race in America, this is a fascinating read.

    A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston

    I listened to this as an audiobook, which I HIGHLY recommend!  The author narrates the book himself, so it feels like you're having a long chat with a famous friend.  I contend that memoirs are at their best as an audiobook with the author as narrator.  Here, Bryan Cranston lays many parts of his life bare to the audience.  Some are tragic and highly emotional, while some are hilarious, and others are quite mundane.  The author is able to mine it all, and does a tidy job of rolling them all up into a single scene at the end of the book.  For fans of the author's professional work, or those who are just curious about who he is, this is a great read.

    Whatever Happened to Interracial Love by Kathleen Collins

    Containing a range of settings, characters, stories, lengths, and themes, I found this to be a completely satisfying reading experience.  I was wholly engaged throughout each and every story.  Considering that many of there were written decades ago, many of the themes are just as relevant in modern society as they were at the time of their inception. 

    Julie & Julia by Julie Powell

    A post-9/11 office worker, prone to temper tantrums and emotional breakdowns, decides to take on a project to enrich her life.  Throughout the course of a year, she decides to cook her way through the classic cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Berthold, and Simone Beck.  She blogs about her experiences with an honesty and real-ness that endears her to readers and the general public.

    How Not to Give a F*ck at Christmas by Sarah Knight

    A short and sassy book (essay?) about how to have a happier holiday season without going broke, crazy, or exhausted.  

    The Tempest by William Shakespeare

    I find it challenging to read a play and get a full picture of what is going on.  Reading it like I would read a novel isn't particularly helpful.  I have found that if I want to read a play (especially Shakespeare), it's more meaningful if I can listen to an audio recording of the play while reading along with the text.  That's what I've done here, and I really enjoyed the experience.  This is a play about a man, Prospero, who is overthrown as the Duke of Milan and banished.  He and his infant daughter Miranda end up on a mysterious island, and live out 12 years of their lives with the other inhabitants of the island.  During that time, Prospero plots his grand revenge against the man who usurped him, and has an opportunity to take his revenge.  

    Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

    In this expertly crafted story, Margaret Atwood presents a multi-layered retelling of Shakespeare's The Tempest, set in a modern day version of an isolated island - a prison.  This is a very creative interpretation of the source material, with a cast of characters whom you can't help but care about.  It's lighthearted at times, yet full of serious commentary on modern society, politics, prison systems, and cultural capital.  There are moments of humor, sadness, and all emotions in between. 


    2AM at The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino

    This is a sweet story about a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking little girl named Madelyn whose only dream is to sing at the local jazz club called The Cat's Pajamas.  Other characters include the club's owner, one of Madelyn's teachers, a police officer, a market shop owner, and a neighborhood dog.  It's set in the city of Philadelphia, which I know well, and features many characters and locations that felt very familiar to me.  There is humor, love, excitement, sadness, and joy throughout the work.  It's set on Christmas Eve eve, although it has really nothing to do with the holiday at all. 

    I'm looking forward to what reading will take place in January, and continuing my Winter of Women project in the New Year!

    Librorum annis