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