Sunday, January 21, 2018

It's Cold, and I've Read Lots and Lots and Lots (Would You Believe 23?) Books


It's been winter here along the Texas Gulf Coast and I've had many, many superb reading days, huddled up in my reading room, wrapped in my favorite quilt. It shows in all the books I've read and am reading.



What Arrived Lately




 

I apologize but I received so many amazing children's picture books and board books as nominees for the Cybils Award that I just couldn't keep up with posting what I received here. Yesterday I donated a huge stack of these, over 150 books, to the Alvin ISD Book Bus (see this news report from ABC News for more information about our school district's wonderful book bus program), so I know publishers and authors will be happy to know that their books will be catalogued and checked out many times in our district's summer library program.

I have received many great books in the mail in recent days:

Escape from Aleppo
A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919
Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker
Colors of Love
A Different Pond
Why Travel Matters
Live Lagom
Winter
Pep Talks for Writers
Blue Window






What I Read Lately

I've already read 23 books in 2018. Thank you, cold weather.



Escape from Aleppo

Nadia is a typical pre-teen---enjoying spending time with her friends and family, delighted about being selected to appear in a tv commercial, celebrating her twelfth birthday---and then she is not. Suddenly, a man appears on tv and sets himself on fire, and Syria is at war, and Nadia's world becomes a world of bombings and soldiers and fear. Her family decides they must escape to a safer place, and Nadia unexpectedly gets separated from them and must make her own way out of the turbulent city, Aleppo, she has called home all her life.

This is an important story for children, both those who have lived through these horrors and those who have only heard of such events through the media.


Live Lagom

Everybody is looking at the Scandinavian people for guidance as to how to live our lives. After all, they are the happiest people in the world.

So what have you got, Sweden?

Lagom is Sweden’s answer. Lagom is about living a life in moderation, where the “me” is shifted to the far right of center and replaced with “us”.

This book explores lagom in words and pictures, through the workplace, the home, one’s surroundings, food. The pictures are especially meditative; you just want to cut them all out and pin them on your wall for inspiration.

Now, as always, to put these ideas into action.
 


Why Travel Matters

People who love to travel wish to share their love for travel.

And thus this book. Written by the Love-to-Travel folks to share with other Love-to-Travel folks? Successfully. Written by the Love-to-Travel folks with hopes of converting the Don't-Love folks? Possibly.

I, of course, am in the L-t-T group so I nodded my head throughout the book. 

What I liked most about this book: 

1. You won't find a better collection of quotes about travel, I think. 
2. The author offers a brilliant list of rules called How to Travel.
3. The ultimate question answered: Why does travel matter, then? You will find, the author tells us, that both differences and similarities of place and people work on us. 

If you are a L-t-T sort, you will probably appreciate this book, too.


A Different Pond (Review coming this week)



A Few Red Drops: The Chicago Race Riot of 1919

A few boys drift too far outside the racially-designated beach at Lake Michigan one summer and trouble ensues. A boy dies and rumors fly and it is soon black against white and white against black. Many die as the destruction goes on for days, fed by lies subtly shared by standing city gangs and by those who profit most from conflict. 

It's a dark story of people against people as pressures increase in the city after the war for jobs, for housing. It's a cautionary tale for today as well, with lies and innuendo shared on social media and through organizations of hate, of what can happen.



Appointment in Samarra

Julian English has everything a man could want in 1934 America---affluent background, beautiful wife, lovely home, rich friends, successful business---and yet, somehow, almost inexplicably, comes to destroy everything he has in the short space of 72 hours. It's the American dream turned nightmare, and it's horrific to watch, even from the pages of a book. A life overturned---and why? And for what? It's not clear and no one---not his friends, not his wife, not his parents, not even Julian himself---seem to understand what is going on. But it is very clear that this is no isolated incident, that this story is very real, that this story could happen to anyone.


Sarah Bakewell's How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer


Montaigne is the first essayist, a philosopher, an ordinary person. Sarah Bakewell takes a careful look at Montaigne's life and writings in this book and shares her thoughts on the ways Montaigne teaches us to live, with one question and twenty answers, including: 

Question everything. 
Live moderately.
Be convivial.
Be ordinary and imperfect.

Brilliant, I think. In an ordinary way. 

And now I shall attempt to read the essays themselves.


The Woman in the Window

It was everywhere and I just had to request it from the library. Usually there is a long wait for a new book, but, no, it arrived the next day. I couldn’t leave it sitting there and risk having to return it before reading it, could I? No, I had to dive in.

And that’s what I did, dive in. There is no setting this book aside like I usually do with my books, the typical read-and-read-until-I-get-tired. No, I read and read this book until I fell asleep and then I started it again the next evening. 


DON’T READ ON IF YOU DON’T WANT A FEW TINY SPOILERS


It’s a thriller, but it isn’t a horribly violent and profanity and random sex filled thriller. The characterization was particularly good, with real people in the stories, with real problems. One would hope people who are working as therapists might not have quite as many emotional issues as the therapists in this novel, but, hey, therapists are just people, too.

It may be the best thriller I’ve read.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

There’s no doubt this book will be on my Best Books of the Year list. It will also go on my Best Books Ever Read list. But I don’t think I will ever reread it; it was a deeply emotional read.

What is the story? The plot has a huge timeframe, with the book spanning the childhood to old age of a man who served in World War II as an officer in the Australian military, and the story centers on the time the officer spent in a Japanese POW camp while his fellow soldiers were forced to build a railroad through the jungle in horrific conditions. The author is amazingly able to assume the point-of-view of not only the main character, Dorrigo, but also Dorrigo’s fellow soldiers, his on-the-sly girlfriend, his girlfriend’s husband, his wife, and even his tormentors in the Japanese POW camp. The author did this so well that I was able to empathize with an Australian soldier while he is being beaten to death, as well as the Japanese officer allowing the Australian to be beaten, and that is astonishing. 

The experiences of all of the people in the story were appalling because of the impossibility of the situations; no one could take action without having both bad and good results.

Isn’t that real life, pushed to the extreme, of course?


Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics

Dan Harris shares more thoughts about meditation and its benefits in this second book in his 10% Happier series. This time he teams up with Jeff Warren, a master meditator, and Carlye Adler, a writer, and the result is a clever and thoughtful look at meditation, especially for those of us who tend to think meditation might be too much work. 

I took furious notes as I read this book. Some of my favorites:

There are hindrances in meditation (and life):
Boredom/sleepiness
Desire (to do something, anything)
Aversion (fear, dislike anger)
Worry, anxiety, restlessness
Doubt

To deal with the hindrances, look at them as they appear. Name them. Examine them. Lean into what arises, without judgment.

I also loved the idea of Free-Range Meditation, the idea of using little minutes here and there to meditate.

The whole book is like having a personal meditation trainer, encouraging you, sharing troubles, sharing tips, helping you over the hard parts.




Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy

Michael Perry is a paradox; he comes from conservative roots in the American heartland and is now a professional writer with an academic air. He takes on Montaigne, an essayist who is also similarly paradoxical, raised among peasants yet given an exceptional education. Perry talks about everything that comes into his mind, from kidney stones to sex, and ties everything to that old philosopher in fascinating and clever prose. By his own example and by the example of Montaigne, he urges us to carefully examine the world and to set aside the judgment of the right and the left, of the rich and of the poor.


Exit West


I still have the voice of the main character from Mohsin Hamid’s previous book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, in my head, an acculturated Westerner, seemingly, commenting rationally and thoughtfully on the world he has taken on, yet unexpectedly and searingly angry inside. But I nevertheless passed over this book for many months until it was on a kajillion end of the year best books lists, and I decided I had to read it.

What do I think about it? It reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go; I read many pages before realizing that this book is not realistic fiction. Like Never Let Me Go, I felt jarred by the intrusion of the science fiction elements. 

I wasn’t ever deeply invested in the relationship between the man and the woman, though I was taken with the woman’s brave ventures out in a closed-off world. I liked how the author allowed the characters explore their native culture before war, their native culture after war, and an alien culture. 

It won’t be on my best of 2018 books, but it was completely fresh and it felt completely true and those are wonderful things for stories.


Can You Be Happy for 100 Days in a Row?

Yes, it’s another little book of beautifully illustrated ideas of small ways to experiment with being happy, but it is quite novel and it’s filled with small ideas that anyone could easily incorporate into a busy life. Open to a random page and try something. It’s that easy. 

I will take the #100happydays challenge in 2018.



Tribe of Mentors: Short Life Advice from the Best in the World


Who wouldn’t love to do this? Who wouldn’t love to ask the best in the world a few important questions about life? Who wouldn’t love to read a book in which the best answer the questions? 

That’s what this book is, and I did love it. A few teeny-tiny problems for me. I wouldn’t have chosen this list of bests in the world; I’m not terribly interested in the thoughts of wrestlers and big business sorts, for example. Also, I wouldn’t have chosen this list of questions, although I do honestly like most of the questions. The answers are thoughtful and worth a reread, I think, and I was surprised to hear that even wrestlers can come up with some rather profound thoughts when given an opportunity to speak.

If you are curious, here are the questions I like:

“What purchase of $100 or less has most positively impacted your life in the last six months (or in recent memory)?

What is one of the best or most worthwhile investments you’ve ever made?

What is an unusual habit or an absurd thing that you love?

In the last five years, what new belief, behavior, or habit has most improved your life?

When you feel overwhelmed or unfocused, what do you do?

What is the book (or books) you’ve given most as a gift, and why? Or what are one to three books that have greatly influenced your life?”



Pep Talks for Writers


We writers want so much to write, and yet many of us have great difficulty in actually writing. That’s what these pep talks are designed for. Grant Faulkner, the executive director of National Novel Writing Month, is an expert on inspiring writers to write, and to write quickly, and to write well. In this book, Faulkner shares fifty-two insights and actions to jolt a writer’s creativity. Some that I loved (and plan to use next year) are:

*building a creative community
*cavorting...wandering...playing
*using your life in your story
*trusting in the absurd
*using the secrets of improv in your writing
And, probably most importantly, *logging in the hours.

This is a book I want to keep and reread a month into the year when my writing mojo starts flagging. Thank you, Grant Faulkner, for this book.


Leonardo Da Vinci by Walter Isaacson


I didn’t get to hear the author at the Texas Book Festival last November but it is the book I chose to buy and take home from the festival. It was a good pick. Who isn’t intrigued by such a person? I love how the author focused on da Vinci’s creativity as displayed in his journals and works of art, rather than spending a lot of print space speculating about his personal life. I also loved how the author took a very close look at the journals and art and reflected upon these.

What did I take away from the book?

Da Vinci spent a lot of time thinking and studying and investigating what interested him. When his interest changed, he dropped a line of thought. 

His journals were the place he was able to explore ideas unreservedly. 

He wasn’t good at completing long projects. I find this very interesting.

He had free time to explore and create since he had few financial worries and no family.


Winter by Karl One Knausgaard


Knausgaard is a master essayist. He is, for one thing, a regular person. He is a smart person, yes, but not an academic, and he leads a regular life of having to fix things around the house and to take your kids to soccer practice. He is, however, able to look carefully at things and ideas and beliefs, very carefully, almost like taking a zoom lens to them, and flipping them, and looking at them upside down and backwards, and wildly speculating about things, until the reader marvels at the brilliant thoughts that Knausgaard has about perfectly ordinary things. 

People keep telling me, in admiring tones, “Oh, you read a Knausgaard book,” as if it were some dense tome of physics or calculus. I urge you to banish that thought. Knausgaard is completely novel, and completely fascinating, but he is also completely readable and applicable. 

I can’t think of anyone who couldn’t read this book and take pleasure in reading it and feel satisfaction in the ideas taken away from the essays.



We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter


We need to talk, Celeste Headlee tells us, we need to have conversations that matter.

Do we ever?!

I don’t set myself apart from anyone else in our broad American culture; I’m as much at fault as anyone else. 

I think we all know that we need to do better. Headlee has done some research about good conversations and she shares some important ideas here. I’m trying to practice these:

*Keep it short. The average attention span when a person is engaged in a task, like a conversation, has dropped from three minutes in 2004 to 59.5 seconds in 2014. 

*A conversation isn’t a monologue. “Conversation is a game of catch,” Headlee says, “both parties want to play.”

*”Think about solutions instead of focusing only on what you don’t like.”

*”Be willing to let the other person win.”

*Ask open-ended questions.

*Stay out of the weeks; avoid too much detail and too much unnecessary information.

*Don’t respond to stories of loss and struggle with stories of your own experiences. Instead, try to ask questions that encourage the other person to continue.



What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami


Stop it, Amazon. Reading this book doesn’t mean I’m a runner and need more recommendations for how to up my running game. Nor (sigh) am I a writer either, in need of recommendations for how to finish a book (though I kinda-sorta do need a book like this, if one exists). 

I read this book because it was recommended as a good read by a book friend. It is. It’s a book about how Murakami became a writer and how he became a runner and it’s a little bit of a memoir, but it’s about more than that. It tells about how Murakami gets into a meditative state when he runs and when he writes. It tells about how running and writing are alike and difficult and good. It doesn’t proclaim to know the truths about either of these; it’s not a self-help book but I did take away a lot of self-help that wasn’t explicitly stated...good books are like that.



Life is a Verb


Digh worries that we are not living our lives. This book is her attempt to share six ways of living intentionally: (1) With intensity by saying yes (2) with inclusion by being generous (3) with integrity by speaking up (4) with intimacy by loving more (5) with intuition by trusting yourself and (6) with intention by slowing down. Brilliant.



Martha Stewart's Slow Cooker (review posted here)



The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet


Wow. It’s been a long time (years? an actual decade?) since I’ve read a sci fi book I’ve liked as much as this one. It’s a soap opera of a sci fi book, with a Star Trek cast as diverse as we can get in this universe, with a plot centering on a broken-down ship with a mission to dig wormholes through space. I lingered over the stories of a man in love with the AI system on the ship and the character connected to a mystical guidance system that will kill him if he continues to allow it to reside inside him and the captain’s illicit romance with a non-human being and the hard-to-get-along-with algae specialist...all the characters and all the stories, really. It’s a delight of a book. I’m happy to hear book two is already written and on the shelves. 







What I'm Reading Now


















What are you reading today?



What is the Sunday SalonImagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them,and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book. Click here to join the Salon.

The Sunday Post is a meme hosted by Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news and recap the past week.

Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share books that we found in our mailboxes last week. 
 It is now being hosted here.


Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews in which you can share the books you've acquired.


It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between!  This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from! I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now being hosted at The Book Date.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Bookish Resolutions

I love making lists of books I want to read during the upcoming year. I love adding books to my TBR. I love thinking about posts I might write on my book blog. I love to reorganize my book stacks according to what I want to read first. I love to decide on book challenges for the year.

But book resolutions?

I hereby resolve to make no bookish resolutions.

That is...

I will read what I want.

I will read when I want.

I reserve the right to give up on a book at any point, even if I am on the very last page.

I will not feel compelled to read any book a publisher may send to me or a friend may give to me.

I will read at will.







Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together. Each Tuesday That Artsy Reader Girl assigns a topic and then post her top ten list that fits that topic. You’re more than welcome to join her and create your own top ten (or 2, 5, 20, etc.) list as well. Feel free to put a unique spin on the topic to make it work for you! Please link back to That Artsy Reader Girl in your own post so that others know where to find more information.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

The Classics Club: (Approximately) 68 Classic-ish Books I Will Read in the Next Five Years

Many thanks to Kay of Kay's Reading Life who nudged me toward The Classics Club this year.

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love reading. But another, less obvious truth about me is that I love to plan, to make lists, to research my reading almost as much as I love to actually read.

How could I resist joining in this challenge? I'm in my final twenty years of reading on earth, I think, and it's time to devote myself to reading some of the best writing in these last years.

What is the Classics Club? From the blog:


  • choose 50+ classics
  • list them at your blog
  • choose a reading completion goal date up to five years in the future and note that date on your classics list of 50+ titles
  • e-mail the moderators of this blog (theclassicsclubblog@gmail.com) with your list link and information and it will be posted on the Members Page!
  • write about each title on your list as you finish reading it, and link it to your main list
  • when you’ve written about every single title, let us know.
I devoted a complete day to preparing the list. Because I am very much an overlapper (a self-created designation for a person who loves to do activities that check off as many lists at once as possible) I created most of this list from books I had already challenged myself to read, from the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read list and the 1001 Books You Must Read list, as well as from the various award-winning book lists I'm perpetually trying to read. Books marked in bold print are completed and have links to reviews.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Any Human Heart by William Boyd
Appointment in Samarra by John O'Hara
Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne
At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald
Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Candide by Voltaire
Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov
Christ Stopped at Eboli by Carlo Levi
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller
Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes
Emma by Jane Austen
Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Howards End by E. M. Forster
It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Main Street by Sinclair Lewis
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Mythology by Edith Hamilton
North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Now We Are Six by A. A. Milne
Old Filth by Jane Gardam
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
One Thousand and One Arabian Nights
Passage to India by E. M. Forster
Persuasion by Jane Austen
Phantom of the Opera by Gaston Leroux
Selected Essays by Michel de Montaigne
Selected Stories by O. Henry
Siddhartha by Herman Hesse
Snow Country by Yasunari Kawabata
Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Black Corsair by Emilio Salgari
The Castle by Franz Kafka
The Doll's House by Rumer Godden
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan 
The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
The Razor's Edge by Somerset Maugham
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Trial by Franz Kafka
The Water-Babies by Charles L. Kingsley
The Wonderful "O" by James Thurber
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett
Walden by Henry David Thoreau
White Fang by Jack London
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte



Are you a member of the Classics Club? What books do you want to read first? Are there any on this list that I should read soon? 




What are you reading today?



What is the Sunday SalonImagine some university library's vast reading room. It's filled with people--students and faculty and strangers who've wandered in. They're seated at great oaken desks, books piled all around them,and they're all feverishly reading and jotting notes in their leather-bound journals as they go. Later they'll mill around the open dictionaries and compare their thoughts on the afternoon's literary intake....That's what happens at the Sunday Salon, except it's all virtual. Every Sunday the bloggers participating in that week's Salon get together--at their separate desks, in their own particular time zones--and read. And blog about their reading. And comment on one another's blogs. Think of it as an informal, weekly, mini read-a-thon, an excuse to put aside one's earthly responsibilities and fall into a good book. Click here to join the Salon.

The Sunday Post is a meme hosted by Kimba at Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It's a chance to share news and recap the past week.


Mailbox Monday was created by Marcia at The Printed Page. We share books that we found in our mailboxes last week. 
 It is now being hosted here.

Stacking the Shelves is a meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews in which you can share the books you've acquired.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is where we share what we read this past week, what we hope to read this week…. and anything in between!  This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from! I love being a part of this and I hope you do too! It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is now being hosted at The Book Date.




Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Books I Meant To Read In 2017 But Didn't Get To

I do hereby vow to read the following books in 2018 or give them away. I have copies of all of these sitting under my bed.

I will read these in 2018.

The Night Circus


Appointment in Samarra


A Little Life


The Eight


Turtles All the Way Down


Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds


Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys





I will read these. What should I read first? Have you read any of these? 




Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This feature was created because we are particularly fond of lists here at The Broke and the Bookish. We'd love to share our lists with other bookish folks and would LOVE to see your top ten lists