Category: Hindsight / Foresight

August 2018 Wrap-Up

August 2018 Wrap-Up

August was a fair amount of reading but not so much with the writing of blog posts.  I had good intentions.  They were not realized.  Birthday pass?

I finished ten books this month–There There, Drums of Autumn, Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions, Instructions for a Heat Wave, The Round House, Heads of the Colored People, The Dinner List, I am I am I am, and My Real Name is Hanna.  Thanks to that Gabaldon tome, my monthly total was 2,597 pages for a year total of 20,678 pages.  The three audio books–There There, Instructions for a Heatwave, and I am I am I am–clocked in at 23 hours and 2 minutes for a year total of 208 hours and 29 minutes.  Not too shabby for the old birth month.

I also acquired more books than I want to think about because it’s my party and I’ll buy books if I want to.  I’ll spare you the list but you should be impressed that I still have Amazon credit left.

The Dinner List
The Dinner List was a Book of the Month* pick for August and comes out on September 11th.  I hemmed and hawed over my box last month, trying to decide which books I wanted to get.  I actually hemmed and hawed so much that other people in a BOTM Facebook group I’m in received their books and started talking about them.  I try to make my BOTM picks books I think I will want to re-read since I’m making the splurge and getting them in a physical copy.  The Dinner List is lighter than my usual BOTM fare and yet I’m glad I took a chance and picked it as an extra.  I picked it up last weekend in the middle of two crazy weeks at work and it was exactly the distraction I needed.

The premise is fairly simple and reminiscent of an icebreaker game you were probably forced to play at summer camp–name any five people, living or dead, you’d like to have dinner with.  Thus begins Sabrina’s thirtieth birthday with her best friend, Audrey Hepburn, her ex-boyfriend Tobias, and a few others.  Serle does an excellent job weaving the connections to Audrey Hepburn into the book so that the choice of Ms. Hepburn at the table feels less random than it could, or the throwaway choice every girl who had A Breakfast at Tiffany’s poster on her dorm room wall would make (guilty as charged).  And, as Anne Bogel noted, Audrey makes it work–she brings levity and a bit of magical whimsy to otherwise heavy moments, yet her own actual tragic history brings perspective to others.

I went into The Dinner List wanted an easy escape read and discovered a surprisingly poignant gem.  The writing gave me the easy escape I wanted, the premise made the plot move fast enough to stay compelling, and the characters made me care deeply for each of them.  The Dinner List probes the reasons people leave, why certain people seem drawn to our lives, and what it means to let go.

Published: September 11, 2018 by Flatiron Books (@flatiron_books)
Author: Rebecca Serle
Date read: August 25, 2018
Rating: 4 stars

Cupcake header photo credit: Audrey Fretz

*This is a referral link.  I’ll get a free book if you decide to try it out.  There are always deals going on for a free tote and/or free book.  I’d love to chat if you want to know more, but no pressure. <3

July 2018 Wrap Up

July 2018 Wrap Up

Hello dear readers <3

As I mentioned in my previous post, July was a bit of a crazy month for me.  My boss hadn’t taken a real vacation where she didn’t check email or wasn’t available by phone for something like twenty years.  And then in July she went to Europe for three weeks.  It was a well-deserved vacation for her but it meant I got to experience whatever the exact opposite of a vacation is, all while also finishing up an intense yoga training program.  Needless to say, I’m glad July is over.  Hello August, Hello Birth-month.

Before the celebrations begin, I suppose I should give July a proper wrap up.  I finished seven books in July — Dear Mrs. Bird, Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, The House of Broken Angels, Census, Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, Still Lives, and Breakout for a total of 2240 pages.  The only audiobook I finished was Barracoon, which clocks in at at an easy-peasy 3 hours and 50 minutes.  (I finished another audiobook at the very beginning of August that was mostly listened to in July, but since it missed the July 31 cut off, I guess you’ll just have to wait in suspense for what it was.)  My year totals so far are 18,081 pages and 191 hours and 21 minutes.  While the stress kept my from writing much, not surprisingly, books remained my refuge and I still managed to get in some good reading, though it skewed lighter than my usual go-to reads.  I wouldn’t say I’m a true “mood reader” like Madeleine or Katharine, but I definitely go for books that are easier to read and more escapist when work and life stress are particularly intense.

Census was one of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Summer Reading Guide Picks.  While Anne frequently picks books that are literary (as opposed to just pop-fiction) and full of discussion-fodder, this one is the first one that I can remember thinking might have just been entirely over my head.  On its face, Census was the story of a dying widower who takes his son with down syndrome on one last trip through the country.  They travel from town to town–in order named A through Z–taking the “census” which involves asking a series of never-revealed questions and then leaving a tattoo on the ribs of the person from whom the census was taken.  There’s a vaguely sinister feel to the census-taking and I was left with the sense that it stood for something larger….though I’m not sure for the life of me what it was.  The book raises questions around the themes of kindness and how we treat people with disabilities, though Ball never provides the answers as to how we should treat people.  He simply shows how we do.  I was left with the impression that Census was beautiful and haunting but that there had to be something more to it that I was missing.  I still don’t know what it was.

(I found this review in the New York Times to be helpful in discussion Census as well.)

Barracoon, originally written by Zora Neale Hurston but with added introductory information, is one of those books that I think is a must-read (or listen).  While still a fairly young writer, Hurston met Cudjo Lewis, the last living slave brought from Africa and transcribed his recollections of life in what is now Benin, the Middle Passage, and slavery in America before the outbreak of war.  As I noted above, this is short–it’s under four hours when performed, including all of the introductory material.  It was a tad hard to follow simply because this is the kind of book that has words that aren’t common to English and because Hurston transcribed Mr. Lewis’s accent and vernacular phonetically, though it didn’t take long for me to settle in to the language, so don’t let that turn you off.  Given the dearth of available primary sources from Africans and African Americans during this time period (relative to the histories written by white men), this is a book that should be on every reading list and in everyone’s hands.

Still Lives
Quite literally the day after I posted a mini-review of Still Lives on Instagram, Reese Witherspoon picked it for her August book club pick.  I guess Reese and I have slightly different taste. I’ve said it before but thrillers, unless they raise questions like those in The Blinds, aren’t really my thing.  I pick them up when I’m in a rut because they’re easy and fast but I never love them or feel it necessary to own my own copy once I’m done.  I was having trouble picking a book and needed something that didn’t make me think, since work was requiring all my extraneous brain cells–so Still Lives happened.

Artist Kim Lord goes missing on the night of the opening of her show, “Still Lives,” an exploration of the glorification and commodification of female murder victims–their bodies are taken by their killers and yet the violations continue as we repeatedly gaze at and speculate about their murders.  Lord dresses up as each of the victims in their infamous death scenes or poses, photographs it, then paints from the photographs.  The result is pictures that look like the victims until you look closely and can see that each victim could be someone else (in this instance, Lord).  Maggie, ex-girlfriend to Lord’s boyfriend and employee of the museum hosting the exhibition, finds herself pulled into the investigation.  At the end of the day, the whodonit was fine and Maggie was relatable protagonist, but the most interesting part of the book to me was simply the message being sent by the fake Kim Lord with her fictional paintings.  If you like mysteries and the premise sounds interesting to you, this might be worth your time.  It just wasn’t my thing.

I’m still deciding on some August reads–are you reading anything good?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.  <3

Header Photo Credit Stephanie McCabe

Spring 2018 Wrap-Up

Spring 2018 Wrap-Up

I didn’t do a wrap up for May since there weren’t many books I didn’t want to write about as their own posts or theme posts (look for a post on writing about mental illness coming soon-ish).   In May, I finished seven books and two audiobooks for a total of 2,143 pages; 23 hours and 28 minutes of books. June was also seven books, one very long audiobook (Children of Blood and Bone) for 2, 354 pages; 17 hours and 54 minutes. For the year, that brings us to 15, 841 pages for the year; 187 hours, 31 minutes. You know, in case you were wondering.

And without further ado, here are some mini-reviews of some of the books I enjoyed in June that, oddly enough, are all partially or totally set in California.  Accidental theme?

The Ensemble
“What’s inner harmony?” Brit asked. Daniel laughed, but she continued, “No, really. How can you harmonize with yourself?”

Daniel stopped laughing abruptly. He folded his hands on the table. “Well, I don’t know about you, but I contain many pitches. It’s about moving from polyphony to harmony. People are so much music. People don’t recognize that enough.”

The Ensemble is one of those books that getting a lot of hype—more than one book subscription chose it this summer, Girls Night In chose it for their July read, and Modern Mrs. Darcy chose it as one of her Summer Reading Guide books. This is a book that, for once, mostly holds up to that hype. The Ensemble follows leader Jana, prodigy Henry, scrappy Daniel, and quiet Brit—the Van Ness Quartet—over the span of almost twenty years making music together.

If you’ve read much around here, you’ll know that I talk quite a bit about balance—books that hit the right note (pun intended!) of lightness of story with depth of substance. The drama—driven by external events and internal conflict—kept the book moving at a comfortable clip so I never felt bored while reading. At the same time, The Ensemble was highly character driven—Gabel drew you into the world of these four characters—they made you care, they made you a little mad, a little crazy with their choices. All four of them were also relatable—despite the fact that I’ve never been in the professional music world, I could see something in each of them that I identified with (except maybe Henry. No one has ever accused me of being a prodigy at anything). The quartet’s world was also accessible—you hear about “world building” in the context of fantasy books but Gabel had to do a fair bit of that here. The majority of her readers are probably not within the world of high-stakes career musicianship and it would have been easy to make the book insider-ish. I never felt like I didn’t understand what was happening, nor did I feel like Gabel was speaking down to me. There were no awkward asides, no characters explaining things in a way that felt unnatural. Gabel masterfully opened this world as she revealed her characters. The Ensemble is a definitely a worthwhile summer read.

Far From The Tree
Far From The Tree is the story of three siblings, separated at birth—Grace and Maya were both relinquished at their births while Joaquin was removed from their mother’s care around age 1. None of them knew about each other before now. While Grace and Maya seem to have had it “easy” by being adopted, you quickly realize that families are complicated, whether formed by choice or blood. Joaquin, having been in foster care for almost seventeen years, seems to finally have it good and yet, people can always disappoint you. As the three come together and begin to search for their birth mom, the search will turn up more than any of them ever expected.

The more YA I read as an adult, the more I wish YA had been like this twenty years ago (yes, I am that old), or that I had known where the books like this were when I was the target audience of the YA author. Far From The Tree tackles tricky subjects—teen pregnancy, adoption, foster care—with grace and depth while using situations and language that are appropriate for a high school audience.   Even the children’s birth mother is shown grace as the children discover who she is and how she came to make the choices she made. As a final note, Benway also made an effort to include diverse characters—Maya is a lesbian while Joaquin is mixed-race. I loved these characters, I appreciated the depth Benway brought to the adoption conversation, and I never felt like I was being preached at or that Benway was taking the easy way out on difficult topics.   Studies show that reading books makes readers more empathetic—with books like Far From The Tree I can see how that is the case.   This is a book I highly recommend for both adults and young adults alike.

Goodbye, Vitamin
Goodbye, Vitamin is thirty-year old Ruth’s chronicle of an unexpected year at home following the end of her engagement and her father’s diagnosis with early-onset Alzheimer’s. As a child, Ruth’s father kept a small diary of funny things she said and did, little milestones. Ruth’s documenting of this year at home is the reverse—while she does write much about her own life (particularly at the beginning during the set up), as she settles into life in her parents’ house again, she chronicles her father’s life. His moments of brilliance even as the disease progresses. As the year goes by and Ruth finds her place again with a family she had lost connection to, Ruth writes less until the last chapters have only a few entries per month. Goodbye, Vitamin is poignant and short—I actually felt it was a little too short. I think Khong’s point was that Ruth was reforming her connections to her family and to what life could be as she wrote—as Ruth actually engaged with them, she spent less time writing. What it felt like was that Khong ran out of steam and the book petered out. This really was my only criticism. Ruth won’t be everyone’s favorite protagonist—in many ways she has the sense of life happening to her rather than having agency in her choices as the book opens (I mean this more about her job and place in life, and not in her fiancé’s being a total ass). I wasn’t wild about her as the book began, but I stuck with it and she leveled out for me and I grew to care about her a few “months” (chapters) into the book and, by the end, wanted more of her.

Well that’s it, friends.  Did you read anything good in May or June? I’d love to hear your spring recommendations, dear readers.

Header picture credit: Annie Spratt

Mini-Reviews and a belated April Wrap Up

Mini-Reviews and a belated April Wrap Up

April Book Drought and Reading
I didn’t think I’d finished terribly many books in April, but looking back finished more than I thought–just almost none of what I planned.  The books I assembled at the beginning of the month wound up being overwhelmingly heavy in theme and tone, so this both slowed me down and caused me to insert some fluffy, unplanned reads to give me a break while keeping my momentum going–that’s a thing other people do, right?

The books I finished this month where Monster, Home Fire, The Last Equation of Isaac Severy, Evicted, Pachinko, Queen of Hearts, Salvage the Bones, Crenshaw, My Life On the Road, Meaty, and The Female Persuasion.  The last three of those are on audio.  So for April that’s 2742 pages read and 31 hours, 55 minutes listening.  For the year, 11,344 pages and 146 hours, 18 minutes listening.  Time well spent, I think.

This month was, however, an utter failure for #theunreadshelfproject.  While four of those books were ones I already own (and I bought but immediately read Home Fire so we’re counting it), Amazon gave away something like eight books for free for International Book  Day and I purchased Miss Burma during Independent Book Store Day.  So we’re deeper into the red on the unread books.  But still–five!  I read five books I own.  I may never catch up but it is fun trying.  One should always have goals.

I came across Monster in a list at the library about books for Black History month, in a If-You-Liked-The-Hate-U-Give-You’ll-Like-This list.  I would agree that it makes a good flight pick along with Dear Martin and The Hate U Give.  The three books consider similar themes and provide alternative sides to a similar experience.  Unlike the other two, however, Monster is the story of a teenager who wasn’t killed by police, but rather has been accused of felony murder for allegedly participating in a robbery gone wrong that left a man dead.  The book is written in first person narrated by Steve Harmon, the child accused of the crime–however, in order to cope with what is happening, Steve presents it as if he is writing a film for one of his classes.  The entire book reads like a screenplay.  This unusual device works, providing the remove Steve need to tell his story while still giving the reader a sense of what is happening around him.  Frankly, it also makes the book incredibly quick to read relative to the page length–I think I finished it in under two hours.  The book won the first Michael L. Printz Award (best book in teen literature), ALA Best Book honors, Coretta Scott King honors, and was a finalist for the National Book Award when it was published.  It was a powerful book, even more so for the unexpected gut-punch in the last few pages.  Just when I thought I could breathe, Walter Dean Myers delivered one last visceral blow that was true to the book and true to how black boys are treated in this country.  It’s not an easy read but one I recommend.

The Last Equation of Isaac Severy
I’ll admit that I was hoping for an adult Westing Game –this wasn’t that.  (Though it’s probably being unfair to hope for another Westing Game.)  This was a fun little diversion–a thriller set in the midst of a highly dysfunctional family after the patriarch dies.  (I guess novels set in well-functioning families don’t typically produce enough plot to merit books?).  Jacobs had a knack for presenting most of the characters in fairly well-rounded ways–even the minor characters weren’t flat or simply plot devices.  As a result I managed to sympathize with almost all of the characters–even the bad actors and hate everyone at some point–kind of how I feel about real people.  No one is perfect, everyone has their own internal motivations, and someone is always going to make a choice that I disagree with.   Though the sub-title of the book is “A Novel In Clues” and the book is about a mathematician, absolutely no math background is necessary to enjoy this book.  It wasn’t the best thriller but it was a diversion when I needed one and may be worth checking out if mysteries are your wheelhouse.  Though there’s a fair amount of death, there’s no gore.

Queen of Hearts
Queen of Hearts is being billed as Grey’s Anatomy in book form.  This is….accurate-ish.  There’s less going on in Queen of Hearts since Martin is working with less space than a Grey’s Anatomy season and the drama is (mostly) in the past, just come to revisit Zadie and Emma.  They’ve had a good run with relatively little drama since their intern years in medical school a decade ago, but that doesn’t make a good book.  Enter stage left, Zadie’s McDreamy from her first intern year, bearing secrets for what really happened ten years ago.  The book was deliciously fluffy and dramatic, had some mystery elements (what really happened that year?), but stayed pretty well in the popular fiction lane.  I was bothered twice by body-shaming comments made about people who were overweight.  This wasn’t surprising giving that Martin is herself a doctor and health professionals often seem particularly prone to assuming size is indicative of health, but was disappointing and distracting.  It also ended a bit too neatly (which is not the same as happily) for me–I think Martin could have left a few loose ends hanging and it would have felt more true to life.  Ultimately, if you’re looking for a fluffy, plot-driven beach read, Queen of Hearts is a good one.

That’s it for my late update.  You reading anything fun for May?  I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Header Photo Credit: Liv Bruce

March 2018 Wrap-Up

March 2018 Wrap-Up

March wound up being a bit of a scattershot for me—rather than sticking to my reading plan, I threw the rules out the window—I know. Who am I?—and read what I felt like reading. I did read Force of Nature, I Was Anastasia, The Hazel Wood, Stay With Me, Lab Girl, and Freshwater as planned. I started but abandoned Oliver Loving­—not a bad book, just not the right book last month for me. I still didn’t get to Priestdaddy and, though I flipped through it, I couldn’t bring myself to care about reading the middle grade Diverse Books Club offering this month, Finding Wonders. I started but have not finished On the Road, Gloria Steinem’s memoir. I wound up adding a few unplanned books to the reading/listening—The Romanov Sisters, Educated, When They Call You a Terrorist, The Good House, The Line Becomes A River, and This Will Be My Undoing.

Force of Nature
Force of Nature is the second offering from Australian Jane Harper and continues to follow Detective Aaron Falk (or whatever Australians call detectives—I don’t have the book anymore as I had to return it to the library.) This one seemed to follow Aaron less (a little less need to introduce him to the reader in the second book) and stuck fairly close to the story of a team-building camping trip gone very, very wrong. I use mystery/thrillers like palate cleansers—when I’ve read a lot of heavy books and don’t want to think too hard and just want entertainment, they’re perfect. With this in mind, Force of Nature was a fun diversion with a few twists that kept it from being predictable. The Australian setting, particularly this time, felt like an exotic adventure from my couch. I think each of Harper’s books stands alone and don’t necessarily need to be read in order, though knowing who Falk is from the first book made the second easier to read—without it, I’m not sure you’d care as much about him.


The Romanov Sisters
I Was Anastasia left me wanting to know more about the Romanovs so I wound up picking up The Romanov Sisters from the library after I finished that one. I think almost to the day that I finished reading Lawhon’s book, Anne Bogel posted a match up recommending it as a companion read. I took it as fate and picked it up. It was a bit dense for a pleasure read—Rappaport heavily footnotes her sources (as she should!) and uses extensive quotes. It was surprisingly readable for what it was, which felt much more like an academic text than a narrative nonfiction meant for a mass audience. I’m not sorry I read it since this is a gaping hole in my historical knowledge, but it was kind of niche—I’m not sure how knowing about three year old Alexey Romanov is going to help me in the future.

I noted in my review of I Was Anastasia that there was less treatment of Nicholas II’s moral failings than I would have liked at the point I was in the book. Rappaport did wind up addressing these briefly, though not as much as I think it probably merited, particularly since she made a point to mention at the end that his image had been rehabilitated somewhat in that the entire Romanov family had been designated as victims of repression. This can be true—no one deserves to be summarily executed in a basement; however, it would be easy to read that book and see the entire Romanov family as a victim when Nicholas had some culpability in the catastrophic failure of his government and the resulting revolution.

The Good House
The Good House had one of the best audiobook narrators and one of the plots I cared about the least. I literally kept listening for the voice, though I couldn’t bring myself to care that much about the actual story or main character, Hildy Good. If you enjoy unreliable narrators and characters you alternately cheer for and hate, The Good House is a solid character study and a book you may enjoy it..I just couldn’t get into it.


The Numbers
I know, this section is why you’re still here. I thank you for being as invested in this information as I am. Overall I finished eight physical books and five audiobooks in March for a total of 2569 pages read and 30 hours and 15 minutes listening. That puts us at 8602 pages for the year, and 114 hours, 23 minutes listening, kids. Thanks for playing along.

Only one of the books this month did I already own, though I now own the ARC of Educated so we’re going to count that as two books for #theunreadshelfproject. I also took a few books to the Half Price Books because the only thing harder than reading all the unread books is giving some of them away, thereby bringing that number down.

April Showers
I’ve already actually finished two books this month—the emotionally moving but quick Monster and Home Fire which just jumped into my top ten books of all time list. Katherine (@kathareads) is doing a buddy-read of Pachinko with #readwithkat so I’ll be finally getting to that one this month. The Diverse Books Club focus this month is on Poverty with Salvage the Bones (another that’s been on my TBR! And will count for #theunreadshelfproject) and Crenshaw as the picks. I’d like to add Evicted into the list since that’s been on my TBR and I think will fold nicely into that theme. I’ve got an ARC of Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics as well as The Last Equation of Isaac Severy and the The Queen of Hearts from the library. That list will probably keep me busy for most of the month!

Are you reading anything fun this month? I’d love to hear what you’re enjoying these days. <3

Featured image credit: Sushobhan Badhai

February 2018 Wrap-Up

February 2018 Wrap-Up

The Books
I finished several excellent books this month—while I didn’t read exclusively from Black authors, I did try to include more of them this month than usual (I always try to make sure at least one of my books is from a POC each month) which pushed some books on my TBR closer to the top, though some of these bled into March since I didn’t finish them before the 28th. I did wind up reviewing most of the books I finished in February (or reviews are pending) so I have fewer books this month to briefly mention than I did last month.  I finished We Were Eight Years In Power, This Must Be the Place, Interpreter of Maladies, Left Neglected, Caleb and Kit, An American Marriage, This Impossible Light, The Burning Girl, Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, He Said/She Said, We are Okay, and Hunger.

Hunger is Roxane Gay’s most recent work—a series of essays of varying lengths about food, her body, and hunger—for what she can and can’t have. Unlike Bad Feminist, Gay reads Hunger herself—an addition that made the audiobook more powerful than the text alone and why I went ahead and used the Audible credit. This is a book I think I will need to revisit a few times to really experience Gay’s writing and argument, largely because of the power and nuance here. I don’t want to assume I got everything out of this book the first time.

I loved Gay’s Bad Feminist so I knew I enjoyed her voice and writing. From Bad Feminist, I knew she had been raped and that had likely contributed to her current weight—a weight she clearly labels in Hunger as morbid obesity per the medical profession. Hunger made me feel conflicted—as a feminist with friends of all shapes and body types and with histories of disordered eating, I try my hardest not to judge people by their sizes. As someone who works with people who are involuntarily institutionalized, very little drives me as crazy as fighting with ten people trying to put my client on a diet she doesn’t want “for her health” while all of them are also as big as she is. I recognize marketing to women’s insecurities over their sizes while at the same time buying it—like knowing candy is bad and buying it anyway, I feel the pull of weight-shame marketing. Like Gay, I too was sucked into the myth of The Biggest Loser and wanted it all to be real. If I’m honest, I make snap judgments about people I don’t know while at the same time trying to espouse body-positivity and loving my friends who don’t meet America’s definition of “skinny.” (Full disclosure, I have a body type that many would consider “skinny” or “thin,” though I don’t consider myself skinny….thanks weight-shame marketing).

Gay’s set up left me feeling the pull of conflicting conclusions—something it seems Gay is perhaps herself left with. Part of Gay’s weight stems, as I noted above, from her rape. She wasn’t overweight and then she was literally gang-raped as a tween (I wouldn’t call it graphic but all the trigger warnings for this section). And then she became big—so big that maybe this flesh would become a fortress that would give her back the sense of safety she lost as a child. On the one hand she clearly recognizes that her weight was and remains to an extent, a holdover from her trauma. That when she starts to lose weight as she has several times, there reaches a point where she can’t be smaller, where the loss no longer feels safe and so she self-sabotages and gains the weight back. She acknowledges this and yet she also argues that her weight should not be viewed as a problem.

It is hard to reconcile Gay’s arguments that people should accept and accommodate her body because it is what it is and others have no right to judge it with her acknowledging that her size stems from a problem, from her trauma—a trauma that doesn’t seem like it’s fully healed (if it can be). And yet—perhaps this is the point. The sense of conflict comes from the tug of wanting to judge Gay for not addressing the source of her weight—if she did she could finally be thinner!—while at the same time knowing how hard that is in my own life. This pull to judge and not to judge ultimately leaves me with only one conclusion—Gay’s weight isn’t my problem. The person next to me on the airplane’s weight isn’t my problem. Whether they can help their size or not, whether choices have been made that led them here or not—they are not my problem. Indeed, it isn’t even my problem whether they think their weight is or isn’t a problem. Gay knows she has trauma. How she chooses to address it is up to her—and since her trauma isn’t affecting me, it isn’t on me to judge how she chooses to wear her flesh or, even, how her body makes choices for her.

For a purely practical takeaway, I had honestly never before paid attention to how the world is set up against larger people. Even with a boyfriend that tops six feet and two hundred pounds, I have had the thin-privilege of never paying attention to it. It never occurred me to that chairs with arms would be painful and turn dining from a pleasant meal with friends into a torturous evening that results in bruises. While my work has trained me to see more accessibility issues than I did before, I don’t really see weight as a disability and so I wouldn’t see a one-foot step onto a stage to be an issue for someone without a disability-related mobility impairment. I have been blind to the ways the world is set up against people who are large, to ensure the comfort of the thin and punish (yes—punish) those who aren’t. If I remember nothing else from this book several months from now, I hope that I can remember the sense of shame I felt for being blind to this. That I can keep my eyes open to ensure that those around me who are larger are still able to be comfortable in the places we chose to eat or spend time.

Hunger is a bit of a difficult read—not for the writing which is Gay’s usual excellent work—but for the topics. And yet, it is one that I do think is a must-listen, especially for those of us who navigate the world without thinking about our thin-privilege.

The Burning Girl
The other book I read but didn’t plan to fully review this month was Claire Messud’s The Burning Girl. The Burning Girl is the story of childhood best-friends Julia and Cassie in the years between late middle school and early high school or, rather, it’s the story of how Julia and Cassie fall apart. Of how growing up can often be the fracturing of the “forever” you thought as an essential and automatic part of the BFF moniker.

It’s hard to find something in particular to say about The Burning Girl. This is a book I should have liked more than I did, that I even want to like more as I sit here to write about it. It feels like it has the hallmarks of a book I usually would like—a “good girl” narrator whose friends all seem to be maturing faster than she is (story of my high-school life) and a slow-burn of a plot. But…something about this one fell flat for me. There was one section that grabbed me—about how the experience of growing up as a girl feels like learning to be afraid—that the older you get the more you realize how dangerous the world is for women, that the dangers aren’t all strangers. This section of several pages I read over and even copied to keep—but besides this section, this mini-essay essentially, in the center of the book…there isn’t anything for me to point to for why anyone else should or shouldn’t read this book. This book probably epitomizes what I would rate a 3—this is a good book. Not great, not bad. Some will like it, some will love it or hate it based on the plot or characters but the writing and editing are strong enough that I’m not trying to figure out who on earth thought publishing this one was a good idea (see e.g., Lilac Girls). If you like coming of age novels set in small towns, this one may be worth picking up to see how you like it.

The Numbers
If you’ve hung with me this far, I’ll try to keep this part brief. I find it interesting but am not self-centered enough to think you will. I finished twelve books in February—eight physical books and four audiobooks for a total of 2519 pages and 34 hours, 11 minutes of audiobooks. For the year, we’re at 6033 words, 84 hours and 8 minutes.

Only three of the books I read this month were ones I owned, though I found We Were Eight Years In Power so powerful that I did buy my own copy after finishing the library book. It totally counts for The Unread Shelf if I buy the book after I read it, right?

Marching On (Sorry…I have a thing for puns and cheesy wordplay)
I’ve picked another ten books for March, though a bunch of books I was excited about came in at the library so I’m just barely paying lip service to #theunreadshelfproject this month. I have already finished Stay With Me (MMD March pick) and Force of Nature, the second Aaron Falk mystery from Jane Harper and its only the fifth, so the month is starting off strong. I also hope to finish Freshwater, Lab Girl (DBC), My Life On the Road (audio), I Was Anastasia, Priestdaddy, Oliver Loving, and The Hazel Wood.  Of those, I own only My Life On the Road, I Was Anastasia, and Priestdaddy.  I’ve also got Finding Wonders as the Middle Grade pick for DBC, though with Middle Grade being hit-or-miss for me, I’ve picked up Home Fire, the April MMD book, to start early if I finish all those or wind up DNF-ing Finding Wonders. The other MMD pick this month is Americanah which I listened to last year on audio and thought was lovely, but wasn’t going to re-read so soon.

What are you reading this month? Anything I should check out? <3

Photo credit:

January 2018 Wrap Up

January 2018 Wrap Up

Walid Berrazeg

The Numbers
January was a surprisingly good month for me in reading.  I finished eleven books in text for a total of 3,514 words and six audiobooks for a total of 2,997 (49 hours, 57 minutes) minutes listening.  Including audiobooks in the total for seventeen books, I’m not sure I’ve ever read this much in a single calendar month.  I did abandon two books–the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club flight pick Daily Rituals (which I’ll explain in a coming blog post shortly) and the audio of Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.  Tyson’s book is lovely and his voice is, well, Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s voice.  I’m just not an auditory learner.  I’m not picking up anything from it because it’s a book I need to read and not just hear.  I’ll likely retry if I stumble upon a good copy of this in a used bookstore.

Part of the high number this month can certainly be credited to (blamed on?)  24in48— a group of readers that attempts to read for 24 out of 48 hours in a single weekend twice a year.  It was my first time participating and it was fun to see what I could accomplish.  I enjoy using my free time for reading but by the end of the 48 hours, I was ready to use my freetime–even just a few minutes–for something other than reading or sitting with an audiobook playing.   (I’ve never valued silence more.)  Unless something comes up, I’ll probably do it again in July, though I agree that twice a year is probably enough!  I did have trouble keeping up with the post/contests that were every three hours and will probably need to just set an alarm and calendar breaks around these.

Best Laid Plains
I read most of the books I planned to read when I started the month including Seven Fallen Feathers, Deep Work, Secret Daughter, Forever or a Long Long Time, The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky, Station Eleven and Arcadia.  I wound up subbing Dear Fahrenheit 451 and As Bright As Heaven in for The Heart’s Invisible Furies and Priestdaddy.  Added to this was a book I already own that was given to me by a dear friend called The Shock of the Fall and a wonderful library book I plan to review in the coming weeks called The Librarian of Auschwitz. Only two of the books I read this month–Seven Fallen Feathers and Secret Daughter were written by people of color.  In total, I did read SIX books I already owned which is perhaps the total of books I already owned that I read last year.  That six books is 1.25% of my current number of unread, owned books.  Slow and steady wins the race?

Flu Season
Thematically, I made a few missteps this month.  I read As Bright As Heaven (enjoyed) and Station Eleven (LOVED), though reading books set during the 1918 flu pandemic and a future killer flu weren’t the best choices I could have made in January as the flu was hitting Austin.  Indeed, while I was snuggling up with Station Eleven, Ryan was on the couch in a flu-induced coma.  Everything got Lysoled and I wore a mask around the house all week.

Station Eleven
It feels silly to spend a full (or even a mini-) review on a book as well-known and loved as Station Eleven.  I don’t know why I hadn’t read it before–maybe just that my library lists were always out of control and I owned this one so it never felt urgent. I’m glad I finally got to it this month–it’s a book I’m definitely keeping.  Set in the near future after a killer flu wipes out 99% of the world’s population (taking down with it all manufacturing, electricity, etc.), Station Eleven follows a traveling Shakespearean theater company and orchestra as they travel the shores of Lake Michigan going from town to town performing.  Their travels are going as planned, until the arrival of a violent prophet threatens their safety and way of life.  Station Eleven is beautifully written with just the right amount of creepy detail–like the plane that was prohibited from disembarking in the airport so that twenty years later, it still stands sealed full of flu victims on the far edge of the airport tarmac.  Overall, the book has some dark details but is not depressing, a feat for Mandel since Station Eleven could easily have gone off the deep end of dark.  Her characters are flawed people but resilient–if we’re being cliche, Station Eleven is, at its heart, not only a story of the collapse of civilization and the dangerous directions that can take, but also of the indomitable nature of the human spirit.  Mandel seemed to have thought of everything that life after the collapse of technology would mean but doesn’t lecture.  She’s a master of showing rather than telling.  The book is relatively short–just over 300 pages–and yet the amount of story and character development she manages to fit into those pages is impressive.  If you missed this one a few years ago like I did, I highly recommend you remedy your oversight and pick this one up.

The Shock of the Fall
A book that got far less attention but was also masterfully done is The Shock of the Fall.  The Shock of the Fall is written as manuscript with a handful of drawings and letters included by a nineteen year old man with schizophrenia.  The manuscript is his reflection back to explain the death of his brother with Downs Syndrome when they were both children.  As Matthew tells his story, you see not only how he came to grips with his brother’s death but also how schizophrenia slowly started to take hold of his life.  This book could easily have gone off the rails, but the tone was overall respectful. I cared deeply for Matthew and Filer handled Matthew’s refusal of his medication in a way that the reader could understand why he was making this choice that is usually portrayed as incomprehensible.  ::sidebar:: There are many and valid reasons people with mental illness don’t want to take their medications, just like there are many reasons people with health conditions don’t take their doctors’ advice or take medications as prescribed. ::end sidebar::  If nothing else, The Shock of the Fall shows how grief is a universal emotion, though the experience and the struggle of it is not universally the same.

I have to admit to being a little disappointed when, a few months ago, the Diverse Books Club had a month focused on disability and didn’t have any books on mental illness (holding out hope it may get its own month in the future).  The Shock of the Fall is a book I would wholeheartedly recommend as a strong narrative with a distinct voice and viewpoint.  We need more books like this–that expose us to what people with mental illness are like, to remove the stigma that people with schizophrenia are dangerous or “other.”  I’d recommend this one along with Elyn Saks’s memoir The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness.  This is another book that I plan to keep on my shelves.

Seven Fallen Feathers
I follow several Bookstagramers on Instagram and have come to discover that many of them are Canadian.  (So when President Calliou inevitably causes the collapse of American society, I’ve got a head start on knowing people up north).  Several of them read and mentioned this book one-after-another so I picked it up this month.  It’s a narrative nonfiction story about the essentially uninvestigated, suspicious deaths of First Nation children who were sent away for school in Canada.  As part of the narrative, Talaga provides background on the racist residential school system designed to destroy indigenous families and cultures (it was literally a model for apartheid South Africa) as well as revealing the rampant racism still prevalent against indigenous peoples in Canada today (Et tu, Canada?).

Seven Fallen Feathers was well-paced and Talaga did well in switching back and forth between narratives of different families while keeping everyone straight and distinguishable.  I did have a bit of trouble with knowing absolutely nothing about Canada or its geography–even with a map, I probably didn’t fully appreciate the scope of how far some of these kids had to be sent away for school.  I would love to read a book like this about America–it’s well and good that I know the specific details of Canada’s racist past but I really should know more about my own county’s.  If you have suggestions on where to start on this, I’m all ears.  I’m also hoping the DBC book club looks at Indigenous Peoples soon.

As February begins, I’m hoping to read another ten books including We Were Eight Years in Power (chosen for author of color on my TBR list), This Must Be the Place (MMD Book Club), Interpreter of Maladies (MMD Book Club), Left Neglected (DBC Book Club), Caleb and Kit (DBC Book Club), Pachinko (already own on Kindle), The Notorious RBG (already own physical book), Priestdaddy (BOTM), This Impossible Light, and The Burning Girl.  If I’m successful, that will be three authors of color and five books I already own–both categories I’m trying to track and improve upon.

I’d love to hear how your reading is going or if you have suggestions for books for me to read.  Feel free to leave me a comment below.  <3

Hindsight 2017 // Foresight 2018

Cristian Escobar

Hindsight 2017

This year was an interesting one for me with books–I’d been a voracious reader as a child but after an abusive marriage and limiting spiritual culture I found myself a adrift the last few years.  It took me a while to come back to various aspects of myself.  A writing group called The Story Sisters/ The Story Unfolding saved me first, reminded me that I can be creative.  The year after that, I found my way back to handcrafts–sewing and quilting that I had enjoyed when I was younger.   2016 I got healthy– bootcamps, yoga, and OCRs that reminded me what it felt like to be strong.  2017 is the year I became a reader again and finally feel whole.

I started the year with ambitious goals of book challenges and, halfway through the year, was on target to complete both of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s challenges, the Book Riot challenge, and PopSugar.  But then I started reading (mostly) what I wanted to read and spent less time trying to find “a book in a genre you’ve never heard of” and “a book with a cat on the cover.”  I ultimately finished none of them.  I finished the year with 117 books–over my original Goodreads goal of 100 and three shy of the goal I modified it to in October.  And of course, this blog.  Starting and being consistent with this blog (until end-of-the-year craziness hit) reminded me what it was like to read a book not just to finish but with a critical eye.  I can more readily identify what will make me love a book, what’s just filler/fluff (“candy” books that I read when I need a brain break but can’t be the bulk of my reading diet), and what I hate in a book.  I even quit a book without finishing this year! Blogging also introduced me to the wonderful world of receiving ARC copies, which still feels fun and wonderful and like I’m finally being chosen first in gym.  I also joined and read books for two book clubs–the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club and the Diverse Books Club.

Out of the 117 books, 38 were written by people of color and 82 by women.   32 were audiobooks and 30 were nonfiction.  This is the first year I’ve kept track of these categories but I’m fairly confident in asserting that all of these are an improvement over the year before.  Staring the challenges and the book clubs made me read books I wouldn’t have otherwise.  While I’ve affirmed that graphic novels aren’t really my thing (except for March which should be everyone’s thing) nor are middle grade novels, I’ve enjoyed how the challenges and the book clubs made me branch out.  I’m not planning to do a reading challenge this year but I will continue to focus on ensuring I’m reading books from diverse authors and across genres.

I’m calling every bit of this a reading success.

Foresight 2018

The Unread Shelf (@theunreadshelf  #theunreadshelfproject on Instagram) is on a mission to finish the books she owns but hasn’t read.  I organized my library yesterday on LibraryThing and determined that (including Kindle), I have 480 unread books that I own.  I think we can agree that might be a tad overambitious a goal for me.  I do plan to be a little less driven by reading everything the critics are talking about and have my reading life mandated by my lengthy library hold list.   My loose goals are to read ten books a month — at least one by person of color, two or three picked by Modern Mrs. Darcy, two for Diverse Books Club (unless one is middle grade and then I give myself permission to skip if it isn’t for me), one book I own on Kindle, one book I own in hardcopy, a Book of the Month book (I’ve got some backlogged…shocker!), and a free choice.  I might slowly chip away at my books this way.

For January that looks like (tentatively): Seven Fallen Feathers, Deep Work, Daily Ritual, Secret Daughter, Forever or a Long Long Time, ARC of The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky (publishing 4/17/18), Station Eleven, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, Priestdaddy, and Arcadia.  (Seven of these I already own!)  I may or may not try to breeze through Dear Fahrenheit 451 before it is due to the library in two days.  I’m giving myself permission to return the other three I had checked out without reading them.  I will no longer be dictated by my library hold whims…maybe.  hopefully.

I hope 2017 was good to you and that 2018 is even better.

May the road to the library rise up to meet you and fill you with joy.  May the wind be at your back to flutter the pages of your favorite book.  May the sun shine warm on your face and be the perfect light for reading.  May the rain fall soft and find you wrapped in a warm blanket with a book and cup of tea.  And until we meet again, may your god hold you in the palm of his or her hand, keeping you safe and well-read.

I hope 2018 is gentle to you, dear reader, and brings you everything for which you hope.

With love,

Hindsight // Foresight December 20, 2017

Mark Solarski

Hindsight this…month

I did not intend or anticipate going a month without posting any updates or reviews.  I started and finished My Absolute Darling but had such an awful time with it, it sent me into a bit of a slump.  I wanted to finish it so I could review it fairly (I didn’t think it right to rate something in the neighborhood of two stars without actually finishing) but forcing myself to finish a book I didn’t enjoy also sent me into a bit of a slump with not wanting to actually read.  Combined with particularly busy weeks at work and there you have a month of no reviews.

I’ll spare you the lengthy list of of books I’ve acquired over the last month (Hi…my name is Lisa…I’m a book-a-holic).  I did finish several books recently including Code Name Verity, I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, Dear Martin, Stranger in the Woods, and Rose Under Fire.  I’m currently taking a break and jumping back into Voyager.  This week finally felt like a good reset and I’m back in a good reading pattern.

Foresight for the coming week

I’ve been thinking about my reading going forward.  Ironically, I don’t think I’ll finish any of the challenges I started this year but I’m actually fine with that.  I didn’t read much in 2016.  This year got me back into reading in my spare time and the challenges gave me something to jump start me back into it.  Rather than do challenges next year, I want to shoot for reading books I already own and reading some classics.  I’ve mostly been stuck in reading what’s new (which, has been great) but there’s so much I haven’t read and I don’t want to feel like I have to read the newest thing to stay up.  That was a mistake with My Absolute Darling and I won’t do that again.

I would like to finish Voyager this year along with a few others–maybe Manhattan Beach or Priestdaddy.


Are you reading anything good? I’d love to hear in the comments.

Hindsight // Foresight November 13, 2017

Mark Solarski

Hindsight this week

I finished The Confusion of Languages this week–it was good but another slow burn so I didn’t wind up gobbling it up like I wanted.  I started Manhattan Beach–I’m only like ten pages in but I need this to grab my attention.  I need something that isn’t a slow burn.  Work is still a bit crazy so that’s part of it.  I also just really need to get off my cell phone.  With my FitBit, if someone texts me, I’ll know–so I really need to say “no surfing” after 8, or even 7, so that I don’t waste so much time on Facebook and Instagram.  I’ll look if someone texts but that’s it.

I have found, in totally non-bookish news, that I’m getting better sleep, or at least feeling more rested, with my natural light alarm clock.  I’m getting slightly less total sleep since the light usually wakes me about ten minutes before the actual alarm but I’m not being jolted awake from deep sleep so I feel less groggy when I wake up.  Now if I could just get better about not Facebooking before bed and I’ll be set.

The only acquisition this week was Tom Hank’s collection of short stories, Uncommon Type from Book of the Month.*

Foresight for the coming week

I need to go ahead and knock out Miami Century Fox and review it on LibraryThing.  It has the added bonus of qualifying for my book of poetry in translation on a theme other than love for BookRiot #ReadHarder Challenge.  I am out of town for work the next two days–that either means I’ll get a great deal of reading done or none at all.  Sort of hit or miss.

Besides Miami Century Fox, I want to knock out Manhattan Beach and My Absolute Darling.  That last one is from the library and I’d like to finish in time to review it without rushing.

Are you reading anything good? I’d love to hear in the comments.

*This is my affiliate link–if you decide to try BOTM, I’ll get a free book at no cost to you.  There are always some great deals at BOTM–currently you can get 1/3 off the price of a three month subscription plus a free tote (I LOVE this tote–it’s the perfect size) with the code “REV3.”  BOTM also has gift subscriptions for the bookworm in your life.  <3  I tried it and loved it so much I decided to stay subscribed.