What I Read: October 2018

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Oh, October. You were so cruel. You gave me very limited time to read. And when I did find the time and energy, I didn’t love most of what I read. That often happens to me when I’m too busy to really savor books, so please accept all of my opinions with the knowledge that I’m a tired and cranky old crone.

How to Break Up With Your Phone by Catherine Price–The perfect book for anyone who has found herself spending upward of an hour a day mindlessly watching a fashion blogger try on clothes from Target. (I mean, just for example.) If you had any doubt that your phone (and your tablet) is ruining your mind, this book will be the final nail. We all have to put the devices down more often. We are messing up our brains.

The Fact of a Body by Alexandra Marzano-Lesnevich–A beautifully written braided narrative that balances the author’s memoir of her own abuse with the details of a tragic murder case. I found myself wanted more on the murder case–and a stronger take on the justice system–but that might reflect my preference for nonfiction (especially about crime) over memoir in general. I did watch Season 2 of Making a Murderer after this, and the pair make good companion pieces. 

This Could Hurt by Jillian Medoff–This is a comedy-drama set in a dysfunctional workplace that I thought would be fun, but it turned out to be a lot like working in an office: not that exciting. Ultimately, the whole thing just didn’t come together for me. I became unnecessarily (and weirdly) hung up on how much information one character’s doctor openly provided to a co-worker. (Maybe what I wanted was a comedy-drama about HIPAA.) The characters felt two-dimensional at times, especially Rosa whose boss-character swung from Michael Scott to Leslie Knope to Montgomery Burns and back again. If you work in HR, read it. I suspect it might hit closer to home.

The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay–A horror story about a family (Eric, Andrew, and daughter Wen) who just want a quiet vacation on the lake. When some post-apocalyptic nutbags show up claiming that one of the family members has to kill the other to stop the world from ending, the family is understandably freaked out. I loved the suspense of not knowing how (and why) someone in the family murdering another could possibly save the world. I also liked the tension the author creates by never letting readers forget the invaders might be right or they might be totally insane. The ending didn’t pay off for me, but if you like your horror thoughtful and creepy, then this might be for you.

Clock Dance by Anne Tyler–Here’s another beautiful book by Anne Tyler. This one is about Willa Drake, a woman who has spent her whole life doing what men tell her to do. When a woman she barely knows calls on her for help, Willa leaves her home and husband in Arizona to go to Anne Tyler’s beloved Baltimore to play devoted grandmother to a child she’s never met. I loved how skillfully (and very subtly) Tyler shows all the ways that what we do in our early lives seeps out into our later lives. Willa’s triumph feels like the triumph of all women who have never been allowed to assert their independence. This book was my favorite of the month.

His Favorites by Kate Walbert–This one is about a teenage girl who makes a really stupid mistake, one that has life-altering consequences. Away at boarding school, she becomes the victim of a manipulative male teacher who targets her and a number of other “broken” girls who are too shattered and unsure of themselves to realize he is grooming them. I’ve read a lot of books lately about male predators, and this book is a fine addition to that sub-genre, but I didn’t feel like it brought anything new to the table. That said, I think it packs a huge punch in under two hundred pages. And it exactly pins down the structure that allows rape culture to thrive. (Hint: We’re living in it.)

Happy reading in November!

What I Read: September 2018

September 2018 reads

September was a busy month, but I still found time to read. I read nine books including one re-read. My favorite of the month was Penance by Kanae Minato. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta Hall was a close second.

Here’s the complete list of what finished this month with my 1-sentence summary of each.

  1. Penance by Kanae MinatoRevenge is toxic and lasts a lifetime. 
  2. She Was the Quiet One by Michele CampbellFancy boarding school kids are awful; toxic masculinity is part of fancy boarding schools. (Timely read? Yup.) 
  3. The Humans by Matt HaigIf aliens send one of their own to impersonate a human, it’ll totally stress out the alien because humans are confusing and complicated and almost always illogical, but it’ll sure be funny. 
  4. Choose Your Own Disaster by Dana SchwartzMemoirs about 20-somethings are hard to read if you are not a 20-something; being 40-something is way better (and also a choose-your-own-adventure format doesn’t work well in electronic books). 
  5. Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Crazy by Svend BrinkmannYou don’t have to be better; just be. 
  6. Educated by Tara WestoverIf you thought your childhood was rough… 
  7. Dear Committee Members by Julie SchumacherIt’s funny because it’s true: People in academia are all bonkers (self included). 
  8. Doomsday Book by Connie WillisTime traveling to the Middle Ages is very interesting until you get the plague. 
  9. Our Kind of Cruelty by Araminta HallA man who wants to believe he deserves the affections of a woman will continue to believe in spite of all evidence to the contrary. 

Happy reading in October!

What I Read: August 2018

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Farewell, August. I loved you and all the time you gave me to read.

I read twelve books in August. I’m listing them below along with my 1-sentence summary of each.

  1. Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin, 2015
    If you eat carbs, you probably suck and have no self-control. 
  2. The High Season by Judy Blundell, 2018
    Never be a social climber in a beach town; you’ll always lose. 
  3. I Love You, Michael Collins by Lauren Baratz-Logsted, 2017
    It’s hard to be a charming ten-year-old in the ’80s, so write poignant letters to an astronaut. 
  4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, 2010
    Informed consent matters. 
  5. The Misfortune of Marion Palm by Emily Culliton, 2017
    If you embezzle from the coffers of the private school where you send your kids–but can’t afford to send your kids–have a good exit plan and a passport. 
  6. The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron, 1996
    It’s not just you: The world is definitely too loud and chaotic. 
  7. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, 2014
    Do what matters most; forget the rest (and almost everything is “the rest”). 
  8. Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison, 2000
    If you are fourteen and accidentally shave your eyebrows, don’t worry because they’ll grow back fast and the Sex God, Robbie, will totally be down for snogging. 
  9. On the Bright Side, I’m Now the Girlfriend of a Sex God by Louise Rennison, 2000
    Once you get the Sex God, you must keep him away from Wet Lindsey. 
  10. The Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall, 2016
    Sometimes you marry a sociopath; also, rape culture is a thing and we are all complicit. 
  11. Unraveling Oliver by Liz Nugent, 2017
    Ibid. 
  12. Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl, 2018
    If you’re going to die, die all the way; if possible, make sure your friends are willing to die for you.

Genre
4 Nonfiction
4 Contemporary Fiction
3 YA
1 MG

Publication Dates
2 Published in 2018
5 Published in last five years
5 Published before 2013

Happy reading in September!

 

 

What I Read: July 2018

July was a good month for reading, in part because my hiking vacation was canceled (due to extreme heat, flooding, rock falls, and locusts).

(Just kidding, there were no locusts.)

(But the other stuff was real).

We did a home staycation instead, which turned out to be marvelous. There was much reading, napping, walking, and eating–all of my favorite things. And because I was on brain rest, I had the mental capacity to read some longer and more complicated books that I never seem to get to during the school year. In between the harder books, I indulged in some brain candy.

I read nine books in July:

1. The Queen and I by Sue Townsend (fiction)
2. Sunburn by Laura Lippman (fiction)
3. If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio (fiction) (see my review)
4. A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza (fiction)
5. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter (fiction)
6. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson (nonfiction)
7. The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better by Michael Shermer (nonfiction)
8. Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella (fiction)
9. Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter (nonfiction)

Genre
3 Nonfiction
2 Contemporary Fiction
2 Funny/Brain Candy Fiction
2 Mystery/Thriller

Publication Dates
4 Published in 2018
3 Published in last five years
2 Published before 2013

Here are July’s superlatives:

Most Entertaining
Wedding Night by Sophie Kinsella
I’d forgotten how much I like Sophie Kinsella’s standalone novels until I mentioned this one last week. I grabbed it from the library and re-read it. It’s not my favorite Kinsella, but it’s still funny and deeply entertaining in its ridiculousness.

My tagline: Three’s Company meets Neil Simon meets Are You Being Served?

 

Most Educational
The Moral Arc: How Science Makes Us Better by Michael Shermer (nonfiction)

I read my first Michael Shermer book on a 24-hour Greyhound bus ride from Oklahoma to North Dakota. It was basically the worst 24 hours of my life (second only to the return trip), but at least I had Shermer’s Why People Believe Weird Things to keep me company.

In The Moral Arc, Shermer argues that all of society’s biggest moral advancements  (specifically in terms of human rights) sprang from the kind of logic- and reason-based arguments that marked the Enlightenment. It was that kind of thinking–with an emphasis on the inalienable rights of individuals–that helped us build morality. It’s an interesting response to the claim that religion has a monopoly on moral living.

Most Disturbing
Perhaps surprisingly, the most disturbing book I read in July was not the one about Nazis (though that was plenty disturbing). The one that gave me nightmares was The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter. I debated quitting it multiple times and finally slogged through to the end. It’s not a bad book. It was just too much for me. I’m not a particularly squeamish reader, but the violence in this one was just too visceral and didn’t feel totally necessary.

 

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by [Alter, Adam]Most Likely to Change How I Think About My Online Life
Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by  Adam Alter

After reading this book, I’m vowing to limit my own time on social media, the Internet in general, and on email (the greatest time-suck of my working life)!

Happy Reading in August!

 

What I Read: June 2018

June was a lighter summer reading month for me because I went on vacation for ten days and didn’t do much reading at all during that time (save for plane reading). I did, however, read hard before I left town.

I read eight books in June:

To Explain the Word: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley
The Family Next Door by Sally Hepworth
The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
News of the World by Paulette Giles
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Voices in the Ocean: A Journey Into the Wild and Haunting World of Dolphins by Susan Casey
A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future by Charles Van Doren

I’ve been trying to diversify my reading in terms of genre and publication dates, as well in author identity and nationality. Here’s what June looked like for me:

Genre 
4 Contemporary Fiction
1 Historical Fiction
3 Nonfiction

Publication Dates
4 Published in 2018
3 Published in last five years
1 Published before 2013

Author Identity/Nationality
4 Women
4 Men

6 American
1 Australian
1 Canadian

1 LGBTQ+

Once again, I liked everything I read this month, but I do have superlatives:

Most Entertaining
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley
Stephen McCauley has long been one of my favorite authors. If Tom Perrotta, Jonathan Tropper, Anne Tyler, and David Sedaris had a baby, it would be Stephen McCauley.

While this one wasn’t my favorite McCauley (that honor goes to The Easy Way Out), it was just as funny and poignant and generous as everything McCauley writes.

Most Beautiful
News of the World by Paulette Giles 
I’ve been a fan of Paulette Jiles since Enemy WomenShe’s a masterful writer of history. Every character feels honest; every event is rendered with care.

My tagline: Lonesome Dove meets Plainsong

Most Educational
A History of Knowledge: Past, Present, and Future by Charles Van Doren
If you’ve ever spent any time thinking about why and how we think now, you really should read this one. Van Doren traces the history of thought from the Pre-Socratics to the late twentieth-century. What he shows is that what we can think–what we know–is largely dependent on the paradigm and standards of the historical time period. As he walks you through history, you get a sense of how knowledge changes. And you begin to see how all the pieces fit together.

Word of Warning: This was was written in the 90s and the last two chapters are hopelessly out of date. Van Doren’s predictions for computers is kind of unintentionally hilarious. And like any book written in a certain time period, his language is sometimes insensitive. I was particularly struck by the section where he calls people who contracted HIV in the ’80s through birth or blood transfusions “innocent,” implying that people who contracted the virus other ways are guilty. Given that the majority of those victims were gay, it’s a pretty egregious use of language.

I’d still recommend this book for armchair historians, especially if you have any interest in the history of science.

Happy Reading in July!

 

 

What I Read: May 2018

I had a big reading month, in part because I finished two weighty nonfiction books that I’d been reading since December. The other reason I read so much is that I submitted grades the second week of May and let myself fall into a pile of books as a palate cleanser. I read quite a few fluffy books that didn’t take much time.

I usually only manage about five or six books a month, but I read a whopping twelve books in May:

The Wife by Alafair Burke
The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
Confessions by Kanae Minato
The Power of Happiness by Sara Ahmed
Dark Matter by Black Crouch
Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham
Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan
Did You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah
Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll
Best Day Ever by Kaira Rouda
Post-Truth by Lee McIntyre

I’ve been trying to diversify my reading in terms of genre and publication dates. I’m also trying to read more fiction by non-American writers. Here’s what May looked like for me:

Genre 
3 Contemporary Fiction
4 Mystery/Thriller
1 Short Story Collection
4 Nonfiction

Publication Dates
4 Published in 2018
5 Published in last five years
3 Published before 2013

Author Identity/Nationality
9 Women
3 Men

7 American
2 British
1 New Zealander
1 Japanese
1 Singaporean

I liked everything I read this month, but I do have superlatives:

Most Entertaining
Did You See MelodyDid You See Melody? by Sophie Hannah
Everything Sophie Hannah writes is so readable because she is so specific and vivid in the development of her characters and settings. Plus, her plots are bonkers, which means that you can never figure it out until she ties the ends together.

In this one, Cara Burrows flees her husband and children in England for reasons that we learn  later in the book. Cara arrives at a five-star spa/resort in Arizona, a vacation she’s secretly booked. Not a soul in the world knows where she is. When she arrives, the desk clerk gives her the wrong room key, and she enters a room occupied by a man and a teen girl. After a night of sleep (in the correct room), Cara realizes that the girl she saw the night before was America’s most famous murder victim. So how can she be alive?

Most Disturbing
Confessions by Kanae Minato
ConfessionsIt was disturbing in all the right ways–exactly how I want a taut psychological examination to play out. Yuko Moriguchi, a middle-school teacher, is mourning the accidental death of her young daughter, Manami. But we soon learn that Manami’s death was no accidental. Yuko knows she was murdered. And she knows that two of her students did it. The rest of the book is a twisted tale about what happens when guilt, evil, and vengeance fester.

My Tagline: The Secret History by Donna Tartt meets Black Mirror

Anne Perry and the Murder of the CenturyHonorable Mention goes to Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century by Peter Graham, a true crime account of a heinous murder by two teen girls in New Zealand in the 1950s. The murder is disturbing enough to begin with, but it’s even more unbelievable when you find out that they killed the mother of one of the girls. One of the cold-blooded murderers grew up to be novelist Anne Perry. True crime can be lurid and objectifying; this one was neither. It’s an interesting portrait of two girls who somehow feed into each other’s madness into they spiral out of control.

My Tagline: My Favorite Murder (the podcast) meets Ann Rule

Most Educational
The Promise of HappinessThe Power of Happiness by Sara Ahmed
If you think happiness is an uncomplicated emotional state, think again. Happiness is every bit as hegemonic as any other cultural institution that’s used to justify and reinforce marginalization of the least powerful. Ahmed does a masterful job of unpacking all of the ways that happiness–and our understanding of what it means in our lives–is deeply rooted in problematic ideas about race, class, and gender.

Happy Reading in June!