What I Read: September 2019

I can’t believe September is over already, but here we are. It was a good reading month for me. I read eight books and I liked all of them. Here they are:

The Nickel Boys

 

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead is one of those books that isn’t easy to read (because of the subject matter), but that is necessary to read. It’s about a “reform school” in Jim-Crow-era Florida and the boys who survived it (and don’t). I think understanding the profound and lasting effects of Jim Crow is a responsibility for white Americans.

 

 

The Other Mrs. Miller

 

 

I can’t get enough of family-based drama books like The Other Mrs. Miller by Allison Dickson. When a new family movies into the house across the street, reclusive Phoebe Miller gets a little too involved in their lives (and vice versa). 

 

 

The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters

 

I vehemently disagreed with Tom Nichols’ chapter on higher education because it showed a real lack of familiarity with the kind of colleges he criticizes. But the rest of the book is important. We are in a crisis because we don’t just reject expertise; we are proud of rejecting it.

 

 

The Turn of the Key

 

The Turn of the Key is a very clever riff on Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw. It’s about a nanny in remote Scotland who starts to believe, for very good reasons, that someone–or something–is after her. It’s very gothic, slow-moving, and spooky. Great Halloween read.

 

 

 

Home Fire

 

Home Fire is a brilliant retelling of Sophocles’ Antigone. In this version, the players are Londoners and Pakistani immigrants trying to live in Bush-Blair’s post-9/11 world. This novel presents deep characters and a propulsive plot; it also isn’t afraid to call out the ways in which xenophobia quickly becomes status quo. Kudos to my friend Carly for suggesting it.

 

 

The Swallows

 

I’ll read any book set in a boarding school. The Swallows did not disappoint me. It’s about a reluctant creative writing teacher who stumbles upon a school secret that’s been well-hidden and protected for years. Plucky and interesting students plot to take down the patriarchy. I thought this book was hilarious and poignant.

 

 

Ask Again, Yes

Sweeping generational family dramas are definitely my literary jam. Ask Again, Yes is beautifully written and presents two families that I deeply cared about. This is one where it’s better to go in cold. In terms of plot, I’ll just say it’s about two families, living next door to each other, who are linked together for years by people, events, mistakes, hate, and love. This is my first book by Mary Beth Keane and I plan to read more.

 

Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy

 

I have been waiting to read a treatise that calls out productivity and time management as a form of colonialism. This book was perfect. My only complaint is it’s the kind of academic analysis I wanted to write while on research leave. I’m glad someone beat me to it because this is better than what I would have written. I wouldn’t recommend this to casual readers, but it’s a good read for anyone who is studying the cultural and rhetorical hegemony that is productivity.

 

Picking my favorite this month is tough. It’s like choosing among my own children. I think Home Fire is the book that will stick with me the longest. So that’s my pick.

Happy reading in October. Time to cover up in a soft quilt and drink tea while reading. It’s my favorite time of year!

What I Read: August 2019

August 2019

This the better late than never edition.

I read 7 books this month.

I Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella–Fixie Farr can fix everyone’s life but her own. When she saves the laptop of a successful investment manager, he repays her with an IOU. Fixie decides to use it to help her loser high school crush get a job. As in all Sophie Kinsella books, nothing goes right but everything ends well. Just as cute and funny as all of Kinsella’s books.

Snap by Belinda Bauer–Jack has been in charge of his sisters ever since their mother disappeared when he was only eleven. Years later, a pregnant woman discovers a chilling note and a knife on her bed. The two stories are interwoven in interesting and satisfying ways.

How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell–Doing nothing is an act of social resistance that has economic and political consequences. Of course, Odell isn’t advocating doing literally nothing, but she’s suggesting that refusing to engage in things that sap your energy and time is a revolutionary act.

Lady in the Lake by Laura Lippman–In the mid-60s, a married woman abandons her cushy role as a wife and mother and takes up a job as a cub reporter for a Baltimore paper. In that job, she searches for the murderer of a young black woman.

Conversations with Friends by Caroline Rooney–Two college students in Dublin, Bobbi and Frances, navigate a world of irony while they work on relationships, including their own on-again-off-again romance. This is one of those rare books that doesn’t have much of a plot, but the writing and characterizations are so stunning that it doesn’t need anything else. It’s simply about what it means to put up with yourself in a world that expects so much from everyone and cares so little about what happens to us.

Writer’s Digest Guide to Magazine Article Writing by Kerrie Flanagan–If you want to publish in magazines, start with this book. Next time I teach a class about magazine writing, I’ll definitely use this.

Social Creature by Tara Isabella Burton–This is a very satisfying (and clever) homage to The Talented Mr. Ripley. Set in New York City in the age of social media, one woman pulls off the perfect transformation.

I can’t pick just one favorite for the month because I really liked all of these. I would say that Social Creature and Conversations with Friends are the two that have stuck with me the longest.

September is almost over, but there’s still plenty of time for reading!

 

 

 

What I Read: Second Half of July 2019

I’m woefully behind on my monthly reading posts, and I have no excuse except that I’ve been busy (and happily) reading. Here’s how the second half of July shook out.

The Line That Held Us

 

The Line That Held Us by David Joy

Gorgeously written book about a man helping a friend who has made a very bad mistake. It reminded me a little bit of Winter’s Bone with a side of Netflix’s Ozark.

 

 

Waiting for Tom Hanks (Waiting for Tom Hanks, #1)

Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey

Cute rom-com that reads fast and funny. I read it in an afternoon, and I almost never do that.

I have to admit that I wouldn’t have picked this up if a trusted friend hadn’t recommended it. I’m glad she did. Read it if you like Sophie Kinsella books. Liking Tom Hanks is 100% optional.

 

The Body Lies The Body Lies by Jo Baker

This book is totally in my wheelhouse because it features all my favorite book tropes: Teachers, private school, secrets, rain, England.

This isn’t a thriller, though. It’s a thoughtful examination of consent and sexual politics. It also demonstrates the lengths people will go to in order to excuse a badly behaved man.

 

The Courage to Be Disliked: The Japanese Phenomenon That Shows You How to Change Your Life and Achieve Real HappinessThe Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

I adore self-help that’s based on research. This one goes overboard for Adler at times, but I really loved the message. If you worry excessively about what other people think of you, check this one out. You’ll learn how to set boundaries in your own mind.

 

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely

Guess what? Every decision we make is based on totally irrational thinking. The good news is that most of us act pretty predictably in our irrationality.

This book helped me think more about how marketing works.

 

A Nearly Normal Family

A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson

Cool Swedes ride bicycles, drink coffee, and hang out in cool cafes. I would read this book for that alone. But there’s also a slow-burning mystery here that allows the author to explore family dynamics in a very thoughtful way. The structure is interesting, too. I liked the shifting perspectives.

 

I think my favorite for the second half of July was  A Nearly Normal Family by M.T. Edvardsson.

August is almost done, but I hope you’ve had plenty of good reading. I’ll be back soon with my August reads.

I’m grateful to be on sabbatical this semester, which is giving me plenty of time to read for work and for fun!

Happy Reading!

 

 

What I Read: July 2019, Part 1

July 2019 part 1

I’ve finally hit my summer reading groove, and that means I’m reveling in all this time for reading. I’ve started a few books I didn’t finish, but for the most part, I’ve read some good stuff. Here’s what I read in the first half of the month:

The Stranger Diaries by [Griffiths, Elly]The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
A moody Gothic-inspired suspense novel about Claire Cassidy, an English teacher, who discovers that someone has been leaving notes for her in her journal. When people around her turn up murdered, Claire knows that she is somehow connected to the murderer. I love the shifting viewpoints, especially because each character interprets events and each other in very different ways. It’s an atmospheric thriller that reminded me a lot of Denisa Mina’s Alex Morrow series.

Girls Burn Brighter: A Novel by [Rao, Shobha]Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao
This was such a compelling and difficult read. Two girls in India meet and forge a beautiful friendship. After Savitha leaves India because of a horrible crime committed against her, Poornima is forced to marry an indifferent husband and live with his cruel family. When her living situation becomes untenable, Poornima decides she must save herself and find Savitha.  I don’t want to spoil the plot, but I will say this is a book about human trafficking. It’s not easy to read, but the characters are so real and courageous and strong that I’m glad I spent time with them.

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by [Thaler, Richard H., Sunstein, Cass R.]Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
The first half of the book was an interesting look at all the ways we can be “nudged” by a variety of factors and still believe we are making rational decisions. The second would have resonated more for me if I had been looking for guidance on investing, getting a mortgage, or advising congress on healthcare restructuring. I do think the first half is a good starting point for learning about behavioral economics.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
Sometimes you miss out on reading a much-hyped book. This is one I’ve had on my shelf for years, but I’d never gotten around to reading it. Patchett is a glorious writer, as usual, but this wasn’t my favorite of hers. It’s about a group of important people in an unnamed South American country who are gathered to hear an opera singer perform. All goes well until the audience is taken hostage by a guerrilla army.

The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement by [Twenge, Jean M., Campbell, W. Keith]The Narcissism Epidemic by Jean Twenge and W. Keith Campbell
If you feel like people are more self-centered than ever before, your perception isn’t wrong. Twenge and Campbell point out all the ways the trait of narcissism is encouraged in our culture. It won’t make you feel any better, but it will help identify ways we can all stop building and rewarding narcissism. (Hint: Stop telling kids they are “princesses” or that they are “special.”)

This book was written in 2009, so some of the references are pretty dated. The authors talk a lot about MySpace, which is kind of funny now. They also dropped a few fat-phobic comments that revealed more about the authors than the subject matter. Still, it’s worth reading.

The Favorite Daughter by [Rouda, Kaira]The Favorite Daughter by Kaira Rouda
I love books with unreliable and unlikable narrators. Jane Harris may be the most unreliable, unlikable narrator I’ve ever encountered. She’s truly horrible. For that reason, I absolutely loved this book. It was the perfect amount of campy without being corny. It’s a great beach reach–if you don’t mind hanging out with someone you’ll loathe. Jane knows just how to keep you on the hook, never revealing too much, and always making you wonder if maybe she really is the victim.

My favorite book for the first half of the month is Girls Burn Brighter.

I have a reading vacation coming up, so here’s hoping the rest of July will be filled with sun and books.

What I Read: June 2019

June 2019.png

I have no real definition of a “summer read.” Whatever I happen to read is a summer read to me. But I do find that in the summer, I read a wider variety of genres. I hop from one to the other and back again, which feels like a far richer experience.

Here’s what I read in June:

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
Arthur Less, an author of limited renown, receives an invitation to his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. Instead of going, he decides to accept every other invitation he’s received. While traveling the world, he turns fifty and figures out his life isn’t over yet. This novel is gentle, charming, and satisfying.

The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley
College friends meet up for a New Year’s getaway at a remote estate in Scotland in the midst of a storm. Like any good homage to Agatha Christie, one friend ends up dead. Which person is the victim? Who is the killer? An intriguing locked-room mystery with plenty of cold weather to counteract the summer heat.

The Killer You Know by S.R. Masters
I checked this book out of the library because I thought it was something else, but I ended up reading it anyway. Childhood friends meet up as adults (for New Year’s–I’m sensing an accidental theme in my reading). When Will doesn’t show up, other three friends remember that he once told them he was going to murder three people and nobody would ever know it was him. They start digging and discover that maybe Will has already killed twice. They have to stop him before he gets to three. Of course, nothing is quite as it seems.

The Fifth Risk by Michael Lewis
This book is terrifying. I’m glad I read it, though, and not just because Lewis is an incredible reporter and writer. It’s a great resource for learning about what U.S. federal government agencies do. (Answer: a whole lot.) The Trump administration, in typical fashion, has either filled agencies with unqualified people who are destroying years of important work (either by design or by incompetence), or the departments are just languishing with nobody at the helm. It turns out that I can still be surprised by how many ways the Trump administration is destroying America.

Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly
Billed as a psychological suspense novel, Stone Mothers is about a woman who is still reckoning with decisions she made as a teenager. Told from different voices in different time periods, the narrative weaves threads of a mystery into a larger commentary about mental health treatment.

The Remains of the Day by Kizuo Ishiguro
I read this years ago, but I decided to re-read it after seeing it on a list of summer reading for AP English. I’m not sure I would have appreciated this as a teenager. It’s quietly brilliant because it’s so contemplative. As a high school reader, I would have been too focused on finding the plot. It’s a lovely portrait of a middle-aged man, Stevens, taking a motoring trip to visit a former friend while he reflects on his life as a butler and his work supporting a so-called great man.

My favorite book of June was, hands-down, The Remains of the Day.

Happy Reading in July!

What I Read: May 2019

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Here’s what I read last month:

  1. Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent
    Messed-up parents mess up their adult child who then messes up other people. Good mystery with some interesting characters and plot turns.
  2. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
    Sleeping for a year won’t fix your life, but if you are rich and beautiful, you can give it a try. Thoughtful meditation on depression and trauma with one of the most truly unlikable narrators I’ve encountered in a long time.
  3. The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
    A wife tries desperately to make her husband’s mother like her. It all ends terribly, but it’s an interesting journey.
  4. A Cloud in the Shape of a Girl by Jean Thompson
    Mothers have hidden layers; so do daughters.
  5. The Better Sister by Alafair Burke
    You might be able to steal your sister’s life, but that doesn’t mean you should. Good psychological novel.
  6. The Position by Meg Wolitzer
    Parents who write an extremely popular (and illustrated) sex manual should probably just keep that from their kids.
  7. Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan
    We may be able to create synthetic humans that are better than us, but they’ll make stupid decisions and end up being worse than humans. Good literary sci fi with a neat alternative timeline.

My favorite for the month of May was The Position. I always forget what a virtuoso writer Meg Wolitzer is.

Happy reading in June!

What I Read: April 2019

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Another semester is done and in the books! It’s a good thing because it really cut into my reading time.

Here’s what I read in April:

  • Notes on a Nervous Planet by Matt Haig
    A surprisingly calming and meditative book about how messy the world is. No surprise that we feel anxious all the time, given that we live in a garbage fire. Matt Haig presents essays on anxiety (and related topics) along with lists and observations that are poignant and often funny. This is definitely not self-help (that’s a compliment), but it will make you feel a little less alone on this planet.

 

  • Five Little Pigs by Agatha Christie
    When your brain can’t think anymore, an Hercule Poirot mystery is just what it needs. I’ve already forgotten the entirety of the plot, but I enjoyed reading it. It was like a cup of tea on a rainy day.

 

  • Adele by Leila Slimani
    I loved Slimani’s previous novel, The Perfect Nanny, which is why I grabbed this one from the library. It’s tough to read about someone who is ruining her life because of her sex addiction, but I appreciated Slimani’s depiction of what the depths of addiction really look like. It’s not sexy in the slightest; it’s tragic.
  • Proust and the Reading Brain: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf
    Human brains were never meant to read. That is, our brains didn’t evolve to read; we simply invented reading out of pure ingenuity. And what a wonderful invention that was! I love nonfiction that tells a good story humans, history, and brains. This is a great intro to reading and what wonderful things it does for us and our brains.
  • The Narrow Bed by Sophie Hannah
    I generally love Sophie Hannah’s books without reservation. This was my least favorite in the series, though. It’s still worth reading if you are committed to reading the whole CID series (as I am). But I wouldn’t recommend it as a starting place. It’s sort of an odd book about a comedian (who doesn’t really seem to be funny) who may or may be targeted by someone who may or may not be murdering pairs of friends. The ending was cartoonish.
  • Our House by Louise Candlish
    I adore family psychological thrillers set in England. This one might be the best I’ve read in that sub-genre for a long time. After separating, Fiona (Fi) and Bram Lawson agree to take turns living in their family home (rather than having their kids moving between house and flat). Everything is going swimmingly until Fi comes home early one day and discovers that Bram has sold the house, taken the two million pounds from the sale, and fled. Subsequent chapters shift between Fi’s story (as told to a podcast) and Bram’s story (as told in what might be a suicide note). I picked up on a few twists early, but the ending was stunning and perfect. I stayed up really late finishing this one.

So that’s April 2019. My favorite book for the month was Our House by Louise Candlish.

Happy reading in May!