Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're looking at our current TBR, so here are the next ten books I'm planning on reading this spring! As always, book club selections will be added in here, but here's what's on the horizon as I know it so far.

Possession: Booker Prize winner! This is a prize I've had a pretty good history with, so I'm gradually trying to get through all of them.

Of Human Bondage: Although my big bulk of classics reading happened a few years ago (before I started the blog), I've still got ones I'm working through. I'm expecting this to take a while because it's quite long.

Sophia of Silicon Valley: I'm hoping this tale of Bay Area workplace b.s. is more like The Devil Wears Prada (which I really liked) and less like The Nanny Diaries (which I didn't really care for), but I'll have to read it to see!

Freedom: Obligatory Franzen? Honestly, I thought The Corrections was really good and am interested in his follow up. It's gotten recommended to me a couple times too.

Silent Spring: As far as I've been told, this book made an actual difference when it came to public awareness of the dangers of pollution, so I've been wanting to read it.

The Color of Water: I've seen this pop up on a couple of lists about interesting writing about race in America, and I haven't read a lot from a bi-racial perspective, so this seemed like a solid choice.

Sex at Dawn: I really enjoy (and recommend!) a podcast called The Psychology of Attractiveness, which is about, well, attractiveness and mating behavior. This book deals with similar issues and it's been well-reviewed.

Chosen Country: Ever since I moved out west, I've found myself more interested in the kind of regional mindset that plays out here, which shouldn't come as a surprise. This is about the standoff at the wildlife refuge in Oregon a few years back, and the factors that played into it, so it's right up my alley.

The Kingmaker's Daughter: The next book in Phillipa Gregory's The Cousin's War series. After a weak initial volume, I've mostly enjoyed these. Nothing wrong with a little fluff.

Rosemary's Baby: Horror classic! I really liked The Stepford Wives, and I liked the movie, so I'm hoping this book works as well for me.

Book 120: Helter Skelter

"Did Charlie teach you this? I asked, genuinely curious. Charlie did not need to teach them, they said. Charlie only turned them around so they could look at themselves and see the love within. Did they believe Charlie was Jesus Christ? They only smiled enigmatically, as if sharing a secret no one else could possibly understand."

Dates read: January 22-26, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: New York Times bestseller

I think there's a basic human inclination to be fascinated by evil. Why else the popularity of the true crime genre? Why else so many biographies of Adolf Hitler? Why else was HBO's The Jinx so fascinating to so many (myself included)? The depths of human depravity, people who seem to operate outside the social contract to which the rest of us are can be hard to look away. And one of the most enduringly popular cultural atrocities that illustrate the heinousness we can't look away from are the Tate-LaBianca murders, masterminded by Charles Manson.

The definitive account of these crimes is Helter Skelter, written by Vincent Bugliosi with Curt Gentry. It's hard to imagine a more knowledgeable source: Bugliosi was the prosecutor who successfully convicted Manson and his girls (some of them, anyways) for the murders and sentenced to death, later commuted by the California Supreme Court to life in prison. While most of us are familiar with the broad outlines of the case (particularly the parts that concerned Sharon Tate, the extremely pregnant wife of Roman Polanski), Bugliosi fills in all the details: the people at the Polanski/Tate residence besides Sharon who were murdered, and the LaBiancas, and the grisly details, and a general idea of why. He can't give us exactly why, because only Manson knows and he never told before he died.

The book takes us through the process from start to finish: the discovery of the bodies, the investigations, the eventual linkage of the two sets of murders, how the Manson Family's involvement was discovered, how the motive was unearthed, the charges, the trial, the sentencing, and the aftermath. If you're looking for a narrative perspective from the perspectives of the killers, that's not what you'll find here. It never really gets in the heads of Manson or his girls, and it couldn't, because they never really opened up to the prosecution team. There are still questions by the end of it, but they aren't questions that can be answered from the outside.

Helter Skelter is a big book, over 600 pages, but it reads fairly quickly. The writing is nimble, and though it doesn't scrimp from talking about some details of blood type analysis or fingerprinting as it applies to the case, it doesn't get bogged down in technicality. The biggest single flaw of the book is Bugliosi's self-aggrandizement. He clearly did a phenomenal amount of work and won a case that could have easily gone the other way if Manson hadn't been a difficult client for his lawyer to work with, but he definitely spends more time than is really necessary bemoaning the investigative deficits of the police and making sure the reader knows how much of the case was 100% a result of his own handiwork. By the end I'd started literally rolling my eyes whenever Bugliosi gave himself a big pat on the back. At the end of the day, it's an incredibly detailed account of the crime for anyone who's interested in reading one, though if your interest is in true crime generally rather than this crime specifically it might not be the best investment of reading time.

Tell me, blog friends...what's an evil person/event that fascinates you?

One year ago, I was reading: Green Girl (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: To Die For

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Surprised Me

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're going through books that surprised us. I'm going to split mine up, and highlight first five books that surprised me by how good they were, and then five that I was surprised to find I did not enjoy.

Happy Surprised

Anna Karenina: Never having really read Russian lit, I thought I didn't like it because it was too long and boring. And then I read this book and discovered that I really did love Tolstoy. Both this and War & Peace are a million pages long and amazing.

Moby-Dick: Again, a book with a reputation of over-long snoozer, this time about some dude obsessed with a whale that ends up killing him, the end. But this book is actually delightful and has a ton of information about whales and whaling, religion, seafaring life, and so much more, as well as creating some truly unforgettable characters.

Jane Eyre: I thought this was just a gothic romance, which has never held that much appeal for me, because all you ever hear about is Mr. Rochester and his crazy wife in the attic and the looooove story. I was happy to find out that this is much more a book about a young woman discovering herself and making her own place in the world and very much liked it.

The Rosie Project: I usually shy away from romances (no offense to those of you who love them, they're just generally not for me), but I'd read such good things about this one and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I really did enjoy reading it! It's just incredibly charming and a breezy, pleasant book.

So Big: I never would have picked this up but for its Pulitzer Prize (I'd never even heard of it before), because a story about a young woman being widowed with a baby son and scraping out an existence in midwestern farm country doesn't sound like something I'd really like. But Selina DeJong is an incredible character and I got totally sucked in and this book is really really good, y'all.

Not Happy Surprised

Don Quixote: I've gone on a classics kick over the past several years, and found that I actually liked a lot more of them than I thought I would. And then I got to Don Quixote and words cannot adequately describe how much I hated it and it was so long and reading it was like torture.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette: Everyone I knew who'd read this book described it as super funny and really good. And then I read it, and found its cavalier treatment of mental instability horrifying. I know they're making a movie of it and I think it might work onscreen, but it fell so very flat on the page for me.

Crazy Rich Asians: This is kind of along the same lines...rave reviews for a frothy fun romp and I mostly wondered if Kevin Kwan had ever been in a relationship before, because the one at the center of the book was deeply unrealistic and not in a good way.

Fahrenheit 451: I loved many of the dystopian classics I read in high school, and I wanted to love this one (it's about book burning! how could I not love it?) and I found it so boring I honestly can barely remember it.

Yes Please: This pains me, because I love Amy Poehler so much and wanted to just love every second of her book but it did absolutely nothing for me at all. It was neither interesting nor funny nor insightful. It was just kind of there.

Book 119: Snow

"It wasn't the poverty or the helplessness that disturbed him; it was the thing he would see again and again during the days to come- in the empty windows of photography shops, in the frozen windows of the crowded teahouses where the city's unemployed passed the time playing cards, and in the city's empty snow-covered squares. These sights spoke of a strange and powerful loneliness. It was as if he were in a place that the whole world had forgotten, as if it were snowing at the end of the world."

Dates read: January 18-22, 2017

Rating: 6/10

Lists/Awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die (2012)

When someone asks me if I like the movie Goodfellas, I never know what to say. It's a well-directed, well-acted, well-told story, so I think it's a laudatory work of film and I admire its accomplishments. But I didn't actually enjoy watching it and I have no desire to do so again. It's one of those weird things that happens sometimes for media in all forms, for me. I'll find something to be a significant piece and worthy of praise, but that doesn't mean I always actually like it.

Orhan Pamuk's Snow falls into that weird, middle-ground territory for me. It's a well-crafted tale, rich with context and layers of meaning. But I didn't actually enjoy reading it all that much. From a third-person narrator point of view (we'll get to that later), Snow tells the story of Ka, a Turkish poet who has spent much of his adult life in political exile in Germany, newly returned to his home country for his mother's funeral. When he hears from an acquaintance that a beautiful former college classmate, Ipek, is freshly divorced, living in a border town called Kars, he finds himself a pretext to visit there to see her. The pretext is that there's been a recent wave of suicides among devout Muslim young women, who have been forbidden by government policy to wear their headscarves, and he's there to investigate.

The snow is already falling thickly when Ka arrives in Kars, and it ends up closing off the community over one long, turbulent weekend in which there are assassinations, coups, and police brutality. There are several storylines, all interwoven tightly: the community debate over headscarves, Ka's courtship of Ipek, Ka's suddenly rediscovered inspiration to write poetry, Ipek's relationship with her sister Kadife, both of their ties to a wanted terrorist, the poverty and desperation of the men in Kars, the hope and idealism of the boys at the Muslim high school. The theme of the tension between the West/secularism and the East/religion is pervasive, coloring all of the events of the novel.

Which turns out to be a story within a story, as we find out that the tale of Ka's time in Kars is being told by his friend "Orhan", based on Ka's own written recollections. It's a little bothersome that although the conceit is that the story is being told by a third party, the narrator seems omniscient more often than not, but it's not a dealbreaker. What is more bothersome is that there is none of the characters is particularly well-developed, or to me, identifiable. Ipek is the embodiment of the virgin/whore dichitomy, either idealized or compared to a porn star. The terrorist, Blue, is constantly described as compelling without much in the story to make the reader understand why. Even Ka, though he is the center of the narrative, remains at a frustrating remove. Like Turkey itself, he's neither completely Eastern nor completely Western and vacillates between the two. He doesn't know his own mind, and it makes him hard to get a hold of as a character.

But the writing and structure is lovely. It's a little snowglobe of a story, and effectively creates the air of emotional claustrophobia that anyone who's been stranded (by snow or flooding or ice) for a few days can understand. I'm not sure that the third-party narrator is as effective a device as it could be, but I got a wry, frustrated smile out of plot machinations that mean that we never actually get to read one of Ka's inspired lets us just imagine how great the poems must have been without putting Pamuk under pressure to write something magnificent. This was a book club selection, and proved divisive for the most part: there were several people who loved it and just as many who completely hated it, with only very few (like me) falling in between. I wouldn't necessarily recommend it based on my own experience of it, but maybe you'll completely love it like some of my book club friends?

Tell me, blog you read literature in translation often?

One year ago, I was reading: Housekeeping (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: American Gods

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're highlighting our favorite quotes from books. I love highlighting/dog-earing my books to remind me of pieces of writing I found particularly meaningful, so I enjoyed going back through some of my favorites and pulling out words I especially loved to share with y'all!

"Light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul." (Lolita)

This book is FULL of gorgeous writing. Hands-down the most beautifully written book I've ever read. But this part of the intro has always stuck with me.

"Something sick at the heart of the country had infected the girls. Our parents thought it had to do with our music, our godlessness, or the loosening of morals regarding sex we hadn't even had. Mr. Hedlie mentioned that fin-de-sicle Vienna witnessed a similar outbreak of suicides on the part of the young, and put the whole thing down to the misfortune of living in a dying empire. It had to do with the way the mail wasn't delivered on time, and how potholes never got fixed, or the thievery at City Hall, or the race riots, or the 801 fires set around the city on Devil's night." (The Virgin Suicides)

I re-read this book, one of my all-time favorites, recently for my book club, and this passage has always struck me as both representative of the quality of writing in this book as a whole as well as capturing something real about the downswing Detroit experienced.

"Midway through the journey of our life, I came to myself in a dark wood, for the true way was lost." (Inferno)

This line has been translated many different ways, but I've always loved the way the copy I studied in college did it.

"All happy families are alike, each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." (Anna Karenina)

Obviously this one is a classic. It's not exactly true, but has the ring and spirit of truth, which counts for as much anyways.

"Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past." (1984)

This book was so prescient in so many ways and this is one of the truest things in it.

"'I wish it need not have happened in my time,' said Frodo. 'So do I,' said Gandalf, 'and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.'" (The Fellowship of the Ring)

Basically my personal motto when I start feeling like life's unfair. In many ways, our circumstances are beyond our control and all you can do about it is figure out how to make the best of it.

"Aprils have never meant much to me, autumns seem that season of beginning, spring." (Breakfast at Tiffany's)

I'm one of those people who's never quite been able to let go of that sense of the new school year starting as the real beginning of the year, though my last school year started in 2009.

"And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." (The Great Gatsby)

This is my literal favorite line in all of literature. The only thing that rivals its perfection as an ending is the end of Six Feet Under (don't @ me).

"Monsters are real. Ghosts are too. They live inside of us, and sometimes, they win." (The Shining)

If you've only ever seen the movie (which I love), I'd recommend reading the book as well. The latter tells a story not about a haunted hotel, but a haunted man and how his internal demons are played upon until he loses the battle to keep them at bay and it's really really good.

"The unhappy person resents it when you try to cheer him up, because that means he has to stop dwelling on himself and start paying attention to the universe. Unhappiness is the ultimate form of self-indulgence. When you're unhappy, you get to pay a lot of attention to yourself. You get to take yourself oh so very seriously." (Jitterbug Perfume)

This is one of my favorite books, and while Tom Robbins isn't always an author that it's easy to pull a quote from (it's more about the writing as a whole), I love this one and it's something I think about when I start feeling down.

Book 118: The Wars of the Roses

"From 1399 to 1499 the crown became the object of feuds, wars, and conspiracies, not because of a dearth of heirs, but because there were too many powerful magnates with a claim to the throne. During this period a new and disturbing element became involved in determining the royal succession: the prevalence of might over right. This brought a new awareness of the lack of statute law governing the succession and a debate as to whether the rights of a senior heir general, with a claim transmitted through a female, could take precedence over the rights of a junior heir male. But in the final analysis strength and success were what counted: an effective ruler was more likely to remain on the throne, however dubious his title. Weak or tyrannical rulers met with disaster."

Dates read: January 14-18, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Historical fiction is a genre I tend to enjoy, and one of the reasons why is that it introduces you to worlds you might have only known about through brief mentions in the classroom. I'm coming to enjoy non-fiction history a lot more as I get older, but I still really like my Phillipa Gregory (sorry not sorry). When getting introduced to a historical figure and period, I've usually just turned to old reliable Wikipedia. But even the most in-depth Wikipedia article can only tell you so much.

Ever since I first read her, Alison Weir has become one of my go-to historians. And as much as I enjoy the soap opera-esque The Cousin's War series (which I've read the first three of so far), Gregory is a fiction writer, and I know better than to trust her to teach me history. While I'd always been aware of the so-called Wars of the Roses in British history (I knew it was the Yorks and the Lancasters and it finally ended for good when the two houses intermarried and formed the House of Tudor), it doesn't tend to be taught in American schools. Which is why it's perfect that Weir has a whole book just about that period in English history: The Wars of the Roses.

It's a confusing story, to be sure: it seems like virtually every man in it is named Edward, Richard, or Henry, and they're all related to each other, besides. But Weir does her best to distinguish each of them, and she traces the conflicts not just from the point that they formally began, but from the point where they are rooted. The fighting doesn't get started until about halfway through, but it would be well nigh impossible to understand without all the preamble. She sets her stage carefully, and, much to my relief, when the fighting begins, it doesn't turn into a straight blow-by-blow battle narrative. I find descriptions of war maneuvers to be boring beyond measure, but Weir tells us enough to give us a sense of the battles but not make us feel like we're sitting through a military history lecture.

As always in Weir's work, it's well-sourced (she uses sources contemporary to the events being described, and traces language use back to ensure that she's giving the proper context to what was being reported) and well-written, with a definite sense of narrative and not just fact-dumping. One minor quibble, though, with this book is that it doesn't quite see the Wars through to what I thought to be their end: the ascension of Henry VII and his marriage to Princess Elizabeth of York. While I was hoping to get a bit more information about the end stages of the Wars, I definitely enjoyed getting Weir's take on the period she covered, and would recommend the book to others curious about this period of English history.

One year ago, I was reading: A Leg To Stand On (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Without You, There Is No Us

A Month In The Life: February 2018

And we've officially reached the point in the year when I've mostly stopped writing the wrong date on everything! This month started out improbably balmy (in the 60s!), but it's now properly cold and snowy, which we do need to have but also I hate. And while things were a little calmer here than they were last month, we did go see a comedy show and have a visit from an out-of-towner to keep us busy!

In Books...
  • Lost Horizon: This book, about four people in the 1930s who wind up stranded in a Tibetan monastery called Shangri-La, was...fine? It's well-written enough (with the exception of the casual racism that probably was unremarkable at the time but is definitely remarkable now), but didn't really grab my imagination or make much of an impression on me. 
  • Thank You For Smoking: I watched the movie version of this when it came out when I was in college, so of course I wanted to read the book. It's a delightfully witty satire, and will ring especially true if you've ever worked in the corporate communications/lobbying world. 
  • The Sellout: I'm always extra excited when a book club selection is a book I already had on my TBR! For this book, I don't know if it was that I read it directly after another satire that hit closer to home for me personally, but this one didn't blow me away. It's insightful, witty, and well-crafted, though, so definitely worth the read.
  • Wonder Boys: I think the movie version of this book is criminally under-rated, and honestly, it's better than the book. Chabon has rapidly become one of my favorite writers (this is the third of his books I've read in about a year), and his writing is as wonderful as ever, but the overgrown man-child at the center of this novel was not someone I ever rooted for. 
  • My Name Is Venus Black: This book had an intriguing premise, about a girl who kills her stepfather when she's 13 and then gets out of jail at 19 and has to figure out how to live in the world...and tries to find the autistic little brother who disappeared while she was inside. But the plot didn't hold up and the writing is super flat. 
  • The Selfish Gene: This book is remarkable mostly in how it renders sophisticated concepts in understandable language...including the first time I've ever felt like I had a decent grasp of game theory! Also a lot to think about in regards to genetics and how life not only continues but evolves. 

In Life...
  • The Olympics!: I LOVE the Olympics. Especially the winter ones, because figure skating is my jam, but I also like to watch downhill skiing, hockey, and curling, so basically I spent two weeks watching obscure sports and loved every minute of it. 
  • We went to see Tiffany Haddish: I'd heard great things about her, and Drew and I are always trying to get out and do more things, so we snagged tickets when they went on sale a few months ago. It was a good thing I did, because they totally sold out! She was indeed super funny and I definitely recommend going to her show if her tour hits your city!
  • My mom is in town: Today is my mom's birthday, and she came to visit to spend time with me! I haven't seen her since last summer so I've taken the day off of work and we're spending the day together!

One Thing:

As a frequent LL Bean shopper, I have mixed feelings about their new returns policy. While I understand that there were people abusing it to the degree that it was becoming unsustainable (people were picking up their products secondhand at thrift stores and returning them for a full refund or just treating it as a way to get new snowboots for their kids every year as their feet kept growing), it seems like there should be some sort of intermediary step between return-it-forever and returns-only-for-one-year. After all, many of their products, like their adult duck boots, are MEANT to last for years. I've been willing to spend a little bit more for their products with the understanding that if they didn't hold up, I'd be made whole, but I think I'll be more selective before buying there in the future.

Gratuitous Pug Photo: