Sunday, December 31, 2017

A Month In The Life: December 2017

Tomorrow is 2018! And not a moment too soon. This year has had some wonderful parts for me personally, like completing my third session and taking real strides forward professionally, and my trip with my husband to Michigan to see my family and take him to the Upper Peninsula, but it's been exhausting on a lot of other levels. Here's hoping that I can take the lessons from these past 12 months forward and leave the rest of it behind for a fresh beginning in the new year! And, of course, that I read wonderful books :) But before we call it quits on 2017, here is a look back at the last month.

In Books...

  • The Lady Elizabeth: I've loved every one of Alison Weir's histories that I've read, but this is the second of her fiction works to leave me cold. Despite the fact that she's a much better historian, the fiction is just as trashy as Philippa Gregory's, but not as compelling. 
  • The Games: I'm one of those weirdos that likes the Winter Olympics better (mostly because of figure skating), so before Pyeongchang kicks off, I figured I'd read this book about the history of the Games. It's good, but very information-dense...I tend to prefer my non-fiction a little more narrative. 
  • The Girl In The Tower: The first book in this series just made my best books of the year list, so I had high hopes for the second one and they were not disappointed! Vasya's adventures continue, taking her both on the hunts for bandits and into the dangerous world of Moscow high society. The final book is due out next year but I need it NOW!
  • The Lady of the Rivers: Philippa Gregory's books tend to be guilty pleasures for me...I know they're historically dubious and often sensationalistic, but they're easy to read and kind of fun for brain candy. This one is neither especially good or especially bad from her, so it was entertaining enough and not especially memorable. 
  • The Power: This examination of what might happen to our world if women developed abilities that made them the physically dominant (and therefore, more powerful) gender had interesting ideas, but never really developed narrative cohesion.
  • Rebecca: This book inspired a fantastic Hitchcock movie, and might be the best example of imposter syndrome I've ever read. Very good and something I'll definitely read again!

In Life...

  • The holidays continued: I managed to get my presents off and out on time and had a lovely Christmas with my husband and his parents and the dogs. I am very glad that the season of official overeating is over. 
  • The Broke and the Bookish Secret Santa: I did this for the first time last year, and had such fun with it that I was really looking forward to it this year! It's so fun to try to find fun things for your new internet friend...and get your own presents in return! Many thanks to Lois at You, Me, and A Cup of Tea for the books and pug goodies! 

One Thing:

Thankfully my own experience with this kind of thing in Carson City has been minimal, but this piece from the New York Times on the rampant sexual harassment of female lobbyists, usually by male lawmakers, in state legislatures rings true to a lot of things I've heard through the grapevine. I'm glad that the national climate is turning towards actual consequences for men who exploit their positions of power to prey on women.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Book 109: Seating Arrangements

"Transformation captivated Livia, but she was squeamish at the thought of changing her own life. To change would be to admit she'd been going about things all wrong. Her people noticed change, discussed it, speculated about its superficiality, its vanity. The only kind of change they understood was the flickering skin of the octopus, blending in with its surroundings, or the real estate flipping of the hermit crab, always shopping for a slightly roomier prison."

Dates read: December 1-9, 2016

Rating: 5/10

I went to a selective university, where I changed my major right before my senior year and finished all of my degree requirements in two semesters. I took the LSAT with no prep classes. I went to law school. I took the Michigan bar exam (with prep classes, which is definitely why I passed it). I was a practicing litigator. I've made two cross-country moves to places where I knew virtually no one. All of these were stressful. And I'd do all of them again before I'd plan another wedding.

Don't get me wrong, my wedding ended up being lovely and really fun (and I have the pictures to prove it thanks to my amazing photographer Lauren Lindley, who I will shamelessly plug because it's my blog and I can and she travels everywhere to shoot, you guys!), but all the intricacies of planning it were awful. Interestingly enough, it's not the bride in Maggie Shipstead's Seating Arrangements who's struggling during the wedding weekend. Even seven months pregnant, Daphne Van Meter is laid-back and serene. It's her family that are the ones having a hard time.

Her father Winn is obsessed with both his failure to attain membership in an exclusive golf club and his long-standing crush on Daphne's friend and bridesmaid, Agnes. Meanwhile, younger sister Livia is still reeling from a bad breakup. Another bridesmaid, Dominique, is trying to figure out if she still belongs in the New England WASPy world of her boarding school youth, when she and Daphne became friends. Over the course of the long weekend, the tensions roiling beneath the surface of the otherwise picturesque island gathering begin to escape their usual repression. There's even a literal explosion!

Let's start with the good. Shipstead's prose is graceful and insightful, neither spare nor flowery but confident and perceptive. Quality writing can make up for a lot of ills, and Shipstead's is damn good. The characters she creates feel real, and Livia and Dominique are sympathetic and interesting...especially Livia, whose raw heartbreak reminded me of my own tumultuous collegiate relationship. But where the book was held back from greatness or even real re-readability was its focus on Winn, by far the least compelling character in the book. Like the others, he's drawn with psychological verisimilitude: everything she reveals about why he is the way he is makes sense. But that doesn't change the fact that the way he is is unpleasant and off-putting, and I didn't enjoy reading about him. Since his storyline makes up about 40-50% of the book, that was a real problem. I'm not necessarily opposed to unlikable characters, but I want them to be complicated and interesting. Winn is just a pompous social-climbing blowhard going through a midlife crisis. There's nothing special there. For people who enjoy books about rich people behaving badly, you'll probably like this book. And for the rest of us, there's still a lot of good here. But for me, it mostly made me more interested in reading Shipstead's other work.

Tell me, blog you like reading about rich people behaving badly?

One year ago, I was reading: The Guineveres

Two years ago, I was reading: Hood

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'm Looking Forward to In 2018

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! These tend to be my hardest topics to do, the ones that are about looking forward to future releases, because I read so much backlist. But even I have some releases I'm particularly looking forward to...I'm highlighting mostly books I've been fortunate enough to get an advance reader's copy of!

The Winter of the Witch: This is easily my #1 most anticipating. I loved the first two books of Katherine Arden's Winternight trilogy and can not WAIT to get my hands on the third!

The Immortalists: This book is about what happens when four children are told the dates of their deaths by a fortune teller, and how they go on and live their lives. It sounds exactly up my alley, honestly.

This Could Hurt: Having had a bad workplace environment in the past, one of the things I appreciate most about my job is the fantastic people I work with. This story about a group of people linked by their workplace sounds super interesting.

The Sky Is Yours: Dystopias always pique my interest, and then add in dragons and I'm definitely excited to read it!

Sophia of Silicon Valley: It sounds pretty much like The Devil Wears Prada in the tech world, which is intriguing.

Court Justice: My husband (and I'm sure many other sports-video-game players) misses the NCAA football series, which he always bought every year. This book tells the story of Ed O'Bannon's lawsuit against the NCAA for licensing the images of players, which is what put a stop to it, and I'm curious to hear about his story.

All The Castles Burned: I've always got my eye out for books about boarding school drama.

Chosen Country: I think most people don't appreciate how rural Nevada actually is because they think about Las Vegas and sometimes Reno, but that changed at least briefly when the Bundy case made the news, and this book is about that case as well as the changing face of the West, so it sounds very attuned to my particular interests.

The Red Word: Sexual assault on college campuses is something we've all become increasingly aware of, and this book examines the issue through the story of a young woman caught between a group of feminists and a fraternity.

Girls Burn Brighter: Books about female friendship, especially through tough circumstances, have an undeniable appeal to me.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Book 108: Freakonomics

"Economics is, at root, the study of incentives: how people get what they want, or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing. Economists love incentives. They love to dream them up and enact them, study them and tinker with them. The typical economist believes the world has not yet invented the problem that he cannot fix if given a free hand to design the proper incentive scheme." 

Dates read: November 26-December 1, 2016

Rating: 6/10

Lists/Awards: New York Times bestseller

Why do people act the way they do? It's a question that has been debated by societies for what we can only assume is basically the entirety of human existence. Astrology has been used to try to explain it, as has the balances of humors in the blood. In modern times, there's an entire scientific field that studies human behavior and what causes it. Psychology, though, tends to focus on the bigger, more 40,000 foot view of why people behave in particular ways. It doesn't answer, for example, why crack dealers often live with their mothers. In Freakonomics, economist Steven D. Levitt (with co-writer Stephen J. Dubner) attempt to answer that and various other questions about human quirks. Some of these are relatively light-hearted (tracking how baby names move down through social classes over time), and some have much more serious implications (tying Roe v. Wade/more widespread access to abortion with decreasing crime rates).

Levitt and Dubner put all their faith into a field usually called behavioral economics. It posits that humans are rational actors, and when they appear not to be, it's because the incentives that drive their choices aren't obvious. How much you go along with their theories depends on how much stock you put into behavioral economics, and for me, it's honestly a mixed bag. The most interesting portion of the book, in my eyes, was the chapter on abortion and crime. It's more of a purely statistical dive, and the underlying assumption that he uses, that women are good judges of when they shouldn't bring children into the world because they won't be able to devote sufficient resources (money, of course, but time and energy too) to their raising, is one that makes sense to me. The children that might otherwise have been brought into the kind of poor home environments that correlate with (but don't necessarily cause) criminality simply weren't born and therefore can't be in the world, committing crimes. It's a bold hypothesis, and unsurprisingly turned out to be one of the most controversial. Since I had the revised/expanded edition of the book, they actually included an appendix chapter doing a deep dive into their statistical analysis. I've got some very basic grounding in statistics, but it was beyond my ability to actually comprehend, so I just have to trust that they did their homework correctly.

There are some other interesting tidbits, including one about charter/magnet schools and their effect on student achievement, but I found myself often skeptical of their breezy assurance of their own correctness and faith in their data. After the massive statistical analysis failure of the 2016 election, it's more obvious than ever that data isn't always needs careful parsing and tweaking to accurately reflect reality.

Tell me, blog much faith do you put in data?

One year ago, I was reading: The Moonlight Palace 

Two years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope Santa Brings

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! With Christmas coming next week, true blue book nerds are always looking for book-shaped presents under the tree (and bookcases to put them in, and room for those bookcases, etc). While I can feel my husband cringing at the thought of bringing even more books into our apartment, there are definitely more that I want! Here are ten I'd really like to get my paws on (once they're out in paperback, if they're not already):

Scoring the Screen: I love a good film score, so of course I'm interested in a whole book about how they're put together.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness: I loved Arundhati Roy's first novel, so I'm biding my time until her long-awaited follow-up is released in paperback to read it!

Lower Ed: I've followed the author's online presence for a while, and her writing about how for-profit colleges prey on the aspirational dreams of the poor definitely has me interested enough to read her book on the subject.

Young Jane Young: With so many stories about sexual misbehavior in Congress lately, this book about a 20-something who has an affair with her married Congressman boss and the ramifications on her life seems very timely.

The Woman Who Smashed Codes: This real story, about a WWI-era codebreaker (and her husband) was recommended to me by a friend and seems VERY much up my alley!

No One Cares About Crazy People: My mom has worked in and around the mental health field for decades, so I've heard about it from her perspective and my own undergraduate background in psychology gave me some more information, so basically I'm the target audience for this history about psychiatric treatment in the modern world.

Hiddensee: I can be a little hit and miss on Gregory Maguire, but with my sister's ballet I sat through endless performances of The Nutcracker so I am curious to read about his take on the story!

A Different Class of Murder: Upper class British true crime murder thriller basically checks every box I have.

Jane Seymour: I will never apologize for my Tudor-craziness, and this is supposed to be one of the best books on Henry's third wife.

The Great Beanie Baby Bubble: Having lived through the Beanie Baby craze, I remain astonished and how wide and deep it went before just vanishing, so this book about it seems like it'll be fascinating reading!

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Book 107: The Girls

"I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you- the boys had spent that time becoming themselves."

Dates read: November 24-26, 2016

Rating: 8/10

Teenage girls are kind of sociopaths. I know that I was. You're just figuring out who you are and who you might want to be, trying on identities like clothes. Everything seems so black and white: you're a good girl or a bad girl, a nerd or a popular, a prude or a slut. Male attention is both terrifying and intoxicating, often at the same time. You want desperately to feel like an adult and demonstrate that you're not a child anymore without really knowing what the consequences of your actions could be. It's a wonder any of us get out of it with even somewhat-functional mental health.

Emma Cline's The Girls has been widely billed as a novel about the Manson cult, but that's not entirely accurate. It does feature a significant portion of plot about a Manson-esque group, but what it's really about, more than anything else, is the heady experience of being a 14 year-old girl. We first meet Evie Boyd as an older woman, staying briefly in a friend's beach house when she finds herself between gigs as a live-in nurse. Her friend's college-age son stops by with his teenage girlfriend, and watching them and her brings back Evie's memories of that fateful summer when she found herself around the edges of the lives of Russell (our Manson stand-in) and his pack of girls.

Evie's in an especially vulnerable spot that summer; her father has recently left her mother for a young colleague, and Evie and her longtime best friend are starting to drift apart. She's fascinated by the group of teenage hippies she sees around town, drawn to their exotic-seeming poverty so different from her own comfortable trust-funded existence (she's the granddaughter of a never-named wealthy former child star clearly modeled on Shirley Temple). Evie's particularly hypnotized by their ringleader, Suzanne, and the intensity of her infatuation finds her constantly lying and making excuses to go out to the ranch where the group lives, doing whatever she can (sex, drugs, helping the girls break into homes in her own neighborhood) to fit in and attract Suzanne's attention and praise. But eventually, as in real life, there's a grisly murder and the hazy fever dream of that summer ends, leaving Evie back in her old world.

Cline has a real gift for atmospheric, lush prose. She creates a powerful sense of mood, a feeling that every moment is weighed with portent...which goes right along with what I remember from being that age. Everything is so close to the surface, and Cline really captures those feelings of uncertainty and being right on the edge of something meaningful that characterize being that age. She also draws a picture-perfect portrait of the kind of all-consumingness of female friendships in the teenage years. It's a tricky thing to depict without devolving into cliche, but Cline really gets at the heart of that desperation to please the object of your obsession. The plot moves along fairly slowly, but the careful attention paid to creating the ambiance of teenage girlness and the rich, vivid writing more than make up for it. I don't know that this is a book that would be as successful if you've never actually been a young teenage girl and can't identify with it, but I personally really enjoyed it and would recommend it highly.

Tell me, blog you regret some of the things you did when you were 14?

One year ago, I was reading: The Wonder

Two years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Books of 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're looking at our favorite books of the year. Instead of doing a list of my favorite books I've read this year, I like to focus this list on my favorite 2017 releases. The books I read that came out this year are a bit of a mixed bag, but here were my 10 favorites!

The Bear and the Nightingale: I absolutely loved this YA fantasy based on Russian folklore. The best part? It's the first of a trilogy!

Shattered: This book relied heavily on interviews with staffers and painted an inside picture of a campaign that some people I know (who worked on it) disagree with, but seems like it comports with what we saw happening on the outside. I thought it was really interesting and well-written.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?: As a woman who works in politics, I'm always interested in reading about the experience of other women who work in politics because there aren't nearly enough of us. And Alyssa Mastromonaco's book is funny and smart and wonderful.

Lincoln In The Bardo: This was a weird book, tbh. It's written more like a play than anything else. But once you kind of get used to the way it's trying to tell its story, it gets inside your head and your heart.

La Belle Sauvage: Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials series is one of my all-time favorites, and I'll admit I was nervous about whether this, the first in a second trilogy, would measure up. It's not as immediately great as The Golden Compass, but it's very good indeed and I'm so excited for the other two!

The Hate U Give: This was one of the most-hyped books of the year, and while I didn't think it quite measured up to the stratospheric expectations, it was very good and very timely and very much worth reading.

Stay With Me: From the blurb, you think you're getting into about a book about a marriage tested when a second wife enters the picture. But with each new twist, it becomes about so much more, and it's an unforgettable story of love and loss.

If We Were Villains: This is so heavily "inspired by" Donna Tartt's The Secret History that it's almost more of a retelling, but it's an entertaining read.

Too Fat Too Slutty Too Loud: I love Anne Helen Petersen's writing about celebrity, so I wanted this book about famous women who transgress social expectations to be brilliant. Alas, it is only good, but it's still very much thought-provoking.

Chemistry: A Chinese-American grad student who seems like she has it made blows it all up and then tries to figure out what's next. On the way, she comes to terms with how unhappy her "great" life had made her and has a reckoning with the ways her upbringing has continued to resonate through her life.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Book 106: The Emigrants

"Even the least of his reminiscences, which he fetched up very slowly from depths that were evidently unfathomable, was of astounding precision, so that, listening to him, I gradually became convinced that Uncle Adelwarth had an infallible memory, but that, at the same time, he scarcely allowed himself access to it. For that reason, telling stories was as much a torment to him as an attempt at self-liberation. He was at once saving himself, in some way, and mercilessly destroying himself."

Dates read: November 21-24, 2016

Rating: 7/10

One of the hardest things I've ever done is leave home. I love the Ann Arbor area where I grew up. The trees, the lakes, the restaurants and bars...I know them and love them and miss them. When I got back from my three years in Tuscaloosa for law school, I swore to myself that I'd never live anywhere else long-term ever again. But then, of course, I've ended up doing just that. And as much as I love Reno and our life here, there's a part of me that still thinks of Michigan as "home".

Leaving one's area of origin, and the emotional impact of doing so, is at the heart of W. G. Sebald's The Emigrants. I thought it was a novel when I picked it out for my Kindle, but it's not: it's a collection of four short stories on a common theme. The first two stories are fairly short and deal with men displaced in Europe as a result of their Jewish heritage during World War 2, and the second two are longer and deal with transnational migrations, with one story having no apparent connection to Jewishness and the second being the most explicitly tied to the Holocaust of all four of them, as well as being the only story primarily based in a female perspective.

All of the stories end in tragedy, and only one is told even in part as a first-person narrative. It gives the book a sense of remove, and the beauty of Sebald's language makes it feel like almost like an elegy in prose form. The power of loss and memory is gorgeously and movingly conveyed...every one of these stories gently rips your heart out. As someone who doesn't particularly enjoy short stories, I found that this was a very well-done collection of them. There aren't too many, and they are all arranged around a similar theme in a way that really works and keeps the stories flowing together and seeming like one piece. Like four movements to a piece of music. I would definitely recommend it, but maybe if you're not in a low mood already, because as lovely as it is, it's a downer.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever lived away from home for a long time?

One year ago, I was reading: Seating Arrangements

Two years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Bookish Settings I'd Love to Visit

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week we're talking about book settings we'd love to visit. There are SO many places I've read about that I'd like to go that this was hard to narrow down! I've divided my list into two sections: those from fantasy novels and don't actually exist, and those that are based on/are places in the real world.

Hogwarts (Harry Potter): Obviously. For real, though, I am expecting to see this on just about every list today haha!

Jordan College (The Golden Compass): Philip Pullman creates such a magical place in this grand university that I'd give anything to see it in person!

Abhorsen's House (Sabriel): The ancestral home of the Abhorsens sounds so cozy and lovely! (PS: this book, one of my favorites, is on Kindle sale right now for just $1.99)

Lothlorien (The Fellowship of the Ring): It was so hard to pick just one setting from this book! Because of course I want to visit the Shire, and Tom Bombadil's house, and Elrond's house too. But if I could only see one, it would be the beautiful forest ruled by Celeborn and Galadriel.

The Fairy Market (Stardust): The way Neil Gaiman paints this enchanted festival makes me want to be able to wander the stalls and see the goods for myself!

The unspoiled Nebraska prairie (My Antonia): This would be impossible to actually visit because it's long gone, but the way Willa Cather describes the loveliness of the prairie before widespread settlement makes me wish it was still around to be marveled at.

Napoleonic St. Petersberg (War and Peace): This one goes back in time, because the way that the balls and parties of the old nobility are portrayed seems so exciting!

Charleston (The Lords of Discipline): This book, apart from its primary narrative, also serves as a love letter to Charleston, which made me really want to see the city.

Hampden College (The Secret History): The northeast is packed with beautiful little liberal arts campuses, and while Hampden is technically fictional, it's apparently based heavily on Bennington College.

Hever Castle (The Other Boleyn Girl): The next time I go to England (which is an amazing thing to be able to say), I really want to just go all-out on a royalty binge and visit castles...and I'm particularly eager to see this one, which was the home of the Boleyn family.