Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven’t Read

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're looking at books by favorite authors we haven't gotten to yet. For me, I've chosen the next book on my list for each, because I have several for most of them!

The Yiddish Policemen's Union (Michael Chabon): I've heard this story, about a fictional Jewish community in Alaska in the 50s, is a great read, which doesn't surprise me because Chabon is super talented.

Cat's Eye (Margaret Atwood): Social violence between teen girls written by Margaret Atwood? Obviously something I'm going to read.

Uncle Tungsten (Oliver Sacks): This is Sacks' memoir of his boyhood, and how he came to fall in love with science, and with every Sacks book I read I get a little sad that there's now one less I'll experience for the first time and one day I'll run through my entire stash and that'll be it.

How To Be Good (Nick Hornby): I'll read anything Hornby puts out, I love the way he writes...even though this story about a man who suddenly decides to embrace charity after a lifetime of being angry and bitter and the impact it has on his family doesn't sound quite up my alley, it's Hornby so I'll probably like it.

The Cuckoo's Calling (J.K. Rowling): I'm not huge into the mystery genre, but I love Rowling's writing, so I'm looking forward to diving into this one soon!

The Buried Giant (Kazuo Ishiguro): I like fantasy, and I love Ishiguro, and I am excited for both those things together.

The White Princess (Philippa Gregory): Are Gregory's books high quality literature? No. I enjoy them anyways, so on to Elizabeth of York!

Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen): This is the only one of her adult works I haven't read yet! I've heard it's a little Gothic-y and I'm interested to see what that looks like.

Gulp (Mary Roach): Her curiosity and sense of humor about everything have made her books mist-reads for me!

The Life of Elizabeth I (Alison Weir): I've found her fiction to be slightly disappointing, but that's only because her non-fiction is so very good!

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Book 147: Migraine

"But we now encounter a much more fundamental problem, which springs from the fact that migraine cannot be considered simply as an event in the nervous system which occurs spontaneously and without reason: the attack cannot be considered apart from its causes and effects. A physiological statement cannot enlighten us concerning the causes of migraine, or its importance as a reaction or item of behavior. Thus a logical confusion is implicit in the very formulation of such a question as: What is the cause of migraine? For we require not one explanation or one type of explanation, but several types, each in its own logical province. We have to ask two questions: why migraine takes the form(s) that it does, and why it occurs when it does."

Dates read: May 20-26, 2017

Rating: 6/10

I first started getting migraines when I was about 18. I'd gone on the Pill, and suddenly found myself getting these awful headaches. For a couple years, I didn't make the connection, and just thought they were especially bad normal headaches. But when I was driving home from a shift at Blockbuster and literally had to pull off to the side of the road and barf, I finally went to see my doctor. When I told her about the excruciating pain on one side of my head that I got periodically, she diagnosed me with migraines and gave me Imitrex and the first time I took one, it was like magic. Within about an hour, the pain just...stopped. I could go about my life like a normal person. It was like a miracle.

It took me a few more years to figure out that the headaches were tied to my menstrual cycle and there's a whole series of nonsense that's connected to that, but that's not the important part. The important part is that as both a migraine sufferer and a devoted fangirl of Oliver Sacks, I was of course going to pick up his book Migraine. It's a quasi-scientific text, but I think it's still accessible to a popular audience. It just needs be an informed popular audience, or at least one willing to get their Google on when he starts talking about neurotransmitters.

Sacks takes a comprehensive look at migraines, beginning with setting them into historical context (they've been around at least as long as recorded history) and then describing the two basic types of migraines: with aura ("classical migraine") and without aura ("common migraine"). He goes into detail about the symptoms of the two, beginning with the common migraine, which is distinguished primarily by an intense, usually one-sided headache and some degree of nausea, and then proceeding to classical migraine, which is similar but also very different. The classical migraine has a visual component known as the "aura", which often takes the form of  bright colors or patterns clouding the visual field. He then discusses possible causes, triggers, and treatment options.

In my experience (which is admittedly as a person with a psychology degree), Oliver Sacks' writing style, which bursts with curiosity and enthusiasm, tends to override concerns about technicality. That being said, of the many books I've read of his, this the most textbook-like. Assuming that the primary audience to which this book will appeal will be migraine-sufferers who already have some background information about their condition, I think it's fine. Even as a fairly savvy consumer, I learned things about migraines that I didn't know before. Since I'm the type of person who doesn't have aura, I was surprised to learn that it's actually fairly common for people who do get aura to get just the aura, without any headache component. Migraine sufferers will also be able to see how many of their symptoms are more common than they thought. I also found myself very grateful that my migraines debuted after the use of triptan drugs to treat migraines became standard, since I know my Imitrex is a lifesaver and previous drugs sound like they were generally less effective with more side effects. I'd definitely recommend this book to people curious about migraines, since I think it distills a lot of research and thought into one volume. Unless you're otherwise interested or a Sacks completist, though, it's probably not worth your time.

Tell me, blog friends...how many of you also suffer from migraines?

One year ago, I was reading: Stay With Me (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Professor and the Madman

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books On My Fall TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're revealing our fall to-be-read lists! Here are the next ten books that are up for me on my schedule (as always, there will be book club books that get added into the lineup).

Ready Player One: There was the hype. Then there was the backlash. So I'm going into this expecting something more enjoyable than not, but not anything extraordinary.

The Things They Carried: I've read a lot of books rooted in World War II, but I haven't actually read much literature based on the Vietnam War and this is a classic.

Flip: I think I found this on a list of underrated YA novels, and then found it on sale for the Kindle.

The Library Book: I am really excited for Susan Orlean's look at a historic library fire, and libraries in general!

Prep: I've never read Curtis Sittenfeld before, and I have a soft spot for coming-of-age stories, so this seems like a good place to start.

We Are Not Ourselves: This book got a bunch of praise a few years back, and a family drama does tend to appeal to me.

Detroit: An American Autopsy: The rise and fall and rebirth of Detroit is in my blood (my mom is a native Detroiter and I actually lived there for the first couple years of my life) so I'm always interested in reading about the city.

Bringing Down The House: They made this into a movie, which I never saw, but the real life tale of a bunch of nerds fleecing Vegas sounds entertaining!

Seduction: Karina Longworth's podcast is one of my very favorites so I am really looking forward to reading her book about Howard Hughes' Hollywood story.

In Defense Of Food: Michael Pollan has some bad takes, but I've always been interested in reading a book of his to get more of a sense of his work.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Book 146: If We Were Villains

"Ten years of trying to explain Dellecher, in all its misguided magnificence, to men in beige jumpsuits who never went to college or never even finished high school has made me realize what I as a student was willfully blind to: that Dellecher was less an academic institution than a cult. When we first walked through those doors, we did so without knowing that we were now part of some strange fanatic religion where anything could be excused so long as it was offered at the altar of the Muses."

Dates read: May 15-20, 2017

Rating: 7/10

For someone who's been dead for over 500 years, William Shakespeare's still pretty damn popular. It seems like there's at least one major screen adaptation every year. And everyone reads at least one of his plays at some point in high school, right? They're probably the only plays which most people have actually read all the way through in their lives (I include myself in this number, I don't particularly care for reading plays). While some people hate his stuff and most feel more-or-less indifferent, there are also some people who REALLY love it. I'm not one of those people, but I do have a favorite of his works (Much Ado About Nothing) and still regret that I didn't get a chance to take a course focused on Shakespeare in college from a legendary professor.

It's a group of people who are super duper into Shakespeare that is the focus of M. L. Rio's If We Were Villains. The book mostly follows seven Shakespearean acting students in their senior year at an exclusive arts college. We know something big and bad happened, because the book opens with one of the seven (Oliver, our protagonist) being released from prison after a decade. He agrees to return to his alma mater and speak to the detective who put him behind bars to finally reveal the true story of what happened all those years ago.

Based on the length of sentence alone, it shouldn't be surprising that what happened was that someone died. The who and the how I'll leave for the reading of it, because the bigger issue is what happened after that person died. The way the remaining members of the group deal with the death, and how it changes their relationships with each other, both on and off the stage. They'd each developed a little niche over their years together (the king, the femme fatale, the good guy, the ingenue, the villain, etc), and the removal of one of the spokes of the wheel renders the structure unstable.

If you've read The Secret History, a lot of that will sound pretty familiar to you. Indeed, it's pretty obvious that Donna Tartt's debut novel was a significant source of inspiration for Rio for her own. And that's fine, Tartt doesn't own the concept of a tight-knit group of students studying an obscure subject at an exclusive private college dealing with the fallout from the death of one of their own. But here's the thing: if you're going to write a book with strong parallels to a novel that's been consistently popular since it was published 25 years ago, you have do it at least as well or better. And although I want to make it clear that I did enjoy reading If We Were Villains (I did love The Secret History, after all), Rio didn't quite hit that mark.

The characters fall a little too neatly into the roles they fill onstage: Richard, the king-type, really is a raging egomaniac; Meredith the femme fatale really is a sexpot; Wren the ingenue really is demure and sweet, etc etc. Where this fails most problematically is that the "background player" types are kind of underdeveloped, and that's Oliver and Filippa. Oliver, you'll remember, is the main character and while it's not unusual for a reader-insert-character protagonist to be kind of bland, Oliver never really captured or held interest for me. Filippa is the only other member of the group that doesn't come from privilege and the small peeks we get at who she is make her easily the most potentially interesting character, and it's frustrating that she's given the short shrift. The plot developments, too, weren't handled especially deftly. I'm generally not good at anticipating plot twists, but I called nearly all of the major ones easily. Rio's prose is solid, though, and I'd definitely be open to reading more from her in the future. I'd recommend this to people who loved The Secret History and want to read something similar, but if you haven't read that book yet, it's better than this one.

Tell me, blog friends...are there "if you liked that, you'll love this" books that you feel pulled off being better than the inspiration?

One year ago, I was reading: Valley of the Dolls (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: Smoke

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Hidden Gems

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about books that are great that don't get as much love as they should. I used Goodreads to get a sense of what's less rather than more popular, so here are ten books you may not have heard of that are pretty great!

The Big Rewind: I loved this debut light-hearted murder mystery with a romantic twist. It was delightful and I will continue to talk about how much I enjoyed it forever!

Valley of the Moon: Time-travely romantic drama does not sound like the kind of thing I would like at all, but I found it charming and a very pleasant read!

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: Like so many other lady people, I've been fascinated for years by Anne Boleyn and this nonfiction examination of the stories told about her was really interesting!

City of Thieves: This coming-of-age buddy adventure story set during the siege of Leningrad from one of the Game of Thrones showrunners is short and in many ways predictable but so well-told it packs a powerful punch anyways.

The Guineveres: I thought this novel about the lives of four young women, all named Guinevere, that end up in Catholic convent for different reasons was lyrical and powerful and was disappointed that it never took off the way I thought it would because it's great!

A Leg To Stand On: I am always here for Oliver Sacks, and this book, about his own experience of suffering an alienation from his leg after a horrible hiking accident, has the kind of wisdom and compassion that are a hallmark of his writing.

The Man Without A Face: This nonfiction work by Masha Gessen about the rise of Vladimir Putin feels incredibly prescient and relevant to our times.

So Big: Giant is Edna Ferber's novel that got made into the big splashy Hollywood movie (I haven't read it yet, but I have a copy waiting!), but this one won the Pulitzer and its testament to inner strength and finding the joy in life is beautiful and powerful.

The Butcher's Daughter: If you like Tudor-era historical fiction but want to get out of the palaces and into the villages, this smart, insightful book about a young woman who becomes a nun and then has to figure out what's next after the Reformation would be an excellent choice.

Stay With Me: You read the back, about a woman in Nigeria whose traditional in-laws push her husband to take a second wife when she fails to get pregnant, and think you know where this is going. But it twists and turns far deeper than ever expected.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Book 145: The Skies Belong To Us

"In struggling to make sense of this madness, pundits and politicians often invoked the term epidemic to describe the skyjacking crisis. They spoke more truly than they knew, for one of the best ways to understand the Golden Age of Hijacking is through the lens of public health. The phenomenon spread in strict accordance with the laws of epidemiology: skyjackings always occurred in clusters that traced back to a single incident that had turned contagious."

Dates read: May 12-15, 2017

Rating: 6/10

September 11, 2001, happened when I was in high school, at the beginning of my junior year. I remember being in Mrs. Brehm's Public Speaking class, chatting with a classmate about something in Spanish class, when the loudspeaker announced that there had been an attack in New York. We turned on the TV after the first plane struck, obviously, but before the second one did. It's a day burned in my memory, for which there is a very definite "before" and "after". The most noticeable hallmark of the after, of course, is the airport security regime that's been in place ever since.

I knew there had been domestic airplane hijackings (like everyone else, I'd heard of D.B. Cooper), but I'd had no idea how numerous they were until I read Brendan Koerner's The Skies Belong To Us. In the late 60s/early 70s, they were happening all the time! Sometimes even twice in one day! Koerner tells the general story of the brief skyjacking "craze", but also focuses on a particular instance to tell the story writ both large and small. The crime he chooses to highlight was a hijacking to Algeria, committed by Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow.

Holder and Kerkow were a deeply odd couple, united mostly by their love of drugs. Holder used them to salve the psychic wounds of a life scarred by systemic racism and the Vietnam War, Cathy used them because they were fun. A one-time small-town Oregon good girl (she was track teammates with Jeff Prefontaine), she grew up to become a party girl in hippie San Francisco. Through much more luck than planning or skill (they were almost thwarted by their own idiocy), they managed to pull off stealing an airplane and get $500,000 hard currency to take with them. Although their original plan was to head to southeast Asia, when that got derailed, Holder chose to head to Algeria. From there, the couple headed to France, where Holder fell deeper into long-brewing mental illness and Kerkow propelled herself into the most exclusive social circles she could find. While the pair eventually split and Holder returned to the US, Kerkow is still living the life of an international fugitive from justice to this day.

Although I certainly recall life before the TSA, I don't recall life before any sort of airport security at all. Which is apparently how it used to be for a long time, even after all this constant hijacking nonsense! The airlines pitched a fit about even the most minor screening measures because they didn't want to inconvenience their customers! Which, coming from a time in which little girls are bounced from flights because they're wearing leggings and ticketed customers are dragged off flights and beaten, seems literally crazy. I mean, there are definitely things about that time that I 100% don't want to go back to, but given what we hear about the actual efficiency of TSA at actually finding any sort of dangerous material, it seems like maybe considering the idea of lighter security (like PreCheck, but for everyone!) should be on the list of things to do.

Koerner does a very solid job of balancing all of the elements in his book: the state of the country as a whole at the time, the prime hijacking era and highlighting some illustrative vignettes (including one set right here in Reno where the banks were already closed after the money demand was made so the casinos ponied up the cash), and the story of Roger and Cathy. No one story thread feels irritatingly dominant, and Koerner's treatment of hijacking never feels like cheap drama being played up for shock value. The frequency of hijacking in that era was shocking enough and he's assured enough to let it speak for itself. That he was able to interview Roger before his death definitely helps in creating portraits of the central hijacker and his long-ago girlfriend as actual people and not caricatures. It's a very readable, enjoyable look at a phenomenon that happened not actually that long ago that I'd had NO idea about.

Tell me, blog friends...can you imagine the airlines pushing back on additional screen nowadays?

One year ago, I was reading: The Sisters Chase (review to come)

Two years ago, I was reading: The Other Side of the River

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Like To See As Miniseries

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! I've done a little twist on the topic this week...we're supposed to be talking about TV shows we're excited to see start new seasons now that it's fall. Not to be one of those people, but I don't actually watch a ton of TV lately. So instead, I'm talking about books that could be turned into prestige miniseries that I would watch the crap out of!

The Secret History: This would work well as a movie, too, but a miniseries would give it room to breathe and really get the atmospherics right. It starts off in medias res with a murder (like Big Little Lies!), so there's your hook, and then into the dark and twisty story.

The Interestings: This lifetime-spanning story of a group of friends who meet at a summer camp for creative kids and continue to interact as they grow up and find themselves and settle down could really explore the shifts in their dynamics over time if it was given several hours in which to tell its tale.

Vanity Fair: This book ends up feeling rushed as a movie because there's a lot of plot there (it's long, y'all), but Becky Sharp is a rare compelling female antihero and her scheming and machinations deserve multiple episodes.

The Queen of the Night: The framing device of this book is that an opera singer is offered the opportunity to be the first to sing a new role...only to find out that the opera is based on her truly insane life story (there's too much there for just a movie). Only a handful of people could have done so, and cutting between her attempts to find the source and the actual events would work perfectly onscreen!

Helter Skelter: I know there's allegedly a Tarantino movie on the Manson murders coming, but I'd like to see Ryan Murphy's American Crime Story series take on this case using this book, written by the prosecutor who put Manson away, as the source material.

The Corrections: This has been bandied about for a series adaptation before, if I recall correctly, and I'm not sure why it never went anywhere, but I think the high drama of this family dysfunction story would work well given the room to sprawl out over several episodes.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay: This book about cousins who create a best-selling comic-book hero series in World War II era New York has a lot of flashbacks and a lot of intricate storytelling and cutting any of it would be a travesty so a miniseries is the way to go.

Possession: They did make a movie out of this (which I haven't seen), but it's so textually rich that I can't imagine it did justice to it in less than 2 hours. The dual storylines of a modern-day set of academics studying fairly obscure Victorian-era poets who discover a hidden bond between them really needs several hours to do justice to both of them.

Middlesex: A truly epic family saga stretching from the conflicts between Greece and Turkey in the 1920s to modern-day Detroit and an intersex person's journey of self-discovery has a lot of story to tell, and would be an engrossing show.

The Lords of Discipline: Pat Conroy's military school drama could probably be squished down into a movie, but why do that when you can go full Southern Gothic and let the story sink in slowly?