Wednesday, July 31, 2019

A Month In The Life: July 2019

After a pretty chill June, we made our first big trip in a while this month! It had been over two years since I last visited my beloved home state of Michigan, and a week there was exactly what I needed after an intense winter and spring.

In Books...
  • The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle: I'd never read Japan's master of magical realism before, and while I definitely wouldn't say that I "got" this book about an ordinary man drawn into a shadowy world when first his cat and then his wife disappear, I found it compelling and interesting and I enjoyed reading it.
  • Washington Black: This made the Booker Prize shortlist last year and I'd seen positive reviews floating around the internet, but the descriptions I'd seen of it as an adventure story kept it off my list...until it was chosen for my book club. I liked it more than I'd expected, finding the self-development of the titular Wash compelling, but I thought it had pacing issues and it never really clicked for me.
  • Polite Society: I do quite enjoy Jane Austen's Emma, so when I read that this book was a modern twist on it, set in India, I thought that sounded intriguing. I'm always prepared for this kind of book to be disappointing, so I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it! It's darker than Austen's work, and adding in the viewpoints of other characters made it more complex.  
  • Nickel and Dimed: One of those books I can't believe I've never read! As it's been over 20 years since its publication, a lot of the material from the undercover look at living on poverty wages has become a well-known part of popular discourse and has lost the power to shock. But it's still interesting and worth reading.
  • The Man in the High Castle: I'll admit that reading this in a disjointed way, on vacation, might not have shown it to its best effect. But it seemed more like Philip K Dick was conducting a thought experiment about what the world might have looked like if the Axis Powers had won the day than writing an actual novel. Flat characters, often silly plotting but interesting enough on the thought experiment side to have merit. 
  • How to be Good: Nick Hornby turns his trademark humor and insight on a marriage in crisis. Katie and David feel relatable (both have moments of sympathy and moments of being profoundly irritating, like most people), and Hornby's prose always shines, but it felt like the plot kind of got away from him. 
  • Sashenka: Simon Sebag Montefiore primarily authors nonfiction books about Russian history, but this was his first novel. That inexperience with fiction shows in often clunky writing even as he weaves an interesting story about a woman (the titular Alexandra, called Sashenka) living during the Russian Revolution and then the Stalin era, and then another young woman living in the modern day who tries to track down what happened to her.

In Life...
  • A week in Michigan: I should have known when I found out we were headed home during Art Fair that it was going to be a hot and muggy time! We spent a couple days out at my mom's getting in some quality lake time, and then into Ann Arbor to visit with my sister and brother-in-law in their newly purchased home (which was lovely)! I scored some Art Fair finds and luckily our only experience of power loss was a very brief one.

One Thing:

A New York indie bookstore takes user submissions of their favorite books and roasts them in this delightful Twitter thread. My own submission (The Virgin Suicides) did get an enjoyable quip back!

Gratuitous Pug Picture: 

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Retellings/Folklore-Inspired Tales

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is a freebie, so I decided to highlight one of my favorite subgenres...retellings! There is so much potential in taking a look at stories we already know and changing the perspective on them.

Wicked: Gregory Maguire has made a career of retellings, but his first was this take on the Wicked Witch that is so much deeper and richer than the musical (which is also fantastic in its own way). 

The Bear and the Nightingale: There's a kind of vague Cinderella aspect to this, but the real treat is the Russian folklore, alongside an incredible heroine and a wonderful story that continues over two sequels.

Polite Society: I just recently read this take on Emma, transported to modern day India, and found it really enjoyable, striking a great balance between the broad strokes of the original while still telling its own story.

Ella Enchanted: Teenage me loved this YA spin on Cinderella where she's cursed to always be obedient.

The Song of Achilles: I did not especially enjoy reading The Iliad. But I did enjoy reading this take on it that posits Achilles and Patroclus as a long-term, committed couple.

Boy, Snow, Bird: I did not love one of the concluding "twists" of this book, inspired by Snow White, but until then had found it complicated and rich and interesting.

The Red Tent: Dinah, only daughter of the biblical Jacob, is barely a footnote in the Bible, but this book takes her portrayal there and fleshes it out with life and love and sorrow and joy.

Lamb: This is another retelling of a Bible story, but takes on a much more prominent character...Jesus himself, given a dumbass best friend called Biff, who narrates the "real" story of the Son of God. 

Bridget Jones's Diary: It's a pretty loose take on Pride and Prejudice, but I love this book. So few "funny" books actually work for me and it's hilarious.

The King Must Die: I super loved Greek mythology growing up, and the religious aspects of this retelling of the story of Theseus made for a fascinating read.

American Gods: Neil Gaiman's vivid imagination brings together the spirits of mythological tradition from all over the world to face off with "the new gods" to which society has dedicated itself (media, technology, etc).

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Book 191: In The Woods

"I am not good at noticing when I'm happy, except in retrospect. My gift, or fatal flaw, is for nostalgia. I have sometimes been accused of demanding perfection, of rejecting heart's desires as soon as I get close enough that the mysterious impressionistic gloss disperses into plain solid dots, but the truth is less simplistic than that. I know very well that perfection is made up of frayed, off-struck mundanities. I suppose you could say my real weakness is a kind of long-sightedness: usually it is only at a distance, and much too late, that I can see the pattern."

Dates read: November 22-26, 2017

Rating: 8/10

I feel like my childhood wasn't that long ago, but it also feels like the world is so different than it was then that I can't imagine my own future hypothetical children having the same kind of experience. There weren't cell phones yet, so when we went outside to play there wasn't any real way to get ahold of us. I grew up on a bay on an inland lake, so the neighbor's houses where we went to play were usually within sight distance, but it's not like my mom just sat there and stared out the window until we came home. There was a freedom, an untethered-ness, that I just don't know would even be possible for a kid today. That doesn't mean that it's worse now, it just means it's different.

After all, there are always bad things that can happen when kids are playing outside. In Tana French's In The Woods, our protagonist, Adam Robert Ryan, is playing with his two best friends in their Dublin suburb when something goes wrong. The children vanish. After a few hours of searching, Adam is found, but the other two are gone. And Adam is covered in blood and has been rendered completely mute by whatever it was he'd experienced. He recovers after a few weeks in the hospital, but has no memory of what might have transpired that day. He's pulled out of his old school and put in a boarding school in England, where he starts going by his middle name and grows up more or less like any other kid. He goes back to Ireland, becomes a cop, and manages to work his way into his dream job working on a murder unit in Dublin, where's he's partnered with Cassie Maddox, the only other person as young as he is. Although they're not dating, they have become intensely emotionally intertwined.

For the first time since he left it as a child, Ryan is pulled back to his hometown when a teenage girl is found murdered on an archaeological dig site. As he and Maddox try to figure out why someone might have killed the aspiring ballerina, he can't help but also start to try to dig around inside his own past for any clues it may offer. They chase down leads and become even closer as the stress mounts, creating a combustible situation as Ryan becomes less and less able to separate the crime at hand from whatever might have happened to him that long-ago summer day.

I very much enjoyed this book...while mystery doesn't tend to be my genre of choice (I find it too often dependent on hiding information from the reader and/or ridiculous plotting to build suspense), French also creates excellent, compelling characters and allows their development to be just as crucial to the story as the twists and turns of the investigation. I was emotionally invested in both Ryan and Maddox and wanted to know more about them and the ways their personal lives impacted their police work. And I thought the central mystery was also very well-done and nicely walked the line between dropping clues that fed into the ending without just spelling it out and laying it out there on a plate for you. Then again, "figuring it out" too early doesn't usually detract from my ability to enjoy the work...I've long maintained that if your story doesn't work unless the reader is surprised, it's not a good story, it's just a good twist.

And while the central mystery is wrapped up, I will warn you away from this book if you hate books that have significant ambiguity to the ending: Ryan is never quite able to piece together what happened that day in the woods. I personally didn't mind it and thought French did a good job with keeping that part of the story relevant even if it never came together, if only for the way it impacted Ryan and his mental/emotional state. This is the first in a series, and I've actually heard quite often that it's the weakest of them, so if this is as bad as it gets (and I thought it was really good), I'm excited to read the rest of them. I'd recommend it to everyone, even if you don't usually like mysteries.

One year ago, I was reading: The Pleasing Hour

Two years ago, I was reading: Station Eleven

Three years ago, I was reading: Behave

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Settings I’d Like to See More Of

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about settings we don't see enough of in our reading. Often, not seeing settings you like means that you should broaden your reading outlook, because there are books written about any kind of people living in any kind of place if you're willing to search. But these settings (both literal places and kind of general milieus) are ones that I don't encounter as much and would like to read more from!

South America: Unless it's non-fiction about the Colombian drug trade, I've hardly read anything set in South America. Brazil alone is the fifth most populous country in the world, and I'd love more opportunities to look at what life feels like there or elsewhere in South America.

Eastern Europe: There are lots of books (both fiction and non) about the Holocaust, but relatively few about life before it, or even after it. What is the modern experience or even just pre-WWII experience of Poland, or the Balkans, or Slovakia?

New Zealand: There's Australian-set literature out there that's not hard to find, but I don't think the Kiwis have gotten as much press as their much larger neighbors, even after Lord of the Rings!

Southeast Asia: Vietnam has obviously loomed large in America's cultural imagination for quite a while now, but what about Laos? Burma? The non-Bangkok areas of Thailand?

Northern Africa: Egypt tends to dominate here, but the rest of Northern Africa seems to get forgotten. I don't know that I've ever read anything set in Tunisia or Libya or even seen anything set there while browsing at a bookshop.

Medium-sized cities: I feel like small towns where everyone knows everyone make for ample writing fodder, as do exciting big cities, but what about places that are neither small enough where you see your neighbors every time you go grocery shopping or big enough to let you start over with new friends if something goes wrong?

The Dark Ages: It's not as dynamic (or well-documented) of a time as the Renaissance, but people still lived back then and I'm curious about what it might have been like.

Minor wars: The World Wars, Vietnam, the Civil War, the Napoleonic wars...these conflicts are at least in the background of many great books. But regional wars can have just as much of an impact on the people caught up on them, and give some context to under-reported incidents.

Non-Christian religious social groups: There have been some great books set inside convents and what about a lamasery? Or a madrasa or yeshiva?

Olympic sports: There are books with characters who play the major sports, and plenty of books about ballet, but what about bobsledders? Javelin throwers? Those worlds are surely fascinating in their own right!

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Book 190: The House of Mirth

"She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce—the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice—but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honor of boring her for life."

Dates read: November 17-22, 2017

Rating: 7/10

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

This is going to sound stuck up, but I've been told I'm pretty since I was a little girl. Now that I'm an adult, I don't think I'm devastatingly good-looking, but I'm generally pretty secure that I'm more attractive than not. It's interesting, the way women are trained to think that our looks are one of the most important things about us, but then we're supposed to wait for men to notice and acknowledge it, and we're ridiculed for the things we do to maintain it in the face of time and aging. My husband worries about putting on moisturizer because his skin feels dry and gets flaky in the winter. I worry about putting on all of the steps in my Asian skincare routine so that I combat wrinkles. Don't get me wrong, I love my k-beauty. But I'm aware that social pressure plays a disproportionate role in how I engage with my face, my skin, my body...not just for my own comfort, but for everyone else's too.

And that's in today's world! The farther back you go, the more a woman's looks were central to her prospects in life. When we meet Lily Bart, the heroine of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, she's 29 and worried that her celebrated loveliness is beginning to fade before she's managed to marry herself off to someone who can support her. Lily was raised in wealth, taught to abhor anything "dingy"...and then her father lost their fortune and died and her mother followed him shortly thereafter, leaving Lily poor and alone. She was begrudgingly picked up by her aunt Julia, who gives her the right address and some pocket money, but not nearly enough to keep herself afloat on the glittering social circuit, where she needs this season's stylish hats and gloves and dresses and is expected to gamble regularly at cards. It seems hopeful, though: she's on her way to her friend Judy's house, where she expects to meet and charm  and become engaged to Percy, a very eligible bachelor.

Instead, she feels no chemistry with Percy and earns the ire of married socialite Bertha when Bertha's ex-paramour Lawrence Selden turns up to see Lily. Bertha splits up the budding romance between Lily and Percy, leaving Lily in a position to have to ask Judy's husband, Gus, to make some investments for her to help keep her afloat. Gus views this as an investment in earning Lily's...favors, and though she manages to keep her head above water and even rise briefly, it all comes crashing down when Bertha invites Lily on a trip to keep her husband George distracted while Bertha carries on with her latest conquest. When George discovers the truth, though, Bertha spreads lies painting Lily as a temptress instead, which begins Lily's descent through the social classes.

This book plays with the same kind of themes Wharton would return to in her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Age of Innocence, which I read a few years before I read this: the artificiality of the upper-class New York "society" in which Wharton herself was born and raised and the way it constrains and even punishes real feeling primary among them. Lily herself is a great heroine: it's so easy to identify with her simultaneous longing to do the "right" thing and make it easy on herself by just finding someone rich to marry her and keep her in comfort and to be true to herself and wait for the kind of real connection she feels with Lawrence. Even though women are by and large much less dependent on men for material support today, I think there still exists the temptation, especially as one approaches 30, to just settle for someone good enough and check "marriage" off the list of things you constantly get asked about as a woman. And the power of the rumor mill, and its ability to ruin reputations, remains potent.

It's thematically similar enough to The Age of Innocence that comparison is inevitable, and for my money, Innocence is the better-developed and more rewarding work. But Mirth was also written 15 years beforehand, so it's not surprising that it's less mature. It does bring the added context of a female perspective, and it's partly refreshing to see how far we've come and at the same time how many things are still largely the same in terms of the constraints that society as a whole places on women. I will say one of the things that didn't quite work for me was the novel's central romance: it's never really developed, we're just meant to sort of assume that they've fallen for each other. It's necessary to have established for a late character moment to work, but it's done so superfluously that it doesn't quite have the power it could have. All in all, if you like a sharp social critique and old-society novels, or just like Wharton, it's definitely worth reading. Otherwise, pick up The Age of Innocence instead.   

One year ago, I was reading: Olive Kitteridge

Two years ago, I was reading: Valley of the Moon

Three years ago, I was reading: The Last Picture Show

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Auto-Buy Authors

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about authors who you hear are coming out with a new book and it gets pretty much instantly added to your to-buy list. Not all of these authors are flawless, and they've written some stuff that I didn't care for in most cases, but I'm usually excited enough about how good they have the capacity to be that I'm willing to give them a chance straight away.

Margaret Atwood: I love her ability to build characters while weaving in powerful themes and compelling plots, and her work always gives me something to think about.

Neil Gaiman: His humor and sheer storytelling ability mean I'm always interested in what he writes.

Michael Chabon: He knows how to put together a family epic like no one else.

Kazuo Ishiguro: He's got a way of drawing you into a story and then just amping up the quiet tragedy bit by bit until you're devastated.

Jhumpa Lahiri: Her writing is always elegant without sacrificing the ability to hit an emotional knockout punch.

Alison Weir: I love royal histories, and that's what she does, using facts to create compelling narratives.

John U Bacon: I'm obsessed with Michigan football, and so is he.

Mary Roach: Her books aren't big serious stuff, but they're always interesting and bursting with humor and curiosity.

Lawrence Wright: He takes big, wide-ranging subjects and manages to put them into a narrative that pulls you along and helps you understand without feeling pedantic.

Jeffrey Toobin: When it comes to the legal and political systems, Toobin has the kind of panache and analysis I find super compelling.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Book 189: A Vast Conspiracy

"Ironically, with respect to Starr, the Democrats fell into the same trap as the Republicans did throughout the Clinton years. The problem with Starr was not that he was a lawbreaker, as the questioners consistently tried to imply, but rather that he lacked judgment and reason when it came to this case. Neither Starr nor Clinton was a criminal. The errors of both Starr and his critics illustrated the perils of a world where the legal system had taken over the political system. It was never enough to prove that your adversaries were mistaken; you had to prove that they were evil as well."

Dates read: November 11-17, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: The New York Times bestseller

During the 2016 election, one of the most persistent themes seemed to be the constant air of scandal that floats around the Clintons, Bill and Hillary alike. Maybe that's one of the reasons she had such a hard time shaking the email stuff...there's always the assumption that they're somehow being shady, and that this little whiff of smoke MUST portend a fire somewhere. We all remember his fling with his intern, but there's also his other rumored dalliances, and then Vince Foster, and Whitewater, and it seems to go on and on. At a certain point, they're tied to so much that it feels like something surely has to be going on.

I remember the impeachment scandal, but I was like 10 or 12 at the time, so while I understood that the President had cheated on his wife and lied about it and that's why he was in trouble, I didn't really get it. After Hilary's 2016 loss, I was curious about the backstory that I "knew" but didn't actually know, so I picked up A Vast Conspiracy, Jeffrey Toobin's book on the Clintons in the 90s. It mostly focuses on the impeachment, but also spends a lot of time with Paula Jones' lawsuit and dips into the other scandals enough to give them context. After I read it, I felt much more informed...not just about the actual events of the impeachment, but about the history of the Clintons and how they've gotten to have that air of perpetual shadiness.

On one level, Toobin tells a straightforward story: a politician with a raging libido really likes getting blow jobs from women who are not his wife. When he's Governor of Arkansas, he has an encounter of some kind with a young woman named Paula, who originally seems unperturbed but eventually launches a lawsuit against him after he becomes president. While president, a young intern develops a crush and starts flirting with him and he decides to pursue her. His inability to either keep it in his pants or admit to his wife what he's been up to leads him to be untruthful when he shouldn't have been, and because of the profound dislike and determination of a special prosecutor, he comes very very close to losing his presidency. It's a compelling story, with lots of morally ambiguous parties to project either heroism or villainy onto. I understand why it transfixed the country for months when it happened.

But Toobin also ties it in to a larger story, in which the legal system has become part and parcel of the political arena. The technique was first used by liberal interests to find the victories through the judiciary that they struggled to achieve through the legislature, but as time passed, conservatives picked it up, too, and this is perfectly illustrated by the hounding of the Clintons via the courts. It's an interesting perspective, and even though I'm well-versed in both arenas I don't know that I'd made the explicit connection before. And while I ultimately think the courts do and should have a proper role in protecting and enforcing our legal rights and responsibilities, it is a double-edged sword. Judicial processes don't always lead to the results one thinks they ought to.

As always from Toobin, this is well-written and more interested with delving into the facts to take much of a side. That's not to say it's totally without a does tend to favor Clinton, particularly over Starr and the scheming Joneses, but it doesn't shy away from digging into his flaws either. It seems like there's something about the Clintons that just absolutely enrages people and drives them to try to destroy them as hard as they can...which explains why there's been so much mud thrown their way, and even though relatively little of it has ever hit a mark, with that much dirt in the air everything looks dingy.

One year ago, I was reading: My Own Words

Two years ago, I was reading: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Three years ago, I was reading: Under The Tuscan Sun

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Teenage Girls

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is a character freebie, and I thought quite a bit about what kind of character I wanted to talk about. I decided to go for one of the types of people the world takes the least seriously: teenage girls. As a culture, we dismiss them and the things they find important. But they make some of the best bookish heroes you could ask for!

Vasilisa Petrovna (The Bear and the Nightingale): Vasya is brave and strong and true and vulnerable and scared and just the best.

Jessica Darling (Sloppy Firsts): Jessica's deprecation of herself and everyone else she goes to high school with are just so true to being that age.

Georgia Nicholson (Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging): She's kind of daft and boy-crazy, but she's hysterically funny.

Francie Nolan (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn): Having been a nerd who loved school, obviously I've got a soft spot for those kind of girls.

Starr Carter (The Hate U Give): Starr is whip-smart and brave even through her fear and I loved reading about her.

Hermione Granger (Harry Potter): We all know who the real hero of this series is, right?

Lyra Belacqua (The Golden Compass): Bold as brass.

Sabriel (Sabriel): There is a type of "strong female character" which basically just means extroverted and ass-kicking and even though Sabriel is more than capable of kicking ass if she needs to, she's not that type of easy heroine and that's why she's great.

Lady Catherine (Catherine, Called Birdy): A true Sass Queen for the (Middle) Ages.

Charlotte Doyle (The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle): The way we get to see Charlotte grow and change and come into her own is awesome.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Book 188: The Underground Railroad

"She thought of the picking, how it raced down the furrows at harvest, the African bodies working as one, as fast as their strength permitted. The vast fields burst with hundreds of thousands of white bolls, strung like stars in the sky on the clearest of clear nights. When the slaves finished, they had stripped the fields of their color. It was a magnificent operation, from seed to bale, but not one of them could be prideful of their labor. It had been stolen from them. Bled from them."

Dates read: November 6-11, 2017

Rating: 7/10

Lists/awards: National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, The New York Times bestseller

Does anyone in popular American culture have a more valuable public endorsement than Oprah? She spent decades as the most trusted voice of American housewives through the power of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and when she's given a person or product her imprimatur, it's often a game changer. She's the reason Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz have the careers they do (whether or not that's a good thing, I'll leave up to you). When it turned out A Million Little Pieces was made up of a million little lies, half of the outrage felt like it was because someone had had the gall to lie to Oprah. And lately, I'm sure I can't even imagine how many more women joined Weight Watchers at her urging.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of her blessings have been the authors who wrote books which she included in her book club. Her power is such than in 2016, her selection of The Underground Railroad for that book club drove Colson Whitehead and his publisher to release it two months ahead of schedule. From there, it won a National Book Award, a Pulitzer Prize, and ended up on the longlist for the Man Booker Prize. Obviously that kind of attention had nothing to do with Our Lady Winfrey, but it probably helped the book become a #1 best-seller. Which means that a lot of people who might not have otherwise picked it up did, which is a good thing because this book bends time and history to lay out a damning case on the way America has done wrong by Black people.

Set in the antebellum South, The Underground Railroad focuses on the journey of one slave woman, Cora, towards freedom. The granddaughter of a woman who survived the Middle Passage and was enslaved in Georgia, and the daughter of a slave who ran away when she was just a child, Cora has spent much of her life as an outcast even among her own community. So she's surprised when another slave, Caesar, approaches her to run away with him to find the Underground Railroad. In Whitehead's alternative history, the railroad is literal...there are stations built into the earth that spirit slaves away to the north.

Run away they do, and Cora finds herself first in South Carolina, which in this world has outlawed slavery but holds ownership of Black people itself, and then distributes them as it sees fit in service work. But they're also secretly infecting men with syphilis to study it, and sterilizing women...and then Cora finds out she's being chased by a man called Ridgeway, a slave catcher. So the next stop is North Carolina, which has abolished slavery too...out of a fear that the Black majority population of the state will rebel against their masters. It's replaced their labor with white indentured servants, and escaped slaves are publicly executed. Cora hides there for a while, but before she can devise an escape, she's caught by Ridgeway. That doesn't mean she stops fighting for her freedom, but freedom isn't an easy thing for a slave to find.

I wanted to love this. I wanted to find it a revelation. And it's good, very good actually. Whitehead's prose is both lovely and powerful. And I understand why he can't "go easy" on reads sometimes like she's a punching bag for the universe and she barely gets room to breathe before she's knocked down again, but that's probably what it feels like to be African-American, obviously back then and to a lesser but still very real degree even now. And the characters are interesting, with Whitehead even writing one-off chapters from perspectives other than Cora's, to give us context for the people who have an impact on Cora's life and where they're coming from when they interact with her.

But I just never connected with and got emotionally invested in the novel the way I do for the books that distinguish themselves for me as "great". I cared only in a kind of distant way about Cora, and for all that the side characters were developed they mostly just faded away...when Caesar and Cora are separated relatively early in the proceedings, for instance, I never found myself missing him on the page. And while I cared about Cora and what was going to become of her, it was never in the way where I wanted to skip ahead to see how she might make it around each obstacle thrown in her path. I'm not quite sure why that was, I said, Whitehead's writing is incredible so it's not for any lack of ability to make her more compelling on his part. It just didn't quite get there for me. Nevertheless, it's a very good and powerful book, and one that I'd recommend to just about everyone.

One year ago, I was reading: Disgrace

Two years ago, I was reading: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud

Three years ago, I was reading: The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Childhood Favorites

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about childhood favorites. I have a bunch of teenage favorites that I already talk about all the time, so I made this list focus on books I loved more when I was a kid/pre-teen that I haven't highlighted much, if at all!

James and the Giant Peach: I loved Roald Dahl, but this story about an abused little boy who manages to escape from his wicked aunts with the assistance of a supersized stone fruit and some enormous insects was my favorite.

Julie of the Wolves: I'm not usually into "wilderness survival" type stories, but as an animal-lover, the bond that Julie developed with the wolves got me good.

The Babysitter's Club: I wonder what happened to the several dozen of these books I acquired over the years. I read SO MANY of them as a kid. The supersized specials were the BEST.

Animorphs: Oh man, another series I just absolutely devoured. I was obsessed with these books and read them over and over.

Black Star, Bright Dawn: I've maintained a lifelong interest in the Iditarod thanks to this book about a teenage girl who competes in the race that I re-read multiple times.

The Giver: I'd actually read and already loved this by the time it was assigned reading in middle school. I've never been able to make myself read the sequels because I don't want to diminish my memory of how much I adored this book.

The Egypt Game: I went through a period when I was a kid where I read everything about Ancient Egypt (fiction or otherwise) that I could get my hands on. This book was like the greatest thing ever at that point.

Redwall: I remember spending many summer days at my outdoors-oriented summer day camp hiding from counselors who wanted to make me participate in things to read these books and getting completely lost in the magical world of mice and badgers and stoats.

Charlotte's Web: The childhood tearjerker! Fern and Wilbur and Charlotte (and even Templeton) all have special places in my heart from reading this book many, many times.

Bridge to Terebithia: The other childhood tearjerker! I wonder if kids growing up today would even recognize having the freedom to just...go play in the woods for hours on end.