Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Month In The Life: November 2019

We're in the homestretch, y'all! Just one more month between us and 2020, which is WILD. And while I've had some awesome experiences this year, I always find myself looking forward to the new one about this time. But first, there are holidays to enjoy!

In Books...
  • Patron Saints of Nothing: A Filipino-American teenager, Jason, goes to the Philippines to investigate his cousin's mysterious death amidst Duterte's drug war in this book that tries, but can't quite rise above Issue Book tropes. There's merit here, and a clear desire to raise awareness, but thin characterization and clunky exposition keep it from ever taking off.
  • The Death and Life of the Great Lakes: Given my strong emotional attachment to the Great Lakes as a native Michigander, this was always going to appeal to me. But the examination of the disasters that have transpired through human meddling is written with a clear-eyed urgency and ease to read that makes it especially compelling.
  • Slam: This almost seems like an experiment to see if the man-child attitude of a Nick Hornby character works better on an actual teenage boy. Honestly, it kind of does? Sam is a teenage skateboarder, himself the child of teenage parents, when he gets his girlfriend Alicia pregnant and she elects to keep the baby. I've always enjoyed Hornby's warm humor, but this book just doesn't really go anywhere. 
  • The Great Mortality: The Black Death was a historical event I didn't have much of a grasp on and wanted to learn more about, but this book proved to be a bit of a mixed bag. It was clearly well-researched, but John Kelly's writing style was so casual that it didn't really work for me. It shoots for being entertaining and lands too often on cheesy, which is a pity because I did feel like I learned from it and would have liked it more if it had been more restrained. 
  • The Talented Mr. Ripley: This movie is one of those that I always enjoy watching, so I was curious about the source material. It's different...the murder takes place much earlier, more time is devoted to Ripley's efforts to evade discovery, but it's still very good. Highsmith builds interesting characters and relationships even while keeping the tension humming. 
  • Offshore: This very short novel tells the story of a group of people living on houseboats on the River Thames, with a particular focus on a young wife and mother, Nenna, who is unhappily separated from her husband. The prose is lovely and she does excellent work creating characters without having a lot of pages in which to do so, but the plot didn't quite work for me and the ending left me cold.
  • After The Party: This book tells the story of Phyllis, who returns to England with her older husband and three children before World War 2 and gets involved with a movement both her sisters already belong to...the British Union of Fascists. Phyllis had some inconsistencies as a character, which was a problem because she was the narrator, but the prose quality is solid and the story is interesting, and a very different take on a WW2 tale.

In Life...
  • Winter begins: It was a pretty quiet November, but with this being Thanksgiving weekend, it's officially the holiday season. I baked a delicious Zingerman's coffee cake for dessert for the big meal, and we got our first significant snowfall of the season!

One Thing:

I was not an especially frequent visitor to sports blog Deadspin, though I look forward every year to Drew Magary's Hater's Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalog. But even if you never loaded the website once, the way that it and other media outlets have been purchased and essentially pillaged by private equity is chilling. In a world where getting a reliable paycheck for writing and journalism is growing more and more difficult, the bravery of the whole staff for resigning in protest of the challenges made to their editorial independence is inspiring. Deadspin Forever.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Book 209: My Name Is Venus Black

"In time, he'd discover that I'm not unlike the planet I'm named for. At a great distance, Venus is beautiful, the brightest of stars in the sky. But what NASA discovered when they orbited her is that she's actually an inhospitable planet, a boiling cauldron of poisonous gases. Come too close and you'd fry."

Dates read: February 15-19, 2018

Rating: 3/10

When my sister was only a month or two old, I tried to throw her away. True story! I announced to my mom that she was useless because she wouldn't stop crying, and tried to bargain that if we couldn't throw her away, couldn't we at least return her to the hospital? We fought like crazy growing up, but once I went to college we started to get along better and she's one of my best friends now. There's nothing quite like the bond between siblings.

Of course, this isn't everyone's experience (although it is the experience of quite a few people I know with brothers and sisters). Some people become estranged. Some are just never close with their siblings. And others have been close their whole lives. Venus Black, eponymous heroine of Heather Lloyd's My Name Is Venus Black, falls into the last category. Though her brother Leo is six years her junior and is autistic (since the book is set in the 80s, he's described as having "special needs", but he's clearly on the spectrum), and is only technically her half-brother, Venus adores him and nurtures him. But her ability to take care of him is forever changed when, at 13, she commits a serious crime. We're not sure what it is at first, the book opens in medias res while Venus is confronting her mother at the police station, being interviewed after it happens. It becomes clear pretty quickly that "it" is that she's shot and killed her stepfather. Why, though, takes a long time to come out.

Only shortly after Venus commits the murder, Leo is kidnapped by his small-time-crook of an uncle out of the backyard of a friend of his mother's. Venus is devastated when she hears that he's gone, even trying to flee from pre-trial detention to look for him. But her escape attempt is foiled, and she's sent to juvenile lock-up until she's an adult. When she gets out, she wants to just take on a new identity and keep her head down and try to figure out a way to get her brother back. She gets a job as a waitress under an assumed name, rents a room, and is trying to save up to go to California. But she can't really escape her past...a promising flirtation becomes risky when she finds out he's a cop and might be able to discover who she really is, and eventually her mother tracks her down too. When they get a lead on Leo, though, everything changes.

By the time this review goes live, this book will have been out for well over a year, so I don't feel bad about the fact that I'm about to "spoil" the "why-dunnit". If you'd like to remain in the dark, stop reading. I'm mostly going to spill it because the book builds up to it like it's some kind of revelation and honestly it is not at all: Venus killed her stepdad because he was peeping at her though a hole in the wall. She tells her mother, and her mother does nothing about it. It makes the rage she feels at her mother feel justified and there's absolutely no reason it needs to be hidden in the back third of the book. It's a terrible plotting decision to bury it, but that's only one in a series of bad decisions Lloyd makes in her debut novel. The characters she draws are paper-thin (with the exception of Leo, who I'll get to next) and feel not-at-all real. Venus and Leo's mother is a terrible person, but Lloyd makes her a struggling alcoholic in a way that feels like it's supposed to give her sympathy (it fails, she's still a shitty parent). There's some weird religious overtones that come out of nowhere in the end of the book and it feels shoehorned and unearned. And the ethnicity of a supporting character is constantly referenced in a way that makes it feel almost fetishistic.

The sole bright spot, really, is the portion of the story around Leo. Lloyd's ability to convey both Leo's intelligence and his limitations, the way he does love the people in his life but has a hard time expressing it in a way that they understand, is deft and well-realized. Unfortunately, that's literally the only thing that worked for me in this book. The plot is uneven, the prose competent but uninspired, the characters mostly don't work. It's not even a matter of needing a better editor...there's a story here that could be interesting, but nearly everything would need to be completely revamped to give it the telling it would need to really connect. This is a poor quality book and I don't recommend it to anyone.

One year ago, I was reading: Messy

Two years ago, I was reading: The Hate U Give

Three years ago, I was reading: Freakonomics

Four years ago, I was reading: All The King's Men

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors I'd Be Grateful To See New Work From

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! With Thanksgiving just a few days away, this week is a thankful-themed freebie! So here are ten authors I'd be very thankful to read new work from.

Allie Brosh: Like what seems like the entire internet, I loved her Hyberbole and a Half blog, which got made into a hysterically funny book. There was a sequel planned, but it got cancelled. Brosh seems to have stopped writing, and what I've been able to find makes it seem like her life has changed quite a bit and maybe she's in a better place without sharing her work with the internet. But I miss her and would love to see new work if it was the right choice for her!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Americanah, which I loved, came out in 2013. She's published some essays in the meantime, but I want more fiction!

Elif Batuman: The Idiot was a very promising debut novel, and Batuman's voice is one I'd love to read more of, so I hope a follow-up is coming soon!

Michael Chabon: I'm still catching up on his back catalog, but his last novel was 2016's Moonglow, which I very much liked, so I'm curious to see what he publishes next!

Alexander Chee: I loved The Queen of the Night and while I have his other novel, Edinburgh, waiting on my shelves to be read (and he did just publish a nonfiction book last year), I would love to read another work of fiction from him!

Libby Cudmore: I so enjoyed reading The Big Rewind, I'm ready for her next one!

Jeffrey Eugenides: He releases work at the speed of a snail but it's so good when he does and I'm just waiting for more!

Gillian Flynn: Gone Girl was incredible, but she hasn't published a novel since that one in 2012! It's been almost ten years, so I am looking forward to reading the next one as soon as it appears!


Kazuo Ishiguro: His Nobel Prize was well-deserved on the strength of Remains of the Day alone it was such a masterpiece. I'll be honest that his most recent, The Buried Giant, was more miss than hit from me, but he always has interesting ideas and I am eagerly awaiting new work!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Book 208: Wonder Boys

"I’d spent my whole life waiting to awake on an ordinary morning in the town that was destined to be my home, in the arms of the woman I was destined to love, knowing the people and doing the work that would make up the changing but essentially invariable landscape of my particular destiny. Instead here I was, forty-one years old, having left behind dozens of houses, spent a lot of money on vanished possessions and momentary entertainments, fallen desperately in and abruptly out of love with at least seventeen women, lost my mother in infancy and my father to suicide, and everything was about to change once more, with unforeseeable result."

Dates read: February 9-15, 2018

Rating: 6/10

When I was a kid, I was on the "gifted" track...or at least the closest thing my small district had to one. I tested in the 99th percentile for virtually everything except (much to my parents' chagrin) ability to do basic math in my head. I was in the 99th percentile on the ACT. I read at a 12th grade level in 4th grade. It has a way of kind of getting in your head, when you're constantly told how smart you are. It makes you feel like you're destined for greatness, when the reality is that you'll probably end up working a more-or-less normal job and leading a more-or-less normal life. Which ends up feeling underwhelming even if you're actually very happy, because what about that greatness that was supposed to happen?

Michael Chabon himself was a young phenom, publishing his debut novel when he was only 25. He found himself stuck when he tried to pen his follow-up, though, and from this experience he found the inspiration for what became his second book, Wonder Boys. The novel tells the story of Grady Tripp, a one-time literary wunderkind who's published two books to both critical acclaim and popular success but has gotten completely mired in his third. Tripp works as a professor at a small liberal arts school in his native Pennsylvania, and his life is a bit of a mess when we meet him. His agent, who has also been his best friend since college, is coming into town to talk about his book, which he is nowhere near finishing even though he's written over 2,000 pages. An odd but talented student, James, is exhibiting strange behavior. His wife, the third Mrs. Tripp, has just apparently left him. And his mistress, who is the dean of the college and who is married to the head of Tripp's department, is pregnant.

It makes for a wild weekend, as Grady tries to keep his agent from actually reading his manuscript in the hopes that he can figure out what to actually do with it, keep track of James, who turns out to be a bit of a pathological liar and compulsive thief, attend a seder dinner with his in-laws (with James in tow) to see if he can patch things up with his wife, and figure out what to do about his mistress's pregnancy. There's also a running plotline about the car Tripp is driving, which he won in a poker game and might actually be stolen, and Tripp's crush on the young student that rents out the basement in his house and is never seen without her red cowboy boots. In the end, somehow, improbably, it all turns out about as well as it could have.

I don't even necessarily think that's a spoiler there, because there is a movie version out there of this book and it's fairly faithful to the text, though it does cut out some plot threads while giving others greater weight. The movie bombed, though I actually quite liked it myself, and I honestly think it might work better in some ways than the book...mostly for its willingness to purge extraneous details. Chabon's a wonderful writer with a great sense of how to tell a story and clear, insightful prose, but there was really just too much going on here. Too many characters, too many "side quests" (so to speak), too much feels cluttered and starts to strain the bounds of credulity. How much weird stuff, after all, can happen to one guy over the course of one weekend?

While I've loved the two books of Chabon's that I've read before (Kavalier and Clay was my favorite of last year!), this one just didn't resonate with me. I think part of it was let-down, because what I've read from him before has been so good that I had very high expectations going in, and part of it is that I'm just not in a place where stories about overgrown man-children are especially charming to me. The thought of the amount of emotional labor a person like Tripp pushes onto the women in his life because he can't be assed to get himself together is enraging, so I actually kind of hated him. Comedy-of-errors-style plots like this one aren't my cup of tea either. I think my lack of connection with this book is as much about me and my preferences as it is about the book itself, though, so while I can't recommend it, I'm not going to affirmatively suggest avoiding it either. If reading this has made you think that this sounds like a delightful narrative, you'll probably like it. If not though, skip.

One year ago, I was reading: Dark Places

Two years ago, I was reading: The House of Mirth

Three years ago, I was reading: The Emigrants

Four years ago, I was reading: Oriental Mythology

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Changes In My Reading Life

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about how our lives as readers have changed over the years. I'm not the same reader I was five or ten years ago. I'm definitely not the same reader I was in high school! Here are ten things about me as a reader that I've noticed a change in.

I read more: Just on a baseline level, I'm much more inclined to read for pleasure than I was when I was a younger adult. I do still watch movies and tv, of course, but I've turned into one of those people who always has a book with me. This is why I now read about 80 books a year.

Fewer series: Teenage me loved a good series, and it's not that I don't have any time for them anymore or anything, but I'm less compelled by the idea of starting a brand-new series than I used to be. I read much more stand-alones.

More non-fiction: I used to read a ton of historical fiction to learn about what life was like in the past. These days I'm more likely to pick up a biography of someone who lived during that time period instead.

More open to genre generally: I'll be honest, mysteries and sci-fi and romance aren't usually my preferred kinds of narratives. But of course there are gems in any genre, and I'm much less likely than I used to be to pass over a book I think I might like just because it's not the sort of book I usually read.

More likely to buy in paper rather than electronically: Don't get me wrong, I love my Kindle. I have HUNDREDS of books on it, and I think it's amazing that I can have thousands upon thousands of pages on a device smaller than the average magazine. But I really do gravitate lately towards having an actual book in my hands. This has created storage issues.

More interested in critical thinking about my reading: When I was in high school, it felt like analyzing a book could only serve to "ruin" it. But the older I get, the more I want to really examine what exactly it is that works about a book and why, to better understand both technique and what I enjoy as a reader.

More diversity in authorship: I grew up reading a lot of books by white people, particularly men. They do, after all, make up much of the literary canon. I make more of an effort lately to seek out work by women, people of color, immigrants, and people whose life experiences are generally different than my own.

Less likely to read something I'm not excited about just because everyone else is: I'm not immune to the best-seller lists, but I used to be more willing to read something that was popular even if it didn't seem like something I would like, because I wanted to be able to talk about the latest hot book. I'm much more aware these days of what I like and give myself permission to say no on something I have no reason to think would be a good use of my time.

More likely to make recommendations: Recommending books is hard! So much depends on what kinds of things each person responds so, and hearing that someone didn't enjoy something you told them they should read is so disappointing! But people ask and I've come to enjoy making educated guesses about what might appeal to them.

More involved in the bookish community: I have this blog! I have a twitter account where I follow authors and readers, I go to an in-person book club, I post pictures of my books on my instagram, I volunteer with the local Friends of the Library. The internet has a LOT of downsides, but for what it does for keeping me connected to the bookish world, I appreciate it!

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Book 207: The Sellout

"They say 'pimpin' ain't easy'. Well, neither is slaveholdin'. Like children, dogs, dice, and overpromising politicians, and apparently prostitutes, slaves don't do what you tell them to do. And when your eighty-some-odd-year-old black thrall has maybe fifteen good minutes of work in him in a day and enjoys the shit out of being punished, you don't get many of the plantation perks you see in the movies either."

Dates read: February 6-9, 2018

Rating: 6/10

Lists/awards: Booker Prize

Rating books is an inherently subjective task. We try to fool ourselves into thinking that we're able to judge them based on objective quality, but we're ultimately judging them on scales that are both personal and ever-shifting. Tastes change during our lives, and where I see a lyrically-written character-driven masterpiece, someone else might see a purple-prose-laden never-goes-anywhere snore. Some books "feel" better than they are because you read them at the right moment, and others get downgraded because it just wasn't the best time. Which is why I always believe in rating and reviewing even the books that didn't work for me, because hating something you've only seen positive reactions to can make you feel like you're out on a limb and reading someone else saying they didn't like it either can be a relief.

So I was just talking last week about Thank You For Smoking and how the humor really hit home for me and I really liked it. I'm not sure if it was that I ended up reading two satires in a row, or that I didn't connect the same way with the subject at hand, or if it was just not my thing, but The Sellout just never quite clicked for me. This story opens up with our unnamed narrator (we get the last name, Me, but unless I missed something we never got a first name) watching his case go through oral argument at the Supreme Court. His case? He owns a slave and has re-segregated the school in his outlying Los Angeles community of Dickens, which has recently literally been taken off the map. Did I mention our protagonist is black?

We go back in time to get Me's whole story, from being homeschooled by his father, who uses him as a subject in various psychological/sociological experiments in the oddball agricultural community of Dickens, to his childhood friendship with Hominy, a cast member of the Little Rascals (who later pledges himself to Me as a slave after Me saves his life, much to Me's chagrin), to his long-running crush on his beautiful neighbor Marpessa, who drives a city bus, to his eventual decision to pretend there's an all-white charter magnet school going in across the street from the local school that's overwhelmingly attended by students of color, which winds up with him in front of the Supreme Court.

This was a book I read for my book club, and I was surprised to find I was one of the few for whom it didn't especially resonate. But as I listened to the others talk about how they found the satire refreshing for its bluntness and outrageous honesty about the state of race relations in America, I think maybe one of the reasons it fell a little flatter for me is that I'm on the younger side in that group and being more immersed in an internet culture where these issues are more on the forefront maybe made the punches land less hard, since they were more expected. In a world where Get Out was an enormously popular, Oscar-winning movie (and a good, interesting one that I personally really enjoyed), The Sellout's transgressive satire seems almost tame even though it's only a few years old.

To be sure, there are some brilliantly inspired moments (that opening Supreme Court scene, the Dum-Dum Intellectuals, the "sanitized" versions of racially-problematic novels), and if you're looking for a book that will be very up-front and sometimes uncomfortable (so many n-bombs!) about race in America, this is a very good book. Chattel slavery, and the institutionalized racism that persists to this day, is something that we're still struggling with. This book was written during the Obama era, when everyone was busily congratulating each other on living in a post-racial society, and the way it refuses to play along and pretend that was true feels eerily prescient given the election of Donald Trump. This book is smart, funny, and pulls zero punches (though those punches might not land quite as hard as they did even a few years ago, depending on what the dialogue you engage in looks like). It didn't quite ensnare me, but it's definitely worth reading.

One year ago, I was reading: Uncle Tungsten 

Two years ago, I was reading: A Vast Conspiracy

Three years ago, I was reading: The Paper Magician

Four years ago, I was reading: Oriental Mythology

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Things I Use As Bookmarks

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is about bookmarks. While having plenty of my own, I've definitely found myself grasping around for something, anything, to mark my page while reading outside the home. This might be the first time since I started doing this that I haven't been able to come up with ten! So here are seven things I will use to hold my place.

Actual bookmarks: I've got about a bajillion of these, many of them cheap ones that came with a bookstore order, but some nice ones that I've bought as presents for myself or as souvenirs.

Receipts: I've always got some sort of receipt in my purse, so these get pressed into service fairly often.

Airline tickets: I will never stop using paper boarding passes, if only because they make excellent bookmarks.

Pens: NOT a long-term solution because they're hell on the binding, but sometimes you need to save your place and the pen is there and the bookmark isn't.

Business cards: I think I never have copies of my own business card because they're all marking pages inside of books somewhere.

Money: I don't carry cash very often, but if I have it, I try to remember not to use more than a dollar bill because I will absolutely forget it's in there.

Beer coasters: The paper kind from bars! I tend to grab them when I'm out drinking and then I have a billion in my purse so they're handy. 

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Book 206: Thank You For Smoking

" 'Pleasure,' Nick croaked, though what he was experiencing was far from pleasure. The audience glared hatefully at him. So this is how the Nazis felt on the opening day at the Nuremberg trials. And Nick was unable to avail himself of their defense. No, it fell to him to declare with a straight face that ze Fuehrer had never invaded Poland. Vere are ze data?

Dates read: February 1-6, 2018

Rating: 7/10

There's a look people get when I tell them I'm a lobbyist. It's partly surprise, that lobbyists are a thing that exist outside of DC. And then the next question I get is who I lobby for. The answer is not Save The Whales. When I name some of our clients, as often as not I get some joke back about corporate evil. Which is neither original or entirely fair, but we live in late-stage capitalism and we all need our little jokes to get by.

But as a lobbyist, the sharp satire of Christopher Buckley's Thank You For Smoking resonated perfectly for me. Many of you will have seen the (very good) movie version, and it's one of those movies that I actually like so much that I was worried about reading the book! It turns out they're very similar, telling the story of lead tobacco spokesman Nick Naylor and his constant fight to defend the industry. Naylor appears on Larry King, on Oprah, before Congress, and battles for his job while his boss tries to replace him with his pretty young protegee.

While the movie gets a lot of milage out of the divorced Nick's young son, he's very much a background character in the book. Instead, the focus is on Nick's quest to make smoking cool again by getting the movie studios to put it on screen, and a bizarre kidnapping in which Nick is abducted and covered in nicotine patches. When he's not busy flying to Hollywood and being abducted, Nick is having two different flings (one with his corporate rival, one with a reporter) and hanging out with his closest (read: only) friends, the lobbyists for the alcohol industry and the firearm industry, who are constantly squabbling about whose product kills more people.

Satire, like most comedy, can be very tricky to nail with the right tone, and I'd read a Buckley book a couple years ago that I didn't think quite landed. But I always believe in giving an author I was unimpressed with a second chance, because everyone has some variance in the quality of their output and some books you just don't read at the right time. Happily, I found this one excellent. Even though this book was written in the early 90s, there haven't been enough significant changes in the political process or corporate communications that the humor has lost its relevance or edge.

On the flip side, it is a satire, so character development (usually big for me as a reader) was pretty minimal and the plot was of course exaggerated. If smoking/tobacco is something you take seriously, this book will likely be more irritating than amusing. But if you've seen and liked the movie, or you work in corporate communications/government relations, there's a lot to enjoy here.

One year ago, I was reading: In Defense of Food

Two years ago, I was reading: La Belle Sauvage

Three years ago, I was reading: The Queen of the Night

Four years ago, I was reading: Primitive Mythology

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I'd Love To Take A Class On

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is a autumny freebie. Since autumn always makes me think about school, I figured this week I'd feature titles I'd love to seriously study. I took a whole class on Dante's Divine Comedy in college, and it was not only an amazing course, but it made me wonder how you could ever really understand the work without getting all that context, because there is SO MUCH Italian history crammed in there. And sometimes I feel that way with books, like I need to really dive into it to understand everything. So here are ten books I'd love to study!

War and Peace: I'd love to know more about Russian life, both among regular people and the aristocracy to which the Rostov family belongs. And then the Napoleonic wars on top of that!

Vanity Fair: Another perspective on the Napoleonic wars! Plus more information about social status/life/etc during the Victorian era would be great.

Midnight's Children: I enjoyed reading this, but felt like if I knew more than what I'd picked up from other novels about the Partition, I would get about 1000% more out of it.

Snow: Turkey has had an interesting history, being neither really Middle Eastern or European, but a little bit of both. I just don't know much about that history, which would have given a lot more richness to the way this wrestles with cultural tensions in Turkey.

Sense and Sensibility (and all of Austen, really): I still have one Austen novel outstanding (Northanger Abbey), but I would love to deconstruct both the class system of Britain and how it has changed/evolved and just really dig into what makes her work so brilliant.

The Age of Innocence: While we certainly know all about the Roaring Twenties, the Gilded Age in America (and particularly New York) isn't as high profile. I'd love to learn more about that world, and compare it with our own, in exploring this wonderful novel.

Great Expectations: I'd really enjoy going into depth on form and structure here, as this was of course originally published as a serial. It's been the most successful, for me, of the Dickens I've read, and how he managed to make each installment interesting while keeping the overall story on track would be fascinating to explore.

The Lord of the Rings: There is a LOT going on in this trilogy, and I'd love to explore how J.R.R. Tolkien's own life experiences/social world impacted the writing of these books, as well as really dive deep into questions I've always had, like what the holy heck is the whole Tom Bombadil thing about?

Harry Potter: I'm sure there actually are classes about this at college these days, but every time I go back and revisit these books I catch another layer in them, and would love the chance to really dig into this world.

Wolf Hall: I've read quite a bit of Tudor-era historical fiction, and most of it is wrapped up in the interpersonal drama of the relationships between the main players. But this one is uniquely rooted in both church and political power structures, which made it hard to get into at first and definitely required outside research to grasp.