Thursday, October 21, 2021

Book 306: All The President's Men

 


"The August 1 story had carried their joint byline; the day afterward, Woodward asked Sussman if Bernstein's name could appear with his on the follow-up story - though Bernstein was still in Miami and had not worked on it. From the on, any Watergate story would carry both names. Their colleagues melded the two into one and gleefully named their byline Woodstein."

Dates read: March 27- April 3, 2019

Rating: 5/10

Lists/awards: The New York Times best-seller

I'm a bad liar. Which isn't to say that I don't lie...like everyone else, I do, but I make an active effort to do so less often than I could. Not because I'm more morally righteous than anyone else, but because being bad at lying means I'm more likely to get caught. It's just mentally exhausting to keep track of who you've lied to, about what, and the stress of how to handle it if two people who each know different versions of the story start to talk to each other is too much for me to handle. I'm more likely to keep secrets than I am to lie, but even that's dicey (I'm a compulsive confessor when I've had a beer or two).

It's hard to think of someone more closely connected in the popular imagination to secrets and lies than one Richard Milhous Nixon. On his way to virtually certain re-election, he just couldn't resist the urge to direct a break-in to the Democratic National Committee office, and the cover-up cost him not only the presidency, but his legacy forevermore. It was the reporting of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward that really pushed the story forward, and their book All The President's Men recounts how they came to be major players in the scandal. The book is less about the underlying events than one might think, instead focusing primarily on the reporting process.

It turns out that the process of reporting a major story, involving many sources, is...kind of boring? Woodward and Bernstein try to track down sources, find them, talk to them, go back and talk to the same people again to try to get more information out of them, get referred to new sources, and then lather, rinse, repeat. The tension should build towards the next story, then the next, then the next, but it felt more like a trudge than anything else. I have to imagine that it often felt that way to report, little pieces fitting into a larger puzzle here and there, rather than a swelling towards a crescendo. But realistic or not, it doesn't make for very exciting reading. Especially when the biggest mystery of the book, the identity of Deep Throat, has been solved for those of us reading today.

I found myself wondering as I was reading if this story wouldn't have been better served by having someone else tell it. Obviously I understand why Woodward and Bernstein wanted to write the book about their own deeds, but either they're not particularly gifted at narrative-crafting or they're too far inside of it to see the forest for the trees. They recount giddily the editing that led the placement of sentences within a paragraph, making it clear that as reporters this was a fraught and tense process. But as a reader, it holds little excitement. A book that recounted their investigation and placed it in its context of what was happening at The Washington Post and in the Oval Office in a broader sense would be one I'd be very interested in reading. This one, though, left me mostly feeling like I'd really like to watch the Kirsten Dunst/Michelle Williams comedy Dick again, because if this was the real story the other one is much more entertaining. If you love newspaper/political reporting, or have a deeper interest in Watergate and the Nixon administration, this will be something you'll find it worthwhile to read. If you're looking for more dynamic nonfiction, this may be a classic but it is very skippable.

One year ago, I was reading: The White Princess

Two years ago, I was reading: The Line of Beauty

Three years ago, I was reading: Detroit

Four years ago, I was reading: Player Piano

Five years ago, I was reading: The Executioner's Song

Six years ago, I was reading: Through the Language Glass

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Online Resources for Book Lovers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about the internet-based things that make our reading lives better! If you know where to look, there is so much on the internet that is bookish!


Twitter: Book Twitter can be a mixed bag (some people get a little...intense), but finding writers and bloggers whose opinions you respect and agree with and not letting yourself get sucked into the drama can make it a really fun place to connect!

Book Riot: A one-stop internet shop for bookish content! Lists, links to cute merch, deals for e-books, thoughtful articles...it's one of my go-tos for sure!

The book blogosphere: To my eyes, it seems like YA and romance inspire the most blogging, but there is a blog for every sort of reader/genre out there if you look! I've actually discovered several blogs that I personally enjoy through checking out the weekly Top Ten Tuesday post round-ups, so it's a good place to start!

Goodreads: This is the elephant in the room...even if we don't love Amazon (who bought the company several years ago), it's hard to escape the dominance of Goodreads. It desperately needs an improved search function and upgrades to its user interface, but tbh it's functional and widely-used, so it's not going anywhere.

Italic Type: This is one of the two Goodreads replacements that I've been trying out lately. Realistically, this one doesn't seem to have taken off and is the one I like less so I'm likely to give it up, but it's worth checking out if you're looking for something super streamlined!

StoryGraph: This is the other Goodreads competitor, and I really like this one, y'all! I LOVE being able to track the books I'm reading against the prompts in various reading challenges, the content warning system, and the questions they ask of reviewers (like whether the book is plot- or character-driven!). It's functional for free but there is a paid tier and I regret nothing about paying for it!

LibraryThing: This is purely book cataloging for me. I have a huge collection and being able to scan them in and tag them helps keep me organized!

Audible: I know, again with the Amazon companies, but Audible is too good to give up. Yes, I know about Libro.fm. Audible's sales and exclusives keep me coming back, though, and my library there is very large.

Chirp: Another place to find cheap audiobooks! There's no subscription needed here, just the deals.

Overdrive: If you have a library card, check to see if your library is on Overdrive (or its sister app, Libby, which I don't like as much as the original). SO MANY ebooks and audiobooks!

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Book 305: The Rules of Attraction

 

"But I was running and I was running because it felt like the 'right' thing to do. It was a chance to show some emotion. I wasn't acting on passion. I was simply acting. Because it seemed the only thing to do. It seemed like something I had been told to do."

Dates read: March 23-27, 2019

Rating: 5/10

I was pretty sheltered in high school. I didn't party, I didn't drink, I didn't do drugs. I did my extracurriculars and then went home and did my homework, for the most part. So when I got to college, and had some freedom...I went a little bonkers. Nothing out of the ordinary, but LOTS of booze and the occasional marijuana cigarette. To me, this felt practically criminal, but when I hear some people's stories about college partying, I think it was all actually pretty tame.

It's a wonder that the students depicted in Bret Easton Ellis' The Rules of Attraction even have majors, because it's clear that the actual activity that dominates their lives isn't going to class. It's taking drugs and hooking up. There are three primary narrators: Sean, Paul, and Lauren, though there are some chapters from the perspectives of other people in their lives. The story begins literally mid-sentence, as Lauren recounts being drugged and raped at a Dress To Get Screwed party when she was a freshman. One might think this would be a traumatic event, but Lauren's recollection of it is distant, almost bored. The only thing she seems to have strong feelings about at all is her boyfriend, Victor, who took a semester off to travel. The problem is that we get his perspective as well, and he doesn't seem to recall having a girlfriend, much less think that he shouldn't be sleeping with whoever he might like.

There's a loose love triangle that plays out: Lauren used to date Paul, who is bisexual. Paul has a thing for Sean, a rich kid who has managed to find himself in debt to a local drug dealer. Sean is interested in Lauren, who likes him enough to date him for a while, but she's still too hung up on Victor to really get invested. And things might have happened between Paul and Sean...Paul recounts quite a lot of sex, but Sean's own versions of the same nights note nothing of the sort. Everyone's an unreliable narrator, their perspectives are warped not only by their constant drug use, but their own self-centeredness.

This is an odd book. There's a lot in here that I usually would hate: a plot that centers largely around unpleasant people taking a lot of drugs, characters that are difficult to tell apart (I often had to flip back to figure out if it was a Sean or Paul chapter, and struggled to remember which of them dated Lauren when, and which one owed the dealer). But somehow, despite the fact that I don't know that I could say that I liked it, I found it compelling enough. The constantly switching perspectives (including one from Sean's French roommate, entirely in French) keep it interesting, and the unreliability of the narrators made it so that I was always questioning the veracity of their viewpoints.

There's a kind of tenderness there, underneath the jaded exteriors of these students, particularly from Lauren, that drove my continued interest in the book. I'm sure there are those among us who haven't tried to mask pain or feeling lost under substances or experiences, but most people I know have done it at one time or another. The emotional immaturity of the characters is reasonable...they are, after all, quite young. At the same time, it wasn't exactly enjoyable to spend time with anyone in this book. It's not without redeeming qualities, but I'm still not quite sure how I feel about Ellis as a writer. If you're interested in his work, I'd recommend this, but if anything I've described sounds off-putting to you, it's skippable.

One year ago, I was reading: A Bollywood Affair

Two years ago, I was reading: Plagues and Peoples

Three years ago, I was reading: Prep

Four years ago, I was reading: The Blind Assassin

Five years ago, I was reading: Border Child

Six years ago, I was reading: Unbelievable

Saturday, October 9, 2021

Year 6: An Update (And Giveaway!)

 

It's my 36th birthday! And wow, a lot has happened since the last one! When I turned 30, I set some goals for myself for the next decade. One of those goals was to read at least 50 books per year, or 500 total, so I started the blog a couple months later to hold myself accountable and have a place to talk about all those books! Since my reading years begin and end on my birthday, I like to do a check-in post every year to look back on the year that was, both in books and life. Without further ado:

In Reading

Books read (this year): 69. My reading totals have been trending steadily downward since the blog started, though I am once again comfortably above my goal of 50. This year still featured a very healthy total, to be sure! I think part of it has actually been my transition to primarily working from home. I used to walk home and read after eating a small lunch, but now I don't really have a well-defined lunch hour so that time isn't really set aside the same way. And of course, I read a little less in session years.

Books read (total): 490. This total remains well in excess of where I need to be. Indeed, I will likely finish the 500 before the end of the calendar year. I've got LOTS of backlogged reviews! Which is a good thing because I have to imagine my reading will take quite a hit once the baby arrives.

Male/Female Authors: I read quite a lot more by women this year than I did by men. I made no deliberate effort to do so, but read 44 books by female authors and 25 by male ones. Over the long term, though, the totals remain very close.

Most Read Genres: I trended pretty close to my own usual results here, with just over 2/3 of my books (48) being fiction and a little less than 1/3 of them (21) being nonfiction. Within fiction, I read the most contemporary and historical fiction, with mysteries and thrillers in a close third. Within nonfiction, I read the most history, with memoirs and biographies being tied for second.

Kindle/Hard Copy: This year was pretty even, with 37 books being read in hard copy and 32 being read on my Kindle. The Kindle, as always, remains unmatched for portability and convenience, but I do love books in hard copy the most.

In Life

I became an aunt: My sister had her first child, a son, in December of last year. Because of COVID, I've only gotten to visit him once, but he's completely adorable and I am so excited to be his aunt! I was reading: Can't Even (review to come)

Beginning of my fifth legislative session: It's hard to believe that I've been working in government affairs for close to a decade now! Every session I learn a little more about how to do my job as well as I can, and they're never dull! I was reading: The Secret Life of Bees (review to come)

We bought a house: Buying a housing during the legislative session was...maybe not the best idea I ever had. And getting into the housing market when we did was definitely stressful! We made several offers, but we're happy that the one we made on our house was the one that was accepted. We love our place. I was reading: Endzone (review to come)

End of my fifth legislative session: It was a deeply weird session, seeing as how about 110 of its 120 days were ones I covered from my couch at home. But I did get some in-person time in Carson City there at the end. I was reading: Tooth and Claw (review to come)

I found out I'm having a baby: We actually found out I was pregnant pretty shortly after session ended! Obviously this was extremely exciting, we're very much looking forward to becoming parents! I was reading: The Death of Vivek Oji (review to come)

Fifth wedding anniversary: We've been married for half a decade now! I continue to feel very lucky in having found such a wonderful partner and someone that I'm happy will be the father of our child. I was reading: Everyone Knows Your Mother Is A Witch (review to come)

Vacation to Michigan: This was only the second time I've gotten on a plane since the pandemic began, and it was wonderful to have a week back in the homeland to see my family, meet my nephew, have some time with my besties, and eat a TON of Michigan food that I can't get out in Nevada! I was reading: The Walls Around Us (review to come)

The Giveaway

Every year, I give away a copy of the book I loved the most out of the ones I've reviewed on the blog over the past 12 months. I reviewed some fantastic books this year, but the one that really stood out for me was Taylor Jenkins Reid's hit fictional oral history, Daisy Jones and The Six. If you haven't read it, and would like to, here's your chance! Just enter via the Rafflecopter below during the next week and this book could be yours! Apologies to my international friends, but this giveaway is US-only. a Rafflecopter giveaway

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Book 304: Inside Edge



"Nearing the end, Boitano passed by the red hockey circle at center ice, which was a landmark to look for to make sure he was on the right path for the final triple axel. He began to hear strange noises in his lead. Please God, please God. They were getting faster and louder until he could barely stand it. As he launched himself into the air, he hoped that all those years of training would come through for him. Muscle memory, they call it. Only when that tiny blade swooped down, reached for the ice, found it, and held him upright did he know he was okay." 

Dates read: March 19-23, 2019

Rating: 5/10

The first team I remember loving is the Red Wings. They went on their Stanley Cup championship runs when I was like 10-11 years old, which are really the best time to hook a kid. I can still name the Russian Five without thinking twice. I love hockey, it's a great sport. But the second sport I remember loving is figure skating. The drama of the Lipinski/Kwan rivalry got me into it, and I've watched it off and on over the years ever since. The intrigue, the competition...and the skating itself, of course, have kept me interested and invested.

Growing up on a lake, I learned how to skate forwards competently enough, but I never took lessons or figured out anything else. I have never been especially well coordinated, so an activity involving razor-sharp blades attached to the bottom of my feet was probably a wise thing for me to skip out on. But some kids do have their skating dreams come true, and Christine Brennan's Inside Edge chronicles a year (specifically, the 94-95 season) on the figure skating circuit for all parts of the skating world: judges, coaches, and of course the skaters themselves. Everyone invests so much time and money and blood and sweat and tears into a sport where the tiniest slip of a blade can be the difference between that glowing moment in the spotlight or the breakdown backstage.

Though there are multiple perspectives wound into her narrative, Brennan does have several connecting throughlines, following particular skaters through the process of the season. There's precocious youngster Michelle Kwan, already poised and assured at only 15. And also talented-but-uncontrolled Nicole Bobek, who could win it all if she could stop sneaking out at night to hang out with boys. There's Rudy Galindo, toiling away and dreaming of reaching the heights of his one-time pairs partner Kristi Yamaguchi. Jenni Tew is an up-and-comer, dreaming of a spot at Nationals. And there are cameos from Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano, Katerina Witt, and Torvill and Dean for perspective from more established skaters.

It's been well over two decades since the book was published, years in which Christine Brennan has become a respected voice in coverage of the sport. Back then, however, she was fairly new to it, and that newness does show. The drama feels artificially heightened, there's an almost breathless/scandalized quality to it that reads more like gossip than actual reporting. Despite taking some time with a judge and getting information about the amount of (uncompensated!) time it takes to serve as a judge and the seriousness with which they take their responsibilities, there's a lot of aspersions cast at the judging system as a whole, with veiled and not-so-veiled insinuations that judges collude on the basis of nationality and engage in machinations to game the system in favor of particular skaters, no matter what happens on the ice. This was well before the judging scandal of the Salt Lake City Olympics that changed the entire way scoring works in the sport, so it was interesting to get some background on how the system used to be before I started paying more active attention to it.

But it's hard to not take that information, and all the rest of it, with a grain of salt. The tell-all tone, the obvious favoritism towards particular skaters...it doesn't make a case for itself to be taken seriously. If you grew up in the Michelle Kwan era, though, and remember these skaters as some of the first ones you watched, it's an interesting read. It's a portrait, albeit a flawed one, of a time and place, and an environment that has changed so fundamentally that it's impossible to compare to the same world as it exists now. But of course, la plus ca change, and right now there are kids strapping on their skates and getting ready for practice, hoping to make it out there on the ice. I'd say this is a solid read for figure-skating fans, especially if you watched during the time chronicled, but there's not much to recommend it otherwise.
 
One year ago, I was reading: Michael Jackson: The Magic, The Madness, The Whole Story
 
Two years ago, I was reading: The Overstory

Three years ago, I was reading: The Library Book
 
Four years ago, I was reading: The Royals
 
Five years ago, I was reading: Sophie's Choice

Thursday, September 30, 2021

A Month In The Life: September 2021

 


And just like that, we're within a stone's throw of the end of 2021! Tomorrow will be October, and from there it's practically the holiday season already! We're finally cooling down towards something resembling fall temperatures, though it's still pretty warm, and the skies have cleared of smoke for the most part, which is a huge relief.

In Books...

  • Absolute Monarchs: For a 500-page history of the papacy, this is pretty lively! I definitely learned a lot I hadn't known before, including about the long history of antipopes, the connection of the pope to the Holy Roman Empire, and how long it actually took for Italy to unify. But even though the writing isn't ponderous or dull, it still took me nearly two weeks to finish and occasionally felt like a slog.
  • The Wrath & The Dawn: This was kind of nice to have as a mental break after the active engagement I had to have with the pope book. It's YA fantasy based on the story of Scheherazade, and I'd read good things about it but it's honestly pretty bad. Thin characters, generically girl-boss type heroine, lots of repetition about things like people's eye color.
  • Hamnet: Honestly one of the best things I've read in years! It's historical fiction based on the actual life of William Shakespeare, whose son Hamnet (or Hamlet, names were kind of loosey-goosy at the time) died in childhood. It's actually quite little about Shakespeare himself, who is never directly named in the text, and more about his wife Ann, or Agnes. Just incredible, elegant writing and a deeply compelling character study.
  • My Brilliant Friend: I had been expecting to absolutely love the first book in this series that I feel like I'm the last one in the world to get to! And I did like it more and more as it went on and I got drawn further into the world that Lenu and Lila live in and the bond between them, but after how amazing Hamnet was it was hard to read virtually anything else and this one was a slow starter.
  • The Indifferent Stars Above: As someone who live in Reno, I've been to Donner Lake, driven over Donner Summit, and been to Donner Memorial State Park. But all I really knew about the Donner Party beforehand was that they'd gotten stuck up in the Sierras and had to turn to cannibalism to survive. This book was informative and very well-written, but also the word "harrowing" in the book's subtitle is there for a reason...Brown really immerses you in the world and experiences of the party and parts of it are incredibly hard to read. It's very good, but it's nightmare fuel. 
  • Dog Park: I thought this book, originally published in Finnish and newly translated into English, was going to be straightforward literary fiction about the commodification of the female body in post-Soviet Europe. And it's about that, but there are also strong thriller elements, and the story goes in directions I wasn't expecting. I found it interesting and propulsive!

 

In Life...

  •  Not a lot, honestly: This was a pretty low-key month. We usually have a weekend up in Tahoe at the beginning of September because of my husband's work convention, but that was canceled this year due to wildfire evacuations. Otherwise, my own work is steady but not madcap like it is during session and I'm just continuing to grow a little person.

One Thing:

Britney Spears's conservatorship has been back in the news with the new Netflix documentary and her recent engagement to her longtime boyfriend. I remember being in my first year of law school, following the gossip as closely as anyone as her life seemed to spin out of control. Celebrity gossip in that era was vicious, and no one was more savage than Perez Hilton. He, and other gossip bloggers of the era who have continued in the space, have apologized...but is it enough? On the one hand, I want to say no. Gleeful participation in, and profit from, the way they treated vulnerable young women is not something that a simple apology can make up for. On the other, though, there's complicity from the people like me who clicked those links. If there hadn't been demand for coverage, not just at the volume but in the tone in which he and others provided it, it would have died out. It was a vicious cycle, and while it seems to have gotten better lately I think there's still a cultural conversation to be had about what the relationship should be between celebrities and the media.

Gratuitous Pug Picture: 


Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Top Ten Tuesday: Books In Translation On My TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we've got a freebie, so I've decided to highlight a type of book I'm trying to read more lately...literature in translation. Someone living in China, writing in Chinese (or any other native speaker living in their native country), has a perspective that might be different from but no less valid than someone who grew up outside of China, or whose family had the resources and inclination to ensure they learned to communicate in English. So here are ten books written by native speakers of other languages, translated into English, that I can't wait to read!

 

Woman at Point Zero (Arabic)

The Bridge on the Drina (Bosnian) 

Ladivine (French)

The Tin Drum (German)

The Door (Hungarian) 

The Leopard (Italian)

Confessions of a Mask (Japanese)

Kristin Lavransdatter (Norwegian) 

Captains of the Sands (Portuguese)

Secondhand Time (Russian)