Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Covers

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic is All About Visuals. I had a hard time with this initially, since I'm not a graphic novel person, but I decided for this week I'd highlight some of my favorite book covers! A great cover can really make a book stand out...even when I'm browsing through NetGalley and Edelweiss, I find myself drawn to covers when I'm thinking about what I might want to read next, sometimes even more than the authors! And I'm just going through trade editions for this purpose...the fancy special edition hardcovers are just not fair to compete with.

The Great Gatsby: This cover is just iconic. The woman's face superimposed over the city sky, the single tear, the naked ladies inside the eyes...instantly recognizable.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: That statute, which actually existed in the Savannah cemetery, was apparently removed because people were tromping through so much to see it (at least, that's what my husband told me based on a childhood visit to Savannah).

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo: So bright, so bold, so eye-catching.

To Kill A Mockingbird: That tree, so symbolic in the story, is a perfect cover. Striking in its simplicity.

Twilight: Two pale hands, offering an apple. The apple and its connotation of falling innocence, gives you a subconscious clue to what you'll find inside. I know there is a lot of disdain for the content of the book, but the cover design is amazing.

Life of Pi: It's so straightforward- a dark skinned boy, curled in the fetal position, in a small boat with a tiger, surrounded by fish. But doesn't it promise one heck of a story within the pages?

The Hunger Games: Considering how deeply the role and power of symbols is explored over the course of this series, that the first cover is essentially just the mockingjay pin, arrow in its beak is perfect.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone: A dorky looking boy on a broomstick, with a visible scar on his forehead, trying to catch...something. A unicorn racing by. Three dog faces in the corner. All of this sets you up for a magic story unlike any you've ever read before.

The Handmaid's Tale: Those two figures on the cover are so ambiguous. You can't tell who they're supposed to be, not even if they're boys or girls. It's the kind of thing that makes you look again.

A Million Little Pieces: This was actually the inspiration for the direction I chose this week. Even though it turned out the book was a bunch of crap, that image of teeny sprinkles clinging to fingers is so evocative and intriguing.

Monday, January 30, 2017

A Month In The Life: January 2017

And the first month of 2017 is already ending! It feels like it went really fast...maybe because it did, maybe because my busy season at work starts in just about a week and I'm not feeling quite ready for the long days it'll bring (expect diminished reading around these parts for the next four months). Let's look back at the last 31 days, shall we?

In Books...
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette: This book was a big sleeper hit a few years ago, but it did nothing for me. When I found out Maria Semple had been a writer for Arrested Development, it made more sense: this kind of absurdist humor would be a lot more palatable on-screen, but on the page it made me hate nearly everyone involved. 
  • The King Must Die: Mary Renault's novel takes the mythological story of Theseus and tries to create a real-world story (read: no Olympian gods, for the most part) that might have given rise to the myth. It's good, but it's not especially compelling.
  • American Heiress (ARC): I'm a big fan of Toobin, but I didn't find this to be his best work. I definitely learned a lot about the Patty Hearst/SLA situation that I didn't know before, but the bulk of the book was about her life with the SLA and not about the trial, which is what I was more interested in. 
  • Americanah: This book has gotten a lot of buzz, and I was worried it was going to be one of those situations where my expectations were so high I'd inevitably be disappointed. But I completely loved this, the prose and the story, and it's something I'd already consider a favorite.
  • The Wars of the Roses: Since I've been reading Philippa Gregory's The Cousins' War series, I wanted a primer on the actual history of the dispute and the players. As always with Alison Weir, this was well-researched and very readable. 
  • Snow: My book club book for the month, I admired Orhan Pamuk's novel more than I actually enjoyed it. Its central plot points circle around some of the underlying tensions that make up the conflicts between the East and the West, and reading about them from the perspective of a writer from Turkey (a nation that straddles both worlds) provided interesting insights.
  • Helter Skelter: This true-crime classic about the Manson murders was written by the lead prosecutor, so it would be hard to imagine a more informed source. And while his writing is engaging and it's an interesting story, it gets a little eye-rolling at points when he makes sure you know how much work he did and how great he was. Not that he didn't both work really hard and do really well, but still. If you're at all interested in the Family, it's a great read.

In Life...
  •  Rang in the New Year: This year it was just me, my husband, and our pug at home. I've never been super into the whole going-out-for-New-Years bit, so hanging out with my two favorite guys and and being able to walk just outside the door to see the downtown fireworks (we live just a handful of blocks away) was perfect
  • Made it through #nvflood17: Northern Nevada is fortunately not burdened with much in the way of severe weather (we don't even have a tornado siren), but one thing we do get are floods. A heavy storm front moved through the weekend after the New Year and there was significant flooding all over the area, and even avalanches (more than one!) up in the mountains. We were in a safe area, though, so we just chilled out and watched the rain come down. 
  • State of the State: The first real event of the political season that's about to kick off, this sets the tone for the upcoming legislative session and a lot of the lobbyists come up for it, so we all get to see our other-side-of-the-state friends for the first time in a while!
  • Work holiday trip: My work does a holiday long weekend trip every year, and this year we went to Phoenix! I'd never been before and Drew and I had a fantastic time. Since we've got offices there, Las Vegas, and Reno, it's often the only time of year the entire company gets together and it's good to catch up with what's going on work-wise everywhere else and reinforce our social bonds.

One Thing
  •  Being in my 30s, especially living in a dry climate, I've gotten much more aware of skincare lately. And no one does skincare like Koreans, who have a whole ten-step process to take care of your largest organ. A good place to start with K-beauty, if you're interested, are sheet masks, which are serum/essence soaked cotton masks you lay on your clean skin for about 15-30 minutes. The Soko Glam 7-Day Sheet Mask Challenge Set gives you a variety pack to experiment with and find favorites! This isn't an affiliate link or an advertisement of any sort, I just bought it and liked it and thought I'd share.

Gratuitous Pug Picture

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Book 61: Supreme Justice

"The next time he watched, Reeder concentrated on the shooter. As the man turned and blasted Venter, he was calm, not panicky, and took time to set his feet and aim. Hell, the shooter even slowly exhaled before he fired. This wasn't a stickup artist reacting to movement, freaking, and shooting. No."

Dates read: June 12-13, 2016

Rating: 4/10

When you spend time studying the Supreme Court, you grow a fondness for its members. Even the ones you disagree with. The way their personalities come through in their writing: Scalia's fierce intelligence and flair for drama, Ginsberg's incisive mind and iron will. You feel like you know them a little bit. So when they pass away, there's a sense of loss even if you're okay with that vote being gone on a personal level. I was gutted when I heard about Scalia dying even though I couldn't be farther from him, politically speaking.

There's never been a single successful Supreme Court assassination. I wonder why. Not that I think there should be, of course, but the executive and legislative branch don't seem to have any immunity. Even the lower levels of the court system see judges murdered. But not the nine. Not so far. Until a near future time in Max Allan Collins' Supreme Justice, anyways. Then suddenly there is not just one justice killed, but two. Two conservative justices, during the term of a Democratic president.

Joseph Reeder, a retired Secret Service agent, has earned the scorn of the law enforcement community for two reasons: his devotion to techniques of body and facial language reading to investigate crimes (earning him the nickname "Peep", which is never really satisfactorily explained) and the fact that when he took a bullet in an assassination attempt against a very conservative president, he was vocal about his regret for doing so, since Reeder is himself a liberal and believes that the country would have been better off without the continued leadership of that president. But when Gabe Sloan, one of Reeder's closest friends and godfather to his daughter, is named head of the task force investigating the assassinations, Reeder is drawn back into the fold to help. He's paired with Patti Rogers of the FBI, Sloan's usual partner, and the two try to figure each other out as they also try to solve the crime.

Perhaps I'd have been less harsh on this had I not just read an unspectacular thriller two books ago. While I enjoyed The Barkeep more than I thought I would, it also represented a break from a long stretch of literary fiction and high-intensity non-fiction that made it a nice diversion and a chance to get outside my usual box a little. Supreme Justice, coming so close in time, was more irritating than anything else. The characters are pure tropes, plot developments are telegraphed miles away (when Reeder's daughter is introduced early, it's eye-rollingly obvious that she is going to be put into peril at some later point in the book), and Collins is heavy-handed enough with his political statements that even though I share most of the expressed philosophy, I was over it pretty quickly. The writing isn't especially elegant or expressive. There's just not much here in the way of reasons to recommend it, so I'll recommend that you seek your thrillers elsewhere.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever read Supreme Court decisions? Do you have a favorite justice?

One year ago, I was reading: Creative Mythology

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Resolutions for 2017

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic is a freebie, so I'm going to use the opportunity to make my reading resolutions for 2017. I know it's typical to do this a little closer to the beginning of January, but here we are.

Read 50 books: This is always my goal (though I "count" my years beginning and ending on my birthday for the purpose of this blog). Last calendar year, though, I read 101 books. I don't expect this year to be so robust for job-related reasons, but 50 is definitely something that I can do.

Buy fewer books: I own several hundred books that I haven't actually read, both in hard copy and on my Kindle. I know, but almost all of them are secondhand so it's not quite as horrifying in the bank account as you might think. I don't need any more books, but I know that won't stop me from buying them. I'm just going to try to buy less often.

Read more ARCs: I'm really bad at ARCs, you guys. I read about so many awesome books, so I request and sometimes get review copies, but then I have so many backlist books, too! I'm resolving to both work my way through the ones I have and be much more judicious about requesting new ones so I feel less guilty about being a bad ARC reader (I definitely do plug the books, if I like them, once I've read them, so I don't feel abjectly terrible).

Keep better statistics: I love reading other people's year-end posts with charts and graphs about their reading, but I keep only pretty minimal statistics on my own. I'm going to do a much better job of finding some metrics that matter to me and tracking them in 2017, and try an infographic to sum it up!

Read more authors that aren't like me: I'm a middle class, able, heterosexual, cisgendered, white lady. The experiences people like me have are mostly easily accessible. But of course, they are far from the only ones in the world. I'd like to read more books by people who have different experiences, that show me the world in a way other than the one I usually see it.

Interact more with the bookish community: I've got a dedicated Twitter for this blog, but I don't do nearly enough to keep up with all the bright, witty people I follow there. And I know that there have been times where I read a good post on another blog and don't bother to say anything about it. I'd like to be more present among the book lovers of the internet this year!

Do more re-reading on audio: I've finally found my speed for audiobooks- celebrity memoirs and re-reading the books I love but haven't had much time, with all the reading-for-the-first-time I do, to dive back into. Hearing His Dark Materials in Phillip Pullman's own voice is pretty magical and an excellent way to revisit the books I love while I'm walking the dog or driving to work.

Make room for mood reading: I tend to stick to a strict reading schedule, based on approximately when I bought the books in question (oldest books first), with ARCs rotated in as well. While I'm not often a mood reader, there are some books I'm holding back on reading that I'm interested in now, simply because I bought them "too recently". That's silly. Maybe I'll rotate in at least one "mood read" per month going forward.

Go to a bookish event: Reno doesn't tend to be much of a literary hotbed, but there are authors who come through and do speeches and/or signings (Stephen King came last year...on my wedding day). Maybe one of these days I'll make it a priority to get to a literary conference (I do really want to go to one), but for this year, I'm going to try to make it out for at least one event!

Read more outside my comfort zone: I know what I like- mostly contemporary literary fiction, some historical fiction, and a bit of nonfiction history. And that's generally the wheelhouse I like to stick to, because it's the one where I'm most likely to find books I enjoy. But the pool of "books I loved" can only be broadened by getting regular doses of sci-fi/fantasy (like A Song of Ice and Fire), or mystery/thrillers (like Gone Girl), or romance (like the Southern Vampire Mysteries), or YA (like The Hunger Games), and so I owe it to myself as a reader to pick up the occasional book that doesn't fit my usual pattern so I discover more books like the ones I highlighted, which are favorites.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Dreamcasting: Lolita

It's always been hard for me to pick just one "favorite" book, but Vladimir Nabakov's Lolita is always right up there. I first read it in high school and fell completely in love with his lush, rich writing. I've re-read it several times and it only gets better. Somehow, despite the fact that it's got a pretty twisted story, it's gotten made into a movie not just once, but twice. When I decided to do a dreamcasting series, I couldn't neglect it. So assuming there was a third version, who would I cast?

Delores Haze: I feel like you have to age up Lolita from the book a little to keep it from being too obscene, and even though Kiernan Shipka is 18, she could play younger. She was incredible as Sally Draper in Mad Men, and the way she handled that role makes me think she could really create a whole person out of Lolita, who we only see through Humbert's eyes in the novel but is obviously much more than the object of obsession he craves.

Humbert Humbert: He's supposed to be suave, European, and ultimately the kind of dude who could essentially kidnap an orphaned pre-teen to keep her as his plaything. I actually think Jeremy Irons was fantastic casting when he played Humbert, but for an update, I think Jude Law would be perfect. He's both charming and believably dissolute.

Charlotte Haze: Delores' mother, she meets Humbert when he begins to rent out her spare room, and as he's becoming more and more obsessed with her daughter, she's becoming more and more obsessed with him. I initially thought of reuniting the mother-daughter duo of Kiernan Shipka and January Jones, but January doesn't give off the kind of overblown vibe that I get from Charlotte in the novel. Elizabeth Banks, though, knows how to play over-the-top but vulnerable, so I'd love to see her take it on.

Clare Quilty: Quilty is Humbert's rival and even darker reflection. While Humbert believes himself to be in love with Lolita, Quilty's interest in her is much more openly sexual. That she escapes from Humbert to Quilty just goes to show how very smothered she felt by Humbert's obsession. He's not a particularly developed character, so how about reuniting Law with his romantic rival in Closer, Clive Owen?

So what do you think? Have you ever read Lolita? Would you pick different actors for these roles? Do you think there's a reason to make a third version of this book or is it just not really filmable?

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Book 60: The Name of the Rose

"Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside books. Now I realized that not infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me. It was then the place of a long, centuries-old murmuring, an imperceptible dialogue between one parchment and another, a living thing, a receptacle of powers not to be ruled by a human mind, a treasure of secrets emanated by many minds, surviving the death of those who had produced them or had been their conveyors."

Dates read: June 6-12, 2016

Rating: 7/10

Lists/Awards: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, New York Times bestseller

I've always loved languages. Growing up, one of my goals was to learn all the Romance languages during the course of my lifetime. I learned a little bit of French in middle school, took two years of high school Spanish, took two years of Italian in college. I speak none of these languages completely or especially well (my Italian was pretty okay immediately after I finished taking it, but that was ten years ago), so adding Portuguese and Romanian to my plate doesn't look like it's ever going to happen, but I'd still love to make it happen if it ever works out. It's not been much a priority until now, but maybe someday.

Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose is the first book I've ever read that features heavily the root of the Romance languages: there's so much Latin I had to keep a website with most of the translations up on my phone when I was reading it so I wouldn't miss anything (well, too much anyways). The book is a murder mystery set over the course of a week in a monastery during the Middle Ages (hence all the Latin). That's the way I'd describe it to people, but it's also so much richer and deeper than that.

It's about faith. It's about sin. It's about various schismatic movements within the Catholic Church in the 1200s and 1300s (the time of the anti-popes). It's about laughter and poverty and their roles within the lives of the cloistered. It's about those cloistered, their relationships with each other and the outside world. It's about books and learning and whether wanting to learn more is always a good thing and whether knowledge should be controlled. It's about power and having it and wanting it.

The story follows Adso, a young novice monk, traveling with Brother William of Baskervilles, a Franciscan when Franciscans were a very new movement. They arrive at an abbey famous for its incredible library and are begged by the abbot to help inquire into the death of a monk just the night before. William, who is an obvious and intentional analogue to Sherlock Holmes, is intrigued and goes about investigating. Was it a suicide? A murder? And every day, another monk keeps turning up dead, making William and Adso's work a race against time.

I can already tell I'm going to need (and want) to read this one again. It's so dense, so full of allusions and historical references I just don't understand, that it's obvious that to read this only once means that you'll never be able to fully appreciate it. It reminds me of Dante's Divine Comedy, in that it's certainly readable and enjoyable on its own, but without a fuller understanding of the world at the time, you can't really understand everything that's going on. So I'll need to read up on the establishment of the Franciscan order and the other religious splinter groups that developed around the same period and tackle this one again. The writing is lively and the characters and drama compelling enough that I'm sure it'll be a rewarding experience. But for the first time through, despite having liked it, I feel like I've missed enough that it wasn't quite as satisfying as it could have been.

Tell me, blog friends...have you ever taken a class on just one piece of literature? My class on La Divina Commedia in college was one of the best classes I ever took!

One year ago, I was reading: The Woman Who Would Be King

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Underrated/Hidden Gem Books I've Read In The Past Year Or So

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week, we're writing about books that we enjoyed reading in the past year-ish that never really got the mainstream love we we think they deserve. 

Life Itself: Roger Ebert was a portly movie critic who spent most of his life in the Midwest. But the reason his reviews became so popular is his real skill as a writer, and his application of that talent to the story of his own life yielded a really fantastic book. He wrote it as he was dying from cancer, and his reflections just tugged my heartstrings constantly. The early part of the book recounts a lot of family history and is on the boring side, but the rest of it is really wonderful.

The Last One: I've written about this one before, it was actually one of my best books of the year last year. This story of a woman in the wilderness on a Survivor-on-budget-steroids show that doesn't know that there's been a pandemic and is making her way through a devastated world is tense and thrilling and I could hardly put it down.

The Lords of Discipline: I'd heard of Conroy's Prince of Tides and The Great Santini before, but this was the one that went on Kindle sale first, so I picked it up. I wasn't expecting to love it, because military-themed stories don't tend to do it for me, but I was sucked in and completely loved it and can't wait to read everything else he's ever written.

I Am Livia: The Amazon publishing imprints haven't been great, honestly, but this book introduced me to a woman with a fascinating life: Livia Drusilla, wife of Octavian. I'm always down for a story about a badass woman, and even though there's a silly "instalove" component, this is a very solid historical fiction.

Enchanted Islands: This book about a lifelong friendship between two women (and how one of them found herself on a secret mission in the Galapagos when she was in her 40s) wasn't splashy, but was quietly powerful and very well-written.

Dead Wake: Most people think about Erik Larson's Devil In The White City when they think about his work, but I actually found Dead Wake better. I loved the shifting perspectives and found myself rooting for the ship to make it to the other side even though I knew going in that it sank.

Sex With The Queen: We all enjoy flipping through the occasional tabloid in the checkout line, right? This is basically a tabloid for European royalty over the ages and it's not super high quality literature but it's super fun to read.

The Big Rewind: One of my favorite reads of 2016, this is a fresh and fun murder mystery/romantic comedy/ode to the power of a good mixtape was a delight.

Mr. Splitfoot: I didn't rate this super highly when I first read it, but it's one of the books that I found myself unable to forget about, while things I thought more highly of initially faded. Really sticks with you.

The Creation of Anne Boleyn: Anne Boleyn has inspired novelists and playwrights and screenwriters for a long time, and Susan Bordo's look at what we actually know about her and the various myths that have surrounded her (and how they've changed over time) is incredibly interesting reading.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Book 59: The Barkeep

"All the lies ever told in a bar could be distilled into three: I'm not a drunk; I'm not trying to pick your pocket; I'm not looking for meaningless impersonal sex."

Dates read: June 5-6, 2016

Rating: 5/10

Anyone who knows me knows my life hasn't been, like, sunshine and rainbows perfect (though I do try to maintain a sunny and optimistic vibe). I've had some parts of my life that were not awesome, but I've never had what I'd consider to be actual real trauma: my parents are still alive and pretty healthy, my sister the same. I myself have only had the most minor of health problems. Same with my close friends. I'm lucky, and I'm grateful.

It's hard to know how I'd respond to real trauma, like what Justin Chase, the protagonist of William Lashner's The Barkeep, went through. He was a bright and ambitious law student bringing home his laundry to do when he pretty much literally stumbles over his mother's dead body. His revelation to investigators of his father's affair helps put his dad behind bars for the murder, after which Justin promptly has a nervous breakdown. He is briefly institutionalized, and in that time discovers The Tibetan Book of the Dead. He adopts a Zen lifestyle, keeping few possessions and maintaining no interpersonal relationships, and works as a bartender despite having graduated from a prestigious law school. But one day, a old alcoholic called Birdie walks into his bar and claims to have been the one to have committed the murder of Justin's mother...but not on Justin's father's behalf.

Thus begins, despite Justin's attempts to maintain a Zen cool, his investigation into what really happened to his mother. The plot moves quickly and it's a good thing, because some of the elements don't really stand up to any degree of real scrutiny: why is pretty much everyone but Justin an alcoholic? What exactly is his brother's role in the whole situation? Why is the prosecutor's point of view included at all? And the romantic subplot, in which Justin and his father's former mistress grow closer, is just too squicky to sit right.

It's a pity that the mistress, Annie, is stuck in such a gross plotline, because she's by far the most interesting character in the book. An accountant by day and (of course) alcoholic by night, she's fallen into a pattern of relationships with married men which has already lead to some awkward confrontations but she can't seem to break out of it even though she mostly wants to. I wish she'd been the main character rather than Justin, because just thinking about a dude who's gone all Zen bro at 29 is...yuck. I can picture that guy, and he pretty much sucks. It's definitely presented as his response to cope with incredible trauma, so I tried to not let it bother me as a reader too much, but still, yuck.

I can get a little stuck in my reading comfort zone (lyrically written character-driven dramas), so it was nice to get into a fast-moving mystery-thriller a little bit and switch it up. If you do like this kind of story already, though, I don't think this is going to do much for you because it's not an especially well-constructed example of the genre. It's decent and mildly entertaining if you're looking for something you won't have to or want to think too hard about.

Tell me, blog friends...I'm not the only one who enjoys a beer or three but isn't a lush, right?

One year ago, I was reading: Approval Junkie

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: 2016 Releases I Meant To Read But Didn't Get To

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The Bookish! This week's topic: books we meant to read last year but didn't. As much I read, I always wish I managed to read more...there are so many wonderful books out there, I want to get to all of them! But, alas, there's never enough time. So here are ten books I just didn't get to in 2016, but I will! I've tried to chose some that I haven't written about already for some variety.

Swing Time: I actually still have never read Zadie Smith, but I've heard such incredible things. This is just one of hers that's on my shelf! 

Truevine: This is the non-fiction story of two little African-American boys during the Jim Crow era who were taken from their parents to be exhibited as entertainment all around the world. Their mother spent nearly three decades trying to get them back. I've heard this is heartbreaking but really good. 

IQ: Crime/mystery stories don't tend to make my TBR often, but I like to push outside my comfort zone every once in a while and this novel about a super-smart detective solving crimes in LA sounds like a great way to do so. 

You Can't Touch My Hair: I've gotten more into experiencing these kind of comedian-essay kind of books as audiobooks, but I do have an ARC of this (I am not as great as I wish I was about getting these read timely) and it's supposed to be super funny.

The Summer That Melted Everything: This book is about the devil visiting small-town Ohio in the form of a 13 year-old boy and has gotten great reviews...this sounds like an excellent beach read for this summer!

Three Dark Crowns: Young Adult is another genre I'm less inclined to read a bunch of, but I've seen a lot of bloggers who do read a lot of YA post good things about it, and a story about three sisters fighting to the death until one of them is left standing to be crowned queen sounds like over-the-top fun.

Homegoing: One of the first major releases of the year, I'm super bummed I still haven't gotten around to this one, about a pair of sisters born in Ghana whose lives take different directions, and can't wait to read it. 

The Hopefuls: I'm always down for a book about working in and around politics, so this novel about a couple who move to DC and get swept up in the young-politico social web is going to be a treat when I actually find time to get to it!

You Will Know Me: I know I've posted about this one before, but it remains one of the books I'm most interested in reading that was released last year, so here it is again.

The Underground Railroad: Oprah's Book Club hasn't lost its power to be a hype machine, but word is that the praise for this is deserved and I'm desperate to find it a spot coming up on my list!

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book 58: Spinster

"It's true that the per capita divorce rate has dropped from its all-time peak in 1981 of about 5.3 divorces per 1,000 people- but even so, today nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. It's amazing, really, how deftly we hold in our collective consciousness this disconnect between what we want marriage to be and how so many marriages actually turn out. Freedom is unbearable. We opt again and again for the sugarcoated confinement of matrimony, a promise that life will work out just the way we want it- without that promise, false as it may be, the institution's many encumbrances might be impossible to bear."

Dates read: June 1-5, 2016

Rating: 6/10

This is probably strange to hear from a newlywed, but sometimes I find myself missing my single life. Not the dating part, that part sucked. I love my husband and he's just the best and I'm the luckiest that we found each other. But the part where I had total control over my own life. Where I did pretty much only what I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to, and slept on the whole bed all by myself whenever I wanted to go to sleep, and could stay up reading until 2 AM without worrying about keeping the person next to me awake. Where I put something down in my apartment and found it exactly where I left it. Where no one else used the last of the toilet paper and forgot to replace the roll. I don't want to go back to it all the time, most of the time, or even frequently. But every once in a while, I miss the complete autonomy of single life.

I'm not alone: my married/coupled up friends cop to the exact same feelings sometimes, no matter how happy their relationships. And it's just that kind of longing for a life lived accountable ultimately to only herself that drove the writing of Kate Bolick's Spinster. Once a neutral term for an unmarried woman, it's come to have pejorative connotations, implying a woman alone past her prime, probably with cats. It's always cats, those old witchy familiars, that seem to accompany jibes about older single women.

Bolick's book takes us through her life as the daughter of an accomplished and driven woman who got started chasing her dreams late because (like many women of her generation) she got married and had children pretty young. As Bolick serial-monogamies her way through her high school, college, and early adulthood, she finds herself drawn to fellow female writers (like Edna St. Vincent Millay and Edith Wharton, who she deems her influencers) who dared to live the way Bolick herself was increasingly intrigued by: alone. She ends her seemingly marriage-bound long term relationship and spends her 30s trying to figure out what she wants out of life. She experiences various employment scenarios within her field as a writer, finds herself in different living situations, and she dates around, exploring how her influencers lived and how their lives relate to her own situations.

First things first: Bolick is an engaging and talented writer. If she weren't, I wouldn't have enjoyed this book even as much as I did. Which wasn't especially much, to be honest, because this kind of personal memoir is just not the kind of thing I enjoy. Going in, I thought it would be personally focused but also take a broader sociological look at the increasingly large number of unmarried women and how that phenomenon is changing our culture at large. But I suppose I'll have to get my hands on a copy of All The Single Ladies for that, because Spinster touches only extremely briefly on anything outside of her life and the lives of her inspirations. Like with many of these kinds of books, I found myself wondering when I finished it why I'm supposed to care, exactly, about the apartments Bolick lives in or her love life or her professional struggles. Her writing was enjoyable enough to keep my attention, but at the end I found myself wondering what was the actual point of anything I'd just read. I realize the irony of this coming from a woman who starts almost every review with a personal tidbit or anecdote. I do actually read several personal blogs, and I think I would have enjoyed reading something like this over a period of time in a format like that, broken down into smaller posts and spaced out a little. But taken all together it's hard not to see it as self-indulgent navel-gazing, no matter how well-written it is. If personal memoirs are a kind of writing you enjoy, this would be a solid pickup for you. If not, though, I didn't think it was good enough to transcend its genre.

Tell me, blog friends...are you coupled or single? Do you ever envy people in the other position?

One year ago, I was reading: Thirst

**I received a free copy of this book from the publisher, Random House Crown, through Blogging for Books in exchange for a fair and honest review**

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: 2017 Debuts I'm Excited For

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by The Broke and The BookishThis week's topic is debut novels that I'm especially looking forward to. This was a hard one for me, since I do a lot of backlist reading and don't tend to be very immersed in discussions about what's coming up, much less the subset of those that are debuts. But there's only one crossover with my first-half-out-2016 list from a few weeks ago, and the rest are definitely books I want to get my paws on!

The Futures: Anna Pitoniak's debut is about a young couple who move to New York to start their lives...only to be caught up in the middle of the recession. I have a feeling there are going to be a lot of books coming out about being young during the recession and I am going to eat them up because that's my life.

The Leavers: This is kind of cheating because was on my list of 2017 novels I'm looking forward to a few weeks ago, too, but hey, it's a debut I'm looking forward to. 

The Beast Is an Animal: Peternelle van Arsdale's YA novel is a kind of fairy tale take (not yet another re-telling of Beauty and the Beast, though) and seems like the kind of thing I'd enjoy on a genre I'm not especially inclined towards.

Heather, The Totality: Like a lot of people, I totally loved Matthew Weiner's series, Mad Men. He's making his literary debut and the way he told stories on the show has me totally excited to read him in print.

The Hate U Give: There's been a ton of hype around Angie Thomas's book focused on the Black Lives Matter movement...it isn't even out yet and the movie right have already been sold! I'm pumped to read it.

The Bear and the Nightingale: I remember reading the occasional Baba Yaga story as a kid and really loving them, so Katherine Arden's novel based on Russian folklore definitely has me intrigued.

All Our Wrong Todays: Elan Mastai's book posits a modern day world that's everything that a mid-century American would have hoped for, flying cars and all. So when someone from that world finds themselves in ours, it seems like some kind of nightmare. This sounds fascinating!

American War: In a country that feels ever-more sharply divided, a civil war doesn't seem completely beyond the realm of possibility, and it is just this possibility that Omar El Akkad explores. This focuses on a little girl being used as an instrument of war, which will get me right in the feels.

Chemistry: Stories about post-college discontentment tend to resonate with me, especially grad school oriented ones, so Weike Wang's novel about a woman who suddenly realizes that her schoalrly pursuits might not be what she really wants is right up my alley.

Everything Belongs To Us: Modern day literature set in Asia and written by Asians is a big hole in my reading patterns, and this novel by Yoojin Grace Wuertz, about students in South Korea in the late 1970s, a time of social upheaval, seems like it will be fascinating.