Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite 2019 Releases

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! It's the last day of the year, so let's look back on my favorite releases of the year, eh?

Winter of the Witch: I loved the first two books in this trilogy, so I was nervous about whether Katherine Arden could bring it home and give Vasya the ending she deserved. I shouldn't have worried. This series-closer was amazing and I loved it!

Daisy Jones and the Six: I was a little skeptical at first of this Behind-the-Music-style story about a band who make a best-selling masterpiece and then break up on tour, but I fell in love with Daisy, Billy, and the interplay between all the band members. I just couldn't put it down!

The Last Romantics: I love a long-running family saga, and Conklin's tale about siblings that become tightly bonded when their mother falls into a deep depression after their father's death was a great one. It wasn't perfect, but I found it deeply compelling.

Polite Society: This retelling of Emma in modern-day upper-crust India was darker than the original, but nicely balanced being an homage to Austen and opening up the narrative so that side characters got fuller development.

Say Nothing: I had virtually no understanding of The Troubles going in to this book, and needed some Wikipedia help at the beginning, but this exploration of that time through the story of a mother of ten being "disappeared" was fascinating and informative.

After the Party: Even the Allies had internal fascist movements during the World War II era, and this book explores the way one woman gets involved with Sir Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists, combining elegant prose and a determinedly unsympathetic protagonist.

First: This is a thorough biography of Sandra Day O'Connor, the first woman to sit on the US Supreme Court and one of my personal heroes. It's a little dry at points, but overall a well-rounded look at a trailblazing woman.

Death Prefers Blondes: If you've ever wondered why heists don't have more drag queens, this is the book for you! It's fast-paced and doesn't forget to slow down for some heartfelt moments among the winky, campy fun. A very entertaining read!

The Club: A teenage German orphan finds himself caught up in a mysterious plot by his aunt, taking him to Cambridge's most exclusive inner circle and exposing the rot at its core. This was uneven, but grabbed and held my attention.

Without A Prayer: How does a 19 year-old end up being beaten to death by his own parents and sister in church in upstate New York? Because that church has become a cult, in an awful but fascinating true story. It reads more like a very extended piece of reporting than a book with narrative structure and falls very short on the kind of analysis and perspective that would let it take off, but it's interesting nevertheless.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A Month in the Life: December 2019 (With Stats!)

And the 20-teens are all but over! In just a few days, we start the 2020s. I'm not going to do a whole decade-in-retrospect, but this has been one with some high highs (passing the bar! getting married!) and some low lows (struggling to find a job as a lawyer, trying to figure out what to do once I realized I didn't want to be a lawyer anymore). All in all, though, it's been a good ten years, and I'm looking forward to the next ten! But first, let's look back at the last month!

In Books...
  • Columbine: I was in 8th grade when Columbine happened, so it had a very real effect on how my adolescence played out. Even so, I ended up learning quite a lot about it that I didn't know before from reading this book. It's obviously a sensitive subject, but it's deeply researched and very well-written.
  • The Sisters of Henry VIII: Henry VIII is usually thought about in relation to his six wives, but he also had two sisters: one older (Margaret, who became Queen of Scotland), and one younger (Mary, who briefly became Queen of France). I was looking forward to learning more about them, but this is unfortunately one of the driest, least engaging Tudor biographies I've ever read. 
  • The Woodcutter: This is a fantasy story based on fairy tales, and it's fine? There's some attempt at establishing a world with a complex political environment, but that part never comes together. The plot moves quickly enough that it's entertaining to read, though quickly forgettable.
  • Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling: The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is amazing (highly recommend seeing it in person if at all possible), but the story of how it came to be painted is perhaps even more so. I'm no art historian, but Ross King makes sure the reader doesn't need to be to get engrossed in his book. So interesting!
  • House of Cards: I really liked the first couple seasons of the Netflix show when it came out, so I figured I should check out the original source material. Published in the late 80s in the UK, it's an entertaining if not particularly special political thriller, telling the story of Chief Whip Francis Urquhart's quest to destroy the Prime Minister who disappointed him and seize power for himself. I liked it but didn't love it.
  • Without A Prayer: One night in 2015, 19 year-old Lucas Leonard was whipped to death by a group that included his own parents and half-sister. In church! Susan Abshire's book traces the development of a small congregation into a cult where the members could find themselves doing such a thing. You can tell she's a reporter, it's long on facts and short on analysis, but the story is strong and compelling enough to mostly carry it.

In Life...
  • New York City weekend with my mom: My mom really wanted to go see the Moulin Rouge! musical, so I went with her for a quick weekend in the Big Apple. We had an amazing time! Besides the show (which was fantastic), we saw the New York City Philharmonic do a live performance of the score to Harry Potter along with the movie, went to the Met, and (of course) went to The Strand...we got lots of steps in!

One Thing:

I'm generally pro-musical theater, but I'll confess I've never seen or had much interest in seeing CATS. When the first trailer for the movie came out a few months ago, I laughed at how weird the CGI looked and figured it would be not very good. Watching the reviews come in over the internet, though, was a delight...if just for the humor of baffled critics trying to articulate how very bad it was. This piece rounds up some of the best ones.

Gratuitous Pug Picture:

Year-End Bonus Stats!

I do my primary stats round-up in my yearly summary post on my birthday, but since I started using the Rock Your Reading Tracker by Sarah's Book Shelves, I've added in some end-of-year bonus stats that it tracks. It's fun to look at trends in my reading that I never would have thought to include for myself, which is one of the reasons I buy and recommend the tracker!

My reading this year was pretty steady: I read 7 books every month but four: 6 each in June and December, 5 each in May and October. I haven't read as many gigantic books this year, which usually will noticeably drop my monthly totals. Nor was there any particular time this year when I really dove into reading.

I read almost entirely backlist: Once again, my reading was over 80% backlist. I really do just prefer waiting for most new books to come out and develop a track record before deciding whether I want to read them. I do sometimes find hidden gems that never really take off among my frontlist reads, but backlist is just so much more likely to be satisfying!

I'm good at picking out books for myself: My most successful source of books I wind up enjoying? Just browsing in secondhand stores and Kindle sales. I've generally developed a good sense of the kind of thing I like at this point. Second-most successful source was trusted authors (particularly noticeable because 77% of my reading this year was new-to-me authors!), and third was Jaclyn Day, who posts about books on her Instagram.

I don't read a lot of series: When I was younger I went more for a series, but these days I tend strongly towards standalones. Only 15% of the books I read in 2019 were from a series!

Most books I read are 300-400 pages long: This is the book length I tend to prefer, so I wasn't surprised to see that just about 40% of my reading fit into this range. My reading actually came close to being a bell curve, with equal numbers of books falling on either side of it. I was actually a little surprised about that, as I tend to think of myself as someone who really likes long books!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Book 213: The Martian

"Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere. Duct tape is magic and should be worshipped."

Dates read: March 7-9, 2018

Rating: 6/10

Doesn't it seem like everyone goes through a phase of wanting to be an astronaut when they're kids? I know I had my time where I thought I was going to go to space...I read all about Sally Ride and thought leaving Earth sounded like just about the coolest thing possible. Turns out being an astronaut means lots and lots of math and science, and while I was certainly capable in the math and science departments, I never loved it, so that dream (like the ones about being a prima ballerina, princess, and/or a veterinarian) fell by the wayside, like many people's astronaut dreams do.

Andy Weir's The Martian does not shy away from the deeply nerdy aspect of being an astronaut. Mark Watney, and the rest of the crew of the Ares 3 (the third manned mission to Mars) are all big dorks. Mark, on top of his engineering baseline, is also a plant geek, and both of those skill sets prove absolutely crucial when there's a sudden, powerful windstorm on the red planet that requires the crew to get out of there in a hurry. A freak accident means that Mark is thought killed and left behind...only he's not actually dead. He's alive, and alone.

What follows is an epic struggle for survival, as Mark tries to figure out how to stay alive, and (when they become aware that he's alive at all), NASA tries to figure out how to get him home. Like most engineers, Mark is a skilled problem-solver, and it's only through a combination of his smarts, determination, and some blind luck that he's able to figure out how to meet the challenges his circumstances throw at him: he figures out how to grow food to supplement the insufficient stores he's left with, he has to come up with a way to travel long-distance across the surface, he has to establish ways to communicate with Earth, he has to deal with unpredictable weather...the list goes on and on. But if everything goes right, he just might make it after all.

This was one of those circumstances where I'd seen the movie first, and I have to say, I think the movie worked better. There are some circles where this is heresy, I know. But there's something that worked watching this story play out over two-ish hours onscreen better than spending several hours, over multiple days, reading it on the page. There's a formulaic-ness to the plotting that becomes very obvious: Mark encounters a problem, which he records in his mission log (these entries comprise most of the book), he comes up with a solution, he explains the solution and how he came up with it and the science behind it, and then there's the next problem...lather, rinse, repeat. By the end, I was skimming through the science bits, because they were meant to show how smart and innovative Mark is rather than advance the story, but because I'd been reading a couple hundred pages of it, I already knew that Mark was smart and innovative.

Which brings me to my other issue with the book: the character of Mark. In a lot of ways, he's a good lead character: the aforementioned intelligence and innovation, a good sense of humor, a distinctive "voice". He's easy to root for. But I found him a little too high-spirited to be really realistic. He's perpetually ready to take on the next challenge, but for a person painted as a naturally social, outgoing fellow, it strained my credulity beyond belief that he never particularly struggled with depression, despite months and months of enforced solitude. Every real obstacle that comes his way is external, and I wanted to see a little more internal development.

I know I've just laid out two major issues with characterization and plot, but honestly this book isn't bad. It's pretty good. But given its immense popularity, I was expecting something a lot closer to greatness, and I did not find greatness here. Is this an entertaining sci-fi read, and worth getting to? Sure! It's easy to read and engaging and builds suspense nicely even though the ultimate ending is predictable. But don't expect anything particularly special. 

One year ago, I was reading: The Island of the Colorblind

Two years ago, I was reading: Rebecca

Three years ago, I was reading: The Guineveres

Four years ago, I was reading: Hood

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week, we're talking about the books up next on our to-be-read lists! So here are the ten books I'll be curling up with this winter (or at least, for the next several weeks).

Catch-22: I've never read this! I'm not sure that I'm going to like it, honestly...it doesn't necessarily seem like my kind of humor. But it's a classic, so...

Native Speaker: This is my book club's choice for January! It had already been on my list as a significant Asian-American book, so I'm excited to bump it up.

Queen of Scots: I'm very well-versed in the Tudors, but don't know much of anything about Mary, Queen of Scots, so this bio seems like a good place to start.

Sin and the Second City: Brothel drama in old-timey Chicago is my kind of non-fiction!

Mozart in the Jungle: I have not seen the Amazon series they made out of this memoir about the behind-the-scenes world of being a professional classical musician, but I'm always interested in a peek into a world I would otherwise never see!

Followers: I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about social media and what we give up in return for connection, and this novel looks to explore those themes.

Perfume: Another one where I've not seen the screen treatment (in this case, a movie), but I'm always interested in reading books in translation and this was a big bestseller.

Funny Girl: I'll admit that my most recent experiences reading Hornby have been a little bit on the disappointing side, but he's good enough that I'm always willing to try his work!

The Hidden Lives of Tudor Women: I read a bunch of nonfiction from the Tudor era, usually centered on women, so this deep dive into what their daily lives would have been like is right up my alley.

The Year of Reading Dangerously: Obviously, I love books, so I'm definitely the target audience for a memoir about how reading changes one's life.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Book 212: Good Omens

"It wasn't a dark and stormy night. It should have been, but that’s the weather for you. For every mad scientist who’s had a convenient thunderstorm just on the night his Great Work is finished and lying on the slab, there have been dozens who’ve sat around aimlessly under the peaceful stars while Igor clocks up the overtime."

Dates read: March 2-7, 2018

Rating: 8/10

At heart, I'm an optimist. I want to believe that people are good. And while I do believe individual people are often good, I've got a very pessimistic view of people in groups. "People", as in multiple ones in roughly the same place at roughly the same time, are terrible. I've read too many psych experiments (the Stanford prison experiment, the Milgram experiment, virtually any study about in-group v out-group identification) to come to any other conclusion.

Human nature, and the supernatural battle to influence it from God and the Devil, are at the heart of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman's novel, Good Omens. That sounds serious, but this book really isn't: it's breezy, funny, and light, while still managing to play with some weighty themes. The story centers on two beings: the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley, who first meet outside the Garden of Eden after the Fall. Over the long millennia that follow, the two (who've settled in England) strike up a wary friendship, though they're constantly acting to thwart each other. When the Antichrist is born, though, and the end of the world starts to become uncomfortably nigh, they realize that even though they "want" the war between heaven and hell to begin so that their side can be eternally victorious, they would actually much rather continue to enjoy their current state of existence, and they conspire to keep it from happening.

There's a mix-up, though, in the birthing ward where the Antichrist is supposed to be placed with the right family. Instead of being given a righteously portentous name and going home with the world-traveling American ambassador, he's actually called Adam and sent home with a perfectly normal little family in a perfectly normal little town in the English countryside. The same perfectly little down where Anathema Device, the last descendant of a medieval witch and prophetess, Agnes Nutter, happens to live. Those prophecies are unfailingly accurate, and they say the world is due to end on Saturday, so things are about to get real.

What a delight this book was to read! The writing is sparkling with wit, and it doesn't have a feeling of being grafted together from the work of two different authors, either. I can't really compare it to both authors on their own, since I've only ever read Gaiman's solo work, but I can tell you that if you generally enjoy him, you'll likely enjoy this as well. There's all kinds of ingenious little touches, like Crowley's obsession with his car, the hellhound sent to be a companion to Adam being inadvertently wished by him from a slavering beast into a little spaniel-terrier type dog with a floppy ear, and the re-imagination of the Four Horsemen into a motorcycle gang.

But it's not just fluffy apocalyptic fun, the theme of the cruelties humans inflict on each other with very little if any direction from the active forces of evil resonates throughout. We so often chose to deal with life's little injustices by getting snippy with the barista, who in turn goes home and gets snippy with their roommate, who takes it out on their partner, etc etc. The shoulder devil is just so much easier and more instantly gratifying to give into than the shoulder angel. I don't personally believe in any sort of incorporeal forces of good and evil, but I do believe we chose every day whether to be our better selves or, well, our less good selves, and this book, as well as entertaining me, reminded me that it doesn't hurt to try to be the latter. Definitely highly recommended.

One year ago, I was reading: The Prince of Tides

Two years ago, I was reading: The Power

Three years ago, I was reading: The Red Queen

Four years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Hope to Find Under My Tree

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is actually supposed to be a seasonal TBR, but I thought it made much more sense to have this one run this week and my TBR to run on Christmas Eve, so I switched them up!

Best Actress:A history of the women who have won the Best Actress Oscar is basically the most on-brand book ever for me. I LOVE this kind of thing!

No Game for Boys to Play: This book, about the concussion issues in sports, was actually written by someone that lived on my dorm floor my freshman year in college!

The Drama of Celebrity: I really enjoy celebrity gossip and have an almost embarassingly good memory for it...but why do we care about celebrities so much? This book explores that question.

The Season: I was never a debutante and nobody (including myself) ever wanted me to be, but a history of that scene is the kind of rich people thing I find fascinatingly weird.

A Woman Like Her: This is about Quandeel Baloch, a social media star in Pakistan who was murdered by her own brother in an honor killing, and sounds incredibly interesting.

The Testaments: I've heard some mixed reviews about this sequel to The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood, but it won the Booker so I want to read it!

The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee: I feel like I have a decent understanding of the relationship between the United States/its people up until the Indian Wars, and today, but in between I don't know a lot and this book has gotten a lot of good buzz!

Know My Name: Chanel Miller is the woman who was raped by Brock Turner, and I've heard amazing things about her memoir of the experience

The Half God of Rainfall: I'm always intrigued by books written by poets, and this one is inspired by mythology, which also has me curious!

Whistling Vivaldi: I've never stopped being interested in psychology, so this book about stereotypes (which I've heard good things about!) is right up my alley.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Book 211: Henry and Cato

"Fear had entered his life, and would now be with him forever. How easy it was for the violent to win. Fear was irresistible, fear was king, he had never really known this before when he had lived free and without it."

Dates read: February 24- March 2, 2018

Rating: 7/10

Figuring out what you want should be one of the easiest things in the world, but somehow it's not. What we actually want is usually buried under a dizzying series of projections: we think we want things, but we actually want the security they represent. Or the status. Or both! We think we want love, but maybe we're just afraid to be alone with ourselves. Or we just want that head rush that happens at  beginning. The Buddhists think that want/desire is the cause of all suffering, and I think they're probably right.

The two men at the center of Iris Murdoch's Henry and Cato, the titular Henry Marshalson and Cato Forbes, are tied together by their failure to have any idea what it is they actually want. They're also tied together by their shared past, growing up as friends in neighboring English country estates. Their lives have taken them wildly different directions, though: Henry has carved out a life for himself as the third party in a sort of three-part relationship with a married couple, working in academia in the United States, while Cato has had a sudden revelation and joined the church as a priest, ministering to the wayward youth of London. But the two men find themselves in the same place, in crisis, at about the same time.

Henry learns that his older brother, Sandy, his mother's favorite, has died, leaving him as the heir to his family estate, and so returns to England full of plans to toss out the mother who never loved him and her hanger-on, Lucius Lamb (a useless poet) and sell the property. Instead, he finds himself embroiled in a love triangle between Stephanie, Sandy's former mistress, and Colette, Cato's little sister. Meanwhile, Cato has become obsessed with one of the delinquents who visits him, an attractive teenager called Beautiful Joe. Cato's faith is waning, and he wants nothing more than to abandon the priesthood and run away with Joe. The two men meet up briefly in London to reconnect, and when Joe joins them and learns about Henry's inheritance, events begin to spiral out of control.

There's a LOT going on in this book: Henry's complicated relationship with his mother, his resentment of his brother, his desire to possess his brother's lover, his relationship to the ancestral home, Cato's sudden religious awakening and subsequent disillusionment, Cato's desire for Beautiful Joe although he's previously believed himself heterosexual. Henry and Cato are set up as mirrors of each other: even just on a fundamental level, Henry had an older brother and his father has died, Cato's got a younger sister and his mother has died. Both men rejecting what their parents wanted for them: while Henry left the country and pursued a living and was involved with a married couple, Cato renounced his father's intellectualism and became religious, took vows of poverty and chastity.  The theme of mirrored opposites even plays out in Henry's two love interests: while Stephanie is lower-class, older, and slatternly, Colette is young, rich, and virginal.

I'd been tossing the idea of reading Iris Murdoch around since I saw Iris several years ago, and this was the first of her works I found discounted for the Kindle. It's hard to put my finger on exactly how I felt about the book: the characters were mostly well-drawn, the plot proceeded smoothly, the prose was capable, there were interesting ideas toyed with...but the whole was less than the sum of the parts, somehow. I didn't really ever care what became of either Henry or Cato, both of whom I found frustrating (understandable, but frustrating). Without a connection to a character, I personally find it difficult to get invested in a book. So while there was enough good here to get me to check out some of her other works, and I didn't hate the experience of reading it or anything, it wasn't the kind of good that makes me recommend a book widely.

One year ago, I was reading: The Goldfinch

Two years ago, I was reading: The Girl in the Tower

Three years ago, I was reading: The Wonder

Four years ago, I was reading: Occidental Mythology

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Book Series

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week is a freebie, so I'm going to tell you about my favorite series of books. I don't do a ton of series reading, lately, but some have long-since earned a place in my heart while others are just too good to ignore.

Harry Potter: Of course! I am a millennial, I grew up with these books and I love them and my hot take is that the first four are the best and the back three is where the strain of trying to get them out timely started to show and they could have used more editing.

The Lord of the Rings: I read these as a kid and still love them, but the movies are so great at cutting them down to the most impactful points of the narrative that I often forget how long they really are and how much about trees there is.

A Song of Ice and Fire: Please please please finish this series, George! I love his story-telling and character-building. He goes on as much about meals as Tolkien does about trees though.

The Hunger Games: I think the final book of this trilogy was its weakest, but as a whole there's a reason they're already classics even though they're just over a decade old.

The Plantagenet/Tudor novels: I am not going to pretend these are good. They're not. But they're fun and I'm an absolute sucker for them.

The Old Kingdom: My book backlog is very real so I haven't gotten to the two new books yet but the original trilogy is wonderful. I'm always shocked that these aren't more widely read.

The Southern Vampire Mysteries: These are cheesy and kind of silly and sometimes that's what you need! It was obvious in the last few books that she was starting to be ready to be done with them but they're still delightful brain candy.

A Wrinkle In Time: I'll admit that I tried to read the fifth one and just could not get into it, so I only count the original quartet in my head, but I've read and re-read these over and over and they're magical.

His Dark Materials: I honestly believe literally everyone should read these. The world, the characters, the story...perfection.

The Immortals: Teenage me couldn't really get into The Song of the Lioness, but got ALL the way into Wild Magic and its sequels. Tamora Pierce is a gift.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Book 210: The Selfish Gene

"Eggs are a relatively valuable resource, and therefore a female does not need to be so sexually attractive as a male does in order to ensure that her eggs are fertilized. A male is perfectly capable of siring all the children born to a large population of females. Even if a male has a short life because his gaudy tail attracts predators, or gets tangled in the bushes, he may have fathered a very large number of children before he dies. An unattractive or drab male may live even as long as a female, but he has few children, and his genes are not passed on. What shall it profit a male if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his immortal genes?" 

Dates read: February 19-24, 2018

Rating: 8/10

I read books on a schedule. Apparently this isn't a popular way to do things, and most people read based on mood. And I'll admit that sometimes I wish I did cut myself more of a break when it comes to adding in impulse reading. But I know there are books that are interesting and good and will be worth my while that I'll probably never really be "in the mood" to read, and so my schedule goes on.

Richard Dawkins' debut book, The Selfish Gene, fit in that "want to read, but never really right now" category for me. And it turned out I was glad that I picked it up! It examines a fundamental question about human nature: are people naturally generous, or are we naturally selfish? And to what extent is altruism (or the lack thereof) transmitted through our genes? To answer these questions, Dawkins examines how complex organisms, up to and including humans, evolved, to what extent behavior patterns are genetically transmitted, how deeply we might be motivated to help others depending on closely we're related to/share genes with them, and even gets into game theory.

The fundamental premise of the book is that genes "want" (to the extent that inanimate bodily particles want anything) to be passed on. Which one might think would automatically mean that genes that encode for behavior patterns that are selfish/centered on one's own survival at the expense of others would win out, but it's not as easy as that. One's genes also have an investment in being helpful (to a certain extent) to those who have a high likelihood of sharing them: parents, children, siblings, and to a lesser extent aunts/uncles, grandparents/grandkids, etc. And then there's the reality that we'll all need help, of some form or another, at some point, so there's a benefit to providing it to others in the hopes that it'll be returned when needed. So while it's not true altruism, there is some level of unselfishness that's been built in to most of our genetic codes as well.

I read one of Dawkins' later works a few years ago (The God Delusion), and did not like it at all. I found his authorial voice pedantic and grating. But The Selfish Gene is a science classic, so I made myself read it even though I thought I might not like it...and I didn't notice the same kind of condescending attitude. In fact, I thought it struck a good middle ground between dumbing down the concepts to the point where it's so basic there's no room for nuance, and be so technical it ends up talking over the heads of a non-science audience. Instead, it boiled concepts down to a level I felt comfortable with (I may have a J.D., but I never took science beyond basic high school biology and chemistry because it just never much appealed to me) and honestly provided the first explanation of game theory (or at least The Prisoner's Dilemma) that actually took in my brain.

It's still a little bit pedantic, but as someone with a tendency to be a pedant myself I didn't really mind it. Some scientists convey a sense of wonder about the world that a lot of readers really enjoy, though, and if you're looking for something along those lines, this will probably not be for you. If your spiritual beliefs are such that you're going to want some room left for divine intervention as a factor in evolution, this again is unlikely to be a book you'll enjoy. Although he doesn't really touch on religion in this book, Dawkins is a militant atheist and this is strictly scientific. Otherwise, though, there's a lot to get out of this and I'd recommend it to readers interested in genetics and/or altruism!

One year ago, I was reading: Interpreter of Maladies

Two years ago, I was reading: The Games

Three years ago, I was reading: Seating Arrangements

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

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Top Ten Tuesday: Books Which Make Great Gifts

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly linkup of book bloggers hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl! This week we're talking about holiday reads. I am not generally concerned with books set at particular times of year, nor do I remember many holiday scenes beyond the ones in Harry Potter, so my take on this week is going to be a little different. I'm talking about ten books that make great holiday gifts! These tend to be my most-recommended books because they're widely appealing.

In Cold Blood: The true-crime classic is a masterwork of storytelling, truly representing the best of what narrative non-fiction can be.

The Handmaid's Tale: Margaret Atwood is an incredible writer, and this book has had growing visibility in the current political climate and with the Hulu series. Surprisingly many people haven't read it, though, and it's very much worth reading.

Station Eleven: I actually just recommended this to my book club! It's a post-apocalyptic story for people who don't like post-apocalyptic stories, telling a tale of a world both before and 20 years after a pandemic flu, that both builds great characters and asks interesting questions about what we as people need to survive.

The Secret History: This has something for everyone! A twisty, engaging plot, vivid and interesting characters, fantastic prose. And Donna Tartt was only 28 when it was published which is mind-boggling.

Remains of the Day: Truly one of the most well-crafted novels I have ever read, this story of an English butler who is convinced that he's rendered service to a great man reflecting on his life is just astonishingly good (and will break your heart).

Less: The rare light-hearted novel to win a Pulitzer, this book about an aging minor writer who takes a trip around the world to deal with the fact that his sort-of boyfriend is marrying someone else is so charming and warm that it tricks you into not noticing how flawlessly it's put together.

Stardust: For someone at all open to fantasy, this tale about a young man who swears to catch a fallen star for his love interest, only to find out that the star is not at all interested in being taken anywhere, is much more accessible (and honestly, enjoyable) than Neil Gaiman's more well-known American Gods.

The Namesake: The son of Indian immigrants to the US is named Gogol, after the Russian writer, and his name is just one the sources of tension as he grows up and struggles to figure himself out. The character work is top-notch, and Lahiri's writing is just so strong.

A Tree Grows In Brooklyn: It's a coming-of-age story, but that doesn't mean it can't be appreciated by adults too! Francie Nolan's childhood in Brooklyn, growing up as the bookish daughter of a charming but unreliable alcoholic father and relentlessly pragmatic mother, is heart-warming at any age.

The Age of Innocence: I think the classics freak a lot of people out, but they're often much better and less intimidating than people think. Case in point: this is set among rich people in New York City's Gilded Age, but at its heart, it's a dramatic (but repressed) love triangle. Edith Wharton was writing about her own social set, and it shows in her sharp wit and insight.