What I Read: August 2017

Oh, August. I was so looking forward to reading the books on my list, but three out of the four were disappointing. I have high hopes for September reading-wise and am already flying through a one with two more on deck. Do you ever have those months where nothing you read is as good as you were hoping?

The quick round-up:

  • Favorite: Black Man in a White Coat
  • Least favorite: Finnikin of the Rock
  • Most likely to recommend: Black Man in a White Coat
  • Most thought-provoking: Black Man in a White Coat

Based on the above list, I think you can guess which of the four books I did enjoy…

Books are listed in the order I read them.

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders / I don’t have much experience with sci-fi, and this was a sci-fi/fantasy crossover chosen by my book club. It follows two characters, Patricia (a witch) and Laurence (a computer genius). We meet them in childhood and follow them through adolescence and early-adulthood. The story is set-up as a clash between nature and science/technology, but it never truly delivered. The concept was fascinating, the writing was fine, but the character development was lacking, which made it hard to feel invested in the outcome. This was one of those books that seemed right up my alley, but fell flat.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? And Other Questions You Should Have the Answer to When You Work in the White House by Alyssa Mastromonaco and Lauren Oyler / Mastromonaco worked on John Kerry’s presidential campaign and then as a staffer for Obama when he was a senator, candidate, and president. Her resume is impressive–deputy chief of staff before the age of 35!–and I loved hearing how she got to where she was, especially since politics is so often the domain of white men not young women. I have two complaints: (1) I did not think she was able to pull the stories together into a cohesive narrative, and (2) I did not love the tone. Partway through the book I discovered that the intended demographic was 15-25 year old women, which explained the tone, even if it didn’t make me like it. Even so, I enjoyed hearing her story and her commitment to public service. Also, Obama-era nostalgia.

Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta / This series came highly recommended to me by multiple friends. Sadly, something about it did not work for me. I found myself avoiding reading because I didn’t want to continue, then feeling annoyed when I picked it up again because I forgot some of the details and was confused. I wanted to like it, but just couldn’t. The premise is that that someone invaded Lumatere and killed the royal family. A curse was then placed on the kingdom so no one could go in or out. Finnikin is outside of Lumatere and trying to determine the next steps for either getting back in or creating a new homeland with other exiles. Then add in romance + magic. Most everyone I know that has read it loves it, so if you are into YA fantasy you should probably ignore my review and give it a try.

Black Man in a White Coat: A Doctor’s Reflections on Race and Medicine by Damon Tweedy / Without a doubt, this memoir was the best book I read in August. Memoirs are often hit or miss for me but Tweedy’s was spot on. He tells stories from medical school, residency, and as a practicing physician. He beautifully interweaves his own experiences, the stories of his patients, and larger discussions about race and medicine. It made me think about both healthcare and race differently. There was so much there, I know I will be thinking about this book for months to come.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

What I Read: July 2017

July was heavy on the young adult fiction for me, largely because I finished my re-read of the Harry Potter series in preparation for a Friendlier episode all about Harry Potter. I enjoy YA and like to regularly read it, but I am looking forward to a more balanced book list in August.

The quick round-up:

  • Favorite: Harry Potter, specifically the fifth one. What can I say? Nothing else compares.
  • Least favorite: Rich Dad, Poor Dad
  • Most likely to recommend: Book of Unknown Americans
  • Most thought-provoking: Rich Dad, Poor Dad I may not have loved it (see below), but it did make me think.

Books are listed in the order I read them.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling / I had not done a full reread in of the series in YEARS and I so enjoyed immersing myself in the wizarding world for days on end. I am a person who quickly forgets what I’ve read, so many parts of it were new to me again. On a future time through I want to read the seventh book first so I can appreciate how much it all connects with the ending fresh in my mind.

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare / This was a Newbery award winner in the early 1960s and I read it for my online book club. It it is a coming of age story set in the time of Jesus that follows a young boy who wants vengence against the Romans for the deaths of his parents. It is a story of how freedom comes when you choose love over hate. It didn’t not like the book, but it took me awhile to get into it and once I did it was just okay.

Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki / As I said last month, I love all things personal finance. I had heard about this book numerous times as it is a personal finance classic. Parts of it I appreciated, but the overall tone didn’t sit well with me. On the one hand, I think having a “can-do” attitude about money is powerful, but on the other hand, it felt like he was blaming people stuck in the cycle of poverty and that if only they tried hard then they too could be a millionaire. It felt very Trumpian in a problematic way. There were still some gems hidden inside, but I overall I found it frustrating.

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez / I picked up this book after seeing Bethany’s post on Instagram. (Sidenote: Instagram and the bookstagram community have been such a fun way to find new reads!) It focuses on one family that moves from Mexico to Delaware so their daughter can go to a special education school after she suffered a major brain injury. Interspersed throughout are chapters giving the backstory of the other immigrants living in the apartment complex. I loved the look into immigration and what being an immigrant looks like from multiple perspectives. The only thing I did not love was the romance plot line as it didn’t seem believable. Even so, I would recommend it.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon / It is your typical YA romance–light, fun, and oh so enjoyable. The two title characters are children of Indian immigrants who meet each other in the summer between high school and college. Rishi knows that his parents have arranged the match between him and Dimple, but she does not. They are both so likeable as individuals. Throughout the book they wade through their feelings for each other all while trying to reconcile their parents’ expectations with their own desires. A perfect book if you need an escape

The Dry by Jane Harper / I say I don’t like crime fiction, yet I keep reading it. I had seen this one floating around on Instagram earlier this year and finally jumped on the bandwagon. It was perfectly fine, but confirmed my general feelings about the genre: it keeps me reading, I want to know what happens, but at the end I feel disappointed with the experience. I did love that it was set in Australia, which added an extra element of interest.

So far my August reading has been a bit slow, but I am hoping things will pick up once school starts (kindergarten!) next week and I have a bit more uninterrupted reading time.

Have you read anything good lately? Please share any recommendations you have in the comments–I am always looking to add to my library stack.

Happy reading!

What I Read : May and June 2017

I was planning to start doing monthly posts of books I’ve read starting in May, but with all of our recent travel I didn’t get around to it, hence the combined May/June post you see here.

May was a good reading month for me, but I found it harder to read while traveling than I anticipated. I slowly plodded through Commonwealth on the way to Oregon, but got back to it back to regular reading once I returned home.

The quick round-up:

  • Favorite: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
  • Least Favorite(s): Broke Millennial and Commonwealth
  • Most likely to recommend: Born a Crime
  • Most thought-provoking: Toss up between Strangers in Their Own Land and Just Mercy

Books are listed in the order I read them.

 

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid / The language of this book took me few pages to adjust to (I felt like the style was keeping us at arm’s length from the characters), but once I did I was hooked. Hamid takes on the refugee crisis by following the story of one couple as they try to leave their war-torn country in search of a better life. The novel explores the question of how communities respond to the arrival of refugees–a timely and thought-provoking topic.

Strangers In Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Russell Hochschild / It took me months to get this book from the library, as it has been incredibly popular post-election. I keep coming back to the idea of people on the right having a different “deep story” to people on the left. Reading it did not change my mind on the issues, but it did change the way I see the conversation.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood / Fiction as fiction should be. It follows the relationship of a young girl and one of her drug dealer dad’s thug. I do not normally enjoy books where the narrator changes each chapter as I usually find it takes me awhile to settle into the new person’s point of view, but Greenwood did it so beautifully I found I couldn’t wait to see the story from another point of view. It made me question what constitutes a family and how easily we judge what we don’t understand.

Farthing by Jo Walton / Walton’s world is set in an alternate reality where Britain made peace with Hitler instead of continuing the war. It is a murder mystery and alternates chapters between the detective in charge of the case and the daughter of a politically connected family. My biggest complaint is that there wasn’t much nuance between who was good and evil and I think the reality is much more complicated. I haven’t picked up the next book in the series but plan to do so soon.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling / I haven’t done a full reread of the series since 2011, so I am long overdue. My two main thoughts from this time through were (1) How different it is to read it as a parent and (2) How much wittier it is than I remember. Look for a Friendlier episode all about Harry Potter in early August!

Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping by and Get Your Financial Life Together by Erin Lowry / I picked up this book on the recommendation of Mrs. Frugalwoods. I love all things personal finance, so I enjoyed it, but objectively feel fairly neutral toward it. Her tone is more casual and “just having a chat with your girlfriends,” which is fine but not my cup of tea.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett / I loved Bel Canto, but Commonwealth didn’t do it for me. When I got to the end I felt very “meh” about the whole experience. That said, the writing was beautiful and she perfectly captured the complicated nature of sibling and family relationships.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah / Without a doubt, the best memoir I have read in years. I had learned about the political history of South Africa in college, but Trevor’s stories put a face to the reality. His stories inform readers about South African history while keeping them laughing. I think this would be even better as an audio book since he is the reader and I am sure his delivery is excellent.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson / This was a book club book, and I am so glad it was. It is all to easy to ignore what is happening in our criminal justice system if you are not directly affected, and this book challenged me to pay attention and recognize the inherent bias and injustice that is tearing families and lives apart. I did not always love the writing style, but the message so powerful I could not put it down.

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well by Meik Wiking / This was the perfect book to finish out the month. It is beautifully designed and easy to breeze through in a morning. My favorite definition of hygge in the book was “coziness of the soul.” I will be coming back to the concepts in this book during the dark days of winter.

I’d love to hear what you’ve been reading or your thoughts on any of the books mentioned here!

Making Time to Read

 

Reading books is a favorite pastime of mine. Over the years I have read with varying degrees of frequency, but it has been part of my life since the days of of Sweet Valley Kids.

I distinctly remember a time my freshman year of college when I took a break from studying and read The Secret Life of Bees. I hungrily devoured the pages in my dorm room and thought, I’ve missed this. Reading got me through lonely times abroad, kept me sane through graduate school, and gives me an anchor in these days of parenting young children.

I read because I love it, but there are side benefits as well. I firmly believe that if I want my kids to grow up to be readers, then they need to see me and Neil reading for fun–which basically translates into an excuse for me to read during the day under the guise of good parenting. #winning

I fit in reading whenever I can, but usually in the mornings if I manage to get up before the kids, during rest time if I am not writing or working on a podcast (rest time = what happens when your kids stop napping but everyone still needs down time), and post-bedtime. If I’ve had a hard day, then I often sneak off to read a few pages after dinner while Neil is with the kids.

Here are my tips to fitting in more reading into the busy lives we lead:

(1) Figure out what you can cut out. For me it has been television and social media. I still use Instagram and watch shows with Neil some evenings, but quitting Facebook last year eliminated a major time-suck.

(2) Always have multiple books to read. I like to read more than one at once so that whether I am in the mood for fiction or non-fiction I have something ready to read. I have also taken on the responsibility of getting books at the library I know Neil will enjoy too as I have discovered that if one of us doesn’t have something to read, we are more likely to watch a show after the kids are bed, but if we both have something, we happily read instead.

(3) Don’t be a book snob. Some books I read are more high-brow, while others are decidedly not. I read young adult fiction, fantasy, and even romance if the mood strikes. I also read Pultizer-winners and my fair share of cerebral non-fiction. But not all the time. Because sometimes, I just want to get lost in a story and turn my brain off.

(4) Have a reading goal. I was surprised to find how much I enjoy setting a reading goal for the year on Goodreads and then regularly checking in to see how I’m doing. It is not that I wouldn’t read otherwise, but it makes me take note when I am in a reading slump and get back to it.

(5) Join a book club. I am a part of two book clubs and I love how they challenge me to read something I wouldn’t pick up otherwise. They also make me to think about the books differently. I love how often my opinion on a book changes after discussing it at book club.

(6) Have a podcast that requires you to talk about books every two weeks. Oh wait, does this not apply to everyone? Knowing that I need to have a book to discuss on Friendlier has helped me prioritize reading when I otherwise might scroll through social media.

I would love to hear what you’re reading and how you find the time to fit it in.