top ten tuesday: childhood favorites to revisit

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

March 24: Childhood favorites to revisit 

This was a wonderful topic to ruminate on: which books from my childhood I’d like to revisit. I LOVED these ten books when I read them as a kid, mostly I remember the feeling of loving them more than their entire synopses. In alphabetical order by title:

kids books 1

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery: Redhead girls, yay! I also think I read Pippi Longstocking, but don’t remember for sure…

The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerin, Jr.: One of the few fantasy books that hooked me. Gateway book to Orwell’s Animal Farm?

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: A beautiful classic, who doesn’t want to revisit this one?

Danny, Champion of the World by Roald Dahl: Was I the only kid who liked Danny?

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier: I remember a sense of urgency and mystery, but nothing else!

kids books 2

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell: Adventure AND a female protagonist!

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli: Orphan runs everywhere and liked spaghetti a lot? Maybe?

Matilda by Roald Dahl: The best.

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster: Another adventure classic! I have no idea what happened!

Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: So imaginative and funny, and I loved the black-and-white illustrations.

What books from your childhood would you like to revisit?

shotgun lovesongs

Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler made the rounds on book blogs last year, and it came up as available on audio through my library last month. I didn’t realize it until I was almost finished, but this book is a great fit for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks program. From Goodreads:

Hank, Leland, Kip and Ronny were all born and raised in the same Wisconsin town—Little Wing—and are now coming into their own (or not) as husbands and fathers. One of them never left, still farming the family’s land that’s been tilled for generations. Others did leave, went farther afield to make good, with varying degrees of success; as a rock star, commodities trader, rodeo stud. And seamlessly woven into their patchwork is Beth, whose presence among them—both then and now—fuels the kind of passion one comes to expect of love songs and rivalries.

There was a lot I liked about Shotgun Lovesongs. First, yay Wisconsin! It’s not everyday that you experience literary fiction set in Wisconsin (my home state), especially with it being another subtle, accurately portrayed character in itself. I’ve since learned that Butler is a Wisconsin resident, so that obviously makes the setting click, with its spot-on references. I was easily taken by the five friends and immersed in their world, as I have first-hand experience of small, rural Wisconsin towns myself. Their interpersonal relationships and struggles were realistic and easily relatable. Though Little Wing is fictional, I love the nod to Stevie Ray Vaughan (who died in a helicopter crash in Wisconsin) and Jimi Hendrix. Beyond that, with basing his main protagonist on Bon Iver’s leader Justin Vernon (a Wisconsin native), obviously music is a big inspiration for Shotgun and I loved that aspect of this book.

While I said the Wisconsin references were spot-on (and they were), occasionally they were a skosh heavy handed (John Deere and Leinenkugels [almost no one says the full name] and Carhartts oh my!), and the women didn’t feel fully fleshed out for me. Butler shatters some stereotypes with the men, but sadly plays right into others with the women of his fictional rural town (babies on the brain, frumpy clothes for farmer’s wives? come on). I thought it was great that on the audio each character was read by a different actor in the alternating-viewpoint chapters. The actors didn’t sound like they were from “up-nort” (forgivable) but thinking back, the characters all “spoke” in sort of the same voice… their inner monologues were rather similar.

I enjoyed Shotgun Lovesongs very much, though—it was just the right kind of escapism I’ve been needing lately. I’ve also found out that the movie rights have been secured; I can see this translating to film quite well!

Shotgun Lovesongs is my fourth book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Listened to audiobook from February 14 to March 15, 2015.

rivers

Continuing my Ebook Challenge this year! I recently chose to read Rivers by Michael Farris Smith off my iPad. From Goodreads:

It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained, when the storms gave way to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land.

Following years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast—stretching from the Florida panhandle to the western Louisiana border—has been brought to its knees. The region is so punished and depleted that the government has drawn a new boundary ninety miles north of the coastline. Life below the Line offers no services, no electricity, and no resources, and those who stay behind live by their own rules.

Eerily prophetic in its depiction of a southern landscape ravaged by extreme weather, Rivers is a masterful tale of survival and redemption in a world where the next devastating storm is never far behind.

I am so in the mood for post-apocalypse books right now, and Rivers worked well for me. It’s hard not to compare to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, of course, and these books could be cousins as far as the devastating near-future setting goes, but they are different enough to be enjoyed without wishing you were reading the other.

The aspect I liked best about Rivers was Smith’s detailed world building, especially for the crushing weather—constant rain, frequent hurricanes gaining strength one after another. The bleak, brutal wetness and cold is palpable in this book. Also, there was a lot more action in Rivers than I expected—impossible situations, violence, kill-or-be-killed stuff, which I found all appropriate to the desperate nature of this new world.

A few things didn’t quite work for me, specifically that I didn’t feel like I really knew Cohen, despite being the protagonist and several flashbacks to his life before the storms (which had a tendency to be long sometimes, I’m not sure I cared so much). None of the characters were fleshed out much‚ Cohen is the only one whose past we learn about and I still didn’t feel like he was fully realized.

I enjoyed it a lot though—this scenario of seemingly endless storms ravaging our country is a terrifying prospect and I thought it was imagined well here in Rivers. I’m sure I would have gotten through this faster if I didn’t feel a pinch by a few library books that were coming up due and other life stuff in general.

Rivers is my second of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from February 17 to March 14, 2015.

almost famous women

I couldn’t believe it when Megan Mayhew Bergman’s Almost Famous Women came through at the library for me, it’s so new! I lucked out this time; it’s a great little collection. From Goodreads:

The fascinating lives of the characters in Almost Famous Women have mostly been forgotten, but their stories are burning to be told. Now Megan Mayhew Bergman, author of Birds of a Lesser Paradise, resurrects these women, lets them live in the reader’s imagination, so we can explore their difficult choices. Nearly every story in this dazzling collection is based on a woman who attained some celebrity—she raced speed boats or was a conjoined twin in show business; a reclusive painter of renown; a member of the first all-female, integrated swing band. We see Lord Byron’s illegitimate daughter, Allegra; Oscar Wilde’s troubled niece, Dolly; West With the Night author Beryl Markham; Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sister, Norma. These extraordinary stories travel the world, explore the past (and delve into the future), and portray fiercely independent women defined by their acts of bravery, creative impulses, and sometimes reckless decisions.

Unfortunately I don’t have the titles (had to return to the library), but a few chapters especially stood out to me: those about the conjoined Hilton twins, Joe Carstairs, Dolly Wilde, and Romaine Brooks. These four felt the meatiest and most engaging—Bergman could expand each of these to its own full-length book and I’d read them. Her prose is at once delicate and lovely but also straightforward. I found it wonderfully different to experience slices of the women’s lives through the eyes of others in proximity to them, rather than being inside their heads (with a few exceptions).

The shortest chapters were about 2–5 pages, and only one left an impression on me—the one about the women liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Two stories I really enjoyed but perhaps didn’t quite fit with the collection were about Allegra Byron, illegitimate daughter of Lord Byron, and the updated take on The Lottery by Shirley Jackson. They just didn’t exactly fit, I felt, because Allegra was a child and the Lottery update was pure fiction instead of historical fiction. But they were excellently written and honestly two of my favorites in the collection.

I have struggled with short stories in the past, and still had to try a bit with this (due to external circumstances, I’ve been distracted while reading lately), but Almost Famous Women was one of the more compelling and page-turning collections I’ve read. I think one reason I became so intrigued is because these real-life women were intriguing—I found myself doing a little internet sleuthing on Bergman’s subjects and was fascinated. I don’t think I would have ever randomly discovered these women and their stories on my own without Bergman’s book.

Read from March 1 to 12, 2015.

st. patrick’s day

st pats imageHappy St. Patrick’s Day! I’ve never been one to go all-out and get crazy drunk on this holiday, rather I like to celebrate my heritage and family and the music and food of Ireland.

The last couple of days I’ve been listening to my Irish music playlist which includes Van Morrison, the Chieftains, and Danú, among others. I had a great time at Hozier‘s concert last month at Liberty Hall, and though he doesn’t play traditional Irish music he is from Bray, County Wicklow! But recently I’ve been revisiting Danú a lot because they just played a concert in Wisconsin last Friday, which my parents attended. I really enjoyed its concert here in Kansas City a few years ago: read my review at KCMetropolis.org. If you have a chance today, check it out on youtube!

I also like to reflect on Irish history, either by watching a film or documentary or reading some articles. Last year I was captivated by the “Potato” chapter in Michael Pollan’s The Botany of Desire, which outlined the Potato Famine in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, resulting in the tidal wave of Irish immigration to the United States. Here’s a great (fairly short) article from Common Dreams about the famine, bringing up some thought-provoking questions and touching on how it compares today globally and economically.

Kansas City is rich with Irish ancestry an we like to celebrate it well beyond March 17! I highly recommend stopping by the Kansas City Irish Center in Union Station, open year-round, and spending Labor Day weekend at the Kansas City Irish Fest. Both are great fun, and full of culture and history. The festival hosts several bands and of course has Irish food and drink on tap! We also have a pretty epic parade for St. Patrick’s Day, but I just can’t bring myself to take a vacation day off work to go see it. It’ll fall on a weekend, eventually!

Speaking of food, on Sunday I made my annual “Irish Feast”: shepherd’s pie and soda bread. I used freshly ground lamb from Local Pig for the pie, and (because I’m from Wisconsin) I did add cheese (not authentic, I know) but it was Kerrygold cheddar and Dubliner, at least! I also have Kerrygold butter for the soda bread :) Maybe later I’ll dip into the store to pick out one of these Irish beers listed on Thrillist.

irish food

Lastly, I’m currently reading a book set (mostly) in Ireland, by an Irish author: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann. I’ve had my eye on Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín since it came out last fall, he’s been on my radar ever since I read his Brooklyn a few years ago.

I hope you are enjoying a fine St. Patrick’s Day! Sláinte!

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

This weekend I was dead-set on avoiding the health cooties going around here (flu, bronchitis, etc.) and tried to take it easy. Thanks to rest, extra vitamin C, lots and lots of water, and my mom’s concoctions I ended up just fine! Lemon juice + apple cider vinegar + cayenne + ginger = miracle shot.

Making myself slow down and rest afforded me a good amount of reading time this weekend. I finished three books: Almost Famous Women by Meghan Mayhew Bergman, the audio for Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler (counting on my KC Library Love on the Rocks program), and Rivers by Michael Farris Smith (one for my ebook challenge). Hopefully I’ll find some time this week to get all those reviews written and posted!

This week I’m reading TransAtlantic by Colum McCann (off my TBR Pile Challenge list) and The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison, to finish up the Love on the Rocks program (last day is this Friday).  TransAtlantic is timely this week too, being written by an Irish author and partially set in Ireland.

What are you reading this week?

top ten tuesday: spring 2015 tbr

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

March 10: Top ten books on my spring 2015 TBR 

I’m skipping ahead on the TTT topics—spring TBR is slated for next Tuesday, but that’s St. Patrick’s Day and I think I’ll either post about that, or be too busy to post! But I definitely wanted to make sure I get in my spring TBR list. Not sure I’ll read all of them between March 20 and June 20, I’m a bit of a “mood” reader, after all! But here’s my list, in no particular order:

spring tbr 1

TransAtlantic … Colum McCann (TBR Pile Challenge)
The Green Mile … Stephen King (Ebook Challenge, maybe King’s March linkup)
The Silent Wife … A.S.A. Harrison (KC Library Love on the Rocks)
Find Me … Laura van den Berg
An Untamed State … Roxane Gay

spring tbr 2

Station Eleven … Emily St. John Mandel
Behind the Beautiful Forevers … Katherine Boo
Americanah … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Rivers … Michael Farris Smith (Ebook Challenge, finish)
Shotgun Lovesongs (audio) … Nickolas Butler (KC Library Love on the Rocks, finish)

What are the best books you’ve read in the last three years?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Blah! This month is kind of sucky too. I fell behind on my reading, but other stuff has been so important I kind of don’t care! That’s the great thing about books—they’ll just wait until you have time for them, no rush, no worries. And if I don’t finish a challenge, so what? It’s supposed to be for fun. I’m not pressuring myself.

I’m still working on Rivers by Michael Farris Smith, on my e-reader, and also Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler on audio. The further I get into this one, the more appropriate it is for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program. Counting it as book 4 for that list when I finish!

And I know I just said “no rush, no worries” but I did realize that Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayher Bergman, which I got from the library, is due this week… so yeah I’m sort of rushing through that one before I have to return it ;)

What are you reading this week?

dept. of speculation

Onward with my reading challenges! My latest pick for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks program was Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill. From Goodreads:

Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all.

Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband, postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophesa colicky baby, bedbugs, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it, as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art..

Well, hmm. Perhaps I’m in a slump. I’ve heard almost nothing but awesome things about Dept. of Speculation and it just didn’t grab me the way I expected. I enjoyed it overall, but I think the subject matter is deep and complicated, but being such a short novel (only about 170 pages) I feel like some of the situations and feelings “the wife” had were glossed over. The free-flowing thought prose jumped around and I had trouble staying focused on the when/where/what. She obsessed over microscopic details in her life and marriage—can’t see the forest for the trees? I just never felt invested in the characters, or had any empathy for them. However, I did find the writing style fresh and interesting, with some very lovely, compelling phrasing, almost on a poetic level. I have had a trying few weeks here, so maybe it’s me and I’m in a slump. I think if I had been able to really concentrate and focus on this novella in one or two sittings, Dept. would have had more of an impact for me. I would definitely give it a re-read at some point.

Dept. of Speculation is my third book of five for the KC Library’s Love on the Rocks Adult Winter Reading Program.

Read from February 18 to 28, 2015.

flags of our fathers

Staying on track for my TBR Pile Challenge, last month I read Flags of Our Fathers by James D. Bradley with Ron Powers. From Goodreads:

In this unforgettable chronicle of perhaps the most famous moment in American military history, James Bradley has captured the glory, the triumph, the heartbreak, and the legacy of the six men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima. Here is the true story behind the immortal photograph that has come to symbolize the courage and indomitable will of America.

In February 1945, American Marines plunged into the surf at Iwo Jima—and into history. Through a hail of machine-gun and mortar fire that left the beaches strewn with comrades, they battled to the island’s highest peak. And after climbing through a landscape of hell itself, they raised a flag.

Now the son of one of the flagraisers has written a powerful account of six very different young men who came together in a moment that will live forever.

I have had my eye on Flags of Our Fathers ever since I first spotted it sitting on my grandmother’s shelf several years ago. I have a minuscule connection to this book—the author and his father, one of the men in the iconic photograph, are from Antigo, the same small up-north Wisconsin town as my father. My grandmother was undoubtedly acquainted with the Bradley family, and our family has used its funeral home services over the years. When my dad and I were in Honolulu last summer, we visited the Pearl Harbor memorial site and he bought me a copy of the book from the gift shop. I’m not sure exactly what compelled me to read Flags right when I did, but my reading of it just so happened to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the battle at Iwo Jima and the flagraising. I love when that sort of serendipity happens!

Flags relates the harrowing battle very well—the whole middle third of the book covering this is hard to put down. I learned some abhorrent facts, but I appreciate that Bradley was generally fair in relating the details of the war, not blaming one side or the other. He is biased on the subject of his father, of course, but that’s not distracting or overwhelming. There were a few repetitive statements throughout, and occasionally Bradley inserted himself and his thoughts or feelings into the story that pulled me out of it a little. He did an excellent job of conveying the horrors of war, and this lengthy, confusing, and exhausting battle in particular.

Further, Bradley went on to relate what happened to the three surviving flagraisers after the war, which I feel is just as important to examine in any discussion of any war. I didn’t really know much about bond tours before reading this book, and how its a relic of the past now, something that would never happen today. With the lives of the flagraisers covered from youth to death, Flags provides a cross-section of what war can do to a person’s psyche, too, from post-traumatic stress disorder to an inflated, false sense of celebrity to the desire to retreat from unwanted attention and live a normal life. What happens when everyone insists you’re a hero when you just happened to be in a certain place at a certain time, just doing your duty like everyone else? It really speaks to the profound respect and loyalty these men had to each other, that just because they put up a flag they knew they weren’t any different from or more special than all the other men on that island, especially those that died there.

Flags of Our Fathers is my second of twelve books read for the 2015 TBR Pile Challenge.

Read from February 18 to 28, 2015.