reading recap: september 2014

monthly recap image

September. Oh, this month. Here’s how you can tell the school year (work) and concert season (play) have kicked into full gear:

Sept 2014 reading recap

Just a little pathetic! At least, that was my first thought. It’s probably not actually all that bad, considering The Walking Dead is 1,088 pages (yes, graphic novel pages, but still substantial!) and Five Days at Memorial is 486 pages (just the content—not counting in acknowledgements or notes pages at the end). I had higher hopes for my reading in September after having a great August but eh, what can you do? Life stuff.

The Walking Dead was fun and I enjoyed it enough—I liked that it got me back in the mood for the TV show returning in a couple weeks—but I’m still not entirely sold on graphic novels. I think it’s just not the medium for me. I was glad to mark off another from my Eclectic Reader Challenge, though!

I slogged through Five Days at Memorial, taking a whopping 22 days to get through, which surprised me because this harrowing non-fiction material is usually right up my alley. The slog might have been due to the timing of reading it, being too busy to really dig in.

To further talk myself into this number NOT being pitiful, I should clarify that in my monthly reading recaps here I’m counting the books I finished within the calendar month (Sept 1–30), not taking into consideration when I started a book. For example, I started two other books in September but won’t finish them today, the last day of the month, so they’ll count for October. I’m decently far into them as of today, too—71% done with Elizabeth Warren’s A Fighting Chance (audio) and 38% done with The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez.

Review post for Five Days at Memorial coming soon! How did your September go for reading?

top ten tuesday: fall 2014 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.

September 23: Top ten books on my fall 2014 TBR list

Here we go again… I don’t have the best track list with reading my top ten seasonal picks. Four from the summer list, four from spring, six from winter. I’m a mood reader, and get distracted with newer books or challenges easily! I think I might have put almost all my unread books on past seasonal lists, too. This list, though, I’m really committed to reading these (for real this time! ;) ) Here are my TBR tops for this fall, in no particular order:

fall list 1

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henríquez
Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

fall list 2

A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
As You Wish by Cary Elwes with Joe Layden
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy
The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes

What’s at the top of your reading list this fall?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

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

Well, it certainly was a crazy week. Couple of weeks. This week, too. I haven’t had a free night after work at all! Now that my orchestra rehearsals are back in full swing my free reading time has become sadly limited. I’m still working my way through Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink (70% complete after two weeks… grr). But aside from the time issue I think I’m just having trouble with this one. I’m not sure if I’m slumping in general being busy or if I’m reading this at the wrong time. It’s interesting and compelling, just not as gripping as I expected.

This is Banned Books Week, too. While I do have a couple of banned books (Native SonSophie’s Choice) sitting on my shelves, I’m not sure I’ll be able to hold off on these two that just arrived at my house:

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Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood, baby! I’m really excited to read these two. I’d love to read something in line with Banned Books Week this year but I’m just not sure I’d have time to participate anyway—I bet I’ll still be working on Five Days at Memorial all week, honestly. I will definitely enjoy checking out participating blogs, though, and I hope you do, too!

What are you reading this week?

the walking dead compendium one

My husband received a copy of The Walking Dead Compendium One by Robert Kirkman last year for Christmas and I thought it would be a good choice for the “graphic novel” genre of my Eclectic Reader Challenge. From Goodreads:

Introducing the first eight volumes of the fan-favorite, New York Times Best Seller series collected into one massive paperback collection.

In a world ruled by the dead, we are forced to finally start living. With The Walking Dead #1-48, this compendium features more than one thousand pages chronicling the start of Robert Kirkman’s Eisner Award-winning story of zombie horror, from Rick Grimes waking up alone in a hospital, his band of survivors seeking refuge on an isolated farm and the controversial introduction of Woodbury despot, the Governor.

I don’t have much experience reading graphic novels, and the ones I have read didn’t make much of an impression on me (WatchmenBlack Hole). Something is just missing for me in graphic novels, and I don’t become very emotionally invested. After those two books, I felt just fine never reading another graphic novel again (and yes, I certainly do count them as “real” books and see the appeal). While I enjoyed The Walking Dead Compendium One more than any graphic novels I’ve read before, I still kind of think they’re not quite for me.

Of course, with the popularity of the TV show (of which I’m a fan), it’s impossible not to compare, but fortunately the books are different enough from the show that you can enjoy both without frustration that the show isn’t more like the book and/or vice versa. Characters in each may have the same name, but nothing else in common as far as personality or story line. I did wish the women were stronger in general—Lori and Andrea are better in the books than the show, and Michonne is equally kick-ass in both, but the rest of the women in the book are pretty weak. Several characters were downright annoying (Maggie and Glenn… whom I love on the show!). This may be just me and my lack of experience with graphic novels, but some characters (especially the men) I couldn’t tell apart and would forget who they were… however in general they were more three dimensional (ironically!) in the books than the show.

The artwork seemed pretty par for the course in my limited experience, with a handful of really impressive full-page spreads. I thought the detailing on the zombies, making each one unique, was particularly well done. There were a lot of dynamic, action-packed sequences throughout, and the main point of other people being the real threat—not zombies—was driven home well. One thing that came through shining clear in the book that didn’t in the show for me was that our motley crew fighting for survival in this new, terrifying, desperate world are the walking dead—not the zombies.

While again, I’m not sure I’m hooked on graphic novels after this, I was definitely hooked reading this collection. I can’t say I’ll make a point to read the subsequent compendiums (so many other books on my TBR to get through!) but I do recommend this first one for horror and post-apocalypse fiction lovers! It was a great warm-up to the next season of The Walking Dead TV show premiering in October.

The Walking Dead Compendium One is my graphic novel for the 2014 Eclectic Reader Challenge, and marks 5 of 12 completed on the list.

Read from August 26 to September 6, 2014.

top ten tuesday: read-once authors

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.

September 16: Top ten read-once authors

This week’s topic is authors from whom you’ve only read one book, but would like to read more of their work. This was tougher than I expected! Some of the authors I had in mind for this list only have one book published, so I tried to keep it to those who have more out. In no alphabetical order by last name:

  1. Maya Angelou (right?!? read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings)
  2. Emma Donoghue (read Room)
  3. Herman Koch (read The Dinner, just got Summer House with Swimming Pool)
  4. Rohinton Mistry (read A Fine Balance, have a copy of Family Matters)
  5. Toni Morrison (right again!?? read Beloved)
  6. Jojo Moyes (read Me Before You, The Girl You Left Behind ebook is on my iPad!)
  7. Haruki Murakami (read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, have Kafka on the Shore)
  8. Richard Preston (read The Hot Zone)
  9. Amy Tan (read The Joy Luck Club)
  10. Jeff VanderMeer (read Annihilation, would love to finish the trilogy!)

Honorable mentions (with book I read): Colm Tóibín (Brooklyn), Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), Alice Munro (Dear Life: Stories), Jess Walter (Beautiful Ruins), Meg Wolitzer (The Interestings), Sarah Vowell (Assassination Vacation)

What authors would be on your list?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

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

It’s going to be a crazy week, people! I just enjoyed one of my last peaceful weekends for a while, now that the semester/concert season is in full swing. On Saturday I finished reading The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman (and saw Buddy Guy perform!). Review coming up soon, hopefully tomorrow!

I always have the worst trouble starting a new book. I just agonize over it, for some reason! I stand in front of my bookcase staring for several minutes. Then I open up my iPad and stare at my ebooks I’ve downloaded. Then I go back to the bookcase. Repeat repeat repeat. Yesterday I finally settled on Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink, though, partly because I had just read a couple books by male authors (I’m more aware of this now since I started keeping a spreadsheet for my reading this year… self-overanalyzing is happening, people) and Five Days is another from that 2013 book-buying binge that I’m finally starting to try to whittle down. It’s a little dry but less textbook-y than I was expecting, which is good. I’m hoping I can finish it this week but it’s a bit of a chunkster—almost 500 pages! We’ll see.

What are you reading this week?

the botany of desire

The August selection for my Stranger than Fiction book group at the Kansas City Public Library was The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, one I’ve been meaning to read for a very long time. From Goodreads:

Every schoolchild learns about the mutually beneficial dance of honeybees and flowers: The bee collects nectar and pollen to make honey and, in the process, spreads the flowers’ genes far and wide. In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan ingeniously demonstrates how people and domesticated plants have formed a similarly reciprocal relationship. He masterfully links four fundamental human desires—sweetness, beauty, intoxication, and control—with the plants that satisfy them: the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato. In telling the stories of four familiar species, Pollan illustrates how the plants have evolved to satisfy humankind’s most basic yearnings. And just as we’ve benefited from these plants, we have also done well by them. So who is really domesticating whom?

I’ve been a fan of Pollan’s for years, ever since I first read The Omnivore’s Dilemma (I’ve also read Food Rules and In Defense of Food before this). The Botany of Desire has been on my list forever, so I was really excited to see it selected for book group! Unfortunately, I missed the previous month’s discussion, when we get the next book, so I had to hunt a little bit for a copy. By the time it came in on loan to my school library, I was on my Hawaii trip, and then only had two nights to read after work before the discussion. I was only 70 pages in by then… oh well! I still went to the discussion and enjoyed it, and ended up finishing the book by the end of that week.

The Botany of Desire‘s four chapters offer interesting tidbits and brief histories of these four different plants, and clearly outlines the reasons we are captivated by them. I agree plants and humans enjoy mutually beneficial arrangements, but I’m not sure I buy Pollan’s statement that “plants are using us as much as we’re using them,” since I’m sure plants would prefer NOT to be ravaged by chemical poisons and genetic experimentation. I was aware that wiping out diversity among plants what not good and mostly done to profit corporations, but Pollan really drove it home and explained exactly why diversity is a necessary, good thing in agriculture and nature.

Brief thoughts by chapter:

Apple: Too much Johnny Appleseed, not enough apple. It was interesting and entertaining, but not nearly as much as the rest of the book. Lots of people get stuck on this chapter and give up. At least skip ahead to the next section, I promise!

Tulip: Wow. The Dutch were crazy about this plant! They ruined their whole economic system over it. Incredible. I wish Pollan had included pictures of the tulip varieties discussed. (Oh well, hooray for Internet! The black tulip is stunning.)

Marijuana: Fascinating, especially the war on drugs synopsis and how this plant, that has so many useful applications and is by and large incredibly safe, could be so demonized virtually overnight in the United States. Same for the people who grow/use it. I was just a little kid when it started, I remember D.A.R.E. units in elementary school and thinking they were silly.

Potato: By far my favorite chapter (kinda has to be—one of my grampas was a potato farmer, the other an Irishman!). I was blown away by exactly how horrific conditions became in Ireland due to the Potato Famine of the nineteenth century (the catalyst for my Irish ancestors to come to the States). I was really interested in the contrast between farming potatoes in the Andes vs. Ireland, and how variety and diversity makes everything better. And the farmers having to deal with Monsanto—ugh. Terrible. Frightening. I’m lucky (and make a point of it) to eat as much local, seasonal organics as possible.

While I wasn’t quite as captivated by Botany of Desire as I was by Omnivore’s DilemmaBotany is still an eye-opening read in Pollan’s signature blend of personal and historical/factual narrative. Looking forward to reading his latest, Cooked, in the future!

Read from August 25 to 31, 2014.

the enchanted

My second vacation read was The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. This book has been popping up everyone online lately—I couldn’t resist and treated myself to this one right before I left. From Goodreads:

The enchanted place is an ancient stone prison, viewed through the eyes of a death row inmate who finds escape in his books and in re-imagining life around him, weaving a fantastical story of the people he observes and the world he inhabits. Fearful and reclusive, he senses what others cannot. Though bars confine him every minute of every day, he marries magical visions of golden horses running beneath the prison, heat flowing like molten metal from their backs, with the devastating violence of prison life.

Two outsiders venture here: a fallen priest, and the Lady, an investigator who searches for buried information from prisoners’ pasts that can save those soon-to-be-executed. Digging into the background of a killer named York, she uncovers wrenching truths that challenge familiar notions of victim and criminal, innocence and guilt, honor and corruption-ultimately revealing shocking secrets of her own.

I’m not sure why, but I’ve dragged my feet on writing this review for days. Don’t get me wrong—The Enchanted was a great book. I think any words I use will be insufficient to accurately describe how a book could so beautifully take on the ugliness of a controversial subject.

Denfeld’s prose is simple, yet exquisite. It’s delicate, haunting, heartrending, and quiet, hinging on poetic even. The altering viewpoints were smooth and not distracting, as often they can be (the book switches between the death row inmate’s first-person narration and third person). The inmate is an especially fragile character, with an innocence and otherness to him but also a cryptic aura. But all the characters broken, tragic creatures aching to be seen… or not seen in some cases. The Enchanted has an ethereal, floaty vibe but once in a while will mention something horrifically real and slam you right back down to earth.

The Enchanted doesn’t detail the crimes the inmates committed so focus is taken off the crimes, the victims, and their families. The reader is left to imagine what the inmates may have done to land on death row, and for me that was fine—I didn’t feel like the book needed to go into it to be successful.

I probably could have devoured this book in one sitting, had I a good chunk of free time (I read it during my vacation in Hawaii—yes, there was free time, but it was filled with fun family activities mostly!). I’m sure one day I will read this again.

Read from August 21 to 25, 2014.

it’s monday! what are you reading? labor day

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

Happy Labor Day, fellow U.S. Americans! (and happy 5th blogiversary to me this weekend!) I am very thankful and fortunate to have this day off work for many reasons, one tiny one being that I can read a bunch today! Here are a few books on labor, the movement and its history that I want to read, perfect for this holiday (I have read the first two on this list so far, and a little bit into the third):

And here are a couple of great playlists for Labor Day:

Anyway, on to what I’m actually reading this week. I’m itching for The Walking Dead to return on TV (starts back up October 12), so I thought I should get back to the book version I started more than a year ago.
The Walking Dead: Compendium One by Robert Kirkman was a Christmas gift for my husband, and it’s my (real) turn now! I’m going to have to estimate where I am percentage-wise through my reading since there are no page numbers (Goodreads says there are 1,088 total). I think so far I’m about a third of the way through, maybe just a bit less—being a graphic novel it’s a quick read.

What are you reading this week?