non-fiction november week 3

nonficnovimageIt’s Non-Fiction November!

Hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Katie (Doing Dewey), Leslie (Regular Rumination), and Rebecca (I’m Lost in Books), Non-Fiction November is a challenge to spend the month exclusively reading and writing about non-fiction. Each week there is a discussion topic, and the hosts also have a couple of readalongs going for the event.

Week 3 topic, November 17–21 (hosted by Rebecca, I’m Lost in Books)
Diversity and non-fiction

What does “diversity” in books mean to you? Does it refer to book’s location or subject matter? Or is it the author’s nationality or background?
This is tough because it has so many meanings to everyone. I think it’s pretty much anything that expands your mind or educates you. And I know it’s “Non-Fiction November,” but this can apply to fiction, too! But yes I do believe diversity can apply to setting, subject, author’s gender/nationality/sexuality/race/etc.

What countries/cultures do you enjoy or read about most in your non-fiction?Admittedly, I’ve mostly read non-fiction about the United States. Currently I’m (still) reading George Packer’s The Unwinding, about how American Democracy has spiraled away from serving the people over the last 40 years. I probably need to expand my horizons on reading about non-American cultures in non-fiction—I can only think of a couple off the top of my head that I’ve read. Otherwise, I love reading about true crime, food, war, music, sports, and harrowing, tragic, and/or adventuresome experiences.

What countries/cultures would you like non-fiction recommendations for?
I’m sure I’m woefully under-read on non-fiction books about countries and cultures outside the United States, at least in non-fiction. Reading Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance struck a curiosity about Indian culture, so I have Katherine Boo’s Behind the Beautiful Forevers on my TBR. I would love to read more about Ireland—I’ve pretty much only read Frank McCourt’s books.

What kind of books besides different countries/cultures do you think of as books of diversity?
Race, age, gender, either in subject matter or the author’s own… For example, I just read Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist and while I can identify with many of her views from the standpoint of a fellow woman, it really opened my eyes to how a person who is not white could interpret pieces from the entertainment industry and other parts of American culture, which is so obviously white-dominant. I started tracking my reading more seriously this year and found that a majority of the books I read are by men, too, just by happenstance—when I’m choosing a book I primarily gravitate towards the subject matter or story, not the author’s gender/race/age/whatever. So, I’ve been making a concerted effort to read more books by women, just to be more conscious of that gender gap. I realized after reading Gay’s book that I would like to add a column on my track sheet for writers who are not white and not American, to see how globally I’m reading as well.

What do you think about diversity in books, fiction or non-fiction?

non-fiction november week 2

nonficnovimageIt’s Non-Fiction November!

Hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Katie (Doing Dewey), Leslie (Regular Rumination), and Becca (I’m Lost in Books), Non-Fiction November is a challenge to spend the month exclusively reading and writing about non-fiction. Each week there is a discussion topic, and the hosts also have a couple of readalongs going for the event.

Week 2 topic, November 10–14 (hosted by Leslie, Regular Rumination)
Be/Ask/Become the Expert: Three ways to join this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good non-fiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Since the centennial of World War I started this year and we have the National WWI Museum here in Kansas City, we’ve seen a lot of programming (art and history exhibits, library readalongs, concerts featuring music about or from the war eras, etc.) around here commemorating this war. And between this at home and my recent visit to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, this subject has been on my mind a bit lately. The WWI books I’ve read are fewer and mostly fiction (All Quiet on the Western Front, etc.) so my non-fiction recommendations on the subject are about WWII, Vietnam, and current:

war books 1

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand — An incredible, adventurous, harrowing journey for Olympic runner and WWII lieutenant Louis Zamperini, soon to be released as a movie.

Hiroshima by John Hersey — A sober account of six survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, Japan on August 6, 1945. Equal parts sad, gruesome, and gripping.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank — Inspiring in the midst of the horrors of war, especially Anne’s words, “I keep my ideals, because in spite of everything I still believe people are really good at heart.”

Frozen in Time by Mitchell Zuckoff — A gripping survival story, and a great companion read for Unbroken—WWII stories from soldiers on opposite sides of the war and opposite sides of the world.

war books 2

Night by Elie Wiesel — An intense, chilling account of life in a Nazi concentration camp. Wiesel doesn’t shock with gory details necessarily, but the tenacious humanity of the prisoners and Wiesel’s relationship with his father are moving.

A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo — I read this years ago, but it’s always been one I would like to reread eventually. A decade after his 16-month tour of Vietnam, Caputo wrote this memoir about his devastating experiences, both physical and emotional.

Voices from Vietnam edited by Michael Stevens — A compilation of letters and diary entries from Wisconsin soldiers during the Vietnam War. A letter from my uncle to my grandmother is included in the collection.

Drift by Rachel Maddow — An intelligent, accessible account of our nation’s gradual shift into a state of near-constant war, despite the very real human and financial costs, starting from the Vietnam War through the recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

flags of our fathersThe next war-related book on my list to read is Flags for our Fathers by James Bradley, about the author’s father and his fellow soldiers raising the flag during the WWII battle of Iwo Jima, captured in that iconic photograph. My dad bought me a copy from the Pearl Harbor gift shop when we visited the site during our Hawaii vacation in August. It’s been on my list for years, knowing the Wisconsin ties—the Bradley family is from the same up-north Wisconsin town as my dad’s family.

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 went up to my beloved Wisconsin for the Green Bay Packers game against Chicago. I got to visit with family and spend time with my darling nephew, too! For reading, I am happy to continue on with Non-Fiction November:

I was disappointed with the mid-term election last Tuesday, to put it politely. I was weirdly shocked and not shocked at all by the results, but not wholly disheartened, as many progressive policies were passed by voters. I’m sure you guys know all about it and I don’t want to get into a heated debate here, these are just my personal feelings and I don’t expect to change anyone’s minds. So, when deciding on the next non-fiction book to read I thought what would be better and more timely than The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer?

American democracy is beset by a sense of crisis. Seismic shifts during a single generation have created a country of winners and losers, allowing unprecedented freedom while rending the social contract, driving the political system to the verge of breakdown, and setting citizens adrift to find new paths forward. [Source]

What are you reading this week?

as you wish

Our fantastic indie bookshop Rainy Day Books hosted actor Cary Elwes a couple weeks ago here in Kansas City on his book tour for As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, and I couldn’t resist attending! From Goodreads:

From actor Cary Elwes, who played the iconic role of Westley in The Princess Bride, comes a first-person account and behind-the-scenes look at the making of the cult classic film filled with never-before-told stories, exclusive photographs, and interviews with costars Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal, Christopher Guest, and Mandy Patinkin, as well as author and screenwriter William Goldman, producer Norman Lear, and director Rob Reiner.


Confession: Fred Savage was my first celebrity crush. [Photo]

Who doesn’t love The Princess Bride? It’s definitely a film I hold dear to my heart, one I’ve seen countless times and bonded over with friends and family. Somehow this movie never gets old! I finally got around to reading the book as a sophomore in high school in one sitting on a plane ride to Europe, and it was just as beautiful as the movie, of course. After reading Cary Elwes’s As You Wish, I had the natural urge to watch the movie again and eventually I’ll have to dig out my copy of the book and reread it.

The book tour event with Elwes was a lot of fun! There was medieval music performed by musicians in period dress, an elaborate sword fighting demonstration, a short documentary, and an hour-long conversation with Elwes before finally a book signing. Elwes was just as charming and good humored as you would expect. He related some of the stories we could expect to find in the book, answered questions, and even did a few impressions of Rob Reiner and André the Giant. When I got up to the table for the book signing, Elwes immediately noticed my Green Bay Packers shirt (it was a Sunday, I always wear a Packers shirt to support the team on game days!) and excitedly gave me a high five! “I love the Packers! Aaron’s a fan.” (Cue cute, irresistible smile.) I had a great time!

As for the book itself, it was the nicest book about the nicest people having the nicest experience making the nicest movie. It’s a sweet, uplifting read, and any fan of the movie or original novel will love going behind-the-scenes with As You Wish. The stories of André the Giant off-camera, the intense preparation for Elwes and Patinkin for the “Greatest Swordfight in Modern Times,” and the saga of getting the film made in the first place especially captured my attention. Now, I can’t say it’s the greatest piece of writing I’ve ever read—the continual praise of everyone and everything hinged on being a bit too saccharine and quickly became repetitive. Elwes would note something in the narrative, then another person on the film (or two) would repeat it in an inset. But I do believe it’s all genuine. This tactic may come across better in the audiobook version—I bet it would be cool to listen to the cast and crew recount all these great memories.

Read it! As You Wish was great fun and conjured up wonderful memories for me.

Read from November 2 to 4, 2014.

yes please

It’s pretty rare that I end up buying a book the same week it is released, but with Yes Please by Amy Poehler I couldn’t resist! From Goodreads:

In Amy Poehler’s highly anticipated first book, Yes Please, she offers up a big juicy stew of personal stories, funny bits on sex and love and friendship and parenthood and real life advice (some useful, some not so much), like when to be funny and when to be serious. Powered by Amy’s charming and hilarious, biting yet wise voice, Yes Please is a book is full of words to live by.

I ended up devouring nearly all 329 pages in one day, it was such a charming book and so hard to put down! I’m not sure I completely agree with the blurb above, though—”full of words to live by” and “real life advice.” Some other reviews I read accuse Poehler of being preachy with her “life advice,” but I didn’t get that sense… I suppose there is a short section about sex tips, but it’s all so humorous, it reads more like an “it’s funny ‘cuz it’s true!” type of bit rather than Poehler actually advising on the subject.

Poehler both confirms my impression of her as a person and reveals herself more in Yes Please. I loved the chapters on her upbringing and family, and I thought she showed real class and integrity when describing her divorce. Poehler’s down to earth, relatable, and endearing. I appreciated that she cops to her own foibles and errors in judgement, learning from them, admitting her privileges yet demonstrating her tenacity, ingenuity, and hard work along the way. One little grievance I have with the book, though… her repeated griping about how hard it is to write a book became tiresome.

I would love to reread this one day, preferably on audio next time, which I’ve heard is fantastic (although I’m glad I read it on paper, too, the photos really enhanced the experience for me). You’re not going to find riotous humor or the most graceful prose necessarily, but it’s really heartfelt and a delightful, enjoyable read overall. Any fan of Poehler will be a fan of this book.

Read from October 31 to November 2, 2014.

bad feminist

Back in late September (where did October go??) I ordered Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay and finally got around to reading it a month later. From Goodreads:

In these funny and insightful essays, Roxane Gay takes us through the journey of her evolution as a woman (Sweet Valley High) of color (The Help) while also taking readers on a ride through culture of the last few years (Girls, Django Unchained) and commenting on the state of feminism today (abortion, Chris Brown). The portrait that emerges is not only one of an incredibly insightful woman continually growing to understand herself and our society, but also one of our culture.

I was so, so excited to start Bad Feminist. First off, though, the title is a bit of a misnomer. I don’t find Gay to be “bad” at all in regards to feminism, because it’s clear she holds its core values: “the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.” The word feminism has become warped and demonized (“man-haters,” compared to nazis, etc.), which is really unfair to the movement and inaccurate. Feminism is about HUMAN equality and progress, social justice, for the good of society as a whole—it’s not just a movement for women because, of course, everyone benefits from women succeeding and flourishing.

Further, in the book Gay tackles feminist issues as a woman of color. Many of her essays deal with issues of gender and race, especially in relation to pop culture, like GirlsFifty Shades of Grey and Django Unchained. A few subjects didn’t resonate so much with me, like Girls and Fifty Shades (never saw/read myself), but it was fascinating to read her perspective on them and so many other topics, like The Help, for example. I both read the book and saw the movie a few years ago and enjoyed it cautiously… I remember feeling a little weird about it but couldn’t quite formalize my thoughts as to exactly why. But Gay voiced her criticisms of the film in a way that totally clicked with me. Before, I feel like I had an inkling of how poorly the black experience has been portrayed in film and TV—and again not that I can speak from any personal racial experience—but Gay really drives the point home in her essays especially about Django Unchained and the Tyler Perry movies.

There are a few essays that really stand out to me: “How We All Lose,” “Blurred Lines, Indeed,” and “Tragedy. Call. Compassion. Response.” in particular. I think I might have shouted out loud YES! when I read this in the “Blurred Lines” essay:

It’s hard not to feel humorless, as a woman and a feminist, to recognize misogyny in so many forms, some great and some small, and know you’re not imagining things. It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away. … These are just songs. They are just jokes. It’s just a hug. They’re just breasts. Smile, you’re beautiful. Can’t a man pay you a compliment? In truth, this is all a symptom of a much more virulent cultural sickness—one where women exist to satisfy the whims of men, one where a woman’s worth is consistently diminished or entirely ignored.

After a huge rush of excitement and fervent reading in the beginning, the middle third of the book started to drag just a bit for me, I think mostly just because it was super-critical essay after super-critical essay, and it just brought me down a bit one after another in succession. The ending, though, when the final two essays return to being more personal, clicked with me, too—that you can have contradictory feelings and still be a feminist. For example, I admit that my husband does much of the so-called “men’s work” around our house (garbage, car stuff, etc.) BUT, that doesn’t mean I’m not a feminist. Sometimes, gender roles are gender roles and it doesn’t mean anything. I do the majority of the cooking, and my husband and I split the laundry and dishes. So what, right?

I’m so glad I came across this collection—Gay’s writing is phenomenal and accessible—I’ve appreciated her viewpoints on social media recently regarding current controversies surrounding Lena Dunham and the viral NYC catcalling youtube video. I definitely look forward to reading Gay’s An Untamed State soon!

Read from October 20 to 30, 2014.

top ten tuesday: to reread

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.

November 4: Top ten books I’d like to read again

Firstly, happy Election Day, everyone! I hope you had/have the opportunity to vote today.

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday prompt is to list ten books you’d love to reread. Coming up with this list was both easy and difficult—there are so many from years ago (up to this last weekend) that I want to read again! But definitely I will find my way back to these ones, in no particular order:


The Princess Bride by William Goldman
My Life in France by Julia Child
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque


The White Bone by Barbara Gowdy
Lizz Free or Die by Lizz Winstead
City of Thieves by David Benioff
Yes Please by Amy Poehler (on audio next time!)
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

Honorable mentions (that I’ve already reread numerous times, but would easily read again): Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, 1984 by George Orwell, and Le petit prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

What books from your collection would you love to reread one day?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

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

Over the weekend I started (and finished) Yes Please by Amy Poehler. So incredibly awesome. I LOVED this book, I devoured it almost entirely just on Saturday. I am sure I’ll be recommending this one to everyone, and I hope one day I’ll get around to listening to it on audio. I just didn’t want it to end!

After Yes Please, and continuing with Non-Fiction November, I decided to start the other celebrity memoir I recently purchased, As You Wish by Cary Elwes, “inconceivable tales from the making of The Princess Bride” written by Westley himself. So far it has been a really fun read, making me want to go back and watch the movie right away when I finish this one. I ended up reading HALF of it on Sunday! (Could have possibly read the whole thing, if I hadn’t had some other work to do.) I was on a real reading binge this weekend and it was great.

What are you reading this week?

non-fiction november week 1

nonficnovimageIt’s Non-Fiction November!

Hosted by Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Katie (Doing Dewey), Leslie (Regular Rumination), and Becca (I’m Lost in Books), Non-Fiction November is a challenge to spend the month exclusively reading and writing about non-fiction. Each week there is a discussion topic, and the hosts also have a couple of readalongs going for the event.

Week 1 topic, November 3–7 (hosted by Kim, Sophisticated Dorkiness)
Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of non-fiction and reflect on the following questions:

What was your favorite non-fiction read of the year?
Of the 18 non-fiction books I read this year (so far!) my favorite is Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi. I couldn’t put it down, couldn’t stop thinking about it, couldn’t stop talking about it. A VERY close second is the biography of Vince Lombardi by David Maraniss, When Pride Still Mattered. Every Green Bay Packers fan should read it, as well as all fans of football.

What non-fiction book have you recommended the most?
I just finished Amy Poehler’s Yes Please this morning and can tell I’ll be recommending that shizz all over the place!

What is one topic or type of non-fiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
Hmm. My tastes are pretty broad, I think, when it comes to non-fiction topic-wise. But I’d say I don’t have much experience reading essay collections, letters/journals, or argumentative non-fiction. I don’t necessarily feel like I need to make myself read these forms, I’m not purposefully avoiding them—it’s all about the subject matter intriguing me.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Non-Fiction November?
I’d love to get through more non-fiction books on my bookshelf that I’ve had for a while but neglected for whatever reason:

I also have about 5–6 more on my shelf not pictured there, and about 7 non-fiction ebooks on my iPad. Maybe that would be a good goal—reading ONE ebook this month! I’m terrible about actually reading ebooks. I just like the feel of a paper book in my hands, I dunno.

Otherwise, I just look forward to reading other bloggers’ responses to the prompts and learning about some new non-fiction titles to check out!

One note: I’m not limiting myself to non-fiction this month… hopefully that’s not cheating! But I started a fiction audiobook (The Girl with All the Gifts) and it’s from the library, so I want to get through it before it’s due back! Besides that I definitely have enough to get me through the rest of November with all non-fiction. Also, I have been an on-again, off-again drop-in member of a non-fiction book group at my local library, but have had conflicts on the nights it meets for discussion lately. Boo! Maybe I can join back up again in 2015.

Are you reading any non-fiction this month?

reading recap: october 2014

monthly recap image

October was exceedingly better for reading than September for me! Between work, concerts, and the World Series (tears for my Royals) I completed five books:


Fun note: all by women authors! That was unplanned, just happened. I really LOVED A Fighting Chance and Stone Mattress, liked The Book of Unknown Americans, lukewarm about The Haunting of Hill House, and still working through my feelings on Bad Feminist, which I just finished yesterday. Mostly really liked, a couple of essays I loved. Review on that coming this weekend, hopefully!

Other reading in October: I DNF’d Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë. I’m disappointed—I really wanted to like it but I think classic gothic is just not for me (same feeling I had for Haunting, but I did manage to finish that one). I also started listening to the audiobook of The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey (about 25% through now), and I’m starting Amy Poehler’s Yes Please today, last day of the month.

Happy Halloween, everyone! How did your October reading go? What’s on deck in November for you?