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 the last week of January already, wow! I feel like this month just flew by. I feel really good about my reading pace so far though—I’ve already finished five books, including Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan this weekend, one of my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge books. Review coming soon!

This weekend, after finishing Brain on Fire, I started up two more books, first is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I got this for Christmas and didn’t feel a rush to read it quite yet necessarily, but it’s the subject of Katie at Words for Worms’s Fellowship of the Worms read-along. The discussion is February 9 and this is a bit of a chunkster, so I thought I better get to it!

I also want to keep a better pace with my reading challenges this year, so I decided I better read one of my ebooks to kickstart my Ebook Challenge. Since I waited until the last week of the month I do feel a little bit of a crunch, so I chose Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup, a slim 149 pages which I should I have no trouble reading in just a couple days. I bought this when it was on sale, and yes I had already seen the (excellent) movie.

I’m also still working my way through In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell on audio during my orchestra rehearsal commutes. I started it a couple weeks ago… it’s not unusual for audiobooks to take me a long while to finish, I pretty much just listen in the car a couple times a week. I’m enjoying this one—it has wildly mixed reviews online but it’s unlike any other novel I’ve ever read in its weirdness and poetic prose.

What are you reading this week?

men we reaped

Here’s another I put on hold at the library, which came through this week. I considered buying a copy of Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped a while back, but was nervous it was going to be emotionally tough to read. I was right, but it was worth it. From Goodreads:

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life—to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth—and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Men We Reaped left me a little breathless. Ward’s grief is raw and palpable… practically oozes off the pages. It just hurt my heart, reading about her brother—I almost dreaded reading the final chapter dealing with his death. I too have fierce, unshakable feelings of love, pride, and protectiveness for my brother. I’ve often said I can’t imagine who I would be without him. I just cannot even imagine the agony of losing a sibling. Ward eloquently describes these important, special people in her life that tragically left this world all too soon. Her articulate prose is full of pain, love, and grace.

I ended up rating this a 5-star on Goodreads because I found it so affecting, and of course timely considering the recent national attention to deaths of young black men like these in Men We Reaped. This was an excellent complement to The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace, which I read earlier this month—urban and rural, Northeast and South. Men We Reaped was even more potent for me, though, probably because it was written in first-person by someone who was born into these race and socioeconomic issues. While she does state these issues have a damaging effect on so many lives and communities, it’s kind of treated as a given, not too deeply examined… but perhaps that’s for a different, more research-based book to accomplish. Men We Reaped is for the heart.

Anyway, I was so moved by this beautiful book, a testament to love, loyalty, community, family… and a heartbreaking account of some of the harsh, tragic realities of life for millions of Americans, particularly in the rural South.

Read from January 19 to 22, 2015.

all the birds, singing

I’ve had my eye on All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld for several months now. I started it on audio late last month, but ran out of time before my borrowing period from the library expired (and I couldn’t renew it). After that, I put a hold on the hardcover and it came through last week! From Goodreads:

Jake Whyte is living on her own in an old farmhouse on a craggy British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. Her disobedient collie, Dog, and a flock of sheep are her sole companions, which is how she wanted it to be. But every few nights something—or someone—picks off one of the sheep and sets off a new deep pulse of terror. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumors of an obscure, formidable beast. But there is also Jake’s past—hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, held in the silences about her family and the scars that stripe her back—a past that threatens to break into the present. With exceptional artistry and empathy, All the Birds, Singing reveals an isolated life in all its struggles and stubborn hopes, unexpected beauty, and hard-won redemption.

I think I liked this better on paper than on audio. The narrator did a fine job, it wasn’t that—but seeing exactly how Jake’s past and present converge and the layout of the story was easier to follow on paper than audio. I thought alternating the chapters between past (written in present tense) and present (written in past tense) superbly built tension, and I had to find out the reason behind Jake’s fleeing from Australia to Britain.

I found myself sympathetic towards Jake, while rooting for her redemption. The ending has left me thinking ever since I finished the book, which is always a good sign. There are some disturbing elements here, and moments of violence. Wyld’s use of animals as symbolism (birds, sheep) was subtly and smartly done. I enjoyed the dark, mysterious atmosphere of All the Birds, Singing, but of course I gravitate towards darker material naturally. Wyld’s prose is pretty dreamy and poetic at times, lending a mythical quality. I would definitely re-read this one day!

Read from January 12 to 16, 2015.

top ten tuesday: favorite non-book websites

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.

January 20: FREEBIE

Hey everyone, today’s Top Ten Tuesday is a FREEBIE! I’ve chosen to list my top ten favorite non-book blogs/websites. In no particular order:

  • KCMetropolis.org … Kansas City’s online journal of the arts! (yes, I’m biased :) )
  • The Nation … oldest weekly magazine in the US: politics, culture, society, etc.
  • Wonkette … ALL TEH POLITICAL SNARK!
  • Green Bay Packers … I bleed green & gold, life-long fan, no matter what!
  • Daily Kos … Liberal website with political analysis of current US events
  • Think Progress … progressive, independent American blog; politics, climate, etc.
  • Tom and Lorenzo … “fabulous & opinionated”—Love them!
  • Vox … all-purpose current events site: politics, science, world affairs, culture, etc.
  • Reductress … hilarious satirical women’s magazine
  • Thrillist … food and restaurant lists, city/state-specific

What are your favorite non-book sites online?

rant

I got my husband a copy of Rant by Chuck Palahniuk for Christmas last (-last) year, and after he just recently finished it he asked me to read it so we could talk about it. Best book club ever!! :) From Goodreads:

Buster “Rant” Casey just may be the most efficient serial killer of our time. A high school rebel, Rant Casey escapes from his small town home for the big city where he becomes the leader of an urban demolition derby called Party Crashing. Rant Casey will die a spectacular highway death, after which his friends gather the testimony needed to build an oral history of his short, violent life. With hilarity, horror, and blazing insight, Rant is a mind-bending vision of the future, as only Chuck Palahniuk could ever imagine.

Rant has the usual elements you’d expect from Palahniuk—gross, dark, disturbing, highly un-PC stuff. I thought the story in general was creative, and I enjoyed the high-octane, fast-paced narrative by and large. The story is told as a retrospective in interview snippets with shifting character perspectives and recollections that took some getting used to, but once I did I breezed through this one, and all the parts that seemed unrelated click as the story progresses. Palahniuk is inventive but may try a bit too hard for shock value, and there are SO many elements it felt a bit “jack of all trades, master of none” to me… hard to explain without spoilers. I’ll just say that Rant does follow the Palahniuk formula—edgy, enigmatic character who rejects societal norms, weirdness, plot twists.

I gave Rant a solid 3 stars on Goodreads, which is “liked it.” I don’t regret reading it all the way through, and I loved discussing it with my husband! But I can’t say this is a favorite, or even one of Palahniuk’s best. I probably liked it better because I went in without thinking too hard about the storyline. I liked it for what it is—a fun, weird, fast-paced read.

Read from January 9 to 11, 2015.

the short and tragic life of robert peace

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs was released in the fall, and I just couldn’t wait any longer to get my hands on it. My first book of 2015 was borrowed from the library and is a clear 5-star read. From Goodreads:

Robert Peace was born outside Newark in a ghetto known as “Illtown.” His unwed mother worked long hours in a kitchen. His charismatic father was later convicted of a double murder. Peace’s intellectual brilliance and hard-won determination earned him a full scholarship to Yale University. At college, while majoring in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, he straddled the world of academia and the world of the street, never revealing his full self in either place. Upon graduation from Yale, he went home to teach at the Catholic high school he’d attended, slid into the drug trade, and was brutally murdered at age thirty.

That’s the short version of Robert Peace’s life. The long version, the complete version, is this remarkable tour de force by Jeff Hobbs, a talented young novelist who was Peace’s college roommate. Hobbs attended Peace’s funeral, reached out to his friends from both Yale and Newark, and ultimately decided to write this harrowing and beautiful account of his life.

This book. Sigh. I loved it, meaning… I thought it was brilliantly written and I feel privileged to have had a chance to learn about Robert Peace—the son, student, friend, man. He lived a troubled life, and my heart ached each time Rob returned to dealing drugs. No one in the book is perfect, everyone is complex and layered as I’m sure they are in actuality. Jackie Peace was especially inspiring in her quest to break the cycle of poverty for her son. I admired Rob’s tenacity and commitment to his family, but cringed at his rigid hubris and chagrin towards his accomplishments and natural aptitude—he was obviously walking a line between two starkly different worlds and couldn’t find how to reconcile them.

As a middle-class white person, I can’t fathom the life Rob lived. I feel awkward and unqualified to make declarations about this book (notably written by a white person) being a statement on race and socioeconomic status in a broader sense… I’m not sure it means to be that, even. Contextually, it’s impossible to not feel the racial, financial, and societal circumstances Rob lived in, but more simply this is a poignant portrait of a gifted yet troubled individual. But reading this book made me think more about nature vs. nurture on an individual level and more broadly how race, class, and wealth status can exist as barriers in very real, very debilitating ways.

Hobbs doesn’t grandstand, but rather presents Rob’s actions in a straightforward manner without judgement. Was Rob Peace’s life important? How could someone with so much natural intelligence and rare, fortuitous opportunities (considering his origins) squander them with poor decision after poor decision? What would Rob’s life have been like if his father, who loomed so largely in his son’s world, never went to prison and wasn’t involved in the drug trade? What does Rob’s untimely and violent death mean? Readers are left to their own conclusions and speculations. What if, what if. If Hobbs wasn’t a friend, would Rob Peace’s biography ever have been written?

My favorite books are those that make me feel deeply, think critically, and learn something. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace did just that, and more. I highly recommend it.

Read from December 29, 2014 to January 9, 2015.

top ten tuesday: 2014 releases meant to read

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.

January 13: Top ten 2014 releases I meant to read

Hi everyone! This week’s TTT topic is books released in 2014 that I wanted to read, but didn’t get around to for one reason or another. Here’s my list, and luckily I got a bunch of these for Christmas so I have a nice stack already going for 2015! In alphabetical order by author’s last name:

  • All the Light We Cannot See … Anthony Doerr
  • An Untamed State … Roxane Gay
  • Summer House with Swimming Pool … Herman Koch
  • Station Eleven … Emily St. John Mandel
  • All That is Solid Melts Into Air … Darragh McKeon
  • Orfeo … Richard Powers
  • No Country … Kalyan Ray
  • Nora Webster … Colm Tóibín
  • Area X: The Southern Reach Trilogy … Jeff VanderMeer
  • All the Birds, Singing … Evie Wyld

About the VanderMeer—I did read Annihilation, but not the subsequent two books in the trilogy (Authority and Acceptance). What 2014 releases did you want to read but didn’t have a chance? Are you planning to read them in 2015?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

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

I didn’t realize I had taken almost a whole week off writing in my blog! But, I just couldn’t tear myself away from The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs, which I finished late last week (review coming soon). Just heartbreaking, but an important book. And to wrap up Bout of Books 12 over the weekend I read Rant by Chuck Palahniuk. This one wasn’t next on my list per se, but my husband just finished it and wanted me to read it so we could talk about it; I couldn’t resist a good discussion. Book club!!! ;) Review coming soon.

This week I have two books in my queue: All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Power Politics by Margaret Atwood. I had started the Wyld on audio a few weeks ago, but had to return it to the library before I finished. The hardcover just came back up off the hold list for me, so I’m picking that up at the library today.

I’m sure I’ll breeze through the Atwood—it’s a slim collection of poetry. Speaking of Atwood, SHE WILL BE AT KU IN FEBRUARY AND I’M TOTALLY GEEKING OUT ALREADY!!!!

Who knows, I might be able to squeeze in one more book this week! We’re going to visit my in-laws for the long holiday weekend coming up and I hope to get one or two books read then, too. I haven’t decided what yet, though, but probably something from my TBR Pile Challenge list, and/or an ebook for my own Ebook Challenge, AND/OR I definitely want to participate in Katie at Words for Worms’s Fellowship of the Worms read-along of All the Light We Cannot See. FUN!

What are you reading this week?

2014 year-in-review

mlhm 2014 stats

Hello, fellow readers! Over the weekend I tried my hand at making a cool graphic a la River City Reading but admittedly I had some trouble and I’m not sure I’ll do that again… ha! But it turned out okay, if a little small to read. Here’s the stats:

  • 56 total books (62.5% paper books, 23% audiobooks, 14.5% ebooks). I read 13,726 pages and spent 6,446 minutes listened to audiobooks, giving an average rating of 3.8 stars on Goodreads.
  • 36 owned, 19 from the library, 1 borrowed
  • I mostly read Non-fiction (43%) and Literary fiction (23%)
  • I mostly read books published in the 2010s (39 of 56)
  • I mostly read books set in the United States.
  • Of 54 authors, 31 were male and 22 were female (with 1 book co-authored by male and female writers)
  • Did I read diversely? Not as much as I would have liked or thought: only 16% of the books I read were authored by a person of color, and only 30% were non-US American authors.

So I feel all right about the gender split, but I don’t particularly like the numbers there on my diversity in reading. This is the first year I tracked author gender/race/nationality. Here’s the thing, though—I choose books to read first and foremost based on the subject matter or the story, whether those appeal to me. So it’s a bit uncomfortable that I ended up with stats like this on authors unconsciously. But who goes into reading a book with lowered expectations because of a writer’s gender, race, or nationality? And why does it matter? I believe there are many factors into why stats easily become skewed towards white American dudes—marketing, history, and so on. More in-depth, researched blog posts and articles have been written on the subject. I just hope that by observing my own stats here that I can more actively seek out authors of color and non-American authors, and discover some new, awesome books in 2015 and beyond!

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 a new year, new week, new book! I recently borrowed The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs from the library—I have had my eye on it for several weeks now and couldn’t wait any longer. It’s my first book of 2015 and I am HOOKED. Robert Peace was an intellectually gifted young man born into poverty in Newark, New Jersey, raised by his single mother who worked numerous jobs just to make ends meet, and who only wanted a better life for her son. His father was arrested for a double-homicide. His academic aptitude is obvious from the beginning, though his tough neighborhood and its drugs and violence threatened to squash his potential. Hard work and determination during four years of prep school landed Rob at Yale, and after graduation he returned to his old neighborhood to teach high school, only to be brutally murdered at age 30. Author Jeff Hobbs was Rob’s friend roommate at Yale.

I’m finding this one very hard to put down—I seem to have great luck with engrossing non-fiction being my first read of the year.

What are you reading this week?