reading recap: november 2016

Well… that happened. You know what I’m talking about. I think based on the books I read and love you can probably guess my political views. It has been surreal watching it all unfold from here in Singapore. Just surreal and frustrating and infuriating. Someone here recently asked me how I was doing after the election, and being crappy at hiding my feelings, I responded, “Oh, boiling over with rage.” “Still?” YES STILL, ALWAYS. Anyway. Needless to say, the election results didn’t exactly change my TBR entirely, as I have consistently been interested in learning more about social movements and justice, race, religion, history, politics, and culture. But the result certainly bumped certain books to the top of my list, and I did look up more books to add to the list. The result also stalled my book reading for about a week. I’m back into it though. Reading, educating myself, practicing empathy and understanding, and listening (and donating, writing emails, and signing petitions) are what I can do from abroad.

Here are my books for November:

november-reading

  • Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (audio) … Matthew Desmond
  • milk and honey (ebook) … Rupi Kaur
  • Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman (ebook) … Lindy West
  • No god but God (audio) … Reza Aslan
  • Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove … Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson

I gave up participating in Non-Fiction November… sort of. Now looking at my list, I realize I read all non fiction except one. All these books were fabulous except for the the one fiction.

My favorites were Evicted and Mo’ Meta BluesEvicted and also No god but God are absolutely essential reads right now. Evicted follows several families in the Milwaukee area, trapped in the vicious cycle of poverty exacerbated by addiction, disability, unemployment, and more impossibly cruel circumstances. It is extremely well written—intimate portraits of these very real people and their very real problems. Desmond humanizes an epidemic and makes clear that welfare and housing assistance reforms are necessary immediately.

Mo’ Meta Blues was just a delight—Questlove is just a charming, humble, thoughtful human being. I’ve loved the Roots for a long time so this has been on my list since it came out in 2013. In his memoir, Questlove keeps it light while going deep at the same time, which is a real feat. Important moments in his own personal and Roots’ histories are referenced with cultural progression in the U.S., and his philosophical musings about the states of pop culture, hip-hop, and music criticism were intelligent and spot on. I wish I had kept a list going of all the songs and records he mentions in order to listen to them all later. I loved it.

No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam is an accessible and informative book—Aslan brings to life the intricate, sprawling history of Islam and expands on its current varieties as well as how the religion has existed and relates in the world, including in the U.S. in the twenty-first century. This was an illuminating and fascinating book for me, especially right now.

Shrill was so much fun! I went from laughing out loud to feeling enraged to uplifted and empowered, often all in the same chapter. West didn’t come off as shrill at all to me, she’s insightful and self-aware of her own self and society. An excellent feminist read, I loved it—read it all in two days. Milk and honey was just okay. It started strong, but lost me halfway through. Only a few poems were truly striking, but many I breezed right over. Some were trite and some lacked originality—I know I’ve heard or read a few of the lines before in some of these poems. I was pretty disappointed in this poetry collection, it’s been sadly over-hyped in my opinion.

Here’s hoping for a better month to close out the year…
monthly recap image

reading recap: october 2016

I had a great month of reading in October! As you can see, I was mostly consumed by Halloween-appropriate books, with a few library holds that just happened to come through:

october-reading

  • The Fire This Time (ebook) … Jesmyn Ward, et al
  • House of Leaves … Mark Z. Danielewski
  • The Troop … Nick Cutter
  • Men Explain Things to Me (ebook) … Rebecca Solnit
  • Dead Mountain … Donnie Eichar
  • Black Earth (audio) … Timothy Snyder, read by Mark Bramhall
  • Stories from Night Shift (audio) … Stephen King, read by John Glover
  • ‘Salem’s Lot … Stephen King

I have to say, as someone who is generally chunksters-averse, I’m pretty proud of myself for getting through three (!) this month: House of Leaves (709 pages), The Troop (507), and ‘Salem’s Lot (653). Black Earth is pretty much a chunkster too, but since it was on audio it felt less daunting. Something about seeing the bulk of it intimidates me, so it usually takes a lot of pep talk to get myself to read anything longer than about 350 pages.

While I enjoyed House of Leaves overall, I may have bailed/DNF if I didn’t have so much free time at the moment—getting through this one is a real time commitment, and you have to pay close attention with all the different tangents and footnotes. It had a great premise and some genuinely creepy moments, but generally didn’t quite live up to the mythical hype for me. The Troop and ‘Salem’s Lot were perfect to get me in the Halloween mood—between the contagious gore in Troop and vampire mischief in Lot, I felt the spirit here in Singapore despite the hot, sunny weather. The audio for Stories from Night Shift was an impulse borrow from the library, to finish out the last few hours of Dewey’s 24 Hour Readthon, the first time I’ve been able to participate! Next time, if I can join again, I’ll plan ahead more (joining this time was also on last-minute impulse).

Men Explain Things to Me and Black Earth were my library holds that came in. Both were excellent, but very real and heavy material. Neither was quite what I was expecting, but I learned a lot from them and both were thought-provoking. I’m glad I was able to finally get these two books.

My favorite books of the month were The Fire This Time and Dead Mountain. EVERYONE should read The Fire This Time. This anthology is full of powerful, moving essays by several writers in a variety of styles, all different perspectives on the experience of being black in America. I will read anything Jesmyn Ward touches. Dead Mountain interested me because I’ve had a fascinating with this case for a while, ever since I saw the movie it inspired, Devil’s Pass. What exactly happened to these nine young hikers in a remote area of Siberia, resulting in their mysterious deaths?? Donnie Eichar has a compelling investigation here.

I’m thinking I might try to go back and do full reviews of the books I’ve read since my last real review post, all the way back in March! Or maybe I’ll just continue the monthly posts. We’ll see. Otherwise… I think I’ll be able to meet my 50 book goal for 2016, with only 16 books left to go. And now that it’s November, I’m going to focus on non-fiction to hopefully jump in on some Non-Fiction November fun.

What were the best books you read in October?
monthly recap image

reading recap: september 2016

We’re almost through October all of a sudden! Time is a little weird for me here in Singapore, firstly because I’m on “temporary unlimited vacation” (code for job-free) right now, and secondly because the weather is such that it’s basically perpetually August. So I sort of feel like every day is an August Saturday, and it’s tough to make myself get on the computer these days when I have pretty much zero routine. But when I realized October is almost over, I figured I should put up my September books and try to get myself back on track! Here’s what I read in September:

sept-reading

  • My Life on the Road … Gloria Steinem
  • Station Eleven … Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Vegetarian … Han Kang
  • We Were Liars (audio) … E. Lockhart, read by Ariadne Meyers
  • Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (audio) … Dee Brown, read by Grover Gardner
  • The Underground Railroad (ebook) … Colson Whitehead
  • Yes, Chef (audio) … Marcus Samuelsson, read by author

My two best reads of the month were Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee and Station Eleven. I’d been wanting to read Bury My Heart forever, maybe since high school, and it was just as devastating and infuriating as I knew it would be, but so important and one that every American should read. I bought Station Eleven almost right after it was first released, but kept putting it off—that whole thing where you’re worried a book won’t live up to the hype or expectations. But luckily it totally did live up to the hype (for me). I loved how it was a different look at society’s not only practical but also cultural needs after a collapse, and that the reader is shown the process of and reason for the collapse rather than just the aftermath (as in so many future-dystopia books I’ve read).

The Vegetarian was brief but interesting and strange, and I thought about it quite a long time after finishing. We Were Liars, also a brief read, was kind of predictable and reminded me (once AGAIN) that I should not pick up YA lit. But I do understand the appeal, no judgement here of those who love YA. I love a good food memoir, and Yes, Chef was enjoyable enough and he certainly has had a incredible life and career, even if I didn’t “click” with Samuelsson so much on a personal level like I did with other memiorists. Like I did with Gloria Steinem in My Life on the Road. I shamefully didn’t know much about her life before reading this book, and I really enjoyed “tagging along” on her travels and speaking engagements (so to speak). Her insight on the 2008 democratic race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama was illuminating, especially at this moment eight years later.

And here’s my unpopular opinion of the month: Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad didn’t really do it for me. While the subject matter is extremely important and timely even today, the characters fell flat and the plot felt disjointed for me. I’m the odd one out it seems, looks like the majority of readers were blown away, so don’t let my feelings stop you from reading it if it’s on your list.

October recap coming next week (on time!)
monthly recap image

reading recap: august 2016

August was both a hectic and relaxing month. I moved to Singapore August 5, so while it was exciting and there were all sorts of new things to discover and people to meet, I also had a lot of downtime. It’s the first time I’ve not had a job (or full-time classes) since I was a teenager! It’s a new, unfamiliar situation. It’s nice, but I still have to remind myself to slow down, no need to rush through anything, enjoy this time to relax (because I do plan to have work here eventually). I hang out at the pool, draw, nap (!!!!), take walks, go to museums, work out, and read. In August, I was able to catch up on a couple of books I had started months ago but had to put down due to the move and read two new books:

august-reading

  • The Girls … Emma Cline
  • Dark Matter … Blake Crouch
  • One of Us: Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway … Åsne Seierstad
  • Ghettoside (audio) … Jill Leovy, read by Rebecca Lowman

One of Us was hands-down the best book of that month for me. It was stressful, exhausting read, but a vital piece of journalism about the horrific 2011 massacre in Norway. It’s gripping in the same way Columbine was for me, but I had to take a long break when I shipped it to Singapore. I also finished Ghettoside, my other non-fiction this month, after the move. It’s an important subject right now to be sure—the rampant murders of young black men in America—but there was just something lacking for me here. It focuses on gangs and police in LA, but doesn’t delve deep into history there much, and the majority of the narrative centers on the white police officers and detectives and their roles in the system instead of the black citizens’ stories… or they’re related through the white detectives’ work.

The two new books I read were pretty fun, quick reads. The Girls was inspired by the Manson murders, but flipping the viewpoint from a teenager named Evie invited into the cult rather than an outside view. The setting is intriguing and familiar if you know about the Manson Family already, but the story is not plot driven in the way you’d expect with this setting, and rather revolves more about Evie and her feelings. I liked it, but I can’t say it stood out to me very much… while Helter Skelter had me absolutely glued to the page and I ripped through it in two days. Non-fiction is more interesting to me on topics such as this, I guess. Dark Matter by and large does live up to its enormous hype. It’s a fast-paced, entertaining page turner, and beneath the science is a story about family and choices. I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but I have to admit I spotted the twist/surprise before it happened. Both The Girls and Dark Matter were good for the poolside!

Recap for September coming soon…
monthly recap image

reading recap: may through july 2016

I’m back! I’m still getting settled in here in Singapore, and I admit I haven’t been real motivated to blog. I haven’t been really interested in being on the computer at all much since the move. I don’t exactly feel like I’ve been on vacation here, but I think I needed the break. But now, two months in here, I’d like to catch up and get back into a regular habit of writing and keeping track. Even though I haven’t blogged, I have been reading! Here are my books read from May through July:

may-july-reading

  • Love, Loss, and What We Ate (audio) … Padma Lakshmi, read by author (May)
  • Earth: A Visitor’s Guide … (audio) … Jon Stewart, read by Daily Show cast (June)
  • A Load of Hooey (audio) … Bob Odenkirk, read by author and various (June)
  • League of Denial (audio)…Fainaru-Wada/Fainaru, read by D.H.Lawrence XVII (July)
  • I’m Just a Person … Tig Notaro (July)

All three non-fiction books here were outstanding, but I’m torn between naming League of Denial or I’m Just a Person my favorite of these months. League, which covers the NFL and traumatic brain injuries in (primarily) football, was horrifying, infuriating, and disheartening but so interesting. It’s an important book for any fan of football and other high-impact sports. Tig Notaro, who suffered two life-threatening diseases and the death of her mother all in a short time period, had me in tears by the end of I’m Just a Person. Padma Lakshmi was so relatable in Love, Loss, and What We Ate, like visiting a close girlfriend. I didn’t know much about her life beyond Top Chef and her marriage to Salman Rushdie, and it was a pleasure to learn more about her life, in her own words and voice.

Earth was fun—just what you’d expect from The Daily Show crew, but it’s predecessor (America) was better. I was excited to listen to A Load of Hooey as I think Bob Odenkirk is hilarious, and several of the short stories here were wonderfully ridiculous, but a few fell flat for me.

I’m not sure yet if I’ll go back to write up individual reviews for all these books from May to September, but recaps for my August and September reading will be coming soon!
monthly recap image

farewell reflections on 15 years in kansas city

I wrote a retrospective of my time in Kansas City for my last issue (June 29, 2016) with KCMetropolis.org, for which I’ve been a writer and editor since 2010. I will always hold Kansas City and my dear friends there close in my heart!


_mg_9277_595 - CopyAs I look back on the countless performances and events I’ve attended in Kansas City as a KCMetropolis.org writer over the past six-and-a-half years, I’m a bit in awe at how fortunate I’ve been to see the distinguished Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Aaron Neville, Bobby McFerrin, Regina Carter, Dr. John, and more. I discovered a new favorite in Danú, experienced a breathtakingly moving Jordi Savall performance, and witnessed intimate recitals by Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Ana Vidović, Joshua Bell, Audra McDonald, and the Takács, Harlem, Jasper, Chiara, and Artemis Quartets, among others. I’ve had the chance to see inspiring symphony orchestras, notable world music bands Los Lobos and The Chieftains, and jazz icons Ellis and Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Arturo Sandoval, and Esperanza Spalding, to name a few. The quality that our local arts organizations present is truly astonishing. But beyond being a critical observer of this unbelievable roster and many excellent local acts for KCM, more than anything, I’m humbled and honored to have been a part of the Kansas City music scene as a bassist, composer, and advocate of the arts for fifteen years.

When I think about my time in Kansas City, my mind automatically goes back to when I was a college student at the UMKC Conservatory. I remember the endless hours spent in the PAC practice rooms, learning my parts for the Conservatory Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra concerts (and enjoying “chair time” in the lobby). I remember playing Pärt’s Fratres and Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat with the Conservatory Wind Symphony after learning my grandfather had had a heart attack earlier that day up in Wisconsin. kristin mafb concert 6.27.16Tagging along on the Concert Jazz Band’s European tour in 2006. Powering through Andriessen’s Workers Union on bass with Musica Nova, the group I co-directed, during a random fire alarm in White Recital Hall. I remember meeting Nick Omiccioli, now my husband, when we were master’s students in the composition program. I remember him conducting my thesis during our last Musica Nova concert, and having profound feelings of elation, pride, and accomplishment as a composer. I knew I wasn’t ready to leave Kansas City after graduation. To keep up with playing bass, I joined the Kansas City Civic Orchestra. Our metro is lousy with community groups, and I had the pleasure to serve as principal bassist not only for Civic, but also for Heritage Philharmonic (the oldest such ensemble in the area, based in Independence) and Kinnor Philharmonic (the “youngest” at five seasons, based in Overland Park).

The local scene has really blossomed since I moved here in 2001, and I must admit it’s hard to leave the city at this moment in its artistic and cultural evolution, a moment in which many groups I love and friends of mine are flourishing. Fountain City Brass Band consistently takes home international prizes. Clint Ashlock has done an outstanding job at the helm of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. Check out Mrs. Jones perform alongside her fellow immensely entertaining drag queens at Hamburger Mary’s. Pianists Jeremy Watson and Angie Fullerton Benson, usually in the role of musical director, make any theatre production they’re in exceptional beyond measure. Victor and Penny, fine purveyors of Prohibition Era-style jazz, always put on a great show, and Ensemble Ibérica has filled a global music niche that we were missing here in town. New music still has some growing to do, but Mnemosyne Quartet is doing its part with its rare instrumentation, live electronics, and performances in novel venues. If you have the chance to catch Narong Prangcharoen’s Phenomenon performed by Kansas City Symphony next June or Nick Omiccioli’s newly commissioned heavy metal guitar concerto with the Conservatory Wind Ensemble next spring, take it. And if one of Kansas City’s premier bassists Brian Wilson, Rick Willoughby, Jeff Harshbarger, or Johnny Hamil are involved—in anything—don’t miss it. Trust me.

kansas city loveMy final performance of my fifteen-year tenure in Kansas City was on Monday night while sitting in with the Mid America Freedom Band, led by my esteemed colleague and beloved friend Lee Hartman, in a benefit concert for the survivors of the Orlando massacre. We finished our set with the Arlen/Harburg classic “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. It brought me full circle and was simply the most perfect last piece for me to play here, as I was obsessed with the film as a child. Although the concert was a response to a tragedy, I couldn’t have wished for a more appropriate way to conclude this chapter of my life, in the city where I musically “grew up,” than making music alongside my friends for an event that aptly illustrated the elements so prevalent in Kansas City’s music scene that I will always cherish—harmony, community, and a lot of heart.

Top photo by Richard Leaf; Middle photo by Andrew Schwartz; Bottom photo by Kristin Shafel Omiccioli
Reprinted with permission from KCMetropolis.org, © 2016 [Original article link]