dewey’s 24-hour readathon: april 2017

Dewey’s 24-Hour Readathon returns this weekend! After years of not participating due to work, gigs, or travel, I have the free time now to join in this year. Okay technically this is not my first Dewey’s Readathon; I did join the October 2016 one, but that was a last-minute decision and I didn’t have any sort of plan. This time… is still sort of a last-minute decision. Oops! I don’t know why these things always sneak up on me. But I’m excited anyway and hope to be a more proactive participant this time.

I’ve picked out four books to work on, with few expectations for what I actually accomplish. I’d like to keep this readathon as chill as possible:

My main focus will be on The Teacher Wars, which I actually would love to finish this weekend, or at least get a nice significant chunk read. Parable of the Sower is the recent pick for my “international book club” (just me and a buddy of mine back in Kansas City, we read the same book and have a Skype date to discuss), and What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky came in on ebook through my library holds just this morning. The Lathe of Heaven was a recommendation from another KC friend, and it’s a short audiobook so I thought it would be perfect as my next listen while I continue working on my current drawing.

The readathon’s 24 hours starts at the same time across the globe, which means 8 p.m. Saturday night for me here in Singapore. That means I’ll end up really getting into it when I wake up tomorrow morning, around hours 11–12, realistically doing only about half of the readathon in earnest. I made one post on Instagram, and this one here on my blog, but I’ll likely use Twitter as my main vehicle for participation. I’ll include my final readathon thoughts and accomplishments in my April recap post!

reading recap: march 2017

I had another prolific month of reading! It’s really nice to be back in a groove after so many blah months. I’m trying to catch up on books I’ve had forever and not buy new ones, and I’m doing okay with that, better than in the past. My audiobook reading has skyrocketed, though. Without a regular 8-to-5 I have tons of time to listen at home and on bus/subway rides. These ten books makes my 2017 total 27 already—more than halfway to my Goodreads goal of 50 for the year, so I may raise that soon enough!

  • Americanah … Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • The Stranger in the Woods (audio) … Michael Finkel, read by Mark Bramhall
  • When Breath Becomes Air … Paul Kalanithi
  • The Last One (win) … Alexandra Oliva
  • Psycho (audio) … Robert Bloch, read by Paul Michael Garcia
  • Brown Girl Dreaming (audio) … Jacqueline Woodson, read by author
  • Get in Trouble: Stories … Kelly Link
  • One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (audio) … Ken Kesey, read by Tom Parker
  • Hidden Figures (ebook) … Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mom & Me & Mom (audio) … Maya Angelou, read by author

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s NestWhen Breath Becomes Air, and The Stranger in the Woods were my favorites read in March. I loved Americanah, but I finished right before Adichie’s controversial interview comments came out, so I’m still sort of reconciling my feelings about it in retrospect. There were some really great stories in Get in Trouble, too, and Psycho was fabulous. I really wanted Hidden Figures to live up to all the grand hype, but for me it fell flat. The parts about the women themselves and their lives were excellent, but you have to wade through lots of textbook-like technical chapters that bored me. I still want to see the movie, though.

Okay. I think if I’m going to be getting through this volume of books (or close to it) each month, I’m going to have to get back into individual posts. It’ll be good for me, another project to keep me occupied!

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reading recap: february 2017

I had a busy February. We saw three awesome concerts (Periphery, Joe Satriani, and Guns N’ Roses), went to the Singapore Botanic Gardens, tried more new restaurants, saw some good movies (Lego BatmanMoonlight), and I read a lot. I think I might have hit a new personal record for number of books read in one month (especially the short month of the year!).

feb-recap-2017

Difficult Women — This collection of stories was captivating, tumultuous, distressing, and real. Gay’s writing is almost poetic and cuts deep. She presents women who are complex, emotional, damaged, and who persevered through tragedies. I loved it—read it in two days.  **favorite**

You Can’t Touch My Hair — I wish Phoebe Robinson was my friend. And she gets her wish for Michelle Obama to be her friend. Basically I wish Phoebe and Michelle and I were all friends. I loved how Phoebe uses unfiltered humor to tell stories from her life while discussing how they relate to race, gender, pop culture, and more. My favorite part might be the letters to her young niece at the end.  **favorite**

Another Day in the Death of America — Gary Younge picked a random day and examined the short lives of ten children and teenagers who were killed by guns on that day in the US. It puts each victim and their death in context of economic and familial situations, education, race, etc. It’s a powerful book in line with Matthew Desmond’s Evicted. My only quibble is that the author said this book is not about gun control, and while it’s true that he doesn’t delve into the politics of gun control, a book about ten children murdered by guns can’t entirely not be about that.

Freedom is a Constant Struggle — This is a very thought-provoking collection, if repetitive and in need of another round of edits. I’m not sure it’s the best one to start with if you’re unfamiliar with Davis. The email interviews weren’t engaging at all. I did appreciate Davis’s articulation in connecting struggles throughout the world, from the US to Palestine to Turkey to Africa. She’s a brilliant scholar-activist to whom we should pay heed, especially in these times. Her take on remaining optimistic and mass movements through community organizing uplifted me.

Blood at the Root — This is the true history of how more than 1,000 black citizens were driven out of Forsyth County, Georgia, starting in 1912 when three black men were accused of murdering a white woman. It’s a fascinating, horrifying, difficult read but important that we learn the truths of our country and not the sugar-coated, edited versions. I think I would have gotten more out of this one reading on paper instead of listening on audio. Still, the events of Blood at the Root especially sting in that we still experience this sort of racial cleansing today, be it “white flight,” gentrification, disproportionate incarceration rates, etc.

Wishful Drinking — I was standing in line for a concert while I read this short, irreverent book by the late, hilarious Carrie Fisher. It was a great book to cleanse my palate after three heavy, serious reads. Carrie rambled and went off on tangents at times, and I guess I was expecting more depth as far as her addictions went. I bet this is 100 times better on audio, but it worked pretty well as an ebook on my phone.

Fever Dream — I did like the unsettling sense of dread throughout this brief, creepy novel, but overall I feel neutral. This was an audio hold that came through, so maybe it was the wrong time for me for this one. Truthfully, I may need to read it again, and on paper instead of audio. (Or maybe not. I have a ton of other books to get to!)

Sleeping Giants — I started Sleeping Giants with my husband but he lost interest about halfway through. The premise is intriguing, if not the most original ever. Too many of the characters left a bad taste in my mouth (the actors gave them condescending, snotty attitudes) for me to continue with the series.

Beasts of No Nation — I saw the Netflix film a few months ago and thought it was astounding. I was looking for a book to fill the “author your age” square for the Litsy Reading Challenge, and Uzodinma Iweala is just one month older than I am, but I would have been interested in reading this regardless. Nyambi Nyambi did a phenomenal job performing the young protagonist Agu on the audiobook. Even though Beasts is a fiction, nothing about this story is “fake” in the sense that this is the harrowing, scary reality for many boys in war-torn countries of seemingly endless conflict.  **favorite**

Fire Shut Up in My Bones — My friend Anthony and I decided to resurrect our little two-person book club (now international!) and chose Fire Shut Up in My Bones. I loved Charles Blow’s introspective, descriptive, and poetic writing. He really gives you an immersive picture of the world in which he grew up. He’s an impressive figure who overcame a childhood fraught with poverty, betrayals, and inner turmoil. I had a couple of expectations going in that weren’t met, which is actually totally fine… it’s hard to talk about this without spoilers. I think I was just mislead (likely by my own self) in what may or may not have happened to him to shape his life journey. Anyway, it’s a fantastic memoir.  **favorite**

OKAY! This is a long post; maybe I should go back to singular review posts?? How was your February for reading?

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my cross to bear

I was turned on to My Cross to Bear by Gregg Allman when it first came out and I bought a copy for my dad for Father’s Day… only to find he had already gotten it for himself! I exchanged it for a different gift, but then couldn’t resist when I saw it on sale on iBooks a while ago. From Goodreads:

As one of the greatest rock icons of all time, Gregg Allman has lived it all and then some. For almost fifty years, he’s been creating some of the most recognizable songs in American rock, but never before has he paused to reflect on the long road he’s traveled. Now, he tells the unflinching story of his life, laying bare the unvarnished truth about his wild ride that has spanned across the years.

I had fun reading My Cross to Bear. Sure, it’s not the most eloquently written, but it is authentic to Allman’s conversational voice and I think it would be even better on audiobook, if he’s the narrator! You get more of a feeling of kickin’ back with Allman and him telling you stories from his life he feels like telling. He comes across as salt of the earth, humble, and a bit mystified at his dumb moves and astounding luck. Allman was, is, and forever will be a Good Ol’ Boy who just wants to play music, man. The chapter on his brother Duane Allman’s death was heartbreaking. I loved when he talked about his songwriting, recording iconic albums and some of the stories behind them, and playing gigs both small and large. He’s honest about his shortcomings and a father, and his drug and alcohol abuse, however…

Since he went there, I found myself wanting more depth on recounting his drug abuse and rehab. And while I wasn’t shocked or surprised by Allman’s experiences with women (lots of girls, lots of wives, etc.—it’s totally a boy’s club throughout the whole book), I would’ve appreciated more introspection here, too, especially on his six failed marriages, which he basically attributes to the wives all being crazy or expecting him to change. It doesn’t matter that the marriages ended, it happens, but I mean, who’s the common denominator here, bud? You’ll take no responsibility for what went down here? Just sayin’.

One thing I made sure to do as I read the book was to listen to the albums he talked about. It was wonderful to have them as background to the stories, especially the early stuff—Idlewild SouthAt Fillmore EastEat a PeachBrothers and Sisters. My dad loves the Allman Brothers—Duane is his all-time favorite guitarist—so listening along brought back great memories of our shared love for music. I forgot how much about these albums and Duane I already knew thanks to my dad!

Bottom line—not the most in-depth account of the history of the Allman Brothers, but a great, easy summer read after which you’ll feel like you just hung out with one of America’s living rock legends, which is pretty damn cool.

ETA: Fun facts I just remembered to include—I share a birthday with Gregg Allman (Dec. 8) and I saw The Allman Brothers Band in Madison, Wisconsin, August 2000! Awesome.

My Cross to Bear is my sixth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from June 29 to July 29, 2015.

just kids

I’m on a rock bender lately! Maybe it’s my awesome new turntable stereo I just got set up. In addition to reading Gregg Allman’s My Cross to Bear (almost done!) I started reading Just Kids by Patti Smith on my iPad. From Goodreads:

In Just Kids, Patti Smith’s first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late sixties and seventies. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, Smith brings the same unique, lyrical quality to Just Kids as she has to the rest of her formidable body of work—from her influential 1975 album Horses to her visual art and poetry.

I am in the middle on this book. While I loved the illuminating look at life of the starving artist in New York City in the 70s, and I can totally identify with being in an artist-artist relationship, being each other’s muses, supporting each other, etc. There’s a lot of name-dropping—Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, and numerous other artists, poets, and musicians—but that’s part of the allure of this book. Just Kids was a beautiful, loving tribute to Mapplethorpe. The last section about their last conversations and his death were intimate, poetic, and heartbreaking.

There is a lot to love about this book, however at times it felt weirdly sincere AND contrived at the same time. Does that make sense? I feel like, I can forgive her romanticism of New York and her relationship with Mapplethorpe, but that she was so naive about the lifestyle (drugs, mostly) and 70s NYC arts scene in general is hard to believe. There was a lot of “this happened, then this, and I did that, and he did this.” Her language is just a little too antiquated for me too, trying to hard to be poetic maybe. On one hand, I enjoyed listening to this on audiobook better, read by Smith (I split it up this time between audio and ebook), but I had to speed it up to 1.5x because it was a slog at normal speed.

If you can get past the quibbles I had, then I’m sure you’d like Just Kids. I do think it’s a must-read for fans of Smith and Mapplethorpe, or who want to live vicariously through two gifted artists in 1970s New York City.

Just Kids is my fifth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read/listened from July 22 to 24, 2015.

we need new names

Onward with my ebook challenge! Book no. 4 is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo. Edited from Goodreads:

Darling is only ten years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad. But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few.

I read through this quickly over a weekend, so it perhaps didn’t quite have the greatest impact on me?? The difficulties and suffering that do exist in this book just didn’t resonate with me as much as I would have expected. I had a little trouble with the vocabulary (neighborhoods in the Zimbabwe town called “Budapest” and “Paradise” tripped me up at first, stuff like that). It could be the short story vibe of this one—while not really a short story collection, many of the chapters could be stand-alone and overall it felt like several events linked together rather than one long narrative. That’s just me though, short stories aren’t exactly my thing. Still a good read, though, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Bulawayo’s characters feel very real, at least some of them do, and for sure Darling is a dynamic and interesting character. Darling, at just 10 years old, is opinionated and funny, with a toughness right off the bat that has you rooting for her all the way through the book, and you witness her growth in how her voice distinctively changes as a teenager in the States. The first half was raw and gritty and heartbreaking, but the second half, when Darling is older in America, really drives the points home of “different similarities” between coming of age in Africa vs. the United States. Despite the tragedy and horrors they faced in Zimbabwe as children, they are still hopeful and dream of better futures for themselves.

We Need New Names might have a few too many elements in it—immigration, culture shock, coming of age, world relations, poverty, etc.—but Bulawayo does tie them together in a meaningful, cohesive way, and creatively through the eyes of Darling.

We Need New Names is my fourth of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from June 19 to 22, 2015.