reading recap: july 2017

I feel like July just flew by! Half of it I spent in Wisconsin, and half in Singapore. I was able to finish five books in July:

  • Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body … Roxane Gay
  • Al Franken, Giant of the Senate (audio) … Al Franken, read by author
  • Trainwreck (audio) … Sady Doyle, read by Alex McKenna
  • The Sound of Gravel (audio) … Ruth Wariner, read by author
  • The New Odyssey (audio) … Patrick Kingsley, read by Thomas Judd

I’m happy to report that I hit 60 books for the year so far this month! I raised my goal to 70 from 50 a while ago… maybe I should up it again. Or not. I’m happy to enjoy another month of passivity about it! After my trip this summer, I’m more resolved to continue catching up on my book posts here on the blog. If I can write two a week, that’ll be good enough for me (for now). I’m getting a little burned out on audiobooks at the moment… I think I might need a break for a while.

My favorite books for July were definitely Hunger and Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. These two memoirs were starkly different, but both made me reflect on the world, society, and my own experiences a lot. Trainwreck opened my eyes to how we as a society destroy women in the public eye, which was really thought-provoking and I’ve already recommended it to friends. The Sound of Gravel started as a bit of a guilty pleasure for me—I’m a little fascinated by cult religions and this memoir appeared in my Goodreads recommendations after finishing The Road to Jonestown (about Jim Jones) and Going Clear (about Scientology) a couple months ago. It’s another riveting memoir, if read a little dryly by the author on the audio version. Lastly, The New Odyssey hits hard as an exposé of the refugee and migrant crisis across Europe today. I wish it had gone a little more in depth on possible solutions, but still I found this book informative, powerful, and vital to understanding what’s going on in the world right now.

I’m still chugging my way through It, which I’m supplementing with the Steven Weber-read audio version (which is SO good!), as well as ZeroZeroZero by Roberto Saviano on audio (I read his Gomorrah a few years ago and loved it), and started A Colony in A Nation on paper. Otherwise, new books coming in the mail include Capone: The Man and The Era by Laurence Bergreen and Killing Pablo by Mark Bowden. I also just won a Goodreads giveaway for Marc Maron’s new book, Waiting for the Punch! I’m so excited, I haven’t won a giveaway in a long time and I love Marc Maron!
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reading recap: june 2017

I’m back in Singapore after the most wonderful, fun visit to see family and friends in Wisconsin last month. I’ll post about that soon, but in the meantime here’s my (late) monthly reading recap for June:

  • Going Clear (audio) … Lawrence Wright, read by Morton Sellers
  • How to Speak Midwestern (ebook) … Edward McClelland
  • The Emperor of All Maladies … Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • Janesville: An American Story (audio) … Amy Goldstein, read by Joy Osmanski

Not much because of my trip, which was expected. I hardly ever get much reading done while visiting family. But these four books were all really interesting and enjoyable. I’m not sure I can even choose a favorite or stand-out; I would recommend them all. The Emperor of All Maladies was on my list for a very long time, though, followed by Going Clear. I’m really happy I finally read them; they were long but worth every minute. I knew as soon as I heard about it I had to read Janesville, about the economic fall of the formerly booming industrial town in my home state, and luckily I was able to get the audio from the library without a wait. How to Speak Midwestern is a fun, brief look at the subtle differences in Midwestern accents, and was a really nice way to get in the mood for my trip back home.

I finished reading Roxane Gay’s phenomenal memoir Hunger on the plane ride back a few days ago. Next on my list are It by Stephen King in anticipation of the new movie coming out in September, as well as Al Franken, Giant of the Senate and Chris Hayes’s A Colony in a Nation. I also hit 80% of my reading goal for the year already… maybe time to bump it up once more?? Possibly! No matter what I feel good that I’m going to have a record year for reading.
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behind the beautiful forevers

Two years after it first came out I finally got around to reading Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, a fascinating, heartbreaking exposé of a Mumbai slum and its residents. Edited from Goodreads:

A bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human through the dramatic story of families striving toward a better life in Annawadi, a makeshift settlement in the shadow of luxury hotels near the Mumbai airport. With intelligence, humor, and deep insight into what connects people to one another in an era of tumultuous change, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, based on years of uncompromising reporting, carries the reader headlong into one of the twenty-first century’s hidden worlds—and into the hearts of families impossible to forget.

I’m embarrassed this took me so long to get to, and then so long to read. I think I was just too busy this past month, because a book like this is right up my alley and wouldn’t normally take me so long. When I was able to catch moments with this over the past month I was spellbound. Boo crafts this narrative non-fiction with compassion, grace and objectivity, exposing what life is like for these hardworking individuals at the bottom of the ladder in one of the world’s wealthiest cities, taking into account social and economic context. Annawadi could be any slum in any large city in the world with substantial economic inequality.

The families on these pages came alive to me, especially the children. Education is basically nonexistent. They compete with each other in garbage trading to scrape together a little money for their families. They endure beatings and witness suicides, often contemplating it themselves. But some we learn about in Beautiful Forevers are tenacious and hopeful, striving for a better life.

The struggles of Annawadi’s residents are wide-ranging, from unemployment to addiction to disease to suicides to corrupt police and government to fear of their homes being bulldozed. The fact that they are fundamentally no different from anyone else—needing to provide for their families, hopes and dreams for a better future for their children—is made crystal clear. Beautiful Forevers is a powerful, tragic, affective glimpse at the daily lives of these spirited people in abject poverty.

Read from June 18 to July 26, 2015.

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.

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?

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.