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:

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  • 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?
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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!)
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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!
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kitchen confidential (audio)

On the drive up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving, my husband and I listened to Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, read by the author. Edited from Goodreads:

A deliciously funny, delectably shocking banquet of wild-but-true tales of life in the culinary trade from Chef Anthony Bourdain, laying out his more than a quarter-century of drugs, sex, and haute cuisine.

Bourdain gives away secrets of the trade in his wickedly funny, inspiring memoir/expose. Kitchen Confidential reveals what Bourdain calls “twenty-five years of sex, drugs, bad behavior and haute cuisine.”

I had already read this on paperback in 2012 and loved it. Nick has been a fan of Bourdain’s tv shows, so I thought this would be something great for both of us. And it was! Even better on audio than on paper, as expected when read by Bourdain himself. Here’s some of my review from 2012, which I still feel about the book:

Part memoir, part exposé, part editorial, Kitchen Confidential was totally engrossing for me. Bourdain brazenly describes his inflated self-confidence and youthful pride, while admirably owning up to mistakes, failures, and shameful moments in his career. He gives credit where it is deserved and shows honest appreciation for hard work, dedication, and tenacity in the kitchen. Bourdain knows he is not a perfect chef—or human being, for that matter. I like how Bourdain did not gussy up his writing with too-unusual terms or flowery language. He rhapsodizes about food, of course, but in a genuine, down-to-earth way. After all the descriptions of how nasty, chaotic, and vulgar restaurant employees and kitchens are (in Bourdain’s experience), I really loved the chapter about Scott Bryan and his kitchen.

A section that really stood out this time around for me on audio was the “day in the life of a chef” chapter—just the relentless pace and stress of it was mind-boggling. I wasn’t quite as shocked by the behind-the-scenes kitchen reveals, but the tips for restaurant dining (don’t order fish specials on Mondays, etc.) were interesting… I wonder how many still hold up today, 15 years after the book’s original publication.

Kitchen Confidential is not PC—plenty of vulgar language and stupid behavior—and a seriously entertaining read. I still haven’t gotten around to any of his other, newer books; I better get on that!

Listened to audiobook from November 22 to 25, 2015.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading? What am I NOT reading, is more like it! I’m having attention issues. And just busy—it’s the holidays after all, and for musicians that means lots of gigs. And I’m excited about some new developments, more on that at a later date. Anyway, as for reading, I was having a lot of trouble committing to anything for the last month or so but finally buckled down with my latest borrow from the library, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein. It’s really great so far, I’m about a third through it and can already recommend it.

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Last week for Thanksgiving I went up to Wisconsin with my husband to spend the holiday with my family. My mom’s side celebrated up in Green Bay, and I was lucky to go to the (nasty wet, cold) Packer game on Thanksgiving night! It was an ugly loss to the Chicago Bears but my dad, brother and I had a lot of fun anyway, as always. It was the night that Brett Favre‘s number was officially retired and unveiled in the stadium, so he was there, and Bart Starr was in good enough health to attend, too, so it was a really special, once-in-a-lifetime experience for us. The game was so bad that we teased: Brett Favre’s up in the box, suit him up! Haha 😉

green bay 1

My husband and I had a great time tooling around Madison for a couple of days, too. First, we got old fashioneds and fried cheese curds at The Old Fashioned on the Capitol Square, hung out on State Street and shopped at Ear Wax Records, stopped by the Wonder Bar to say hi to my uncle and One Barrel Brewing Co. and Karben4 Brewery, a couple of newer joints. The next day, we played putt-putt at Vitense Golfland, shared flights at Capital Brewery in Middleton, and hit up my old stomping grounds on Willy Street, including Weary Traveler and Crystal Corner Bar.

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Now for the final stretch of the semester at work, holiday gigs and parties here in KC, and then back up to Wisconsin for Christmas.

What are you reading this week? Happy December!

denver anniversary trip

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you’ll know we’ve been through Denver before, when Nick was a fellow at the Aspen Festival in 2013, but we didn’t spend much time in the city—just passed through. This time, we went to celebrate our anniversary with a Slash concert, and we had a really fun visit.

We drove in on Thursday, and immediately went to the nearest brewery, Station 26 Brewing Co. They don’t serve food, but the Meatball. food truck was there. The next day we shopped at Tattered Cover Books and Twist and Shout and came out with a real nice haul of books and records:

tattered twitstmedia haul

After shopping, we hit up the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, which had a Marilyn Minter exhibit throughout the building (plus me in an egg):

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Before the concert, we had beers and dinner at Vine Street Pub & Brewery, just a mile from the Fillmore Auditorium where Slash was playing.
fillmoreThen on Saturday, we hit up Voodoo Doughnut for breakfast. Nick had already been to it in Portland, but this was my first time. We had the Pot Hole, the Diablos Rex, and a Memphis Mafia, which was so massive we saved it for breakfast the next day! Delicious. After the donuts, we wandered around the 16th Street Mall for a bit, where there was a zombie festival just getting started. There were djs, stations for makeup and accessories, fashion runways being set up, and tons of people in costumes all over the place. Generally, the area was a bit “touristy” for us, but all the zombie stuff was pretty cool.

saturday

After the mall, we went back over to Station 26 Brewing Co. to meet up with a couple of friends from grad school who had moved to Denver. We were having such a good time we stayed the whole evening.

I wish I could have had one more day in Denver! It was a wonderful trip.