reading recap: june 2018

I had a just-okay reading month for June. Here’s what I got through:

  • Revenge (audio) … Yōko Ogawa, read by Johanna Parker and Kaleo Griffith
  • Creative Quest (ebook/audio) … Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson
  • Before the Fall … Noah Hawley
  • Fates and Furies (audio) … Lauren Groff, read by various
  • Bored and Brilliant (audio) … Manoush Zomorodi, read by author
  • Vacationland (audio) … John Hodgman, read by author

I loved Creative Quest and Vacationland, but the rest didn’t quite live up to my expectations. I was happy to get to some fiction, though, as well as one paper book. I’m still really heavy on audio; I’d love to have more balance and less time with technology. More detailed thoughts on all these books coming soon!
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reading recap: may 2018

I was on a real non-fiction bender the last few months! Here’s what I read in May:

  • A False Report (audio) … T. Miller Christian and Ken Armstrong, read by authors
  • The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs (audio) … Stephen Brusatte, read by P. Lawlor
  • Dead People Suck (ebook) … Laurie Kilmartin
  • Mozart’s Starling (audio) … Lyanda Lynn Haupt, read by Linda Henning
  • The Recovering (ebook/audio) … Leslie Jamison, read by author
  • Everything is Horrible and Wonderful (ebook) … Stephanie Wittels Wachs
  • The Art of the Con (audio) … Anthony M. Amore, read by Michael Johnson

My favorites were The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs (perfect to get me pumped for Jurassic World 2) and Everything is Horrible and Wonderful, about life and death of the brilliant tv/comedy writer Harris Wittels. I ugly cried reading that one—you can read my thoughts on the linked title above. Looking back I can see I was pretty terrible about reading any paper books: it’s all audio and ebook! But I’m proud of myself for reading two ebooks. I’m pretty terrible with that medium.

June recap coming soon, as well as more detailed thoughts on all these books!
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reading recap: april 2018

Wow, did I ever fall behind! My 8-year-old laptop died and I didn’t have a chance to replace it until recently. I’m in Wisconsin visiting friends and family now but will be catching up on my little reviews here when I can. For now, here are the books I read in April:

  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark … Michelle McNamara
  • Darkness Visible (audio) … William Styron, read by author
  • In the Kingdom of Ice (audio) … Hampton Sides, read by Robert Petkoff
  • Heart Berries (ebook) … Terese Marie Mailhot
  • Educated (audio) … Tara Westover, read by Julia Whelan
  • Being Mortal (audio) … Atul Gawande, read by Robert Petkoff
  • The Lost City of the Monkey God (audio) … Douglas Preston, read by Bill Mumy
  • Instant Replay (audio) … Jerry Kramer with Dick Shaap, read by John Pruden
  • The Asshole Survival Guide (audio) … Robert I. Sutton, read by author

Another month of all non-fiction. My favorites were I’ll Be Gone in the Dark about the Golden State Killer, which was just made all the more fascinating since that monster was caught about a month after I finished reading this book, In the Kingdom of Ice about the U.S.S. Jeanneatte‘s doomed 1879 mission to the Arctic, and Jerry Kramer’s  Instant Replay, his behind-the-scenes diary of the Green Bay Packers’ historic 1967 season.

In other bookish news for me, I’ve also fell behind on my TBR Pile Challenge, but hopefully that won’t be too hard to get back into after this Wisconsin visit. More recaps and reviews here in the coming days!
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soundtrack of my life

I saw this meme going around social media lately and it looked like a nice subject to ruminate on and reminisce over, but I’m not feeling posting on Facebook much anymore, so I decided to do one big post here. I know I’m tweaking the rules a little bit: more than 10 albums, these stretch before and after my teen years, and of course I’m offering a little explanation. But who cares! It’s been a fun, if challenging, activity!

Stevie Wonder, Stevie Wonder’s Original Musiquarium I (1982)
My parents have this thing where they “assigned” us kids songs when we were born. When I was born, they “gave” me Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely,” so it’s “my song.” (Aww.) It originally appeared on Songs in the Key of Life from 1976, but I still get warm family-love fuzzies when I hear this song and this compilation from 1982 is the album I remember my parents playing all the time when I was a kid. Plus, I just got a new bass so I’ve been having a lot of fun learning bass lines off this album lately.

Stray Cats, Built for Speed (1982)
One of the first vinyl records I “borrowed” (read: took) from my dad’s extensive record collection. As a young teenager and new guitarist I learned Brian Setzer’s guitar parts from the album top to bottom, using the vinyl!! Kids these days will never know.

Sir Neville Marriner, The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, Amadeus (Original Soundtrack Recording) (1984)
Whenever I stayed home sick from school as a kid, Amadeus was my go-to movie. I had this album on vinyl too, and when I was a budding composer in high school I drew a lot of inspiration from the movie and the soundtrack. Maybe basic, but what can I say, I’m pretty sure it was a catalyst for me to start composing.

Smashing Pumpkins, Siamese Dream (1993)
This was legit on repeat for pretty much the entirety of my teen years. It’s another album from which I learned all the guitar parts (almost… I couldn’t achieve Corgan’s psychedelic soloing and didn’t have all the gear anyway). Beyond Siamese Dream being one of the most quintessential albums of the 90s and no doubt influential for many people, I also latched on to this one because its producer, Butch Vig, was one of my idols at the time. He embodied my first dream “career:” musician, record producer, studio owner. Bonus: Vig’s from Wisconsin and his iconic Smart Studios was just a couple blocks away from my house where I grew up.

Weezer, Pinkerton (1996)
Ah Pinkerton, the nostalgia runs deep despite the problematic sentiments. I still love it, so what. This is another album I had on repeat throughout high school, and again I learned all the guitar parts. Not to mention it was on the Pinkerton tour when my epic and notorious “Weezer Tour Bus Incident” took place. In eighth grade, I hung out with the band on its tour bus before its January 1997 show at the Barrymore Theatre in Madison, during which guitarist Brian Bell dedicated “In the Garage” to me. My parents were not pleased with me!

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Prelude to a Kiss: The Duke Ellington Album (1996)
I was just starting to listen to and learn about jazz in ninth grade, and this is one of the first (if not the first) jazz records I ever bought. I remember really loving the saxophone parts, only to realize years later that it was Bobby Watson playing, whom I met when I moved to Kansas City for college. He was on faculty at my school, and it’s an honor to call him a friend and former colleague! Serendipity.

Phat Phunktion, Here We Go! (1999)
Phat Phunktion is a local Madison group that my high school band teacher knew from Summer Music Clinic (I participated one summer as a jazz guitarist). My teacher invited the band to play a gig at my high school when I was a junior. I don’t remember if it was for a fundraiser or just for fun, but I was very involved in the promotion of the show. I sold tickets at lunch for weeks and interviewed them for the school paper. This may have sparked my interest in writing about music, which was one of my side hustles after college in Kansas City. Besides that, Phat was my introduction to funk music (at least of which I was cognizant, if you don’t count my folks’ excellent collection of 70s funk played when I was little) and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Grant Green, Born to Be Blue (1962)
In high school I was pretty serious about jazz guitar—I took lessons from a respected local veteran of the Madison and Milwaukee jazz scenes, I was in the big band at school, I had my own jazz combo for fun, and I wrote a few jazz charts (yes they’re recorded). I listened to A LOT of jazz guitar recordings. Obsessed. It was very hard to narrow this down, between Les Paul and Wes Montgomery and Joe Pass and Kenny Burrell and Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt and Freddie Green and Tal Farlow and and and… But I decided ultimately on Grant Green’s Born to Be Blue because it’s just a great album and I love the version of “Someday My Prince Will Come” on it.

Ani DiFranco, Little Plastic Castle (1998)
Here’s where the boys come in. My high school sweetheart dumped me around sophomore/junior year—my first love, my first heartbreak—and this new Ani DiFranco album affected me on several levels. Yes there are songs mired in angst which was perfect for me at the time, but also I loved her unabashedly introspective lyrics and killer guitar playing. Ultimately this isn’t my favorite album of Ani’s, but after that devastating breakup, this one helped me feel like myself again.

Charlie Hunter Quartet, Natty Dread (1997)
And here’s the one that reminds me of my college sweetheart. He introduced me to this album, and Charlie Hunter, and I love him for it. Charlie Hunter arranged Bob Marley’s 1974 Natty Dread track-for-track as a soul jazz album, and it is executed perfectly. I adore this version of “No Woman No Cry.” Nothing but good feelings when I listen to this record, still in semi-regular rotation for me.

Slash featuring Myles Kennedy and The Conspirators, World on Fire (2014)
My husband asked me to tack this onto an Amazon order I was making one time in 2015, and when it arrived he happened to be away on a summer residency. So I decided to give it a listen and basically it was the only thing I listened to for the entire summer. When he got home I had all the lyrics memorized. There were some depressing life things that happened in 2015, and World on Fire was a great emotional outlet for some of my bottled-up feelings.

Beyoncé, Lemonade (2016)
2016 and 2017. What can I say. So much happened, so much didn’t. Excitements, difficulties, adventures, terribleness, boring times, discoveries, stresses, identity examinations. Lemonade got me through some shit.


I have innumerable honorable mentions. For jazz, it was nearly impossible to pick out just one album from a guitarist—I also drew much inspiration from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, and Nina Simone in high school when I was into jazz. I also went through an intense Buddy Holly phase. When I was a kid, music was always playing in our house, from soul and Motown to Allman Brothers and Grateful Dead to Carole King and Joni Mitchell to Michael Jackson to Tom Waits and more. We’d listen to rock n’ roll on Saturday mornings and classical music on Sunday mornings—it’s tradition. Switching from guitar to bass in college was life transforming for me, that could be a whole post all to itself. And of course now I have tons of musician friends I love to support, and my music world has opened up immeasurably as an adult. This has been so much fun to think on! What are some important albums that have been the soundtrack to your life?

reading recap: march 2018

March is over and it feels like it was both fast and slow for me. I’m getting back into a good routine with drawing, practicing bass, and working out and it feels great. I’m so happy to be out of my unusual (for me) depressing funk of January and February. I read some fantastic books this past month, too:

My favorites of the month were One Summer: America 1927Altamont, and  Homegoing. No book was straight-up bad, but if I could go back I’d probably have been okay skipping Astrophysics for People in a Hurry and (maybe) Radical Hope. I had a wonderful discussion of Homegoing with Anthony for our Best Friends International Book Club! Bonus: Homegoing was also on my 2018 TBR Pile Challenge list, as well as The Summer That Melted Everything, so I’m on pace there which is good. Anthony and I chose The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara as our next book club choice and I can’t wait to dig in. I’m really enjoying Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark right now, and just started The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn on audiobook.

Otherwise, next week I’m looking forward to participating in The 100 Day Project again, my second year in a row. Last year I had to quit around day 65, when I went on my month-long summer trip back home, and that’ll probably happen again, but that’s okay. I really like the low pressure of this global online art and creativity event, and love seeing everyone’s varied projects and progress.

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favorite reads of 2017

I had a hard year. It’s strange to be here on the other side of the world away from my loved ones, especially during such a volatile time in my country’s history. I felt helpless, lonely, and frustrated a lot in 2017. Books and music, as always, provided much comfort, as well as entertaining and educating me.

I read 97 books total in 2017. Ninety-seven! I can’t believe that; doesn’t seem real. Is it weird that even though I wildly exceeded my goal and read more than ever before in a single year, I’m a little mad I didn’t hit 100?? I’m a competitive person. A lot of them were in the form of audiobooks listened to while I was spending hours drawing. Reading on paper is still my favorite method, though, and I want to get back to reading more of my physical books in the new year.

• 97 books read total
• 9,599 pages read
• 407 hours (approx.) of audiobooks (that’s 17 days!)
• 27.8% paper books, 58.8% audiobooks, 11.3% ebooks, 2.1% paper/audio
• 61.9% non-fiction, 38.1% fiction
• 64.9% library borrows, 32% own books read, 2.1% audible free trial, 2% borrow
• 2007: average publishing year of books read
• 2017: publishing year of most books read (38 of 97)
• 8 books read per month average

I did track author gender (identifying as), POC or not, and whether they were from the United States or not. I ended up about half-and-half on gender and POC/white, but disproportionately more American writers than other nationalities. I’d like to read even more books by women, writers of color, and non-Americans in 2018… although I admit I usually just go with what looks good and interesting to me first and foremost before taking these other items into account. But I’m glad I started tracking this to be more aware of my reading choices and to diversify it further.

Here are my favorite books I read in 2017, separated by non-fiction and fiction, in alphabetical order by author’s last name (links go to my individual posts):

The New Jim Crow … Michelle Alexander (2010)
What Happened … Hillary Clinton (2017)
Hunger … Roxane Gay (2017)
Janesville: An American Story (audio) … Amy Goldstein (2017)
Killers of the Flower Moon (audio) … David Grann (2017)
When Breath Becomes Air … Paul Kalanithi (2016)
• The Glass Castle … Jeannette Walls (2005)
• They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us … Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib (2017)

What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (ebook) … Lesley Nneka Arimah
The Heart’s Invisible Furies (audio) … John Boyne
The Hearts of Men (audio) … Nickolas Butler
Bitch Planet, Vol. 2: President Bitch … DeConnick / De Landro
Difficult Women … Roxane Gay
Made for Love (audio) … Alissa Nutting
Borne … Jeff VanderMeer
Sing, Unburied, Sing … Jesmyn Ward
**all fiction here published in 2017

Honorable Mentions from 2017 (alpha by author’s last name):
The Teacher Wars … Dana Goldstein (2014)
The Road to Jonestown (audio) … Jeff Guinn (2017)
A Colony in a Nation … Chris Hayes (2017)
A Thousand Splendid Suns (audio) … Khaled Hosseini (2007)
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (audio) … Ken Kesey (1962)
The New Odyssey (audio) … Patrick Kingsley (2017)
The Lathe of Heaven (audio) … Ursula K. Le Guin (1971)
The Radium Girls (audio) … Kate Moore (2017)
The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer … Siddhartha Mukherjee (2010)
Born a Crime (ebook) … Trevor Noah
ZeroZeroZero (audio) … Roberto Saviano (2013)