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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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…
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the heart goes last

The inimitable Margaret Atwood‘s latest, The Heart Goes Last, came out in the fall, and despite mixed reviews I couldn’t resist. Edited from Goodreads:

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month—swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt, and sexual desire begin to take over.

I love Atwood, but this one went off the rails a little bit. The premise and the first half were great, very compelling—a biting commentary on capitalism and the prison industrial complex, gender roles, a frighteningly plausible near future in economic distress. I felt like just when it was getting good and juicy with life in this strange half-prison, half-1950s enclosed bubble, the story goes off on a weird journey with unexpected twists each one more ridiculous than the last. Sometimes Stan’s stuff was more interesting to me, and sometimes Charmaine’s was… although neither are very likable. I was curious to see how Atwood would wrap up this meandering plot, so I hung in there, and the final messages are pertinent to the story and thought-provoking.

I was entertained enough to finish, but it’s not my top Atwood read. That spot is still held by The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and CrakeThe Heart Goes Last started out as a serial, so it was easy enough to pick up whenever and read in small doses.

Read from November 15 to December 31, 2015.

the beautiful bureaucrat

I couldn’t resist checking out The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips after seeing it all over the book blogs, despite the mixed reviews. Edited from Goodreads:

In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as “The Database.” After a long period of joblessness, she’s not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread. As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine’s work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.

I feel like I’m in the middle on this one. It wasn’t as crazy and out there as I was expecting, and not quite as good overall as I was hoping. But I did like it enough to finish it (very short anyway, only about 170 pages) and I was left thinking afterwards. There seemed to be quite a few religious themes, or more like subtle undertones. For most of the story, Phillips takes the reader along on a compelling mental thriller, set in a familiar yet slightly dystopian future. The money struggles and futile, mindless job toiling will be recognizable to many in today’s economic climate… but it is quirky with enough twists and turns to make it interesting and not boring.

I wish the characters had been more fleshed out (they were described with one major physical attribute—bad breath, pink outfit, etc.) and the anagram wordplay was so annoying (“Gonna yin. Nag inn yo.” like that) that I started skipping over those parts. The end wasn’t executed as well as all that lead up to it; it was rushed, conveniently tied up. I feel like The Beautiful Bureaucrat could have either been shorter or longer than it was. Despite these minor quibbles, it was a real page turner right up until the end.

Read from September 5 to 6, 2015.

the long walk

I can’t remember when I picked up The Long Walk by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)… it was a gift for my husband a while ago. He recently read it and asked me to read it so we could talk about it. Book club! 🙂 From Goodreads:

Every year, on the first day of May, one hundred teenage boys meet for an event known throughout the country as “The Long Walk.” Among this year’s chosen crop is sixteen-year-old Ray Garraty. He knows the rules: that warnings are issued if you fall under speed, stumble, sit down. That after three warnings… you get your ticket. And what happens then serves as a chilling reminder that there can be only one winner in the Walk—the one that survives…

What I thought would be a typical teen dystopia in the vein of The Hunger Games (never read, seen the movies) turned out to be something else entirely. Participation in the Long Walk is voluntary, and for much of the book that bothered me. I thought that it should be mandatory, a lottery or something (like in Hunger Games) but THEN I thought, no. This must be voluntary. Boys selected for the Long Walk against their will would protest—they’d flee the country and go into hiding, anything to get out of it. Citizens would be in an uproar (think the Vietnam draft… and that was for a war! This is just for “The Prize” at the end, anything the winner wants for the rest of his life). Oohh… is this book an allegory for military service?? Anyway, brilliant.

King makes subtle statements on adolescent masculinity in our culture, which I’ve noticed in other books of his. But in The Long Walk, it might be the first King book I’ve read without any supernatural elements. This makes the idea of a military state in the (near?) future, where we’d cheer 100 boys literally walking to their deaths frighteningly plausible. In The Long Walk, much of the “action” is cerebral—the internal dialogue and philosophical musings of Ray, mostly. But King is so talented at character development, he manages to keep a the repetitive, singular activity of walking compelling for almost 400 pages. Also in this one, there are no subplots or intersecting storylines. It’s just the Walk, from start to finish. There’s intense, relentless focus on the boys’ horrifying physical and mental breakdowns after hours and miles of walking without rest.

The Long Walk came out in 1979, but it still has many points relevant to today’s American culture—some shockingly so. I was especially struck by how similar the feel of the Long Walk event is to reality competition shows, in that people voluntarily put themselves in the spotlight competing to win (whatever), usually at their own or others’ expense (dignity), risk, and suffering. And how society is addicted to this kind of sick voyeurism.

Awesome book, I loved it! If you’re looking for a psychological thriller with some elements of horror and dystopia that will keep you thinking about it long after, check out The Long Walk. It would be a great warm-up for Halloween!

Read from August 23 to September 3, 2015.