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: january 2017

I think I’m getting my stride back with reading now in 2017. I’m not participating in any creative reading challenges this year, just the Goodreads and 50 Book Pledge ones, which takes some (admittedly imaginary) pressure off. So far I set my goal at 50, but I’m hoping to get back up to around 60, closer to my normal yearly amount. Bad bookish news, though: my Kansas City Public Library account expired! I was hoping I had at least another six months, tears. I’ve been using it for ebooks and audiobooks through Overdrive, and it’s been great. I’ll get a new account at my local Wisconsin library on my next visit back, but still. I liked having one last connection to Kansas City. Sigh.

I had a good January for reading, and enjoyed all of these books:

jan-2017-recap

  • Born a Crime (ebook) … Trevor Noah
  • Packing for Mars … Mary Roach
  • Metallica: Back to the Front … Matt Taylor
  • The Handmaid’s Tale (audiobook) … Margaret Atwood, read by Claire Danes
  • March, books 1–3 … John Lewis with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell

Almost all non-fiction… one could make the joke that I read all non-fiction… (weeps). But The Handmaid’s Tale was my favorite book of the month. I read it once before, in early 2010, and loved it then. I’ve had a little celebrity crush on Claire Danes for years and years—she was my spirit animal in My So-Called Life—and hearing her read one of my all-time favorite books gave me life in this state of political unrest. Just a terrifying, disquieting book. I read once that Atwood based things in the book (women losing agency over their finances, property, eventually their own bodies) on real-life events throughout world history. I wanted to start it over again from the beginning right after finishing (and I just may listen to it again before the year is out).

I was so excited to also read Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, an immigrant, when it came through my (last) library holds at the beginning of the year. It was a wonderful, sharp, insightful memoir to start of 2017. There were some utterly hilarious scenes, and I really admired his honesty about his relationships with his country and family, especially his mother. I loved his reflections on language and how that can effect interpersonal understanding and empathy. I only wish I had been able to listen to the audio version!

I’ve enjoyed a couple other Mary Roach books, and Packing for Mars was no exception. My husband got it as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago and recommended it to me this month. I realize now that it was another pertinent read for these times, with anti-science and anti-education mindsets becoming more rampant. RESIST!! But truly, Packing for Mars is signature Roach, making you feel as though you’re right alongside her as she investigates the “everything-you-want-to-know-but-are-too-embarrassed-to-ask” questions surrounding any given topic. Bonus: after I finished Nick and I visited the NASA: A Human Adventure exhibit currently on at the ArtScience Museum here in Singapore. It was a treat to see artifacts of the very things I’d just read about in person, including the space toilet!

The March graphic novel trilogy by John Lewis had been on my TBR for at least a few months now, but skyrocketed to the top thanks to events that took place on Twitter, you all know what I’m talking about. I snagged the only set at the Kinokuniya bookstore and devoured all three books in a matter of days. I usually struggle with graphic novels just in that I focus on the words so much I forget to take time absorbing the art too, but I made an effort to pay attention to both text and image and the experience really paid off. March is a very engaging work that clearly connects events and people through the civil rights movement of the 1960s via John Lewis’s involvement. I really hope young people are reading this right now.

Finally, for some much needed mental catharsis, I read through Metallica: Back to the Front, the authorized story of the Master of Puppets album and subsequent tour, as prep for the band’s concert here in Singapore on January 22. I listened to (almost) the whole discography as I read, which really enhanced the experience. This book is obviously a must-own for any die-hard fan, but I think even casual fans and listeners would really appreciate this round-table style recounting and images of the band starting up, the making of its first three albums, and the epic (and ultimately tragic) tour of 1986. Besides the history, this is a beautiful tribute to the band’s unforgettable late bassist Cliff Burton.

Looking ahead, I’d like to read Duff McKagan’s It’s So Easy and Other Lies before we see Guns N’ Roses on February 25 here, When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, Freedom is a Constant Struggle by Angela Davis, Blood at the Root by Patrick Phillips, You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson, and Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood. I’m already almost finished with Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women, which I simply haven’t been able to put down. We’ll see what I can get through!
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what if

Last month, Nick and I listened to What If? by Randall Munroe on audio. It was big hit in our house! Edited from Goodreads:

From the creator of the wildly popular webcomic xkcd comes this hilarious and informative book of answers to important questions you probably never thought to ask. Millions of people visit xkcd.com each week to read Randall Munroe’s iconic webcomic. His stick-figure drawings about science, technology, language, and love have a large and passionate following. Fans of xkcd ask Munroe a lot of strange questions. In pursuit of answers, Munroe runs computer simulations, pores over stacks of declassified military research memos, solves differential equations, and consults with nuclear reactor operators. His responses are masterpieces of clarity and hilarity.

I originally downloaded What If? to listen to during my orchestra rehearsal commutes, but after the first answer I knew my husband would enjoy this too. The “chapters” (or rather each Q&A) are so short, it was the perfect amount to devour listening in tiny bits night by night before bed. I’m not a very science-y person, but only maybe a couple of the questions and answers went over my head (and even then, it’s probably because I dozed off and missed a sentence or two!). There are many, many stand-out questions in What If?: what if you baseball coming at you at the speed of light? What if there were a planet of moles (animal) the size of a mole? What if the periodic table were made of each of the elements it represents? What if we tried to eradicate the common cold? What if we built a lego bridge capable of carrying automobiles across the Atlantic Ocean? And more! I do feel like I perhaps missed out on some of the answers by going with audio instead of paper (the author is an comics artist, after all), but Wil Wheaton’s as-usual incredible, enthusiastic narration made the scientific explanations accessible and just plain fun to listen to. And it was extra fun listening with someone! We had some excellent discussions after some of these answers.

Listened to audiobook from December 9 to 18, 2015.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading? I mentioned before that I’m having trouble sitting and reading anything on paper lately, but I have been able to squeeze in some audiobook time:

monday reading

What If? by Randall Munroe has been a big hit for both me and my husband—we’ve been listening before falling asleep every night and loving the absurdity of it all. Wil Wheaton narrates and he’s fantastic, of course—loved his narration of Ready Player One when I listened to that a couple years ago.

I also just started One More Thing by B.J. Novak on audio… although I think my husband would love this too! So I might have to stop and hold it for him, maybe for the holiday road trip coming up.

What are you reading this week?

the hot zone

This month I finally got around to reading The Hot Zone by Richard Preston, which I borrowed from a family member back in July. From Goodreads:

A highly infectious, deadly virus from the central African rain forest suddenly appears in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. There is no cure. In a few days 90 percent of its victims are dead. A secret military SWAT team of soldiers and scientists is mobilized to stop the outbreak of this exotic “hot” virus. The Hot Zone tells this dramatic story, giving a hair-raising account of the appearance of rare and lethal viruses and their “crashes” into the human race. Shocking, frightening, and impossible to ignore, The Hot Zone proves that truth really is scarier than fiction.

Oh boy, where to begin. I meant to get started on this one for Halloween but was a little too busy that week (normal 40-hr work week, then rehearsals/concerts/meetings every night after work) so didn’t get to it until the weekend after. That’s okay, though, because it still scared the bejeebuz out of me!

Right away, The Hot Zone catches the reader’s attention with a horrifying story about a possible “patient zero,” who basically bleeds out over a very short period after exposure. But… it’s a lot more disgusting and disturbing than that, of course. The Hot Zone focuses on the history of the Ebola virus, and outbreaks in Africa and an isolated incident outside Washington DC in the 1990s. I knew Ebola was bad and you don’t want to catch it (obvs), but not any of the details of what exactly happens to an infected person (or animal)—bleeding out from all orifices and your insides liquefying. UGH! <shudder> Although, The Hot Zone isn’t as gory as I expected after the first vignette on “patient zero.”

I think what shocked me the most was probably the carelessness—well, that might not be the exact right word. I don’t think the scientists in the book were careless. The Washington DC operation was noted as a first-of-its-kind mission. But this patient zero who was starting to exhibit these inexplicably horrifying symptoms was put on an AIRPLANE?? How many accidental needle pinpricks are really possible in the extremely contagious conditions described? Oh, and the poor monkeys. This is not a book for people sensitive to reading about animal testing. There’s a lot of sick monkeys in The Hot Zone.

A weak point of The Hot Zone for me was the slightly dry writing style, which became slightly repetitive in a few spots. I really liked it, though. If I hadn’t been so generally life-busy I probably could have read this in just a couple of days—a compulsive page-turner, definitely. Scarier than any fictional plague or virus book I’ve come across. I caught myself holding my breath during some parts!

Read from November 2 to 16, 2013.