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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reading recap: december 2016

Happy new year! I hope 2017 will be better in many ways and on many levels than 2016, and I’m going to do my part here in Singapore any way I can. December was hard; being away from my family during the holidays for basically the first time ever. But it was also weird since my routine is basically non-existent and the weather is perpetually summery, so it doesn’t exactly feel like “winter” and “holidays” here to me so much.

I managed to get a little bit of reading done last month. Here are my books for December:

december-recap

  • Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light … Cyril Wong
  • Phenomenal Woman (ebook) … Maya Angelou
  • We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation … Jeff Chang
  • A Life in Parts (audio) … Bryan Cranston, read by author
  • Children of the New World: Stories … Alexander Weinstein
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things (ebook) … Iain Reid

Except for the Cranston memoir, everything was on the short side: essays, short stories, poetry. I liked all these, not a bad one in the bunch, but probably my favorite reads for the month were We Gon’ Be Alright by Jeff Chang and I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid. The essays in We Gon’ Be Alright include deeper looks at Ferguson, racism in higher education, the morphed definition of “diversity,” #OscarsSoWhite, growing up Asian American, Beyoncé’s Lemonade, current segregation in K-12 education, and much more. It was short, timely, and I can’t recommend it enough.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things, also very short, took a little bit to get into and was slightly plain at first, but piqued my curiosity more with every chapter that I couldn’t put it down by the end and had to read the last few pages twice. This one was a library ebook I put on hold back in October for Halloween and it finally came though!

Children of the New World was overall very good, with only a couple of sleepers in the collection. I loved the premise of the through-line—an imagined near-future where technology is even more prevalent in the daily lives of humans. The stories that stood out to me in particular were “Heartland,” “Children of the New World,” “Rocket Night,” and “Ice Age.”

Bryan Cranston’s new memoir, A Life in Parts, was another library hold come through. It was fantastic on audio, hearing the actor himself talk about his many personal and professional experiences, including his most famous roles as Hal (Malcolm in the Middle) and Walter White (Breaking Bad). Nothing too deep or earth-shattering, but a solid celebrity memoir. I was inspired to re-watch Breaking Bad after reading this one!

I’m not normally a poetry person, but I ended up reading two more collections to close out 2016! Tilting Our Plates to Catch the Light was written by a local Singaporean poet, and I picked it up as a Christmas gift for my mom, but ended up reading it first before I mailed it home. It’s a beautiful collection about love, with additional themes of time, death, and distance. Phenomenal Woman is, of course, by the indomitable Maya Angelou. I’ve read this before, it’s only four poem, but I felt after what happened in November, it was time for a revisit. “Still, I Rise” is an all-time favorite.

My “best of 2016” posts are coming soon!
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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.

modern romance

On our anniversary road trip to Denver a couple of weeks ago, my husband and I (ironically) listened to Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari on audio. Edited from Goodreads:

At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated? In Modern Romance, Ansari combines his irreverent humor with cutting-edge social science to give us an unforgettable tour of our new romantic world.

Modern Romance wasn’t quite what I expected… I guess I was thinking more along the lines of humorous personal anecdotes and silly “dos and don’ts” to dating. Turns out this book is more scientific, but not overly in-depth—Aziz does inject his brand of funny commentary throughout making it accessible. A lot of the book talks about how advancing technology has changed options and communication in dating, compared to how seemingly simple it was to find a mate just a few short decades ago.

I met my husband in grad school, neither of us had smartphones (we did text), and we did flirt a bit on Facebook, but our relationship was in-person right from the start. I never experienced dating in the modern technology age, really. I don’t think I’d even know where to begin with all the avenues Aziz and his writing partner Eric Klinenberg go over in Modern Romance. They focus on online dating sites and mobile apps, statistically successful profiles and awkward texting (and sexting), timing and mind games, and more.

Aziz does explain right at the start that Modern Romance covers mostly middle class heterosexuals, saying that delving into the romantic processes for homosexuals and other economic classes would be enough material for several other books in and of themselves. I liked the sections on the dating scenes of Japan, Brazil, and France, and also the interviews with people on their dating techniques and options in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. I was pretty shocked (mostly at myself) at how “old fashioned” I guess I am—I can’t imagine being dumped via text, while apparently that has become an acceptable norm for people just a few years younger than me.

The audio was great; Aziz’s narration is hilarious as expected, but you do miss out on images and graphs. It was fun to listen to this one with my husband, several really good discussion starters in here for us!

Listened to audiobook from October 15 to 18, 2015.

oryx and crake

The second audiobook I had on my road trip to Wisconsin a couple weeks ago was Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood. I read The Handmaid’s Tale a few years ago, so this is my second book of Atwood’s (although I have The Blind Assassin boxed up, I’ll have to read that at some point after my move, too!) From Goodreads:

In Oryx and Crake, a science fiction novel that is more Swift than Heinlein, more cautionary tale than “fictional science” (no flying cars here), Margaret Atwood depicts a near-future world that turns from the merely horrible to the horrific, from a fool’s paradise to a bio-wasteland. Snowman (a man once known as Jimmy) sleeps in a tree and just might be the only human left on our devastated planet. He is not entirely alone, however, as he considers himself the shepherd of a group of experimental, human-like creatures called the Children of Crake. As he scavenges and tends to his insect bites, Snowman recalls in flashbacks how the world fell apart.

One word: WOW. I loved this book. Oryx and Crake is a disturbing vision of a dystopian future, in which gene-spliced hybrid animals are created for various reasons to make human life “better,” sort of the way processed food stuffs and electronic devices are regarded now. Pigoons, designed to host back-up organs for human harvest? Wolvogs? It was really easy to picture these creatures.

There are so many social and cultural issues touched on or brought up in this book and lots of ethical questions, from economic class to global warming to genetic engineering and biotechnology to pharmaceuticals and health epidemics, ecological disasters, corporate conglomeration, and so on. As I listened, I wondered, “they can do all these experiments, but should they?” Great for philosophical debate.

At the heart of Oryx and Crake is the love triangle, though. Jimmy meets the dark science genius Crake in high school. Formerly a child prostitute from Southeast Asia, Oryx is sold to a man in San Francisco and from there eventually leaves the sex trade and meets Jimmy and Crake later on. Oryx works for Crake, but secretly gets it on with Jimmy. Duh-RAMA!

But despite the love triangle and some dry humor, Oryx and Crake is some seriously dark sci-fi. The version I listened to was unabridged, read by Campbell Scott. I thought Scott did an excellent job; his narration had a creepy edge and he captured the frustration of Snowman, obliviousness of Oryx, and the innocence of the Crakers very well, even changing the voice inflections for them, too. But Oryx and Crake, as much as I loved the audio, is one that I will definitely get on paper and re-read someday. I seem to only be able to listen to audiobooks on long drives, and I’m sure I missed some things!

*Note: In the past I have said more than once I’m not into series books… and would you look at that, I inadvertently got myself hooked into one. The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam are now on my TBR!

Oryx and Crake was my selection for “dystopian” on the 2013 Eclectic Reader Challenge, hosted by Shelleyrae at book’d out, and my eighth read of twelve books total for the challenge.

Listened to audiobook from July 16 to 17, 2013.