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?

monthly recap image

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:

october-reading

  • 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?
monthly recap image

madison audiobooks

My husband and I just got back from six wonderful days in Wisconsin, visiting family and having a ton of fun! Of course I forgot my camera, so there are no pictures. We listened to two audiobooks on the road, one new to me and one I read on paper last year. Both of these were absolutely perfect for the car.

On the way up we heard The Daily Show crew read America: The Audiobook. Sigh, I miss Jon Stewart already. Although America is slightly out of date now (released in 2004), it was still a fun and funny look at our political history. I loved how it was a group effort, with not only Stewart narrating but also Stephen Colbert, Ed Helms, Samantha Bee, and more. The only bummer was that it was abridged, which I generally try to avoid, but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything here. [Listened to audiobook on August 11, 2015.]

During our drive home we listened to Rob Delaney’s Mother. Wife. Sister. Human. Warrior. Falcon. Yardstick. Turban. Cabbage. I loved it as much as I loved it last year when I read it on hardcover (my review), but I enjoyed it even more hearing Delaney narrate. He’s just the best! I hope to have a chance to watch his new show Catastrophe soon, too. [Listened to audiobook on August 16, 2015.]

i am malala

I had this I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai on hold at my library for a while and it came through this past week. From Goodreads:

Malala Yousafzai was only ten years old when the Taliban took control of her region. They said music was a crime. They said women weren’t allowed to go to the market. They said girls couldn’t go to school. Raised in a once-peaceful area of Pakistan transformed by terrorism, Malala was taught to stand up for what she believes. So she fought for her right to be educated. And on October 9, 2012, she nearly lost her life for the cause: She was shot point-blank while riding the bus on her way home from school. No one expected her to survive. Now she is an international symbol of peaceful protest and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

I’m sorry to say I didn’t know about Malala until after she was shot by a member of the Taliban in Pakistan. I honestly had no idea about her activist efforts for education and girls rights before the shooting, and she is even more inspiring now to me. Somehow I feel like this could be the first of several books about (or by) Malala to come in the future.

The copy that I borrowed was the young readers edition, and so, as an adult, the writing was simplistic and sometimes repetitive, but I think that might be a positive attribute for this edition—it read in Malala’s voice and she is quite an endearing “normal” teenager. This edition glosses over Pakistan’s history and the uprising of terrorism there (“One day, a man announced on the radio…” etc.) but there is a helpful timeline in the appendix. If you want more history and analysis, I’m sure there are plenty of other books on the subject; I’ve even seen online that the “adult” version of I Am Malala delves more deeply into history, and her father’s work and background.

Anyway, Malala is a charming, bright, wise-beyond-her-years person and I look forward to following her career in human rights. This is a perfect, important book for young teens around the world to read.

Read from July 28 to August 2, 2015.

where men win glory

Jon Krakauer is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his books before I finally got to Where Men Win Glory, a biography of Pat Tillman, on audiobook this summer. From Goodreads:

Like the men whose epic stories Jon Krakauer has told in his previous bestsellers, Pat Tillman was an irrepressible individualist and iconoclast. In May 2002, Tillman walked away from his $3.6 million NFL contract to enlist in the United States Army. He was deeply troubled by 9/11, and he felt a strong moral obligation to join the fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Two years later, he died on a desolate hillside in southeastern Afghanistan […] in a barrage of bullets fired by his fellow soldiers.

I was completely engaged by this book, part biography and part exposé. I vaguely remember the scandal as it was happening; I was early into my college years and not quite yet the political junkie I am today, but certainly the 9/11 attacks stirred my interest in learning more and becoming involved, if just a minuscule amount compared to how it impacted Tillman and drove him to action. Krakauer presents Tillman as a loyal all-American patriot who values hard work, respect, and honesty. Aside from being a little hot-headed, he really did seem like a stand-up kind of guy, dependable by family, friends, and teammates alike. His journal excerpts are particularly affecting, which include entries from his college years through his NFL career and even during the war. Tillman was forthright and specific about his disillusionment, anger, and discontent with the war, and what he wished for in the event of his death.

I was struck by the utter audacity of the government and military, then, to propagandize Tillman’s death, covering up and redacting key details of the tragedy. And of course, it’s important to remember this has happened to countless others who were not celebrities back home. Without saying it, Krakauer makes his position on the matter and opinion of the war and Bush administration clear. It’s a little hard to ignore that Krakauer is kind of doing just what Tillman did NOT want here—to be posthumously paraded around in the public eye (I’m paraphrasing). But Where Men Win Glory does especially succeed in reminding you of exactly how big the machine is (politics, military, media). Great read.

Listened to audiobook from July 14 to 16, 2015.

girl at war

Another great book from the library for me! Last week I read the newly released debut novel Girl at War by Sara Nović. From Goodreads:

Zagreb, summer of 1991. Ten-year-old Ana Jurić is a carefree tomboy who runs the streets of Croatia’s capital with her best friend, Luka, takes care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But as civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, soccer games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills. When tragedy suddenly strikes, Ana is lost to a world of guerilla warfare and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later Ana is a college student in New York. She’s been hiding her past from her boyfriend, her friends, and most especially herself. Haunted by the events that forever changed her family, she returns alone to Croatia, where she must rediscover the place that was once her home and search for the ghosts of those she’s lost.

I found Girl at War to be enjoyable, but maybe not as powerful as I was expecting. The characters are all pretty much likable, and I really liked the sections of Ana’s childhood back in Zagreb—Nović’s descriptions of how the war effected the Croatian people (especially children) were interesting and kept me turning pages. Ana is about my same age, so several world events mentioned clicked with my memories (I remember there being news reports of war in Yugoslavia in the early 90s, but maybe didn’t understand them so much). The parts in New York (and even some of her return as an adult to Croatia) didn’t work for me quite as well… I could have done without the romance subplot. Nović’s prose has a certain stoicism about it, like Ana’s (and others’) emotions are held at arm’s length. While I did find this voice style purposeful to the story (many war veterans keep their feelings about their experiences at arm’s length), I would have liked a bit more depth and insight into what Ana was thinking and feeling at times.

Still, this is a stunning debut, and a quick read that didn’t feel too heavy despite its subject matter. Ana’s harrowing experience in her war-torn homeland will stay with me for a while. I definitely look forward to reading more by Sara Nović in the future. Recommend!

Read from June 1 to 6, 2015.