What Are You Reading?

Books

I’m burning the candle at both ends lately but it’s worth it when I’m getting in some good reading…

Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins. I tried to keep my expectations low going into this series, because I hate being disappointed by over-hyped books. And I’m not usually into YA fiction – never got into Harry Potter and never read Twilight. But for me, these books lived up to the hype. The characters were great, the plots and concepts were complex and thought provoking, the writing was good. Without giving away any spoilers, I think the ending of the trilogy left some things to desired, but wasn’t bad enough to ruin the overall experience for me. I loved reading a teenage heroine who wasn’t a romantic figure – so many elements of the books defied my expectations, in a good way. So if you are one of the 10 people on Earth who haven’t read this uber-popular trilogy yet, give it a whirl.

*a side note on ebooks* I love books. Actual books. In college my graduating thesis was a series of handmade books, so it should come as no surprise that I’m not on the ereader bandwagon. However, in the interest of meeting a book club deadline, I borrowed the second two Hunger Games books, for free, via Amazon from a friend in the group and read them on my phone with the free Kindle app. I have to admit it was kind of amazing – I didn’t even know my phone could do that, and for free! And the instant gratification! But it didn’t convert me. I still love books more, and the un-physicality of the ebooks was weird for me – even though I could read that I was 84% of the way through a novel, I couldn’t see where I was in the book. And I think even more than that, it bothered me that my kid was seeing me glued to my phone all the time I was engrossed in this trilogy. I want him to see me reading books – I don’t feel like I am modeling a love of reading when I’m holding my smartphone. Moving on….

A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin. The fourth in the Game of Thrones series of novels, I was fairly close to the end of this one when I temporarily put it down to read Hunger Games in time for the book club discussion. The GoT book before this started off slow and ended up exciting, and I think this one was the opposite – I was really into it at first and then it just dwindled to nothing. I liked some of the new plot threads, like the religious cult that arises in the kingdom, but none of it really went anywhere. It started to feel like getting bogged down in the later seasons of Lost when you begin to doubt that you are being led to any kind of satisfying conclusion. Even so, after slogging through four books I’ll probably go on with the series.

The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard. This was a huuuge downshift from Hunger Games and even Feast for Crows. It was definitely the wrong time to read it, but I had requested it from the library earlier and that’s how the cookie crumbled. It was difficult for me to get fully into the mood of this slow, lush, beautiful book – in fact I’ll probably come back to it another time – but I would highly recommend it and thank Kristine for the heads up. A collection of short nonfiction pieces, it reads more like a fine art painting than a memoir… prepare yourself to slow down and sink in.

Happy Chaos by Soleil Moon Frye. I loved Punky Brewster as a kid. I wanted to BE her. In fact the highest compliment you could have paid me when I was 8 years old was to tell me I looked like Punky. So of course I had to pick up this memoir slash parenting book by Soleil Moon Frye… and it didn’t disappoint – not for this Punky fan. It’s fun and light and entertaining, kind of like a print version of a personal blog written by a mom who is happy to admit she doesn’t have everything figured out and oh by the way also has lots of stories about growing up as Punky Brewster!! I was worried I might hate her because she seems so crunchy and beautiful and perfect, but she is actually endearingly humble and sunny – I like that in a person.

Broken Irish by Edward J. Delaney. Totally random pick at the library, one of my MUST FIND A BOOK BEFORE TODDLER DESTRUCTION ENSUES grabs from the new release shelf. A novel set in South Boston in 1999, it follows the rapidly crumbling lives of a few different Southie residents. I love a Boston setting, even though I’m not personally too familiar with Southie, and I thought the place and people were wonderfully drawn in this book. It deals with some themes that could have been trite, namely Catholic priest sex abuse, but was never maudlin or cliched. I was really digging this book the whole way through and looked forward to every naptime and bedtime when I could squeeze in a few chapters, and then – the ending. I’m not against the open, ambiguous ending in a few really well executed cases, but for the most part they just annoy me. I don’t understand why novelists go to all the trouble of crafting a story that draws you in, builds momentum, propels you and all the characters to some looming climax and then – PEACE OUT. Booooo! There was a bit of a “reveal” at the end but it wasn’t enough to be a good conclusion. Just based on that one flaw, I can only recommend this if you are willing to be emotionally invested in a story that just kind of flakes out on you at the end.

Maisie Dobbs by Jacqueline Winspear. Thank you to Dunc for this recommendation when I tweeted my despair over Hunger Games being such a hard act to follow. I just started it, so no review yet, but I’ll be coming back to it with the next installment of What Are You Reading?!

What Are You Reading?

Books

I have had less time to read lately and more things I want to read, which means I end up cruising through a lot of light reads and skipping things that are more attention-consuming. Ironically now that Miles sleeps through the night pretty reliably, I read less, because instead of just lounging with a book after I put him down, I feel compelled to Be Productive and either draw or just putz around online telling myself I am Being Productive.

When not slurping down Charlaine Harris mystery novels, I have been reading:

Exploiting My Baby by Teresa Strasser. I stumbled across her blog when I was pregnant and although she doesn’t post that often I enjoyed her writing, so when I saw her book at the library I had to grab it. Pregnancy/new baby memoirs are all kinda similar, but I like Strasser’s voice and her sense of humor. She’s self-deprecating and sarcastic and neurotic, but still manages to be genuine and sweet and honest. She’s good at poking holes in the sometimes holier-than-thou mommy culture without being bitchy about it. If you are a worrywart with a sense of humor you will probably enjoy Strasser’s book and her blog.

The Social Animal by David Brooks. Yes, The David Brooks, the conservative NYT columnist whom liberals love to love. This is a fascinating pop psychology nonfiction work with a unique construction: Brooks invents a fictional couple, Harold and Erica, and follows them from pre-conception through life as a way of examining and explaining many different aspects of human nature and the mind. His premise is that the unconscious is a much bigger force in determining one’s life choices and outcomes than the conscious mind, but so much is packed into this intriguing book that it’s hard to even summarize well. Unfortunately since it’s a bestseller our library has it on loan for $1/week and I don’t have enough time to read it fast enough… so I had to return it after a few chapters, but I’m definitely going to pick it up again later.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace. I haven’t read this yet but I have it out from the library. I was on the waiting list for months and it arrived with poor timing… since Mike has been begging me to start Game of Thrones and talk about those books with him. I loved Infinite Jest 10 years ago (and I want to reread that soon), so although I have very mixed feelings about posthumous works (Wallace, sadly, committed suicide in 2008), I just have to read Pale King.

A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin. As previously mentioned, I am reading this at my dear husband’s request. It’s always fun when we can read something at roughly the same time, and it doesn’t happen often, so I started this one a few days ago and he’s on the second book. I’m not a fantasy fan but I am a literary omnivore so I’m finding it enjoyable so far, and of course I will watch the HBO series at some point… whenever I manage to find time to squeeze an hour of television into a day!

What I’m Reading

Books

I’m only halfway through this book but I can already tell you, you MUST read it (if you’re into non-fiction I suppose): Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America by Barbara Ehrenreich. Ehrenreich is one of my favorite social critics, and if you haven’t read Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America you really need to RUN to the library right this minute and start reading. It was first published in 2001 but sadly is more relevant than ever.

Bright-Sided is unexpectedly fascinating, a book that I picked up in a hurry through the stacks mostly because of the author and not because (I thought) I was especially interested in the topic. But she delivers piercing insights on so many aspects of American culture it has been a surprisingly informative read… from The Secret to downsizing to the origins of Christian Science to Calvinism to motivational speaking. Ehrenreich’s talent is in producing these pretty information-dense books in a thoroughly engaging way: she writes with a strong narrative voice that is wry, skeptical, and critical, but with a delightful dry sense of humor that keeps some of the grimmest critiques from sounding dour.

On a lighter note, I devoured Tina Fey’s Bossypants in two days. I once heard some scientist type on NPR claiming that since laughter is a social cue, people never laugh when alone… I know definitively that is not true because I laughed out loud many times while reading this. It’s hard to review an author who is funnier AND smarter than me so I’ll quit while I’m behind.

I also finished a book by another of my idols, Things I Learned About My Dad (In Therapy): Humorous and Heartfelt Essays edited by Heather B. Armstrong. I asked for it for Mother’s Day even though it’s a collection of essays about fatherhood – about being a father, having a father, being married to the father of your children, etc. Interesting to me that the strongest writing came from bloggers who I’ve already heard of and followed – which is not to say that I’m totally hip but that the really famous ones have earned their fame by writing well. If you’d rather just read their blogs… my favorites came from Heather of course, Jon Armstrong,Alice BradleyJames GriffioenDoug French, and Eden Kennedy.

What Are You Reading?

Books

Seems like it’s been a little while since I did one of these. My pace of reading has slowed since I’m now spending a chunk of my post-baby-bedtime time on Twitter and reading blogs (part of my work… I tell myself) instead of reading. I still read every night, but have less time.

So I have just finished The Private Patient by PD James. It’s a funny thing about mysteries. I enjoy them every now and then, but the ending is always anticlimactic. Isn’t it? On that same note, I was thinking of buying my 10 year old sister a copy ofThe Westing Game for her birthday, which I remember I loved at that age… but I also remember the ending was disappointing. I’m thinking probably not a flaw in the book but in my mind. Or just a flaw in the mystery genre. Like how everyone hated the ending of Lost. All that buildup… the big reveal can never match the thrill of the mystery.

Anyway.

I’m still reading Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog. It’s the book that I read when I’m just puttering around and Miles is puttering around, so… oh, 3 minutes a day? It’s a great book (although, side note, worst copy editing ever… there is a typo on every other page) and I think would be interesting to most people, certainly anyone who has a pet. He presents facts and scientific findings about the relationships between animals and people, so he’s certainly not arguing a “side” on any issue, but does point out some of the oddness and inconsistency in the way we relate to animals.

I just checked out a book called Red Flags or Red Herrings? Predicting Who Your Child Will Become by developmental psychologist Susan Engel. I’ve only read the introduction but it’s already gripped my interest. Will hopefully be able to post some kind of review somewhat soon.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t cop to my guilty pleasure: Charlaine Harris. I read all of the Sookie Stackhouse books and I loved them. It wasn’t long ago that I would have turned up my nose at this sort of book but I won’t now. I finished all of the Sookie books to date so I just borrowed the first of the Grave series, Grave SightA bit of a risky move since it’s unlikely I will enjoy them nearly as much as the Sookie books, but we’ll give it a go.

What Are You Reading?

Books

Today was our weekly visit to Storytime. Miss Nancy was out last week but back today; in the past Miles has always been standoffish with her but today he LIT UP when he saw her. I think the little man’s got his first crush. And I don’t blame him, Miss Nancy rules.

Unless I have the foresight to request and hold books, which is often not the case, it’s hard for me to pick out something to read with Miles in tow. He will usually just pull one book off the shelves and tote it around happily but I have to keep a constant eye out for sudden library rampages.

I finished Eating Animals (awesome) and Black Out (ok), still working on Martha Rules. Also have on deck:

Deadly Spin by Wendell Potter. A tell all by a former health insurance exec turned whistle blower.

Mother On Fire by Sandra Tsing Log. Some kind of funny parenting memoir. For some reason I keep seeing it at every library branch so I grabbed it.

The Private Patient by PD James. A quick selection by a British mystery writer I’ve enjoyed before.

What Are You Reading?

Books

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer. I am one of those annoying people who are vegetarian because they don’t want to eat animals, but don’t worry, I don’t preach about it. In this book, Foer (previously an on-again off-again vegetarian) decided he wanted to make an informed choice about whether or not to raise his baby son vegetarian, so he researched what goes into making animals into food. This is probably one of those books you only read if you are interested in being veg or already are… so I enjoy it, but if you love bacon, you might not.

The Language of Trees by Ilie Ruby. I started this novel but just can’t get into it. It’s about a guy who went through a breakup, and a boy ghost, and an old girlfriend, and the Fingerlakes… ahh I don’t know. It’s just not what I’m into right now.

Black Out by Lisa Unger. A thriller set in Florida that keeps making me think ofCape Fear… has something to do with a killer coming back from the past to get revenge on the victim-who-got-away. I just started it last night and it’s pretty entertaining so far.

The Martha Rules by Martha Stewart. This one probably looks like an odd choice but comes recommended by Lasertron for its inspirational message about starting a business around your passion in life. Also just started this and like it so far.

What Are You Reading?

Books

*Because I Said So ed. Kate Moses and Camille Peri. Finished this… it was good. Not amazing, but solid. The standouts for me were “The Scarlet Letter Z” by Asra Q. Nomani about being a Muslim single mother, the piece by Mariane Pearl about losing her husband, “Natural Mother” by Lisa Teasley about facing prejudice in NYC as an interracial family, the totally heartbreaking piece by a pseudonymous Mexican mother who left her children to escape domestic abuse, and “Mother of the World” by editor Kate Moses. I have to admit the last one is not usually my style as I have a weird aversion to travel writing sometimes, but Moses is a truly gifted prose writer.

*Griftopia by Matt Taibbi. Holy change of pace and subject matter, I know. But this book is seriously awesome. I kind of think everyone should read this book, since the Great Recession has affected us all, but barring that you should read it if you have even the slightest interest in what went down with the housing bubble and bank bailout. Taibbi does a good job of making dry financial jargon into an actual page-turner of a narrative. He is definitely a political progressive but I don’tthink (admittedly not sure) this would turn off conservatives, because he is just as hard on liberals and thinks the whole thing was pretty much a bipartisan scam.

*The Witches by Roald DahlYes, this was an eclectic week for me. Haha. I randomly decided to work my way through his whole body of work, gradually, because I have fond memories of being read The BFG in 4th grade. I can’t wait to read these to Miles someday, they are such great stories. And this is probably the only children’s book that uses the word “asinine” in a sentence.

*Wintering: A Novel of Sylvia Plath by Kate Moses. I’m struggling to get through this. Not because it’s bad. It’s good. But it’s slow and quiet and kind of heavy… I think Moses does a beautiful job of rendering a first person narrative of Plath’s life. The feeling it gives me is so close to how I felt reading Plath’s actual journals it’s remarkable. But I don’t know, maybe I’m just not in the mood for it right now. I’m probably going to end up returning it to the library unfinished.

*The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This is a little more my speed at the moment (although I do still need a nice fat work of fiction to dive into – I like to read one novel and one nonfiction book at the same time). Rubin is so much like me personality-wise it’s eerie at times. I’m a few chapters in at the moment and I’m contemplating doing a Happiness Project and blogging about it but… this sounds arrogant probably but I’m not sure I need it? At least not right now. Also I am not fond of resolutions. Because then you have to keep them and that’s no fun.