Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Take Tuesday: Year of Wonders

Year of Wonders
Some books are just so good, you have to read them again. And some books deserve a second chance. And some books I think about and change my opinion or have more to say. Take Tuesday is a chance to do just that. 

Title: Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague
Author: Geraldine Brooks
Publication Date: 2001
Pages: 308
Previous Readings: April 2014
Date Completed This Time: 3/5/17

Summary: Anna, a young widow and mother in 17th century Britain, watches her village descent into the physical darkness of the Plague and the emotional and spiritual darkness of fear. 

What I Thought Before: I had to read this book for a grad school class several years back. It was one of the first books I had to read for my MLA program and I really loved it then. It was my first experience with Geraldine Brooks' writing; I fell in love with her voice and style. At the time, my only complaint was the ending of the book, which felt out of step with the preceding story.

What I Think Now: In the intervening years, I have recommend this book to a lot of people, including my book club. In fact, that's why I'm rereading it now. We selected this book for our March read and I am leading the discussion on it tonight! I was a little nervous coming back to this book, after it was selected. I worried I would not enjoy it as much this time around and that people would not like it. We'll see what the others thought tonight, but I found myself, once again, thoroughly enchanted by Anna and her crumbling world.

Friday, March 24, 2017

We Should All Be Feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists
Title: We Should All Be Feminists
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 49
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: Not sure
Date Completed: 3/8/17

Summary: Adichie did not always identify as a feminist. Growing up in Africa, the word carried the same negative connotations it does in places here in the States. As she grew, though, she came to a better understanding of what feminism means and why it is important. This is her explanation of those thoughts. 

What I Thought: This book is fantastic. I read it in one afternoon - on International Women's Day, in fact. While I did not technically participate in the strike that day (I felt that teaching my Critical Thinking classes and having a few minutes of discussion about the day would be a far greater form of activism than staying home), I did give myself a couple hours in the afternoon to indulge. I did not do housework or answer emails or grade in that time like I normally do. Instead, I sat on the couch and I read this whole book. 

It's not long. Not even 50 pages. Adichie's style is very conversational, too, so it reads quickly. It was the perfect way to mark the day. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Secret Life of Bees - Sue Monk Kidd

The Secret Life of Bees
Title: The Secret Life of Bees
Author: Sue Monk Kidd
Publication Date: November 2001
Pages: 336
How I Found It: I'm not sure, but it's been around for a while.
Date Completed: 3/6/17

Summary: Lily's mother died in a tragic accident when she was a child. Her father has never worked toward cultivating a loving home environment. When Lily reaches the end of her rope, she runs away with their black housekeeper, Rosaleen, hoping to find out more of her mother's history and start a fresh life.

What I Thought: This book, which came out in the early 2000s, has been popular since then. I remember when the film adaptation came out in 2008 (which I need to see now - what a cast!). Somehow, despite all of that, I knew absolutely nothing of the story line. Nothing. I went in completely blind.

As often happens when I do that, I felt so much more open and receptive to the journey. When I have no idea about the story or the characters at the start, I find myself much more attentive to the details shaping them. So, I found myself shocked in the first chapter as narrator Lily recounted her mother's horribly tragic death and the details of her life now. When she and Rosaleen hit the road, I hadn't the slightest idea where they would end up, which made the discovery of August, May, and June that much more delightful.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Magician King - Lev Grossman

The Magician King
Title: The Magician King
Author: Lev Grossman
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: I read the first book.
Date Completed: 3/3/17

Summary: Quentin is getting bored with being a king of Fillory, the magical land about which he fantasized as a child. He knows his life is amazing, but he aches for adventure. In pursuit of this, he takes on more than he was expecting.

What I Thought: The first book in this series, The Magicians, is widely regarded as "Harry Potter for adults." I agree with and propagate that comparison in a lot of ways. The first book really dug into the debauchery of college days in the first half and dismantled any charming, fantastical views of magic (of both the reader and the characters) in the second half. There were definitely parts at which I found myself cringing. Grossman presented a much darker view of magic and its consequences than most fantasy books do. Unsurprisingly, I took a while before picking up this sequel. 

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant
Title: The Buried Giant
Author: Kazuo Ishiguro
Publication Date: 3/3/15
Pages: 317
How I Found It: I have read some of Ishiguro's work previously.
Date Completed: 2/26/17

Summary: Beatrice and Axl, peasants in ancient Britain, set off on a journey to visit their son. The land is covered in a memory-stealing fog and their journey becomes entwined with the efforts to save the land.

What I Thought: Ishiguro has such a beautiful writing style. It's thick and deep and weighty with meaning. His work is accessible to the light reader, but well worth the deep dive for someone who is looking for a more substantive literary experience. His work always makes me feel as though anyone reading it on that surface level will find it boring (as I did in high school), but those willing to invest more will receive as much as they give.

This book, in particular, has an enjoyable plot. Axl, Beatrice, and the population of their land have all been afflicted by a fog which obscures their memories. In spite of this, the couple set off on a journey to visit their son. Along the way, they meet a variety of characters and become entangled with efforts to lift the fog and defeat a dragon. Classic Arthurian legend type stuff. In fact, Sir Gawain, Knight of the Round Table, even winds up in a supporting role. All of that is fun and interesting and enough to keep the surface level reader entertained.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Faith Shift - Kathy Escobar

Faith Shift
Title: Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe Is Coming Apart
Author: Kathy Escobar
Publication Date: 10/21/14
Pages: 240
Genre: Faith / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Rachel Held Evans recommend on her blog or social media or something at some point.
Date Completed: 2/25/17

Summary: Escobar explores the process of a shifting faith - what happens when you begin to have doubts about your faith or, at least, aspects of it.

What I Thought: I have previously shared some of my struggles with the church and my faith history here. In particular, I raved about Rachel Held Evans' book Searching for Sunday and how much it spoke to me. So, a book like this one feels natural and relevant to this conversation.

I did not totally know what to expect when I picked this one up. I guess I was expecting something more memoir-esqe. In the vein of Sarah Bessey or Evans or Jen Hatmaker. Escobar, instead, takes a more psychologically analytical approach. She breaks down the process of shifting faith and what that often looks like for people. She includes only a little personal backstory or experience. There is enough there to validate her knowledge of such things, but not so much as to make you feel like she's your new best friend (as it feels with some of the other authors I mentioned). 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Wesley the Owl - Stacey O'Brien

Wesley the Owl
Title: Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl
Author: Stacey O'Brien
Publication Date: 8/19/08
Pages: 230
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: One of my best friends chose it for our mini book club.
Date Completed: 2/24/17

Summary: Biologist Stacey O'Brien brought home Wesley the barn owl as an infant owl, knowing he would never survive in the wild on his own. This book encapsulates their journey together and what it was like raising and living with an owl. 

What I Thought: My two best friends and I have a little mini book club. We take turns selecting the book to read. I picked last time and chose The Language of Flowers. This time around, I found myself off to the library to pick up Wesley the Owl

We haven't actually talked about the book together yet, so my opinions may expand. In fact, Clara and Melissa, if either of you are reading this, stop! I don't want your thoughts tainted by mine.