Friday, April 28, 2017

Bread and Wine - Shauna Niequist

Bread and Wine
Title: Bread and Wine: Finding Community and Life Around the Table
Author: Shauna Niequist
Publication Date: 2013
Pages: 285
Genre: Faith / Food / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: A lot of people have talked about this book.
Date Completed: 4/19/17

Summary: Told through a series of personal, poignant essays, Niequist welcomes readers into her life and to her table. 

What I Thought: The book is not what I expected it to me, but once I got it, I loved it. 

Niequist opens her doors and invites us to her table. She shares stories of her life, her struggles with infertility, her friendships, her family, and her favorite recipes. As with many similar memoirs, Niequist offers up the recipes at the end of chapters to which they correspond. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Danish Girl - David Ebershoff

The Danish Girl
Title: The Danish Girl
Author: David Ebershoff
Publication Date: 2000
Pages: 336
How I Found It: I knew about the movie adaptation when it was nominated for Academy Awards and then Suzanne at Tattooed Missionary read the book and spoke highly of it.
Date Completed: 4/7/17

Summary: When painter Einar Wegener is asked my his wife, Greta, to stand in for a female portrait subject, something inside shifts. Lili is awoken. The book fictionalizes the real life of one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery.

What I Thought: I'm making a concerted effort lately to read more books by/about people who have had/are having very different life experiences than I am. I firmly believe that reading stretches your capacity for empathy and, in such a divisive time in our world, that's something I want to continue to grow in myself. Plus, I want to be serious about challenging my own biases and understanding what and why others feel and believe differently than I do.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Between the World and Me - Ta-Nehisi Coates

Between the World and Me
Title: Between the World and Me
Author: Ta-Nehisi Coates
Publication Date: June 2015
Pages: 152
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've heard a lot of people talk about it in the past year.
Date Completed: 4/5/17

Summary: Coates writes about his own journey, his hopes for his son, and what it means to be a black man in America

What I Thought: I have heard this book talked up so much in the last year or so. I was anxious to read it for myself and see why Coates' words have made such an impression on so many.

Coates frames the book as a letter to his son. He tells him about his own childhood in Baltimore, the violence on the streets, his college days at Howard in D.C., his first encounters with police violence, his response to the post-9/11 world, his hopes and fears for his son. The book centers around what it means to Coates to be a black man in America - the dreams, the struggles, the fears. 

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Furiously Happy - Jenny Lawson

Furiously Happy
Title: Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things
Author: Jenny Lawson
Publication Date: 9/22/15
Pages: 329
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I read Lawson's first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened
Date Completed: 4/3/17

Summary: Lawson, a Texan with a quirky family history, keeps you laughing as she discusses her very real struggles with anxiety, depression, and mental illness. 

What I Thought: I read Lawson's first book, Let's Pretend This Never Happened, back in the very first year of this blog. I remember laughing out loud so much reading that book. Lawson touched some on her struggles with mental illness, but the bulk of the book was her wild stories.

This time around, there are less outrageous stories. I mean, they are definitely there. If this is your first Lawson book, there is plenty here to keep you well entertained. I found myself laughing a lot once again. This time, however, Lawson puts her very personal struggles front and center. The ridiculous is still along for the ride, as the dark humor and personal insight was in the first book, but now the dark humor and daily reality of Lawson's life have taken the reins. 

And it's powerful.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Beyond the Label - Maureen Chiquet

Beyond the Label
Title: Beyond the Label: Women, Leadership, and Success on Our Own Terms
Author: Maureen Chiquet
Publication Date: 4/18/17 (That's today!)
Pages: 288
Genre: Memoir / Self-Help / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm on the TLC Book Tour
Date Completed: 4/9/17

Summary: Chiquet takes readers through her professional life, starting as a high school exchange student and through her years as global CEO of Chanel. Along the way, she weaves in some advice for women who looking to forge their own leadership path. 

What I Thought: I was very excited to join the tour for this book. I had not heard of Maureen Chiquet before, although I have certainly heard of Chanel. You may remember another TLC Book Tour I did a while back for a biography of the brand's founder, Coco Chanel. I looked forward to reading Chiquet's book for very different reasons. A book about women and leadership? It was no question for me.

I've been wrestling a lot more lately with my own professional goals and where I want my career to go. I thought I had it all figured out, but as my 30th birthday approaches, I'm rethinking some things and wondering if a reconfiguration may be ahead for me professionally. That being said, this book and the one I'm reviewing later in the month, Killing Wonder Woman, both came at a timely point for me. 

Friday, April 14, 2017

A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman

A Man Called Ove
Title: A Man Called Ove
Author: Fredrik Backman
Publication Date: 8/27/12
Pages: 337
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 4/1/17

Summary: Ove, an elderly widower, is planning on killing himself. His neighbors, however, just keep getting in his way. 

What I Thought: You may have heard of this book if you watched the Oscars. The movie based on it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. Or, like me, perhaps your book club is reading it. That's why I picked it up.

Ove is the perfect centerpiece for the story as well. He appears to really change over the course of the book. In some ways, he does. However, I think the kind-hearted, giving man was in there all along. In the flashbacks of his life, we see him making similar gestures and doing similar things. I think it just takes these new friends to help Ove see that in himself. When Sonya died, there was no one left to remind him of his tender heart until the new neighbors arrived.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Under the Tuscan Sun - Frances Mayes

Under the Tuscan Sun
Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Author: Frances Mayes
Publication Date: 1996
Pages: 304
Genre: Food / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review. 
Date Completed: 3/26/17

Summary: In the early 90s, Frances Mayes and her now husband Ed bought an Italian villa in the Tuscan countryside. It had been empty for years and required immense amounts of work. This is the story of their summers in Italy, spent restoring the home and its gardens. 

What I Thought: When I saw the twentieth anniversary edition of the book being offered on the Blogging for Books website, I could not resist. Kevin and I are in the midst of planning a trip to Italy and this seemed like a delightful way to amp up my excitement for said journey. It worked perfectly.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Movie Monday: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

The Reluctant Fundamentalist
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

Release Year: 2012

Summary: Changez came to the United States to study and then took a job in the business world. However, the American way increasingly conflicted with his Pakistani roots. Now, the United States is trying to figure out how far he has descended into fundamentalist ideals and if he is a risk to the country he once called home. 

What I Thought: I read this book back in 2014 and found it very thought provoking. It challenged some perceptions I had as a post-9/11 American. These days, I think it's more relevant than ever. 

So, when Kevin and I were scrolling through the Netflix queue the other night and happening upon this movie, which I placed there years ago, I was happy to finally see the film adaptation of such a thoughtful book. 

Friday, April 7, 2017

You Will Not Have My Hate - Antoine Leiris

You Will Not Have My Hate
Title: You Will Not Have My Hate
Author: Antoine Leiris
Publication Date: 10/26/17
Pages: 144
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Someone posted about it on Twitter maybe?
Date Completed: 3/17/17

Summary: Antoine Leiris lost his wife and the mother of his young son in the Parisian terrorist attacks. These are his thoughts in the days and weeks following. 

What I Thought: On one hand, this book feels so deeply personal. Leiris bares his heart as he describes his relationship with his late wife and the grief he felt upon her tragic death. He recounts the pain mundane tasks took on and the overwhelming experience of identifying her body and explaining her death to his son. On the other hand, this book feels universal. Love and loss are familiar refrains around the world. Sure, most of us don't loose our partner in an internationally mourned terrorist attack. But the sentiments are still familiar.

Shortly after that terrible night, when his wife was killed in the Bataclan Theatre, Leiris wrote a Facebook post that went viral. Essentially, he wrote it to the terrorists who killed his wife and to the network to which they belonged. He vowed that they would not have his hate, nor the hate of his young son. He proclaimed that the memory of his wife would be one of joy, not of fear. He was determined to reclaim his wife's death as a victory for love, not for hate. 

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Marie Antoinette - Antonia Fraser

Marie Antoinette
Title: Marie Antoinette: The Journey
Author: Antonia Fraser
Publication Date: 2001
Pages: 512
Genre: Biography / Historical / Royals / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Some list of royal biographies
Date Completed: 3/17/17

Summary: An exhaustive, and at times surprising, biography of France's most infamous and intriguing queen.

What I Thought: If you know me in real life or on the Internet, you know that I love the royals. Royalty throughout the ages fascinates me. Both fictional and historical ruling houses intrigue me and I spend a lot of my reading time exploring their worlds. 

Anyone interested in royalty does not get far without exposure to and developing an opinion of Marie Antoinette. One of my early experiences with her story was from The Royal Diaries series. They were historical fiction written from the perspective of famous princesses. Marie Antoinette's captured her early life in Austria and her journey to France to become la dauphine. It stopped upon her and Louis's ascension to the French throne. It was a good introduction to her story, and one which certainly sympathized with her greatly. I still have that book on a shelf downstairs. Maybe I should pull it out again...

Monday, April 3, 2017

100 Best Novels Roundup, Vol. 2

Last month, I did a one post roundup of all the 100 Best Novels I read in February. It worked so well that I am doing it again. Here are mini reviews of the three novels from the list which I read in March:
Appointment in Samarra

Title: Appointment in Samarra
Author: John O'Hara
Publication Date: 1933
Pages: 251
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 3/3/17

What I Thought: I have been long anticipating this novel. Will Schwalbe talked about it fairly extensively in his book The End of Your Life Book Club, which I really enjoyed. He wrote:
"[Appointment in Samarra is] a book about setting things in motion and then being too proud and stubborn to apologize and to change course. It's about thinking that being raised a certain way gives you the right to behave badly."
He's got it exactly right. I definitely enjoyed this book more than others on the list, though it would not rank in my top five or anything. The story felt more accessible than many others on the list, somehow. It wasn't perfect for me; there were several points where my interest waned. Overall, though, I enjoyed it.

Quote I Loved: "In the hands of a woman the strongest man in the world is weak."

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe

Friday, March 31, 2017

March 2017 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

March News 

Spring is my favorite season in North Carolina. The air turns warm and color creeps back into the world. The first spring we lived here, Kevin said he understood cliché Easter colors for the first time, as the Midwest simply does not experience the bright diversity of color which blooms from nearly every plant here in the springtime.

I also love spring because it feels like a time of new beginnings. I mean, it is a time of new beginnings, but it feels hopeful in deeper, more philosophical ways as well. By this point, New Year's Resolutions are either long gone or have taken on the dull gleam of consistency and habit. The end of the school year feels within reach, something every teacher both longs for and dreads as we know how much work will stand between us and the end. Still, there is new life and light and warmth that enters back into our bones and reminds us that the death of winter is and always was temporary.

This year, especially, I have been thinking about new beginnings. Or, at least, new chapters. I turn 30 this year. Not for a few months yet, but Kevin hits the milestone in April, so we're both thinking about it a lot. As I told a friend yesterday, I'm not afraid of 30. It's just a number. However, I am very reflective and see it as the start of a new phase in my life. I'm thinking a lot about how I want to spend my life and the legacy I hope to leave behind. It's been inspiring and terrifying, depending on the day.

As always, reading is such a huge, intrinsic part of that story for me. What I am reading continues to shape me and my goals. I'm coming close to the end of the 100 Best Novels list, a goal I am very ready to be done with. I'm reading more nonfiction, particularly books about faith, politics, and culture. I like what I'm reading. It rarely keeps me up hours into the night because I can't put it down. I still get one of those occasionally, but I'm reading more books that require me to take them a chapter at a time. More books that spur thoughtful conversation or additional research. I just feel like I'm at a really well-balanced place in my reading life right now. Such a moment feels rare, so I want to celebrate it.

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. 

Friday, March 10, 2017

Gold Fame Citrus - Claire Vaye Watkins

Gold Fame Citrus
Title: Gold Fame Citrus
Author: Claire Vaye Watkins
Publication Date: 9/29/15
Pages: 339
How I Found It: I feel like a lot of people were reading this last year
Date Completed: 2/20/17

Summary: Luz and Ray are trying to survive in the barren climate that was once California. The West has become a wasteland from which there are few escapes. When a child enters their life, they decide they must find one of those escapes.

What I Thought: This book really was not what I was expecting in a lot of ways. I didn't hate it, but I also did not really enjoy it very much. I found Luz to be an unsympathetic character. She clearly had major issues she was working through, but I struggled to care about them. I liked Ray's character but there simply was not enough of him. 

I think the concept of this book is really interesting. I like the idea, but the execution was not up my alley. I can see why so many people like this book, but it just wasn't really for me. For one thing, there was a good amount of fairly graphic sexual content in the second half. I've made my stance on this well known. I don't mind it being there, but I want it to be serving a purpose. While I can understand some of what was there, most of it felt unnecessarily gratuitous to me. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Modern Romance - Aziz Ansari

Modern Romance
Title: Modern Romance
Author: Aziz Ansari
Publication Date: 6/16/15
Pages: 288
Genre: Self-Help / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Suzanne at Tattoed Missionary wrote about it
Date Completed: 2/16/17

Summary: A comedian writes a book about romance. While this is as entertaining as you'd expect, it's also surprisingly thoughtful and informative. 

What I Thought: I have read a good number of the popular comedian memoirs in the last few years. You may have read my reviews of them. I expected something similar to those here. This, however, is not a memoir.

Ansari, who I know from the awesome show Parks and Recreation, has written a book about romance. He partnered with researchers to do real honest-to-goodness research and studies. Just like Suzanne at Tattooed Missionary, I was really pleasantly surprised to see graphs and charts and research and everything. 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Talking as Fast as I Can - Lauren Graham

Talking as Fast as I Can
Title: Talking as Fast as I Can
Author: Lauren Graham
Publication Date: 11/29/16
Pages: 224
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm a Gilmore Girls fan.
Date Completed: 2/12/17

Summary: Lauren Graham looks back at her life and career, including her time working on Gilmore Girls. Her bubbly, funny personality shines through and you'll wonder at times if Graham or Lorelai Gilmore wrote the book.

What I Thought: If you ever had any doubts about Lauren Graham's similarities to Lorelai Gilmore, this book will dissipate them for you. Her voice is so reminiscent of that of her well-loved character. Of course, they have different stories to tell, but they share a lot of tone and humor. That makes this book really fun to read.

This is a quick, entertaining read. Graham recounts how she got into acting, her memories from Gilmore years (both old and new), and some thoughts of a variety of other topics. There is a great stretch where she (as "Old Lady Jackson") talks about the importance of looking up from our phones. I thought that section was some of the best writing of the book. 

Friday, March 3, 2017

100 Best Novels Roundup

Today I'm doing something a little different. I'm trying to push through the remaining books on the 100 Best Novels list. I don't always have time or feel like writing a full post about each book. So, since this is my blog and I make the rules, I'm not going to today. Here's a quick roundup of the three 100 Best Novels I read in February. 

Sophie's Choice
Title: Sophie's Choice
Author: William Styron
Publication Date: 1979
Pages: 562
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 2/11/17

What I Thought: This is one of those books that is all over the cultural zeitgeist. I'm sure you've heard of making a "Sophie's choice." I knew the term, but was unfamiliar with the story. It's a love triangle between a Holocaust survivor (Sophie), a Southern writer, and a Jewish drug addict. There was a lot more sexual content than I expected - enough to make me uncomfortable, but I did feel it served the story in most cases. Ultimately, Sophie's infamous choice did not surprise me, although it does take Styron all the way to the end of the novel to reveal it. Mostly, this book was just heartbreaking and too long.

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Unlikely

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Let's Talk About...10 Ways to Stay Politically Engaged

Let's Talk About... is a chance for us to talk about anything and everything. It's a way for me to get some of what I am thinking and feeling out onto the page and to engage in real, honest discussion about it with you. I hope these posts can be fun, interesting, educational, and, more than anything, a chance to learn from each other. 

I want to talk about action steps. In this new era, it can feel like everything is out of our control or as if there is too much happening to begin to keep up with. Some days, it feels preferable to throw in the proverbial towel and check out. However, regardless of your political preferences, we need to stay engaged.

That word "engage" is really key for me right now. It's the word I choose for 2017. I'm trying to apply it in a variety of ways across my life, but certainly I chose it knowing this year it would be particularly important to create and reinforce habits of staying politically engaged. I have had several people ask me where I get my news and how I stay abreast of political happenings. I am by no means any sort of expert on this. I'm a normal person living a normal life. These are some of the basic things I am intentionally doing in my own life to stave off complacency and stay engaged.

I'm not the only one having these thoughts and feelings, either. Just yesterday, Rachel Held Evans, an author you know I love if you've been around the blog long enough, put up a similar post. Hers is awesome. In fact, you should go read it first. Do it now. Here's the link. Then, come back, read my post, and let me know how you're staying engaged these days. 

10 Ways to Stay Politically Engaged

Let me really up front here before we start. Some of what I'm going to share with you here is left-leaning. I'm left-leaning politically. I do try to balance my news intake (which I'll address), but I'm as susceptible to confirmation bias as anyone. Please don't see this as me trying to advance a particular agenda. I'm just trying to share the things that I do to stay informed and engaged. I want to hear what you do, too!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

February 2017 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

February News 

Last month, I talked about my struggle with the dichotomy of real life vs. the political upheaval. I'm still struggling with that, but this past month has been the closest to "normal" that I've felt since November. I'm learning how to channel my anxiety into productive outlets, like activism and exercise. So, that's good. Especially since our regular life has been a bit upturned in the past month

Kevin continues to be insanely busy with his MBA work and real work. We have very little time together, which is hard. But, the end is in sight and I'm so excited for when he finished the program this summer. I'm so proud of his hard work, especially since he doesn't have an insatiable love of learning like I do. This isn't a fun process for him, but he's working his butt off and doing an amazing job.

Life has been a bit of a three-ring circus this month. We're pushing through one day at a time and everything feels a bit in flux. However, we're making it and savoring the small moments as they come. Small moments, like those that come with a book. There have been a lot of those. Since Kevin is so busy, I've been able to read some great books this month.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Game of Crowns - Christopher Andersen

Game of Crowns
Title: Game of Crowns: Elizabeth, Camilla, Kate, and the Throne
Author: Christopher Andersen
Publication Date: 4/19/16
Pages: 352
Genre: Biography / Royals / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I saw it on the shelf at Barnes & Noble and knew I had to read it.
Date Completed: 2/6/17

Summary: A look into the lives of the three women who lead the British royal family.

What I Thought: Oh hey, guys. Just me here with yet another book about the British royals. I can't stop. It's an addiction. 

Inevitably, they aren't all great. This one, in particular, fell a little too far toward gossip-y for me. Overall, though, it was still an interesting book and a unique approach I had not seen before. I've read a lot about Queen Elizabeth II and, of course, the Duchess of Cambridge. However, I really did not know that much about Camilla and her history.

Friday, February 24, 2017

White Trash - Nancy Isenberg

White Trash
Title: White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America
Author: Nancy Isenberg
Publication Date: 6/21/16
Pages: 460
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 2/6/17

Summary: "In her groundbreaking history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, Nancy Isenberg takes on our comforting myths about equality, uncovering the crucial legacy of the ever-present, always embarrassing––if occasionally entertaining––"poor white trash."

What I Thought: This book was so interesting. Dry at points, certainly, but an absolutely fascinating read. I was completely ignorant of class history in our country, particularly in regard to whites. 

Isenberg's research is quite thorough and she starts her history with the very first white settlers on our shores. She then follows the story line of the lowest class of Caucasians through the timeline of American history all the way up to (nearly) modern day. Turns out, the legacy of "white trash" is not new at all in our land. This population has been called a variety of names over the centuries, but they've been here as long as white people have. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu - Joshua Hammer

The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu
Title: The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu: And Their Race to Save the World's Most Precious Manuscripts
Author: Joshua Hammer
Publication Date: April 2016
Pages: 280
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 1/30/17

Summary: Abdel Kader Haidara spent the better part of his life hunting down ancient Arabic texts from around Mali. When Al Qaeda became a threat to the region and the rich history within the documents, Haidara and others launched a massive scheme to preserve their priceless charges.

What I Thought: I have to be honest. I thought I was really going to love this book. The premise seems right up my alley on a lot of levels. In reality, though, I really had a hard time engaging in this one. 

I'm not totally sure why. They story is interesting and there are definitely some exciting moments. I loved reading about the excitement of smuggling or hiding the manuscripts. Earlier, Haidara's search across the country for the manuscripts was very interesting as well.  All the rest, though, I really just was less interested than I wanted to be. I guess I was not expecting such a large amount of historical and political content in the book. It makes total sense. After all, you have to understand why the manuscripts are important and why they needed to be secreted to safety. Still, I felt that Hammer spent more time on the context than the story itself at times. I wanted him to stick more specifically with the manuscripts. In some ways, it felt to me like this was a really important mission, but the story directly surrounding it was not quite good enough for a whole book, so Hammer had to supplement with the geopolitical context. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Monday: Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: Hidden Figures

Book Title: Hidden Figures 
Release Year: 2016

Summary: "The story of a team of African-American women mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the US space program."

What I Thought: I had the privilege to read Margot Lee Shetterly's book on these amazing women last fall thanks to TLC Book Tours. I was excited to see the movie then and speculated on how it would be executed. The book is great and informative, but I predicted the movie would need to amp up some of the drama in order to engage modern audiences. Thus, I worried the story would become too distorted. 

Since my mom came to town not too long after the movie came out, I actually had the chance to go see this one in theaters. That's such a rare treat for me; we almost never got to the actual movie theater and when we do it's usually the cheap theater months after the movie comes out. So, it was a special afternoon with my mom all around.

Our verdict? 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Death of the Heart - Elizabeth Bowen

The Death of the Heart
Title: The Death of the Heart
Author: Elizabeth Bowen
Publication Date: 1938
Pages: 418
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/29/17

Summary: Thomas and Anna take in his half-sister Portia, much to Anna's dismay. They don't quite know what to do with the girl and the bulk of the novel has them heading off on vacation while she is shipped off to live with a former governess of Anna's.

What I Thought: I started off really well with this book. The opening chapters, which revolved mostly around Anna, were quite interesting to me. This idea of a half-sister-in-law, who also happens to be nearly illegitimate, coming to stay is a great plot line. Portia's presence has clearly upset Anna's regular routine. To me, the dynamic between these two women was the most interesting crux of the novel. It's a complex relationship and, while we start off thinking Anna is the heroine of the tale, Bowen turns the tables as the story goes on. 

Unfortunately, Anna and Thomas largely disappear from the story. We are taken away from their home and their narrative and left with Portia, who bounces around from place to place. Of course, this establishes her emotional state quite well, but, as a reader, I was put off. I invested in Anna and Thomas as characters and their home as the centerpiece of the novel. For whatever reason, I was playing this out as a theatre production in my head and when we completely left behind our set and several of our main characters, my interest in the story was shaken.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith

Career of Evil
Title: Career of Evil
Author: Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
Publication Date: 10/20/15
Pages: 492
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I've been reading through this series
Date Completed: 1/26/17

Summary: Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott find themselves embroiled in another ghastly case. This time, though, they seem to be the hunted, rather than the hunters.

What I Thought: As I have said in the past, I am normally not a huge fan of detective novels. I often find them formulaic and focused more on shock-and-awe rather than substance or character development. It continues to be no surprise that J. K. Rowling (writing under the name Robert Galbraith) reverses that trend.

The Cormoran Strike series features Rowling's typical attention to detail and insight into human emotion and action. Her characters are so alive and so complex. In this book particular, I was quite struck by how she uses the smallest moments, gestures, words to advance not only her plot, but her character development. She did this so well in the Harry Potter books as well, so it's not surprising to see her carry that masterful technique over. Still, that sort of work is so rare in writing, much less this genre that it's a real treat.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Under the Net - Iris Murdoch

Under the Net
Title: Under the Net
Author: Iris Murdoch
Publication Date: 1954
Pages: 252
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/18/17

Summary: When aspiring writer Jake is evicted, he reconnects with an old crew of friends and becomes mired in their drama.

What I Thought: This was a fun diversion from some of the other books on the 100 Best Novels list. It holds many of the same characteristics - setting, character types, rough plot points, era, etc. - but it has a more unique tone. It's light-hearted in many ways. The characters are fun, but not one-dimensional. 

I must attribute that one some level to the female authorship. I have complained quite a bit about the homogeneity of the Modern Library list. There is so little diversity. Some might count this novel as falling in with that British, mid-century march. However, I do think that the distinct tone is proof of the importance of diverse authorship. Even if much of the structure is the same, different types of people bring different perspectives. It's refreshing as a reader. This book served as a good litmus test for me in that way. Because so many of the other novels have shared characteristics with this one but were written by white men, it was a good way to see if female authorship did, in fact make a difference to me at all. Unsurprisingly, it did. I feel confident in this, too, because I didn't even realize the book was written by a woman until I was at least halfway through and had already developed thoughts about the work.

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Passenger - Lisa Lutz

The Passenger
Title: The Passenger
Author: Lisa Lutz
Publication Date: 3/1/16
Pages: 304
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: Nowhere specific - I've just seen people talking about it.
Date Completed: 1/22/17

Summary: Tanya leaves her husband's body at the bottom of the stairs and hits the road, running away from a death once again. Lutz chronicles her attempts to live off the grid and assume one identity after another, always hoping to stay one step ahead of her past.

What I Thought: This one had me riveted from the first line. In fact, I read the first line aloud to Kevin when I started it and specifically said, "Isn't that an awesome first line of a novel?" He, in turn, asked me to add it to his post-MBA reading list. 

Of course, with a suspenseful, great opening, there is always a fear that things will devolve from there. It's a hard task for a book to live up to a great beginning. Lutz accomplished the task easily. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. I don't often stay up into the night to finish a book anymore, but I did with this one. I read probably the whole second half in one sitting before falling asleep. I needed to know what happened.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Gilded Cage - Vic James

Gilded Cage
Title: Gilded Cage
Author: Vic James
Publication Date: 2/14/17
Pages: 368
Genre: Dystopian / Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: NetGalley graciously provided me a copy in exchange for a review.
Date Completed: 1/19/17

Summary: Sometime in the future, a certain sect of the population has developed special powers. These "Equals" rule over the rest of the people and, in England at least, demand ten years service as a slave from each normal citizen. Gilded Cage explores the ramifications of a society like this through the lens of one powerful Equal family and the "normal" family who signs up to complete their slave years in their service.

What I Thought: I liked this book. It took some very familiar concepts - dystopian world, a sect of the population having special powers, class warfare - and wove them together into a good story. It's easy to see that this is James' first novel - and I say that as someone who is eternally trying to write her first novel. There's some polish and panache that is missing here. The bones of the thing, however, are really strong. She's got good characters and a good plot. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Catherine the Great - Robert K. Massie

Catherine the Great
Title: Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman
Author: Robert K. Massie
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 625
Genre: Biography / Historical / Royals / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Some list of royal biographies
Date Completed: 1/18/17

Summary: Catherine the Great is one of the most well-known Russian rulers. The role of Empress, however, was far from her birthright. She reigned for 34 years, creating a strong legacy for herself in a time when absolute monarchy was falling out of fashion.

What I Thought: Before reading this book, I knew very little about Catherine the Great. My AP European History teacher in high school was particularly interested in Russian culture and history (lately, I find myself wondering his thoughts on current foreign affairs), so I got a fairly robust look at Russian history. Then promptly forgot most of it. For whatever reason, I have not ever been as engaged by Russian history as that of its European neighbors.

But, I'm trying to change that - especially in light of everything happening on the world stage right now. I think understanding a country's history is a good start to understanding their modern pursuits. So, I'm reading books like Russka and like Between Shades of Grey and like this.