Monday, October 16, 2017

The Sixth Extinction - Elizabeth Kolbert

The Sixth Extinction
Title: The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History
Author: Elizabeth Kolbert
Publication Date: 2/11/2014
Pages: 336
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 10/2/17

Summary: Scientists believe there have been five major extinctions in Earth's history. We are likely in the middle of the sixth. Kolbert explores and extrapolates this idea. 

What I Thought: As I say with basically every book I pick up for the nonfiction branch of my local book club, I never would have read this book on my own. That's what I love about participating in this part of the book club. I'm reading things that I would never consider otherwise. 

This fall squarely in that category. I'm not a science person. I have a basic grasp of general concepts because I was blessed with a liberal arts education, but I really just don't care about the details of the field. I know it impacts us all, so I'm not dismissing that element. What I'm saying is, I'm thrilled other people love this and are studying it because it is not what I want to spend my time and energy figuring out. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Last Policeman - Ben H. Winters

The Last Policeman
Title: The Last Policeman
Author: Ben H. Winters
Publication Date: 7/10/2012
Pages: 288
Genre: Dystopian / Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I heard about it on On the Media
Date Completed: 10/1/17

Summary: An asteroid is speeding toward Earth and will decimate the human race in a matter of months. So, how does law enforcement function in the increasing chaos? 

What I Thought: This is such a fascinating concept. Often, we talk about immediate disasters. The world as we know it destroyed in moments or days. We rarely think about a slow-motion disaster, as least not in this sense. 

Winters has created a unique story. Here, people know their lives will end on a specific day, at a specific time - or, at least, within months of that time if the asteroid hits on the other side of the globe. Society unravels. Not all at once, but with exponential speed. With an increase in suicide, does murder still matter? Should it still be investigated and punished?

That's the premise of this book. A detective in New England finds himself one of a shrinking group of law enforcement officers who care about enforcing the law. Or at least about investigating crimes.  So, when his gut tells him an apparent suicide isn't what it seems, he faces a lot of resistance as he looks into it further.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Let Nobody Turn Us Around - Manning Marable & Leith Mullings

Let Nobody Turn Us Around
Title: Let Nobody Turn Us Around: Voices of Resistance, Reform, and Renewal
Author: Manning Marable & Leith Mullings
Publication Date: 12/15/1999
Pages: 598
How I Found It: From a list of books recommended for better understanding racial issues in America
Date Completed: 9/27/17

Summary: A collection of essays, speeches, and other writings by African Americans throughout our country's history.

What I Thought: Reading through this anthology was so powerful. We each have such a limited perspective on the world, so reading the words of Americans who had vastly different American experiences than my own is important. 

Cognitively, I know the history of the African American experience. Yet, to read the words of those who lived it adds a dimension I could never grasp on my own. We need more books like this to help us understand each other, particularly as race remains such a fraught issue in our nation.

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Widow - Fiona Barton

The Widow
Title: The Widow
Author: Fiona Barton
Publication Date: 2/16/2016
Pages: 324
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I can't remember. A list of thrillers, maybe?
Date Completed: 9/25/17

Summary: A man dies after getting run down by a bus. His widow is left wondering how much of his story to tell. A little girl disappeared years before. How much of that story belongs to the widow as well?

What I Thought: I always get to Halloween and find myself in the mood to read something scary. In general, thrillers are not my favorite genre. However, the spooky occasion puts me in the mood. Most years, though, I totally forget about that feeling until about October 29. This year, I'm starting early. I am hoping to read several thrillers in late September and early October so I can be posting about them right around the haunted holiday.

I started off with The Widow, which got a lot of marketing time in the book world when it was released last year. I can't totally remember what made me end up putting it on my TBR list, but it landed there somehow. So, as I ended September, this seemed like as good a first pick as any to put me in the thriller mindset.

What I really want to find is another book that just scares my pants off the way Marisha Pessl's Night Film did for me a few years back. I couldn't sleep for days. It was wonderfully terrifying. I am not usually a scary book/movie person, but every once in a while, it's fun. That's what I'm looking for this year. 

This wasn't it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Exit West - Mohsin Hamid

Exit West
Title: Exit West
Author: Mohsin Hamid
Publication Date: 3/7/17
Pages: 231
Date Completed: 9/22/17

Summary: Saeed and Nadia are very different people. Yet, they are drawn to one another as their country falls apart. They make the decision to flee together, tying them together for the foreseeable future. 

What I Thought: I first heard about this book on my favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics. They had a bookstore owner on to talk about books to read in our modern political climate. This was one of a couple fiction recommendations the guest had. It then became the Pantsuit Politics book club pick for September, so I knew I had to read it now. 

It tells the story of refugees, two specifically, but really the book is about the general emotional experience of refugees. Hamid avoids getting into specifics of a refugee's flight by placing his characters in a world of magical realism. They go from place to place through doors. Some doors are guarded, some are hidden, all seem to appear unexpectedly. At first, that mechanism feels a bit odd, but I ended up really liking it.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The New Jim Crow - Michelle Alexander

The New Jim Crow
Title: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness
Author: Michelle Alexander
Publication Date: 2010
Pages: 338
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've had this recommended to me through many avenues.
Date Completed: 9/21/17

Summary: Alexander explores the ways in which mass incarceration in the modern era is serving many of the same social and racial functions as slavery and the Jim Crow laws did in their eras. 

What I Thought: Wow. This book is powerful. I've seen it recommended on countless lists in the past couple years for those who want to become more educated on race in America. I get why. It deserves to be on every one of those lists.

The general thesis of the book is that the War on Drugs has been used (both intentionally and unintentionally) as a way to weaken populations of color in America, specifically the black community. Apparently, when we started the War on Drugs, less than 2% of Americans saw drug use as the most important issue facing the country. Yet, governments charged ahead with intense crackdowns on drug users and dealers.

Monday, October 2, 2017

September 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

September News 

September has gone by so quickly. With school starting back up and Kevin traveling for work every week, I feel as though we haven't had time to catch our breath. October likely won't be much different, although we did have to cancel our trip to Puerto Rico. That was really disappointing. Granted, it's nothing in comparison to what the people of Puerto Rico are experiencing. We're planning a shorter trip to Savannah and Charleston instead, hoping to soak up a bit of autumn in the South. We also did a weekend getaway to Boston this past weekend (in conjunction with a work trip for Kevin) and we're headed to Philly at the start of November for a wedding, so I'm taking consolation in the fact we are covering the East Coast pretty well this fall.

The second half of September has been interesting. I sprained my ankle pretty badly while running (proof that exercise is ultimately bad for you, I think). So, I spent a good week on crutches and am still using a compression wrap and a small brace. It's been a pain (literally) and has totally derailed my exercise routine. It's really been more of an inconvenience than anything else, though I did have a couple very painful days when it first happened; Kevin was out of town and trying to do simple things like shower and make breakfast without putting any weight on one foot proved difficult. I'm trying to stay positive about it all and use this as a reminder of how important it is to listen to my body when it tells me to slow down.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

London - Edward Rutherfurd

Title: London
Author: Edward Rutherfurd
Publication Date: 1997
Pages: 1154
Genre: Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: I've read some of Rutherford's other books.
Date Completed: 9/20/17

Summary: As is his style, Rutherfurd tracks several family lines through the generations in conjunction with the history of London. 

What I Thought: I have read several of Rutherfurd's books now. I find his style so unique. Few other authors are willing to tackle a project of such magnitude, but Rutherfurd returns to this formula again and again.

I've realized that I much prefer reading his books about cities or areas where I am already familiar with the history. Since he is focusing on the lives of fictional characters living in the midst of history, it helps to have a bigger picture idea of what is going on. He doesn't use tons of space to lay a foundation, although I thought he did a bit more of that than usual in this one. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Take Tuesday: The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid's Tale
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: The Handmaid's Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publication Date: 1985
Pages: 311
Previous Readings: May 2012
Date Completed This Time: 8/30/17

Summary: In a dystopian future, women are seen as little more than vessels for procreation. The protagonist, Offred, has been ripped from her family and forced into service as a Handmaid, a nicer name for Gilead's system of sexual slavery. 

What I Thought Before: When I read this book five years ago, I struggled to put my thoughts into words. I commented specifically on the way the leaders of Gilead twist Scripture to achieve their desired results. I marveled at Atwood's writing skill. I mentioned how much more valuable it felt to read the book as a woman in her twenties because I felt I could better understand what Offred had lost and the gravity of the situation. I rated it five stars.

What I Think Now: This book has really stuck with me. I've thought a lot about its story and messages over the intervening five years. I watched the Hulu adaptation this summer (I should probably do a separate post about that some time). I have been meaning to pick it up again, so I was glad when my book club selected it for one of our fall reads.

Friday, September 22, 2017

A Year of Living Prayerfully - Jared Brock

A Year of Living Prayerfully
Title: A Year of Living Prayerfully: How a Curious Traveler Met the Pope, Walked on Coals, Danced with Rabbis, and Revived His Prayer Life
Author: Jared Brock
Publication Date: 2/19/15
Pages: 352
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't recall.
Date Completed: 9/10/17

Summary: Brock circles the globe exploring a variety of prayer traditions and searching for depth in his own prayer life.

What I Thought: While my faith is deeply important to me, I've always struggled to maintain a consistent prayer life. Or, more likely, I'm doing pretty decent compared to the average believer but growing up in a conservative faith tradition set me up for a continually need to do better. If that's the case, it's not a bad thing. Our prayer lives shouldn't be compared to those of others. It's a way to connect deeper with the Creator and that is a highly individual thing. 

It seems like Brock is coming from much the same position I am. A desire to do more, to find more, to feel more within the confines of prayer. I so admire his journey around the world to spend time in prayer and learn from some of the great prayer warriors of Christian history. He remarks in the beginning of the book that he hopes readers can learn from his journey as he realizes such an expedition would not be practical for most (side note: how did he pay for this?!).

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hold Me Like a Breath - Tiffany Schmidt

Hold Me Like A Breath
Title: Hold Me Like a Breath
Author: Tiffany Schmidt
Publication Date: 5/19/15
Pages: 390
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 8/20/17

Summary: Penelope suffers from a disease which causes her to bruise easily. Thus, her family shelters her from the outside world. They cannot, however, shelter her completely from their own illegal business of black market organ transplants.

What I Thought: This is a really unique idea. Schmidt takes the loose plot of The Princess and the Pea and shapes it into something totally new. Putting a fairy tale into a modern world of crime and intrigue makes for an interesting ride.

My verdict? It was interesting enough. I liked guessing what was going to happen. Some of the book was fairly predictable while other parts definitely caught me off guard. I think Schmidt's premise here is good and interesting. I didn't love her writing and probably won't read the next book in the series, but as a one-off read, I liked it well enough. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Yes, Chef - Marcus Samuelsson

Yes, Chef
Title: Yes, Chef
Author: Marcus Samuelsson
Publication Date: 6/26/12
Pages: 337
Genre: Food / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've seen Samuelsson on Food Network shows and am always looking for another good food memoir.
Date Completed: 8/16/17

Summary: Sameulsson's is an unlikely story. Adopted out of Ethopia by a Sweedish family, he's found himself to be a celebrity chef in America.

What I Thought: Any longtime reader of the blog knows I love me some foodie memoirs. Though we don't have cable, I'm an avid watcher of the Food Network when I have a chance. And we watched a lot of Chopped when it was on Netflix. So, Marcus Samuelsson is a familiar face to us. I knew a little about him before picking up his memoir, but reading his full story was fascinating.

Samuelsson has had a fairly unique journey. He was born in rural Ethopia and adopted, along with his sister, by a Sweedish family after his mother died. Samuelsson grew up in Sweeden and made his way into the world of cooking through European kitchens. These experiences give him a really global palate and a different perspective on things than most American chefs have. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

The Daily Show - Chris Smith

The Daily Show
Title: The Daily Show: An Oral History as Told by Jon Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests
Author: Chris Smith
Publication Date: 11/22/16
Pages: 461
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm a fan of the show.
Date Completed: 8/14/17

Summary: Told through the words of the people who were there, this book goes through nearly two decades of history of The Daily Show and how it changed our news consumption.

What I Thought: Let me start from a place of transparency: I really like The Daily Show. It's not as good now as when Stewart was at its helm, but I still am a loyal viewer. I like to watch the episode from the previous night in the mornings while I get ready for the day. I especially appreciate that the show brings in such a diverse range of guests and exposes to me to books, movies, and personalities that I may never know about otherwise. 

And, of course, it makes me laugh. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Seriously Delish - Jessica Merchant

Seriously Delish
Title: Seriously Delish: 150 Recipes for People Who Totally Love Food
Author: Jessica Merchant
Publication Date: 9/2/14
Pages: 304
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've been reading Merchant's blog, How Sweet It Is, for years.
Date Completed: 8/14/17

Summary: Merchant pulls no punches with flavor or flair in her debut cookbook.

What I Thought: I have been reading Merchant's blog for so, so long. I've made many of her recipes and loved everything I've tried from her site. My favorite salad of all time is a recipe from her blog. So, when she debuted her first cookbook a few years back, it seemed like a no-brainer.

Of course, 2014 was the year we moved to a new region of the country and everything felt in flux there for a while (in a good way). I never forgot about the cookbook, but since it came out the week we moved, I never got around to picking it up. 

Flash forward to present day.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Movie Monday: The Circle

The Circle
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: The Circle

Book Title: The Circle
Release Year: 2017

Summary: After getting a job at the world's most influential tech company, Mae finds herself at the center of a global debate over transparency. 

What I Thought: Kevin and I both enjoyed this book. It certainly was not a perfect book, but in my 2014 review, I lauded it as being rather prescient. 

The movie, you may have noticed, has not been getting a lot of attention. Despite a really incredible cast list (I mean...Emma Watson, Tom Hanks, John Boyega?), it's been practically rushed in and out of theatres. Having looked forward to this movie for a while, the lack of hype made me nervous. I get it now. It doesn't hold anywhere close to the power of the book. 

Friday, September 8, 2017

Everything, Everything - Nicola Yoon

Everything, Everything
Title: Everything, Everything
Author: Nicola Yoon
Publication Date: 9/1/2015
Pages: 307
Genre: Romance / Young Adult / Fiction 
How I Found It: I read it for the informal book club I have with my best friends.
Date Completed: 8/11/17

Summary: Madeline has a rare disease which prevents her from leaving the house. Anything or anyone outside could compromise her immune system and compromise her. When a cute boy moves in next door, however, her desire to leave the house becomes unbearable. 

What I Thought: The first I ever heard about this book was when I saw the trailer for the movie. It did not jump out at me as anything different from the litany of young adult romance stories on the market right now. I didn't have any intention of reading or watching it. But, one of my best friends teaches middle school reading and she wanted to read it this summer before deciding whether to teach it or not. So, being the informal book club we are, all three of us read it. 

Let me say, first, that I liked the format of this. I have a weirdly soft spot for novels that use some untraditional methods to tell their stories. This one includes emails, medical charts, drawings, etc. There's not a lot of them, but they are scattered throughout the pages and add a different flair. I always love this in books. It's not always executed well, but when it is, I find it so fun. Maybe there's a youthful part of me that misses reading picture books or something.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

In Sunlight and in Shadow - Mark Helprin

In Sunlight and in Shadow
Title: In Sunlight and in Shadow
Author: Mark Helprin
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 705
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 8/10/17

Summary: Harry and Catherine seem fated to be together. Helprin explores their origin stories, their love story, and the complications of both. 

What I Thought: I've had this book on my shelf for ages. I picked it up at a used book store after hearing good things about it for ages before that. I cannot remember for the life of me where I originally heard about it, but I knew my expectations were high going in.

When I finally did sit down to read this book, I didn't even get past the cover before spending a few confused minutes on Google. At first glance, I thought this was written by the journalist Mark Halperin (of The Circus). Totally different guy, though. Don't be confused like I was.

Ok, let's talk about the actual book. From what I see on Goodreads, this book is rather polarizing. If you make it to the end (and it's a long hike there), you will understand why. The ending is bound to spark some sort of emotion. Other reviewers have also talked a good deal about Helprin's writing style. Some love his "lyrical" prose. Others find his style pretentious and too wordy.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Salt - Mark Kurlansky

Title: Salt: A World History
Author: Mark Kurlansky
Publication Date: 2002
Pages: 484
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: The nonfiction branch of my book club read it.
Date Completed: 8/10/17

Summary: It's a complete history of salt. Yep. Seriously. But don't run away just yet! It was surprisingly interesting. 

What I Thought: Ok, ok. I know. I read a book about salt. Like, that salt. The salt that's in all of our kitchens and in most of our food. 

When Kevin saw me reading it, he said, "Did you finish all the interesting books? You're just reading boring ones now?" Ha. Ha. 

But I get his thinking. When the nonfiction branch of my book club announced this as the next pick, I was not particularly thrilled. A book about salt just doesn't sound interesting. 

And yet...

Friday, September 1, 2017

August 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.  

August News 

School is back in session. And that's about my whole life right now.

The first few weeks are always crazy. It's hard to remember the first half of August when I'm mired in the fog of the start of school. However, it's been a good start and August, really, was a good month for us.

We celebrated big things in August. I turned 30, which still feels silly to say. I think it'll take me a while to mentally adjust to being in my 30s. I keep forgetting. It was a wonderful birthday weekend. I told Kevin that I every part of my soul got fed. I got wonderful alone time to self-care and indulge. We had friends over for a small party and everyone brought amazing food and we had great conversation. I went to a yoga class, which I hadn't done in forever. And, as my gift, we did a culinary tour in downtown Durham. It was all so good and I felt so refreshed in every way. Adult birthdays have, on the whole, been pretty disappointing for me, so I'm so happy this one turned out well.

We also celebrated Kevin finishing his MBA (on the same night as my birthday!). I'm so proud of him and even gushed about it on Facebook, which I never do. Though he's traveling a ton this fall, we're excited to be entering a new chapter and have a chance to take a breath and refocus as a couple.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Not the End of the World - Kate Atkinson

Not the End of the World
Title: Not the End of the World
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publication Date: 2002
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy / Short Stories / Fiction
How I Found It: I'm a fan of Atkinson's work
Date Completed: 8/1/17

Summary: A collection of short stories in which our modern reality is blended with classical myths and a potential future.

What I Thought: I am not usually a huge fan of short story collections. I think they are wonderful for certain things, but I generally enjoy a more in depth plot and chance for character development. Short stories really are a totally different art form than the novel. 

That being said, I did not realize I was picking up a short story collection when I grabbed this book. I am a big fan of Kate Atkinson's writing and have wanted to go back and read more of her early work. As often happens when I am reading work by an author I already enjoy, I did not read the description too closely. So, I was in for a surprise when I realized it was a short story collection.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Movie Monday: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: The Light Between Oceans

Release Year: 2016

Summary: "A lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from a drifting rowing boat."

What I Thought: I read this book last fall when I saw the movie would be coming out. Kevin's aunt had recommended it to me and I'd put off reading it for a while. However, when I saw the cast of the movie, I knew I would want to see it. And, being me, I had to read the book first. 

I don't know why it took me so long to watch the movie. I've known since before reading the book I would want to see it. I've almost watched it many times, but have never been in quite the right head space to take it on. One night when Kevin was in class, though, it finally seemed like the right moment.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Girls in White Dresses - Jennifer Close

Girls in White Dresses
Title: Girls in White Dresses
Author: Jennifer Close
Publication Date: 8/9/2011
Pages: 306
Genre: Chick Lit / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: I read another Jennifer Close novel earlier this year.
Date Completed: 7/27/17

Summary: Close follows a group of college friends in their post-college years as they and those around them encounter matrimony in a variety of different ways.

What I Thought: I picked this up because I really liked Close's dark look at marriage and politics in The Hopefuls. This was really, really different from that book. 

It's still looking at marriage, but from a different perspective. In a way, it's a series of short stories, each one focused on weddings in some way. However, the same characters weave in and out of the chapters, each tangentially related to our main group in some way or another.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Search for Delicious - Natalie Babbitt

The Search for Delicious
Title: The Search for Delicious
Author: Natalie Babbitt
Publication Date: 1969
Pages: 176
How I Found It: I read it as a kid.
Date Completed: 7/23/17

Summary: When everyone at court disagrees on the definition of 'delicious' for the Prime Minister's dictionary, young Gaylan is sent to poll the people of the kingdom. Along the way, he finds himself embroiled with creatures of fantasy and a plot to overthrow the King. 

What I Thought: Natalie Babbitt wrote several books I read as a child and which have stayed with me over the years. Since I've been enjoying dipping my toe back into the world of children's literature lately, it seemed like a good time to revisit this one. 

It was as charming as I remember. I cannot really pinpoint what about this book stuck with me for so long. It is not particularly exceptional. Yet, there is something to it which I just enjoy. I think it has just the right balance of humor, fantasy, and intrigue for me. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Where'd You Go, Bernadette - Maria Semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Title: Where'd You Go, Bernadette
Author: Maria Semple
Publication Date: 2012
Pages: 330
Genre: Fiction
How I Found It: A friend loaned it to me
Date Completed: 7/12/17

Summary: A quirky Seattle mother struggles with social interactions. When her daughter requests a trip to Antartica, things start falling apart.

What I Thought: Before we went to Michigan for my father-in-law's surgery, a friend gave me a few books she thought I might enjoy. This was one of them. I picked it up about a week into our trip and burned through it in a day. It had me laughing and thinking about personality and social interactions. 

After reading the book and looking it up on Goodreads for this post, I realized that Semple also for Arrested Development. This makes total sense to me. 

Friday, August 18, 2017

What's Next?

It feels so amazing to be done with the 100 Best Novels challenge. As I mentioned on in my posts earlier this week, I have been working on that list for over four years. Because I am a goal-setter, I have thought throughout that time about how I would like to challenge myself next. So, here we are to talk about just that.

Before we do, I do want to acknowledge how very much I am looking forward to reading utterly and completely for pleasure in the next few months. I've read so much heavy material in the past few years because of the list. I really pushed myself through the last twenty or thirty books. So, for a while, I want to read fiction that feels fluffy and good. Books I want to devour, not slog through. I know any new challenge will come with some books I'm not so interested in, so I don't want to jump into anything too quickly.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - Picking Favorites

If you've been hanging around this week, you know I have been reflecting on my time spent reading Modern Library's 100 Best Novels list. It took me four and a half years to finish this monstrous challenge, so it's not surprising I have a lot to say about it. Check out my posts from earlier this week regarding what makes a classic and diversity in literature

On this last day of retrospection, I want to hit on the two questions I got asked most often when I told people about this challenge: What has been your favorite book? and What has been your least favorite book?

My reflections the last two days were broader in scope, but today I want to get granular. I've spent time talking about big picture stuff and recognizing why books matter even if they aren't to my personal taste. Today, however, is my 30th birthday and, thus, I find it perfectly acceptable 

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - Why Diversity Matters

This week is all about my journey to finish the monstrous 100 Best Novels challenge. I am taking time to reflect on various aspects of my journey and thoughts I had along the way. Yesterday, I talked about what makes a book a classic in the first place. Tomorrow, I'll be sharing my favorites (and least favorites) from the list. 

Today, though, I wanted to talk about my biggest takeaway from this challenge. Over the past four years, I've told a lot of people about my efforts to read these books. If they inquire further about my experience, this is what I share. These are the thoughts I have not been able to shake for years. This is the sentiment which has weighed on me since very early on. 

In fact, I even talked about it in my post announcing that I was taking on the challenge. Throughout the whole journey, I have been so aware of this issue. I watched it manifest itself in countless ways as I read through the list. So, I want to spend some time talking about it today.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

What I Learned From the 100 Best Novels - What Makes A Classic

In February 2013, I embarked on a challenge.  I determined to read through Modern Library's list of the 100 Best Novels. The list was compiled in 1998, so, by now, it is leaving out a good number of years of English writing. Of course, it's not like they picked anything too close to 1998 anyway. It's one of several such lists which were written at the end of the millennium. I chose the Modern Library list in part because it included Ulysses by James Joyce. It's often touted as the best novel ever written, so I wanted to include it. Go read my review of it to see what I thought about that.

Back when I started the challenge, I expected to finish in two years or so. I certainly did not expect it to take four years. Had I done the practical math at the time, I should have known it would take this long or even longer. I've really pushed myself the last year and a half or so to complete this before my 30th birthday (which is Thursday!).

Four and a half years later, I have completed the challenge. It feels amazing to have done something so big. Throughout the experience, I have developed a lot of thoughts and opinions about literature, the challenge, and the purpose of reading. This week, I want to share those thoughts with you. 

I started writing one big long post, but I quickly realized I have more thoughts than anyone wants to read in one sitting. So, I'm breaking by reflections on this challenge into three days. Tomorrow, I'll be I'm discussing diversity in literature. Thursday, I'm picking favorites - and least favorites! - from the list. And, as a bonus, on Friday I'll be looking ahead and considering what challenge to take on next. Make sure you come back every day this week to read the whole series of posts.

Before we dig into specifics, though, I want to look at this challenge through a larger lens. 

What Makes A Classic

I set off on this challenge because I recognized some big gaps in my "classical" literary education. I wanted to rectify that. These days, after having read 100 "classics," I have some thoughts about what even gives a book that classification. Who gets to decide what a classic even is? After reading this list, I have some complaints I'd like to file with the Modern Library board. Granted, they were not specifically defining these books as "classics," but putting something under the heading of 100 Best Novels certainly grants it a similar gravitas.

Monday, August 14, 2017

100 Best Novels Roundup, Vol. 6

This is it! I've completed the 100 Best Novels challenge! Every day this week, I'll be back with more thoughts on the challenge as a whole. Today, however, I have the final individual book reviews:
Point Counter Point

Title: Point Counter Point
Author: Aldous Huxley
Publication Date: 1928
Pages: 432
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 7/5/17

What I Thought: I didn't dislike this book, but it wasn't what I was expecting at all. After reading Huxley's most famous novel, Brave New World, I was expecting something similar in genre. This is totally different, though certainly not bad. Overall, it was definitely enjoyable. I think, though, I would have gotten much more out of this had I lived in the era in which it was published. Huxley famously based many of the characters in the novel on real people in his social circle. Since those personalities are no longer well known to the general public, or even someone like myself who makes a habit of reading historical classics, I felt I lost a lot of the intended experience. The book is still good if you don't know who the characters are meant to be, but I continually got the feeling it would have been better if I had known more of the backstory. 

Rating: ★★★☆☆
Will I Re-Read: Maybe

Friday, August 11, 2017

Captive - Aimée Carter

Title: Captive
Author: Aimée Carter
Publication Date: 11/25/2014
Pages: 304
Genre: Dystopian / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I read the first book in the series, Pawn.
Date Completed: 7/10/17

Summary: Kitty's position posing as the Prime Minister's niece remains precarious. As she attempts to get increasingly involved in the rebellion against him, she finds herself trapped.

What I Thought: For some reason, I cannot figure out where I stand on this series. I think it boils down to this: I love the plot, I hate the characters.

The setup and plot of these books are really interesting. I think the premise is great, if a little boilerplate for the dystopian genre these days. Still, I think Carter has some great ideas and she keeps me guessing, which is always a feat.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Tribe - Sebastian Junger

Title: Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging
Author: Sebastian Junger
Publication Date: 5/24/2016
Pages: 192
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I read it for the Pantsuit Politics book club.
Date Completed: 7/9/17

Summary: How is "civilized" society affecting us on an individualized level? Junger looks specifically at veterans and how we are (or are not) set up to welcome them back home. 

What I Thought: This is probably not something I would have picked up on my own. I hate to admit it, but veterans' issues are typically not my area of interest. Don't get me wrong, I greatly respect our troops and am so thankful for the sacrifices they and their families are making. After dating a National Guardsmen in high school and going to his boot camp, I had a glimpse of how tough that life is and knew immediately it wasn't for me. Those people are amazing. However, there are only so many issues in which one can be passionately interested. Veterans issues have been lower on my radar than others. Partially because I think if we solve some of the bigger issues, those solutions will bleed over into the military world. Maybe that's naive, but it's where I've been at. All that to say, I support the troops immensely but have never spent a lot of time reading about or learning about their experiences. I fully admit my own shortcomings there.

So, when my absolute favorite podcast, Pantsuit Politics, announced this as their next book club read, I picked it up with a small amount of trepidation. Small mostly because I'm in for anything Sarah and Beth suggest. Seriously, if you are not listening to them, you should be. The amazing Monica turned me on to them and I have, in turn, hooked at least two or three more listeners. 

The book. You're probably wondering about the book. That's why you come here, after all...

Monday, August 7, 2017

Just Mercy - Bryan Stevenson

Just Mercy
Title: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption
Author: Bryan Stevenson
Publication Date: 10/21/2014
Pages: 336
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Kevin's worked gave it to all the employees to read.
Date Completed: 7/5/17

Summary: Stevenson has spent his career advocating for death row inmates in the Deep South. In this book, he reflects on specific cases from throughout his career and the systemic discrimination in our justice system.

What I Thought: This book is so powerful. Let me state up front that I recommend you read it. Racial divisions in our country seem to be an eternal problem and, as a white person, my privilege can make it easy to look away. We must not do that. Stevenson opens the door to the stories and lives of death row inmates in Alabama and other southern states. They are stories of broken hearts and broken lives. And, if you are like me, they will make you want to join Stevenson in the fight for a more just justice system.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick

Scrappy Little Nobody
Title: Scrappy Little Nobody
Author: Anna Kendrick
Publication Date: 11/15/2016
Pages: 275
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I am a fan of Anna Kendrick
Date Completed: 7/5/17

Summary: Anna Kendrick looks back on her life thus far. She covers her childhood days on the stage, her early work in independent films, and some of her more familiar work, including that time she got nominated for an Academy Award.

What I Thought: I was really looking forward to this book. I like Anna Kendrick a lot. Kevin and I both love Pitch Perfect and I've really enjoyed Kendrick's work in a number of other things. If you watch interviews with her or follow her on social media, she seems quirky and accessible in a way that is often rare in Hollywood. 

She certainly also comes across as quirky and accessible in the book, at least in part. Somehow, the same vibe you get from Kendrick's Hollywood persona did not translate all the way to the page. Her humor is perfect for Twitter and social media, but in a longer format, she comes off as stiff and disconnected. 

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

The Nix - Nathan Hill

The Nix
Title: The Nix
Author: Nathan Hill
Publication Date: 8/30/2016
Pages: 628
How I Found It: My book club is reading it. 
Date Completed: 7/4/17

Summary: A son whose mother left in his childhood. A mother whose life wasn't at all what it appeared to be. Decades later, a strange event involving a candidate for president throws them together again. 

What I Thought: I don't know that I ever would have picked this one up. My book club selected it as our long summer read and so here we are. 

Though I would not have chosen it myself, I did enjoy the book. It winds several stories together, ultimately being about family and the parent-child relationship. Hill has a nice writing style and he did a good job weaving together the stories. The interludes focused on secondary characters felt important and enjoyable, even though they added little to the main storyline. I like when even less prominent characters are given the time and space to be developed. Hill really did a good job fleshing out their motivations.

In a lot of ways, this book is all about motivations. What makes people do the things they do? Why do people stay? leave? act? ignore? What are the triggers that push us and, consequentially, shape our stories? 

Monday, July 31, 2017

July 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.  

July News 

It's hard to believe the end of summer is here. I know some of you will protest that characterization, but, for those in the world of higher ed, summer ends with July. Not that I haven't been doing fall prep all summer, but it begins in earnest this week. I've got syllabi to finalize, pre-semester meetings to attend, and all that jazz. Thankfully, by this time, I'm usually ready for it. Plus, it feels a little weird knowing this may be my last year working exclusively as a professor. I'm hoping I have transitioned fields by this time next year. Your guess is as good as mine as to what that new field may be.

July was pretty good for us, albeit completely exhausting. We spent the first half of the month in Michigan with my in-laws. My father-in-law had major surgery to remove some cancerous parts of his body. He's doing really well physically; surgery went wonderfully and he's recovering like the fighter he is. Still, it was a big deal and we obviously wanted to be there to support him and the family. Two weeks is a long time to be anywhere, but spending it in a hospital isn't the most fun. We are so thankful we both have jobs that gave us the flexibility to go for so long, but I was so happy to be home, too.

While we were there, we did a lot of helping, but also a lot of sitting around. Hospitals are particularly good for that. I finished 11 books in 12 days. Perhaps one of my most prolific period of reading ever. It was impressive even by my own standards. Once my father-in-law came home from the hospital, my pace slowed down, but I still got to read so much. That was really nice, especially after June was kind of a dud month for me.

Speaking of June, I told y'all last month about how I'm buckling down on fitness. The journey continues. I've lost over 10 pounds, which is so exciting. I'm definitely stronger than I was at the start of the summer and I'm slowly seeing my body change in exciting ways. Seeing as I turn 30 in August, I'm so thankfully to be entering a new decade of my life as a strong, healthy, balanced person. That feels better than I could have imagined. I mean, I still completely loathe exercising and watching what I eat, but I do love seeing the results. I'm trying to ease up on myself some as I head into the school year. I know I need to continue to work toward a sustainable, balanced lifestyle. I don't want to burn out or reach my goal and then settle right back into life as it was previously.

The big reading news is that I finally finished the 100 Best Novels challenge!! It feels amazing and surreal to be done. I have a big post coming your way in a couple weeks reflecting on the experience. Definitely be watching for that as I have, unsurprisingly, a lot of thoughts.

That's the update for July. Not much else happening. I'm hoping August is great. I love birthdays and this is a big one. Adult birthdays always kind of suck a little, but I'm really hoping that won't be the case this year. I want so badly to have a fun, enjoyable, birthday. While I normally stay out of the spotlight, I love birthday attention. Feel free to send some my way on or around the 17th. ;) For now, though, here's what I accomplished in July:

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Cravings - Chrissy Teigen

Check out my post from earlier in the week to see why I'm talking cookbooks this week. Plus, you won't want to miss my thoughts on Anthony Bourdain's Appetites. Today, though, we're talking Teigen...Chrissy Teigen, that is. 

Title: Cravings
Author: Chrissy Teigen
Publication Date: 2/23/2016
Pages: 240
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: So many of the cooking sites I read have been talking about it. 
Date Completed: 7/4/17

What I Thought: I'll be the first to admit I had mixed feelings about Chrissy Teigen not long ago. It's only recently that I've really even known who she is. The release of this cookbook launched her into my pop culture bubble in a forceful way. Because I hadn't followed her career to date, I was confused as to why people cared about this model's recipes. But, they kept popping up everywhere. People kept raving about the cookbooks. Now that I knew who she was, she seemed to pop up everywhere. After all, her husband, John Legend, is having a pretty successful career himself. Plus, they just had that adorable baby. In the last year, I have somehow gone from feeling very ambivalently about her to following her on Twitter and reading her cookbook.