Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 2016 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.  

November News 

Remember last month when I was cheerfully looking forward to the end of the election cycle?

Can I take that back?

While the election was three weeks ago at this point and some of the fervor does seem to be dying down, things are so far from over. Instead of celebrating the end of the cycle and a historic milestone for the country, this month has been, for me, a time of grief. I know politics are controversial, particularly this year, and I know you, my dear readers, likely have a range of feelings on the state of American politics. I absolutely respect your views and your right to have them. I hope you can do the same for me. All I can speak to is my personal perspective and my earnest desire to understand experiences different than my own. While I have been struggling daily with my response to the election results, more than anything I am resolved to learn, to listen, and to advocate for the maligned. I'm spending a lot of time in prayer, a lot of time reading the news, and a lot of time researching how to be an even more active participant in our political process.

It's hard to pivot from the veil of political uncertainty for me right now. It's hard to think about other things. It's hard to think about a cheerful holiday season when so many in our country fear for their futures. I saw someone on social media pointing out how they want to caption all their Instagram food pictures with "Here's a picture of my lunch, but I haven't forgotten that other thing." That really nailed how I'm feeling. Life goes on. Work. Errands. Chores. We have no choice but to continue. But, the approaching changes never leave my mind. I'm constantly thinking and praying about the future of our country and how I can contribute good into our world on a daily basis.

All of this thinking (and, admittedly, stressing), has left me wanting an outlet to share my heart and thoughts. I know this blog is about books and they will always be the heartbeat. These days, though, I need it to also be a space for me to talk about other things sometimes. So, I'm introducing a new series of posts. "Let's Talk About..." posts will give me a space to share some of what's on my heart - both serious and not - and for you to join me in the discussion. I'm going to post the first one this Friday. Since we're all tired of talking about the election, it's not going to be about that. It's going to be about something way more controversial: the Gilmore Girls revival. Yep. I'm going there. I have a lot of thoughts and I need to talk them out. I'm certain that, in the future, I'll tackle some of my political feelings, but I think that day is down the road a bit. For the moment, it's going to be a place to talk about whatever happens to be dominating my head space that week. Please bear with me and give me some grace as I figure out exactly what these posts will look like. Mostly, I want them to give us all space to digest and sort through relevant topics in a thoughtful, respectful way.

Ok....let's switch gears!

The other thing which totally dominated my life this month (besides the epic, exciting World Series win by the Chicago Cubs) is NaNoWriMo. This was my second year doing the challenge and I was totally determined to scale that literary mountain. And I did!! Ok, technically I'm writing this on Monday night and I have two days and 1,786 words to go. But I'm totally going to do it. I'm so proud of myself for reaching this goal. It was so much work and I read and blogged so much less than I usually do. But, here at the end, I have about a third of a novel written (I'm a little too loquacious for my own good). It's a story I care about and which feels deeply personal. I know it won't be done any time soon. This is a book I think I could work on for ten years and continually polish and adjust. So, I'm not running off to a publisher any time soon, but the last few weeks definitely taught me that I do have time for writing if I make time for it. I was such a passionate writer as a kid and it's something I've wanted to get back to for a while, so this feels so good.

I also must give a quick shout-out to Suzanne at Tattooed Missionary. Without her, I genuinely don't think I could have met the NaNo goal. She was such an encouragement to me, especially after the election when I felt like so lost and like words would never make sense again, much less be worth writing down. Plus, she helped me look up tattoo artists near me and listened to my overly personal ramblings. What a friend! How anyone achieves NaNo without such a supportive partner, I'll never know. Thank you, Suzanne!

I have a lot more on my mind to share with you, but I've already gotten way deep and way long-winded, so I'll be saving more of these thoughts for those upcoming "Let's Talk About..." posts. For now, here's what was happening on the blog during the emotional whirlwind that was November.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Grape, Olive, Pig - Matt Goulding

Grape, Olive, Pig
Title: Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain's Food Culture
Author: Matt Goulding
Publication Date: 11/15/16
Pages: 368
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I got a copy courtesy of Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours.
Date Completed: 11/26/16

Summary: Goulding takes readers on another sumptuous journey, this time all across Spain.

What I Thought: Remember a couple months ago when I read and reviewed Rice, Noodle, Fish? You may recall how I gushed over Goulding's rich descriptions of both Japanese food and culture. After that delightful experience, you can imagine how I was to read this second installation in the Roads and Kingdoms series.

Thankfully, TLC Book Tours had be covered on that front. They and Harper Collins graciously provided me an advance copy of the book to read and review. My thoughts?

Goulding's prose is as on point as ever. The magic web he weaves over Spain is enchanting and tantalizing. It may make you want to scrap planning your trip to Italy and reroute to the Spanish countryside it did for me. I think we're still going to least until I get my husband to read the book. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Henderson the Rain King - Saul Bellow

Henderson the Rain King
Title: Henderson the Rain King
Author: Saul Bellow
Publication Date: 1959
Pages: 352
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 10/27/16

Summary: Henderson is a rich man who travels to Africa in hopes of finding contentment or adventure or a combination of both. Though he certainly finds adventure, one can debate the success of his search for deeper meaning.

What I Thought: Though thematically this book is very similar to others on the 100 Best Novels list, it is quite different in tone and style. I really enjoyed the laid-back character of Henderson. His levity brought a fun quality to the book that many other search-for-meaning books overshadow with their serious tone. 

That is not to say that Henderson's cheerful demeanor is always fitting to his situation. He gets himself into some pretty serious scrapes in Africa. In the midst of them all, he continues to reflect back on his life and think of his wife and family. He seems to be one of those people who can charm just about anyone, yet not in a way which you resent. I found him to be a lovable character, though I do not think we would get along in practically. We are far too different. Still, I enjoyed reading about his journey. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises
Title: The Sun Also Rises
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Publication Date: 1926
Pages: 256
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 10/26/16

Summary: Ex-patriots wonder the European continent drinking, having affairs, and experiencing French and Spanish culture to the fullest.

What I Thought: I am a big fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work. He was a bit of a scumbag in his personal life, but his writing, to me, is some of the best by an American author. He and Hemingway were close. In the same way that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein were close and have some similarities in their works, I can now see that Hemingway and Fitzgerald were very similar. 

This was my first Hemingway novel. For someone who loves literature so much, I'm a little shocked and ashamed that it took me until almost 30 to read any Hemingway. Somehow he slipped through the cracks of my education to this point. As with Fitzgerald's work, I really loved the tone and voice of Hemingway's writing. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Title: The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
Author: Brennan Manning
Publication Date: 1990
Pages: 240
Genre: Faith / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 10/18/16

Summary: The good news is here! Grace comes through faith alone. Manning shouts it from the rooftops in his best-selling book.

What I Thought: After reading Love Does by Bob Goff in September, Manning's book felt refreshingly deep. Now, I enjoyed Goff's book, but it lacked a depth I was looking for. Manning delivered on that front. 

Ragamuffin joyfully proclaims the message of grace. We don't have to work for our salvation. Rather, forgiveness and freedom is available to every ragamuffin. Manning, who comes from a Catholic background, has no qualms about declaring his message. I really enjoyed the book. While none of Manning's thoughts were new to me, they were a great reminder. It certainly never hurts to be told again that God loves and accepts you unconditionally. All we need to do is accept His gift of grace. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse
Title: To the Lighthouse
Author: Virginia Woolf
Publication Date: 5/5/1927
Pages: 209
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 10/11/16

Summary: An intended family trip to the lighthouse is delayed by many years. Much more than this simple plot, the book revolves around the complexity of relationships and the reality of personal experience.

What I Thought: I have a feeling I will come back to this book multiple times in the future. In this particular reading, my first, I did not feel swept away by the book or immediately infatuated with it. Rather, I felt a slow pull, a sense that this book matters and has a depth which will take more than one reading to explore. 

To me, this felt very much like a test read, an exploration of what Woolf is about, an examination in preparation for future endeavors. I want to read more Woolf. She's one of the few female authors to have really broken through and impacted the literary world in her time. I like her writing style (a realization which was a bit of a relief considering how much I wanted to like her writing before even opening the book). The style and the story both reminded me quite a bit of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, which is one of my absolute favorites. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers
Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 323
How I Found It: I can't remember, but I read it along with two of my best friends.
Date Completed: 10/11/16

Summary: Upon leaving the foster care system, Victoria has nothing. No job, no family, no future, it seems. Her only interest or care in the world is flowers and the Victoria language of flowers. As she attempts to turn that interest into a sustainable life, she is forced to face some tough realities about the world and about herself.

What I Thought: I really had no idea what this book was about when I started it. I wish I could remember how it came to my attention in the first place. If I could, I would go back to that source for more recommendations. I really enjoyed this one.

Victoria's story was really moving. Throughout the book, she is dealing with some major emotional and mental barriers. She has no reason to trust or love anyone, yet life without those things is more than a little challenging. After years in the foster care system, she has been seemingly stripped even of the ability to open her heart. She imagines an adulthood before her where she can exist in near isolation and be happy that way. After all, if she never opens herself to others, she can never be hurt by them. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

First Women - Kate Andersen Brower

First Women
It's Election Day! This seemed an incredible appropriate book to share with you today. Regardless of your political perspective, the privilege of voting should not to be taken for granted. Take a moment in the midst of the craziness today to be thankful both for our rich presidential history and the fact that this election cycle is finally over!

Title: First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies
Author: Kate Andersen Brower
Publication Date: 4/12/16
Pages: 400
How I Found It: I read Brower's previous book, The Residence.
Date Completed: 10/12/16

Summary: The First Lady is an immense presence in the American zeitgeist. She stands as an emblem of what it means to be an American woman and wife. Each of the women who has served in this role has brought her own personality and beliefs to the position. Bower takes a look at the modern First Ladies (Jackie Kennedy onward) and how each of them handled the task.

What I Thought: I read Brower's previous book, The Residence, last year and greatly enjoyed it. I have always been fascinated by the first families and their stories, so this book seemed like a natural next step for both Brower and myself.

As with her first book, Brower takes each chapter topically, rather than working chronologically. This bugged me at first with The Residence and this book as well. However, by mid-way point of each, I had settled into Brower's rhythms and can concede that her method works well. While it's not typical for a book like this to be organized thematically, it functions smoothly. It does lead to a few anecdotes being repeated, but that's the only real downfall. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Red Rising - Pierce Brown

Red Rising
Title: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Publication Date: 1/28/14
Pages: 382
How I Found It: I've seen it quite a few places lately.
Date Completed: 10/6/16

Summary: Darrow lives deep under the surface of Mars. He is a Red, a member of the lowest working class, sent to prepare the planet for human life. The oppressive ruling class leaves him with nothing and he starts on a journey of vengeance. To defeat the Golds, he must first rise to their level.

What I Thought: This book was so interesting and unique. I really enjoyed it. Brown has a fairly unique premise here - or at least a fairly unique setup. The later portion of the book felt a bit Hunger Games, but definitely with some different elements. Brown has taken many classic plot elements - Cinderella included - and brought them together into something fresh and interesting.

Darrow, a young, successful newlywed, lives under the thumb of an oppressive regime. He slaves away under the red earth of Mars, mining the resources needed to make the planet habitable - or so the Reds have been told. After a series of tragic and troubling circumstances, Darrow comes to find out that Mars was long ago settled by the higher classes. He and his fellow Reds are kept enslaved for the profit and advancement of others. This realization is the push Darrow needs to join the resistance. He agrees to pose as a Gold, the highest caste in the solar system, in order to bring down the system which lies to and subjugates his family and friends.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins
Title: A God in Ruins
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publication Date: 5/5/15
Pages: 468
How I Found It: I read Atkinson's first novel, Life After Life, and loved it.
Date Completed: 10/6/16

Summary: Teddy Todd, brother of Ursula Todd of Life After Life, gets his own turn in the spotlight. His life as an RAF pilot during WWII, his life as a newlywed, his life as a father, his life as a grandfather, his life in old age - Atkinson moves fluidly throughout Teddy's story.

What I Thought: I loved Atkinson's Life After Life. In fact, I named it one of my favorite reads of 2015. I called it "charming, whimsical, serious, and, above all, well-written." While I would not call A God in Ruins a sequel, per say, it definitely pairs well with the first book. It follows Teddy Todd, Ursula's brother, over the nearly 100 years of his life. Atkinson moves fluidly throughout time and changes perspective at a few points as well. Each piece of the narrative is smoothly sewn together with the others; she has created a beautiful story, one piece at a time. 

I read this book with the book club I've recently started attending. This book has been on my list pretty much since it came out and I am so thankful I had this catalyst to finally read it. I should have done so months ago. I really enjoyed having a chance to talk about the book in an in-person format; this book club thing is nice. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October 2016 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.  

October News 

In eight days, the election will be over. Can we talk a moment and celebrate that? I'm super into politics (as you've probably guessed from some of my reading), but my gosh... I have never been so politically exhausted as points in this past month. Regardless of your political position, I think we're all looking forward to the end of the campaigns. Just think, it's at least 2.5 more years until any of us have to endure another presidential debate!

Outside of politics, this month has ended much better than it started (I suppose you could say the same about the political world, too). Kevin was traveling so much in September and early October and it was hard. But, we took a trip together over Fall Break and now we're back home until the holidays. No traveling for either of us. Just normal life. As much as we love our adventures, it's nice to have stretches of time where we're focused on moving forward rather than just moving.

I mentioned last month that I attended a book club for the first time. Well, I went again last week. I'm really liking it. It's nice to have a chance to sit and talk with people who love books like I do. I really enjoyed digging into the depths of a book with others and I don't get much of a chance to do that. I'm glad I joined and I plan to keep going. Plus, I think the organizer likes me, and that's always a plus.

Now if I could just figure out why every social organization I join is populated by people so much older than me. Sometimes I feel like I'm already living the life of a 50 year old. If only we could join a country club, my social circles would feel complete.

Thoughts about November and NaNoWriMo are at the end of this post so make sure you get there if you're interested in my plans!