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.