Thursday, October 19, 2017

Things I Want to (Want to) Write About

It's been awhile since I've written here, but I haven't stopped reading.

1. In fact, as of yesterday, I finished my Goodreads goal to read 52 books this year:

I didn't know about the nifty 'Completed' sash, but it sure feels satisfying. After my first year of Goodreads, I'm overall satisfied but not impressed. The most addictive quality of Goodreads is ticking off your self-set reading goal one-by-one, similar to NaNoWriMo's word counter, but otherwise, there's less functionality than I thought in terms of categorizing books, and I've found Goodreads' recommendations less helpful than finding books from other bloggers or browsing in the library. Still, I'll probably continue for next year at least; I'm contemplating the slightly loftier goal of 54.

2. Similarly, after my first year of The Economist, I'm satisfied, but not impressed, this time, with my own reading abilities. I had hoped The Economist would provide more worldly and economic/financial knowledge for me, and also that I would manage to read a majority of the weekly issues. Although I do think my awareness of international issues has improved (for example, I've been following outsourced private schools in Liberia, charges against Brazil's president, the rise of Macron, and so on), I've found that I tend to skip and skim the boring financial articles, and I don't feel like I understand economics much better than I did before. Finally, although I read far more issues than I did when I subscribed to The New Yorker, I still don't feel like the price (or waste) is worth the number of magazines I toss unopened or barely skimmed. Instead, I'm planning to replace my Economist subscription next year with a subscription to three or more local literary magazines (because I can do that at the same price point). That leads neatly into my next topic...

3. Poetry feels essential at this moment. I'm drowning in it happily. Besides full-length collections, of which I've read at least as many as last year (2-3, not bothering to check), I'm subscribed to the Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day, sent directly to my inbox, and I find myself clicking on links to poems on Facebook, Twitter, everywhere. It's a refuge and an outcry that seems to find its expression best no other way.

4. I want to write more about The Cooking Gene, and also I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and attended an event to hear her talk in person about dealing (or choosing not to deal) with her daughter's hair because some things are more important than looks and how some of the characters in the book would have gone to New Zealand today instead of America. Adichie is a fabulous speaker, and I highly, highly recommend you try to attend an event with her, and furthermore, I'm proud of myself for finishing her book, and also it took two days because I was so entranced. And also, the book is set in Nigeria, and the food mentioned was familiar to me--not because I've ever eaten fufu or soup made with palm oil, but because I'd recently finished The Cooking Gene--and there was nothing like his descriptions matching up with the food in a completely unrelated African novel to drive home his thesis about the African origins of American Southern food.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Fall is always the big TBR when all the big doorstop bestsellers come out...but this year, I'm doing pretty well with what I wanted to read and feeling pretty laidback about the rest. Three books out this fall are from folks I know: in real life, The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty; in blogging life, Reading People by Modern Mrs. Darcy and Smitten Kitchen Everyday by Smitten Kitchen.

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

1. The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

Been waiting to read this for at least a year, maybe more, and now I'm almost finished!

2. Reading People by Anne Bogel

Also just finished this one, which I also preordered. I wasn't sure exactly what it would be like, but it was like a group of blog posts on different personality tests, which I did find interesting. A handy guide to dip into when I want to reflect on aspects of my personality.

3. Smitten Kitchen Everyday by Deb Perelman

This one isn't out yet, but she's coming to DC, so I'm going to hear her talk!

4. The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

Sounded like an interesting collection of short stories, and I'm a fan of Jane Yolen's children's book The Devil's Arithmetic from way back.

5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (or anything else by her)

I've read some short stories, but despite her popularity, haven't managed to read any of her books or full collections yet. Purple Hibiscus is the One Maryland, One Book for this year, and I'm planning to see her talk next week!

6. Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

I love everything I've read by James McBride, so I'm excited.

7. Future Home of the Living G-d by Louise Erdrich

I'm kind of so-so about what I've read of Erdrich's in the past, but this dystopian concept intrigues me.

8. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

It's supposed to be similar to The Handmaid's Tale, so I'm in for this. 

9. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hugely popular this year and representative of this era of refugees.

10. Tales of Two Americas, edited by John Freemen and Nasty Women, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

Two short story collections about current political divides; hoping for some grace and clarity. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Reading Life Continued

Finished This Past Week:

I found this at my local Little Free Library just a couple of days before I embarked on a train journey over Labor Day Weekend. It was the perfect slim size to bring with me and to read on the train. My second book of poetry in only a couple weeks. Highly recommend Adrienne Rich, and looking forward to reading more of her collections.

Currently Reading:

I'm about halfway through reading The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty, my former Hebrew school teacher turned African American culinary historian. Twitty uses his own family to define and describe the intertwined African American cultures and food, and as I was when I learned from him, I'm impressed by his bravery in confronting the horrors visited upon his ancestors. He doesn't shy away from the rape of his foremothers nor from claiming those white male fathers as his ancestors as well. Although his food typically has a healing, collaborative message, he also includes recipes for the cornmeal mush fed to slave children in a trough and the slurry sometimes force-fed to African captives on slaver's ships. I've never read anything quite like this before, and I'm glad he wrote it.

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it in an Instagram picture, but by the time I got it, it was summer, and it sat on my shelf for a while. I tried reading it, but I just wasn't in the mood. However, last night, after I had to put down The Cooking Gene, but still wanted something to read, I picked it up again, and it's clicking better. It certainly feels like fall around here already, and though I'm a sworn summer aficionado, I'm trying to be excited.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

More Reading Life

Finished This Past Week:

It's hard for me to talk about how I feel about poetry. But I read this straight through, and even though I liked some poems better than others, I was feeling the whole spirit of this anthology.

After a run of unusual reads for me (nonfiction, short stories, poems), I got back to my roots with an Octavia Butler science fiction novel. Fledgling was her last book and it didn't disappoint. Butler turns the myth of vampires among us into a thought experiment on mutualism and group marriage sustained by chemical bonds, plus darker skin as a genetic advantage. Like a lot of her other books, it thinks about how humanity and relationships would be different with different types of chemical and biological relations. Shori, a vampire-type creature known as an Ina, which in Butler's version is a distinct species, needs to drink human blood to survive, BUT her human symbionts benefit from pleasure, longer life, and improved healing. Both Shori and her symbionts are chemically bonded to one another--and she naturally needs several in order to sustain her without harming any. Unlike other Ina, Shori is genetically engineered with darker skin so that she is able to walk in the daylight. This causes the main source of conflict in the book but there are interesting undercurrents of gender, racial, economic, and political power dynamics as well. This was supposed to be a trilogy, and I wish Butler had gotten to finish it.

So, I finally read this. It's okay as fanfiction, which is what I consider it. I'm also sure it's better seeing it performed than reading the script. but I refuse to consider this the eighth Harry Potter book. There is no such thing.

Next Up:

Pretty amazing that I actually have this! I've had it on preorder forever. Twitty was my Hebrew school teacher, one of the only ones I actually liked, so I'm happy to support him. It's also kind of cool that when I go to a tavern in Williamsburg, his recipes are on the menu. Interested to learn more about his journey as a culinary expert in African American cuisine; also looking forward to learning more about his research on his family, which I remember learning about in Hebrew school!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reading Life

Recently Finished:

I finished Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun on the plane back from Boston. I bought it that day at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Although it's not at all what I expected (I thought it would be snarky toasts about her friends' misguided love lives), I devoured her reflections on the realities of her own marriage. As a newlywed, I enjoyed it and I'm sure others will too.

Almost Finished:

I enjoy travel writing, but these are overly focused on remote corners of Africa and Alaska for my taste. I did enjoy the story about saving the books of Timbuktu and the story involving writers and libraries in the American South.

Next Up:

Also purchased at Porter Square Books, I've already started dipping into these timely poems.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Reading Life

Finished Last Week:

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I picked up The Wangs vs. the World after attending a panel with the author at the Gaithersburg Book Festival back in May. The eloquence of patriarch Charles Wang's hatred of America inspired my purchase, but still the hardcover sat unread for days and months, intimidating me. I knew I was going to like it, but that also made me more eager to wait for the right moment, when I could appreciate it.

The prose didn't disappoint. From white wolf hair ink brushes to urea to "guyliner," Chang creates an entertaining world of words, including transliterated but untranslated Chinese, in which the Wangs wither. Patriarch Charles is joined on his ride of shame across the nation by his wife Barbara, son Andrew, and daughter Grace en route to daughter Saina in upstate New York, who has troubles of her own. However, although entertaining and well-worded, the troubles of the Wangs don't seem to be resolved in any meaningful way, or, at least, the world suffers the consequences just fine.

Station Eleven, on the other hand, which I picked up from the Little Free Library near my home, metamorphoses material goods like iPhones, stilettos, and comic books into symbols of hope and ineffable meaning. It centers on a performance of King Lear in Toronto where the lead actor, Arthur Leander, perishes of a heart attack on stage, followed by a worldwide pandemic. The story follows the one young actor who survives, the paramedic who tried to revive him, and other characters from the life of Arthur Leander. Just as Chang's story does, Station Eleven follows multiple characters at different moments in time, but primarily focusing on one physical journey. However, reading them so close together, it was palpable to me that while I enjoyed the characters in both, Station Eleven felt so much more meaningful and significant and has a much more narratively fitting ending. Although I do think St. John Mandel's work has an intentionally spiritual quality (and, frankly, Chang has the more sparkling vernacular), I do wonder if post-apocalyptic worlds are necessarily imbued with more meaning than our mundane world, where entrepreneurs rise and fall and go to live with their daughters. It reminds me of that old Okcupid question, "In a certain sense, wouldn't nuclear war be exciting?"

Finished This Week:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman

I started reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team at an airport and finally managed to get it through hold at the library. Although it's fictional, the team in the book seemed entirely realistic. Lencioni succinctly and entertainingly details the consequences of a team's lack of trust, and how one might turn it around. I haven't read many business/management type books, but I would highly recommend this one.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late was a find from the Bookcrossing table at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I'm generally not a fan of mysteries, but I couldn't pass up a novel with 'rabbi' in the title. I'm glad I did, since, although the whodunit was obvious, reading about synagogue politics of the 1960s was at once familiar and revelatory. I grew up around the kinds of attitudes and discussions in the book...but I've never read about them before. Plus, the eponymous Rabbi Small is a Talmudic scholar who applies his learnings to the modern world, which was nerdily fascinating to me. There are apparently 11 of these Rabbi Small mysteries, plus a TV pilot, and I'm considering acquiring the rest.

Currently Reading:

The Best American Travel Writing 2015, edited by Andrew McCarthy

Up Next:

Not sure what I'm up for yet.  It's Women in Translation month so perhaps I'll spring for the next Elena Ferrante novel (I'm due to read the third), or a different WIT read.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What I'm Reading Now

I recently finished The Airbnb Story, which is highly unlike most of what I read. In the past, I haven't read a lot of (or any) nonfiction and while that's changing, the nonfiction I read is still mostly memoirs and some life improvement/motivational reads. But this topical, business, technology read caught my eye, recommended on LinkedIn, and I checked it out of the library. And read it in three days. It took me longer than a fantasy novel of the same length might have, but a few years ago, I probably wouldn't have gotten through this book at all. It covers the founding, development, and current state of the company Airbnb, which, interestingly, boasts three founders who have all stayed together and only one of whom is an engineer, and which is still not yet a public company. Like the author notes, it's still just the beginning for this controversial company that's been around since 2008.

I think what made a difference for me now is I have something to grab on to here, some context. I'm aware of Airbnb, and although I haven't used it, would be willing to. It's a concept in my orbit as a millenial, though I've typically couchsurfed with friends or friends of friends. Nonfiction, especially business or technology related, was always so abstract to me, much more abstract than Middle Earth or Narnia. It's a funny thing, realizing that just now in my life, am I beginning to feel a little, just a little, grounded in the real world.

Speaking of more practical books, I'm also in the middle of reading Radical Candor: How to Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. I really like the concept and was finding it useful, until I reached a section on gender politics in the office, and got so annoyed that I'm questioning the rest of the book. Besides taking an extremely surface-level gloss over complicated gender issues, Kim Scott ends the section with the infuriatingly naive statement: "We must stop gender politics." Ummm...yes, because that is something we can stop, just like that. I'm not advocating for gender politics, but they exist for a reason, and we can't just 'stop' until underlying social issues are resolved. This disappointed and distracted me from a book I was enjoying. It reminds me of when I read Kant's Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime in college and I was like, yes, yes, yes, throughout the first section..and then it devolves into all kinds of disgusting nationalist stereotypes, and I was just like, Kant, I can't trust you anymore. Kim Scott...I don't know if I can trust you anymore.