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.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bookish and Not So Bookish Thoughts

Hosted at Bookishly Boisterous!

1. I like dresses! This is not a sentence I would ever have imagined writing as a child or even a few years ago. I still believe that wearing or liking dresses has nothing inherently to do with being a woman, and the reason I like dresses now has nothing to do with gender identity (except, I'll admit, that it's socially acceptable for me to wear them). Instead, I like dresses now because 1) it's summer and they're cooler and 2) they're more flattering on the weight I've gained as an adult.

2. When I opened my Stitchfix, I was thrilled to see an A-line dress in a polka-dot pattern on top. Hence, dress-liking revelation. Also, specifically, I like A-line dresses with short sleeves, quirky patterns, and, most importantly, pockets!

3. I'm rereading Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before and Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I'm reading them slowly this time, and writing in my journal along the way. It's a weird combination of comfort reading and actual continued attempts at life improvement--which is funny considering that my life is the best it's ever been...but that's also the best place to launch "even better"!

4. I'm so grateful for my life. For space to call my own, for my dog, for my husband...these are things I didn't know if I would ever have. I'm very lucky.

5. I'm also reading, for the first time, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. I have it out of the library, but it's really helpful. I might buy it.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Best Books Read in 2017 So Far

1. A Practical Wedding Planner by Meg Keene










I read this first in 2016, but it was incredibly helpful planning my wedding, especially in the last couple days!

2. The Magician King by Lev Grossman










I appreciate so much more the riffing on and respect for some of my favorite children's fantasy novels, and the Magicians series are fantasy novels in their own right too. Currently finishing up the trilogy with The Magician's Land.

3. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer



Insightful about who your audience really is, when it really is okay to ask (something I've struggled with most of my life), and plenty of wild, heartwarming stories from Amanda's life.





4. Wedding Stories, Ed. Diana Secker Tesdell



Thematic and timely for me, and also a thorough range of classic and contemporary American authors, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Edwidge Danticat. Also starts off with an entertaining story from English author A. A. Milne.




5. The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski


The last in the Winner's Curse trilogy was my favorite. Besides being a compulsively readable trilogy, there's provocative commentary on the relationships between master/slave, oppressing/oppressed, and the series also moves beyond that in terms of Arin and Kestrel's relationship, plus just has some damn clever moves. I love having a female heroine who is probably an average fighter, but more importantly, a military genius, and recognized as such among allies and enemies alike.


6. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Helen Russell provides a personal and informative account of her year living in Denmark. I found her impressions of the Danish lifestyle interesting, especially since Denmark is apparently the happiest country in the world!






7. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren



Hope Jahren's memoir is less about being a woman in the sciences and more an idiosyncratic grant proposal/love letter to plants and her lab partner, Bill--but a fascinating read that well deserves its popularity.






8. The Scar by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko


Marina and Sergey Dyachenko create a quirky and magnetic fairytale about a scar that turns a warrior into a coward.






9. Small Changes by Marge Piercy

I loved this book, but have a hard time explaining why. I grokked it in a very visceral way since it touches on the lives of two women, one who happens to be named Miriam, and threads through Boston and the feminist movement in the 1970s. If any of those subjects grab you, read this.





10. Heartless by Marissa Meyer


Thoroughly engrossing imagined backstory of the Queen of Hearts, recommended to those who are already Marissa Meyer fans and anyone who hasn't yet experienced her brand of fairytale retellings.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning to Start But Haven't

Top Ten Tuesdays are over at the Broke and the Bookish.

I feel like I used to have a lot of these, but I'll give it a go...

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning to Start But Haven't

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor










2. Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling










3. Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde










4. The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin










5. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir










6. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin










7. Defy by Sara B. Larson










8. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan










9.

10.

I'll see if I can remember more later!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts


Meme over at Bookishly Boisterous!

1. Especially towards the end of wedding planning, looking at wedding magazines made me sick and wedding advice columns made me sick with dread. It didn't stop me from reading, but what's surprising is that I've continued reading after the wedding--and I'm enjoying it! Ideas for weddings make me smile, conundrums inspire sympathy. The Practical Wedding column where the sister wears the white dress still leaves me flabbergasted--my sister/MOH wore an awesome gold jacket.

2. I have much more interest in wedding planning than I did before. Prior to mine, it was something I'd never thought about. Though it was stressful, afterward, it was kind of cool.  I'm not interested in planning a wedding or large party again, but I appreciate the experience because I have sympathy for my friends and relatives who are about to or may at some point go through it, and I like feeling like I could be of help to them

3. We got incredibly lucky. We had perfect guests--nobody's RSVPs were illegible, everyone replied who received their invitation (another story),and nobody brought a last-minute extra. We did have a few who replied yes and didn't make it, but they all let us know at least a few days ahead. Our families and bridal party were all phenomenal: they showed up, looked great, were extremely helpful. Like, one of my bridesmaids produced a sign in
Hobbiton Brushhand the morning of (Pro tip: if you're a bride having a daytime wedding, don't plan to do anything other than hair/makeup that morning). We got many comments on the warmth and love of the day, and we both felt loved and supported.

4. After we got back from the honeymoon, I reached a personal record and finished a journal I had for only three months (mostly, you guessed it, wedding stuff). In a desperate B&N run for a new blank journal, I also snatched up this Everyman Pocket edition of Wedding Stories that seemed like kismet, or, most likely, a cannily timed wedding season end table. I love the handsome hardcover with the built-in ribbon bookmark in and of itself, but I'm also enjoying every wedding story from A.A. Milne to Kelly Link. It's an apt post-wedding read, especially since I've got four more to attend this year, starting this weekend!

5. I'm super proud of myself for ordering photo books from Shutterfly less than a month after the wedding. They're the first Shutterfly photo books I've ever ordered, and while I'm happy, there are some things I would take back. For example, I regret all the one and two page spreads, which didn't end up looking good (fortunately, there were only a few). Also, Shutterfly warned me about putting too many photos on a page, but I honestly would have been okay with more photos on fewer pages. Anyway, we have awesome photo books!