September Reading Wrap Up

It doesn’t seem it should have taken so long to post my September wrap up considering I only finished 6 titles. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I read so little. I did not crack the spine of a book for two weeks. But I’ve learned I need to ride out these slumps (and I was listening to a good audio, so there’s that.) I did complete a Dusting Off The Bookshelf challenge — see below.

By the numbers: 6 books, 5 reviews on Goodreads, 4 reviews on alenaslife, 1 oldie from my shelf – #dustingoffmybookshelf, 1 from my 2014 personal challenge (poetry, non-fiction, foreign locale), 1 audio, 0 set-aside

September ReadsFrom most to least favorite:

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob ~ Already Reviewed

My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff ~ Already Reviewed

The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields ~ Already Reviewed #DustingOffMyBookshelf

The Free, Willy Vlautin ~ Already Reviewed

Landline, Rainbow Rowell

I just couldn’t ever really get past the gimmick that drives the plot of this book. Plus the fact that the protagonist’s name is Georgie McCool. It was all trying too hard for me.

“You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.
You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten – in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn’t know at twenty-three.”

Beatrice & Virgil: A Novel, Yann Martel (audiobook)

Even though the writing is superb, I was uncomfortable the entire time I listened to this (thankfully) short book. In the beginning, I was concerned that it was taking far too long to get to the story. Then 1/3 of the way in, I was so disturbed by the often gruesome content. And then, the end. I don’t have the words to describe the insane, awful, gut-punching ending. I wanted to like it. I didn’t.

“Life and death live and die in exactly the same place, the body…to ignore death is to ignore life.”

My September Photo Collage is comprised of book covers uploaded from Goodreads.

Glad I Read: My Salinger Year

My Salinger YearSometimes a book just picks me up in its pretty arms and carries me away for a while. Such was the case here. Joanna Rakoff picked me up and deposited me in a sort of timeless world where books and writing matter more than anything else. This is the year Rakoff accidentally fell into a job at a literary agency – a place stuck in the early 60’s despite a calendar which read 1996, a place where the obsessive reclusiveness of J.D. Salinger controlled behavior, a place where a young woman could discover her passion.

This is just the kind of memoir I love to read because I recognize so much of myself in Rakoff – the yearning, the confusion, the inability to take action when she should. Mostly, I recognize a kindred spirit in terms of book love. Along with her, I lament her boss’ inability to “get books.”

“She’d never spent entire days lying on her bed reading, entire nights making up complicated stories in her head. She’d not dreamed of willing herself into Anne of Green Gables and Jane Eyre so that she might have real friends, friends who understood her thorny desires and dreams. How could she spend her days—her life—ushering books into publication but not love them in the way that I did, the way that they needed to be loved?”

I love this idea that books need to be loved to fully come alive. I concur. It’s not what this memoir is about but it’s the background idea that drew me in and kept me engaged. Ironically, what pushed me away is that the book becomes more and more about Salinger and Salinger’s writing the longer it goes on. I’m just not in the Salinger Fan Club, so I automatically took an emotional step back just at the time I should have succumbed completely to the story.

But, really, it’s not much of a complaint. Rakoff is engaging and intelligent enough that even I could set aside my personal opinion to appreciate what she is writing. And, I love her retelling of her limited interactions with the man himself.

“Writing makes you a writer,” he’d told me. “If you get up every morning and write, then you’re a writer. Publishing doesn’t make you a writer. That’s just commerce.”

Ultimately a very satisfying memoir and one I won’t soon forget.

Read alikes
The Catcher in the Rye
Rules of Civility
Lit
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading

Brain on Fire: Emotionally Disturbing in All the Right Ways

Brain on Fire

“We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear, go with it.”

I have been blessed throughout my life with reasonably good health. It’s not a blessing I take lightly or take for granted. I have seen, especially through my parents, how quickly health can be ripped away – it only takes one small disaster. Susannah Cahalan, a young journalist for the New York Post, met such a disaster as she unexpectedly faced an onslaught of health emergencies and lost her grip on reality. Her memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, captures the terror and helplessness of that time, even while acknowledging that she is one of the lucky ones. I found this book emotionally disturbing in all the right ways. This could easily have been me or someone I love. Her crisis came on fast, with no explanation or diagnosis for seemingly endless weeks, with little hope of remedy. Susannah went from a capable, outgoing, ambitious woman to a victim of her own body almost overnight.

“The girl in the video is a reminder about how fragile our hold on sanity and health is and how much we are at the utter whim of our Brutus bodies, which will inevitable, on day, turn on us for good. I am a prisoner, as we all are. And with that realization comes an aching sense of vulnerability.”

The above quote is as about as melodramatic as Cahalan gets as a writer. Although deemed a memoir, she definitely takes a journalist’s approach to writing, laying out the facts in a fairly bare-bones manner. Partially, this is because she has few internal memories of the events in this book. She relies on interviews and research she did later, but still tells the story as a first-person narrative. It’s a tricky balance but she does an outstanding job. Most of the book is taken up with her mysterious symptoms and quest for a diagnosis, which she feels lucky to have finally received. After diagnosis and treatment, it’s more of a reflection of how lucky she feels that she had her family to advocate on her behalf, the random interest of a top doctor, and insurance and money enough to afford treatment. (Again, these are not blessings to be taken lightly.) All together captivating and terrifying. Highly recommend. Read-alikes: The Madness of George III (the play upon which the film The Madness of King George is based) Still Alice Unless We Need to Talk About Kevin (just in the “in could be me” sense of terror)

W…W…W…Wednesday: Books read, reading and to read

Hooray, it’s Wednesday — one of my favorite blogging days of the week as I get to share what everyone’s reading. I’m pretty pleased with my list this week.

Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for inspiring so many of us to get involved in WWW Wednesdays. It’s always a great way to connect.

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I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

 

Brain on FireWhat are you currently reading?  I’m almost finished with my book club title, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. This is an incredibly disturbing and captivating read. I haven’t wanted to set the book down for the past couple days, even though I’m alternatingly fascinated and terrified by this young woman’s true story. Highly recommend. On audio, I’m starting The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. I was a big fan of The Imperfectionists and I’m already finding some of that same dark humor in disk 1; however, I’m not a huge fan of the narrator’s voice and I’m wondering if I need to switch to the print edition.

The Dead in their Vaulted ArchesWhat did you recently finish reading? I am very sad to have completed the audio version of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, as it is the last in Bradley’s 6-book Flavia de Luce series. Rumor (aka the internet) has it that he’s writing a new Flavia series, but it won’t necessarily contain all the places and characters I’ve come to love from Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey. I have adored each  installment in the series. This is the only one, however, that I don’t think would stand alone without reading the preceeding novels. This finale ties together many outstanding questions left from the 5 murders Flavia has “solved” in her 11th year. Also finished Shotgun Lovesongs (reviewed here) and We Were Liars, which definitely deserves a review that I have not yet written.

Fourth of July CreekWhat do you think you’ll read next?  I was surprised and thrilled to find a copy of Fourth of July Creek on the New Release shelf at the library. I’ve heard such great things about it. Even though it’s almost 500 pages, I’m going to sneak it in before my next non-fiction, A Curious Man, and my classic, 1984 (which my 13 year-old is HATING by the way). No shortage of books to read this month.

Happy reading everyone!

 

*All book covers are images saved from Goodreads

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles? Please feel free to share a link to your own W…W…W…Wednesday posts or share your reading plans in the comments.

 

BINGO!

My Lita loved BINGO. I have fond memories of accompanying her to the church hall, where’d she set up her cards, red plastic discs and lucky elephants while she sent me to the concession stand for potato chips and pop. It was a weekly date and I loved her focus as she quickly scanned dozens of cards. I remember her excitement when she’d yell BINGO and raise her tiny hand in the air. I eagerly awaited the last game of the night when Lita would bring out her BINGO stampers and let me choose the color I wanted. (Of course I wasn’t technically allowed to play as a minor, but she always let me watch a card or two.) We never won the big jackpot, but I won something much more important those nights.

Reading-Bingo-smallSo when I saw a Reading BINGO card pop up on Facebook in January, I knew I had to play along. (The game was posted courtesy of Random House Canada and can be found here.)

I started strong, getting multiple BINGO lines in the first couple months of the year without having to try too hard — female author, different continent, short stories, non-fiction– this was a cinch. But, around April, I realized which squares would provide the challenge: B1 (more than 500 pages); I2 (non-human characters); I5 (scares you); N2 (funny book); G5 (second book in a series) and O3 (bottom of the TBR). I had to consciously go looking for those.

But I’m proud to raise my tiny hand in the air and yell BINGO!!! Tell the man with the microphone to get ready, I hit the big jackpot. I know my Lita’s smiling down on me.

Here are my BINGO titles. I’ve included links to those titles I reviewed on this blog and my 1-5 star ratings.

1) more than 500 pages – What is the What *****
B2) written by someone under 30 – How To Be a Good Wife ****
B3) one-word title – Cartwheel **
B4) 1st book by a favorite author – Songdogs (Column McCann) ****
B5) your friend loves – The Enchanted *****

I1) forgotten classic – BUtterfield 8****
I2) non-human characters – Hollow City****
I3) short stories – The Color Master: Stories ****
I4) heard about online – Black Swan Green ****
I5) scares you – 101 Great American Poems **** (and, yes, reading poetry scares the hell out of me)

N1) became a movie – This Boy’s Life ****
N2) funny book – Same Difference **
N3) FREE- Quiet Dell***
N4) best-selling – Eleanor & Park ****
N5) more than 10 years old – The Daughter of Time **

G1) published this year – Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir ****
G2) female author – The Book of Unknown Americans ****
G3) set on a different continent – Sister of My Heart ***
G4) based on a true story – When I Was Puerto Rican***
G5) 2nd book in a series – You Suck ***

O1) number in the title – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ****
O2) a mystery – Speaking from Among the Bones ****
O3) non-fiction – Orange Is the New Black **
O4) bottom of your to be read pile – The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes ***
O5) blue cover – All the Light We Cannot See*****

 

Anyone else playing along? What were your hardest spots to fill?

It’s not too late to climb aboard to Reading BINGO train.

Quoting the Quill: Why Read?

 

I’m back with my weekly round-up of great quotes. I’ve changed the name, inspired by the art and the brilliance of Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic which I found this week. She’s invited people to participate so here I am, jumping on board in my own way.

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From Haruki Murakami

“Have books ‘happened’ to you? Unless your answer to that question is ‘yes’, I’m unsure how to talk to you.”

This is the first Quoting of the Quill I stumbled upon and what drew my attention. These words could form my life motto! It’s not as if I think everyone needs to read as voraciously as I do, but when I meet someone who doesn’t “get reading,” I know we can be friendly but never really friends. Sad but true.

From Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.

A follow-up to the first quote from one of my favorite writers, this is today’s Goodreads Quote of the Day. I’ve walked in so many other worlds and so many periods of history thanks to books. I can’t imagine living any other way. (If you haven’t yet read The Namesake, I highly recommend.)

From Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.”

I adore this distinction between print and audio books (as I adored the entire book). I’m relatively late to the audio game and confine my listening to my daily commute. I still prefer the printed word because I like to do some of the creative work, but the image of the “fuzzy knit cap” is one I can’t shake. That’s exactly what it’s like to listen to a really good audio book.

From Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

“Reading fiction, I see through the prism if another person’s understanding; reading everything else, I am traveling…The one entirely benign mind-altering drug.”

Do you sense a theme in this week’s quotes. Yes, I love reading writers who love books as much as I do. Lively is an author I can always count on for great writing, so it’s no surprise that her memoir relishes her life in objects that include lots and lots of books. I want to be her friend.

From Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

And a departure from the reading theme, but I couldn’t help including this great paragraph from the brilliant Joan Didion. When I first read this collection of essays a couple of years ago, it blew me away for its precise, straight-to-the-heart observations on living. So much of what she writes about in terms of politics, sexuality and self-knowledge is timeless.

Looking for more great quotes?  Check out: More Quoting the Quill at Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic or Thursday Quotables at Bookshelf Fantasies.

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention this week.

Better late than never: What is the What

What is the What: cover image from Goodreads

What is the What: cover image from Goodreads

In lesser hands than Dave Eggers’, 500+ pages of tragedy, violence and deprivation would have been intolerable reading material. Fortunately for me, Eggers writes this story of the Lost Boys of Sudan with care, courage and even some humor so that I never lost interest or felt it went on too long.

Although it’s classified as fiction, it reads more like a memoir. We learn the personal tragedy of Valentino, a Sudanese boy whose world and family is ripped apart by war. He runs from his village under attack and just continues to run from refugee stop to stop, with violence and uncertainty trailing him.

“I do not want to think of myself as important enough the God would choose me for extraordinary punishment, but then again, the circumference of calamity that surrounds me is impossible to ignore.”

This “circumference of calamity” seems to expand exponentially as the book switches between his childhood and current day, when he is being robbed and held prisoner in Atlanta. Yet, the book never grows depressing or hopeless. Without creating any emotional distance, Eggers never over-dramatizes the tragedy; he uses the see-sawing timeline to continually remind the reader that our hero does indeed “get out.”

This novel (really a history lesson) never loses hope. These tens of thousands of children walked through a hell that never seemed to end, and yet many of them never gave up or gave in.

“Now we can stand and decide. This is our first chance to choose our own unknown…As impossible as it sounds, we must keep walking.”

It also helps that Valentino is so likably human, even when repeating the same mistakes.

“I wanted to be alone with my stupidity, which I cursed in three languages and with all my spleen.”

Truth be told, What is the What has been on my “To Read” shelf almost as long as it’s been published, but its sheer size and my love/hate relationship with Eggers’ books kept it from moving to the top. Three things finally pushed me to read this: 1) The VERY high recommendation of my friend Kathy, RA Librarian and someone who knows my reading taste well. 2) My 2014 reading goal to read more books that take place outside the US or England. 3) A May challenge in one of my on-line book groups to read a book with “What,” “Where,” “Who” or “Why” in its title.

Sometimes I just have to give it up to fate. This is an outstanding book.