Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: The Book Thief

The Book Thief Cover

Read: The Book Thief by Maurice Zusack

Stars: Five

Drinking: Winter Spice, Twinings

I can't believe it took me this long to read this book. I've seen it everywhere, it was made into a movie, and it's about World War II - one of my favorite subjects. It's been on my TBR list for years, but I never quite got to it. I'm glad I finally did. It's an amazing book. (I did not cry. But only because I was on the metro while I read it.)

Death and Liesel Meminger meet for the first time when she is ten. Her brother dies before her as they are taken to a foster home outside Munich. Luckily, her new parents, especially her new Papa, are very understanding. She becomes a part of the vibrant community around her. But since they are in Germany in the late 1930s, Death and Liesel meet again many times. Between their meetings, Death keeps an eye on her and follows her book-stealing and reading career.

I love Death's quirky narration. Despite the dark setting of the story and the grim nature of his work, the narration is friendly and reassuring. I was so absorbed that the ending took me by complete surprise, despite overt foreshadowing. Liesel, her Mama and Papa, her best friend Rudy, and all of the other residents of their small community are so vibrant and full of life. You feel like you are in the basement with them listening to Liesel read her stolen books during air raids.

The darker theme of the book is, as with many books about World War II, what happens when good people do nothing in the face of evil and intolerance. The town is within walking distance of Dachau, a labor concentration camp. Jews are paraded through the streets on their way to the camp. The one man who stands up to the inhumanity and offers a small gesture of kindness is punished. It's a side story to the Book Thief's main story, but one that Death muses on often. It felt a bit heavy-handed compared to the rest of the narrative.

I highly recommend The Book Thief. I can't wait to see the movie. A warning, though - it is considered experimental fiction and the narration by Death is not for everyone. But if you want a great story about love, family, death, and reading, give it a try.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: Modern Romance

Read: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg
Stars: Five

Drinking: Celestial Seasonings Honey Lemon Ginseng Green

Ok, so I actually listened to this as an audiobook on a road trip, but it's still technically reading, right? The audiobook is narrated by Ansari himself, which really added to the content (even if he does rag on the listener for being too lazy to read it themself).

Technology has drastically changed dating and relationships. Ansari and Klinenberg interviewed elderly people in a retirement home in New York City to establish a pre-technology baseline for meeting partners. They then interviewed young people in 4 different countries (NYC, LA, & Wichita, USA, Tokyo, Japan, Doha, Qatar, and Buenos Aires, Argentina) about their dating experiences and how they use technology in relationships. The results were fascinating.

What makes this book great is that it is a serious, relevant subject and the research was done in a scientific way, but Ansari adds his personal anecdotes and of course his signature humor to keep it from getting too technical. My partner and I definitely could relate to some of the findings. We were a bit surprised by others. (As always, the Japanese were both odd and somehow logical.)

I highly recommend this book to anyone dating or in a relationship that involves technology, especially the internet and smartphones (which is pretty much all of us at this point).

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

2015 Reading in Review

This year, I had an unofficial focus on women writers and writers of color. I ended up reading quite a few memoirs as a result and, as always, a lot of great books.

I also gave myself permission to give up on trying to read Dark Star Safari, a well written but completely misogynistic and colonialistic narrative. I've almost always finished books, no matter how much I disliked them or found them tedious. That's something I want to change - there are so many exciting books out there. I don't want to waste my reading time with something I hate.

Of the 34 books I read this year, these are some favorites:

How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis

The Agency series by Y.S. Lee (I still need to read the 4th book!)

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Zealot by Reza Aslan

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

I was disappointed by a few that I read as well, namely Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl and Suzanne Joinson's A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar. Overall, though it was a good reading year. For the curious, my full list can be found on Goodreads.

For 2016, I'm going to continue to seek out new women and POC writers. I started off by listening to Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance with my partner on a road trip, and it was fantastic.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Review: Americanah

Drinking: Celestial Seasonings Cinnamon Apple Spice

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of those sweeping, beautifully written books that just inspires you to sit down and write, whether you have something to write about or not, simply because you are overwhelmed by the beauty and you want to be part of it.

The novel is about so many things: love, race, immigration, writing, learning who you are, finding home. Despite what some may think, it's not really a love story. Sure, Ifemelu and Obinze's relationship and stories are intertwined, but it's really Ifemelu's story of finding herself and coming of age. She finds herself and her voice (literally, through her blogs). Obinze's story, while interesting, is secondary.

I would really love to follow Ifemelu's blogs. Her race blog, from the perspective of an African in America, seemed particularly interesting. I've found myself speculating on what she would say about recent racial events, especially the police shooting issues that have come to a head in the last year.


Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Review: One Day

Read: One Day by David Nicholls
Stars: Five

Drinking: Simply Lemonade with blueberry

I've been binge-reading all summer, most of the books very good, a lot of five-stars.  But none of them have left me quite as book-hungover as One Day. I'm not really sure why, but when I put it down after reading it pretty much in two days straight I was in a daze.

It is well written, very beautiful, and hauntingly relatable.  Nicholls take his trope - the tale of one day, July 15, for nearly 20 years - and expands beyond to tell two intertwined lives. Emma and Dexter are two twenty-somethings, then thirty-somethings trying to find their way in the world.  I found myself nodding in understanding more than once, especially in the first half of the book as Emma feels she is wasting her life and her university degree. I related less well to Dexter's partying and infamy, but I know the feeling of being surrounded by people yet feeling very lost and alone. We've all been there.

It's also love story, a romance, but not in a conventional way.  They make mistakes, life gets in the way, they are afraid. It reminds me very much of Love, Rosie - two good friends, obviously meant for each other, but lives keep getting in the way.

Although this book could easily fall under the "romantic chick-lit" category, there is much more to the story than just the romance. In fact, for a good portion of the book, Em and Dex are hardly friends, much less lovers. Dex spends much of his life drunk, high, and with an endless stream of women until it all comes crashing down. Em tries to find herself, only succeeding later than she intended to. Along the way there is so much life in them, so much exploring, and also years of failure and misery.  It's never perfect.  It's not always happy.  But in the end, it's life, with all the bruises and scars. I think that between the quality of the writing and the way Nicholls so accurately portrays what life really is like, that the book sucked me in.  I'm still not quite out.

One Day is not an uplifting novel.  Sometimes funny, sometimes sad, sometimes uncomfortable, yes. Like life itself, though, it is beautiful through. And the end leaves the reader with hope despite everything. I highly recommend it to all of us who are struggling still with our twenties or even thirties.  The world is out there and we will eventually make our way, even if not in the way we expected.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Review: A Memory of Light

Read: A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Stars: Five

Drinking: Irish Breakfast Tea, Twinings

A Memory of Light is the final installment of The Wheel of Time.  I've been reading the series for 15 years, and it's hard to believe it's over.  The book is a long wrap-up of the series - we learn the fates of major and minor characters, a few characters come into their potential, and a few lingering mysteries are solved.  The final battle between the Dragon and the Dark One played out quite differently than I expected, but it was fantastic. The whole book was a heartwarming (and heartbreaking) farewell to characters that had become close friends. 

I'm in the process of going back and re-reading the series, now that I've finished the whole thing.  Jordan's brilliance is coming out in each book - events in the final installment are foreshadowed as far back as the first book!  Every time I re-read, I get more out of the series, and now that it is complete, I am noticing even more than ever.  Things that seemed strange or out of charcter are becoming suddenly clear (i.e. that character was evil all along! The evil plot is so clear now!).  I love a well written book or series that can be so new every time it is read.  Maybe I can never have the magical experience of reading it for the first time again, but I am enjoying the magic of uncovering secrets I never saw before.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Read: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle
Stars: Five

Drinking: English Afternoon Tea, Twinings

In this collection of short stories, published by Oxford University Press, the famous detective is outsmarted by The Woman, Irene Adler, discovers the secret of the five orange pips, and investigates the Red-Haired League.  Each adventure is narrated by Dr. Watson, Holmes' former flatmate and friend.  

If you haven't read any of Conan Doyle, you are missing out!  Even stories I had read before surprised me with Holmes' reasoning and deductions.  I like this Oxford edition because it includes detailed notes that really enhanced my understanding of the stories by explaining references to current events and terms that are no longer used.

Comparing the stories to the BBC's Sherlock TV show was also quite fun.  They manage to slip in a lot of details that I only realized while reading the stories. I am also amused that the short story involving Adler, "A Scandal in Bohemia," has been taken by fans to imply some sort of romantic attachment between her and Holmes.  While he admired her for outwitting him, there is no hint that Holmes was romantically attached to her, especially given the ending of the story.

I've always enjoyed Sherlock Holmes, so rereading the stories was very fun - I picked up some new nuances I hadn't noticed before.  I highly recommend any of Conan Doyle's Holmes stories (and BBC's Sherlock needs to get back on air. Seriously.)