Monday, July 24, 2017

What I'm reading this week (7/24/17)

Last week I finished:

Do I know Trevor Noah from a fence post? No, not really. I mean, I know who he is and what he does, but I've never watched his show or seen his standup comedy. This only allows me to be a little more objective about his book, Born a Crime. When celebrities write books that have nearly 3,000 perfect reviews on Amazon and over 7,000 on Goodreads, you know either folks are simply enthusiastically supporting a product by someone they like, or the book is amazing. So I went into this read knowing it could be anything. I came out with mixed feelings (no pun intended, Mr. Noah). First, the good. I think this is one of the best-written celebrity memoirs I've ever read. I sincerely hope he wrote every word himself (do celebs still do that?). It's a smart book dealing with difficult issues of race and poverty, but with a lot of humanity and humor. Some countries and systems of living are so bizarre, one can only survive them with humor. South African apartheid is such a system. Its arbitrary rules about who trumps who based on a cursory look at skin color is hard to fathom. But things didn't necessarily improve when Mandela was released and apartheid fell. South Africa had no coping mechanisms for moving on as a country after the odd structure of forced racial divide was dismantled. People, whole communities, fell through the cracks. The government did nothing to address unemployment, for instance. In some areas, when forced labor was taken away, people had nothing to do at all. Noah does a good job of presenting the life he lived in South Africa. He talks about growing up a mixed child (called "colored" in South Africa) of a black mother; not fitting in anywhere because the color of his face (colored) did not match the culture he came from (black); and struggling to resist the pull of the ghetto. He talks about being a troublemaker, some of it harmless childhood pranks, but much of it illegal, though, since everyone was doing it, he never considered what he did as illegal, immoral, or beneath him. He says he never regretted what he did to get by, though he eventually did see the soullessness of it. So that's where my mixed feelings come in. It distresses me to think that teens and young adults are getting their views of the world from someone who says "you do what you do to get by because though they taught you to fish, they never gave you a fishing pole." Race is an explosive issue in our country right now, and any view against the norm brands you a racist, so young people have stopped examining both sides critically. I'm not saying Noah isn't a good role model, because I don't know the guy, but he does talk about his days of illegal activity a little too flippantly for me. Still, I think he thought he was balancing things well in this regard, and I may be more sensitive to issues of morality than others. In the end, I found the book fascinating, his storytelling enormously entertaining, and his stories about South Africa enlightening. I would recommend this book, especially for book clubs, as there is much to chew on here. My rating: 4 stars.

I also finished the third book in Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Morality for Beautiful Girls. I enjoyed this one as much as the first book. In this installment, Mma Ramotswe is forced to combine her detective agency with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's Speedy Motors mechanic shop, when her business isn't bringing in as much money as needed and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is too depressed to care for his shop. She puts Mma Makutsi in charge managing Speedy Motors and its two lazy apprentices while she packs Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni off to rest and goes out to solve some cases on her own. I enjoyed the cases in this one: a government man thinks his brother is being poisoned by his wife; a boy is found who seems to have no facility for language and smells of lions; and the Botswana beauty pageant asks Mma Makutsi to determine which of its four beautiful contestants is the most moral and deserving of the title. In these books there is a traditional clarity of though when it comes to judging people, their actions, and right from wring, that would just not fly in contemporary American society. It's why I find them so wonderful. This one did make me wonder, though, exactly when these books are set. I thought it was present-day (well, 15 years ago, since this book is from 2002), but I found it odd that Mma Ramotswe had never heard of depression or Dr. Leakey's anthropological discoveries in Kenya. On the other hand, these naïvetés are kind of endearing. I loved this book, and I loved the audio version, as always; Lisette Lecat is brilliant. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

This week, I continue reading:

I'm now about 200 pages in to The Spirit of St. Louis, and Lindbergh's plane is built. He's about to make his way to New York to begin his historic flight. I can feel the anticipation building.

I'll be finishing Poems to Read this week, and I'm ready to be done with it. While I'm enjoying it, I'm not absorbed by it. Could be that after reading 1,600 poems this year, I'm a little burned out on verse. Plus, Pinsky has always been a little too pedantic for me.
My audiobook:

You guys, what an absolute treasure West with the Night is! And to think that a year ago I set it down sure I would never pick it back up to finish. I'll have a full review up next week, but suffice it to say, this one is blowing me away.

Next up:

I don't know where the sudden fascination with stories of Africa has come from, but it will continue this week when I start Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible on audio. My brother has been telling me to read this one for years.

My last book of July will be How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I always save the book I'm most excited to read for last, and the fact that this is what I saved will tell you what kind of English major dork I am.

What are you reading this week?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

2017 Reading Goals: An Update

It's past the halfway point of 2017, so it's time for an a reading goals progress report. Most of my goals have been met or will be met shortly. I'm already working on my 2018 goals ('cause I'm like that), and I'm basing them on what worked and didn't with these goals. I've included the original information for each goal below, and the original post can be seen here.

My 2017 Reading Goals:

1. Re-read Sense and Sensibility.
Each year I read a Jane Austin novel, and having completed them all last year, I'm starting over again this year with my first Austin read. I am so excited for this!
Finished: July 16
It wasn't quite how I remember it, mostly, I think, because I've seen the movie too many times since I first read it! Review here.
2. Read We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, vol. 2.
I read volume 1 in 2015, and I'm excited to delve into volume 2 this year. The first volume changed my life and gave me new spiritual understanding. I look forward to seeing how volume 2 will challenge me.
Finished: April 8
It was wonderful. Feeling so enriched, I need to think of a goal like this for next year, too.
3. Read 50 books carried over from 2016.
That's right, 50. Go big or go home, baby! This isn't as lofty as it might seem since my TBR is so long I can easily find 50 books I'm dying to read. But I'd also like to clear off some older items from the list that I'm a little less excited about.
So far I've read 43 books that I carried over from last year. By the end of July it will be 44. Not far to go to reach this goal. I plan to continue past 50 to see how much of the TBR can be cleaned up before the end of the year.
4. Read 25 books published in 2017.
Last year I finished 42 books published within the year, but it was an exceptional year for new releases. I'm trusting in the law of supply to find at least 25 new books that excite me this year.
I've finished 22 book toward this goal, and there are a lot of great books releasing this fall. I'll continue with this goal no matter when I finish it.
5. Read 10 (pre-selected) high-profile books.
There are so many books that "everyone but me" has read. It's time to try them and see if the raves hold up for me. To show you how gung-ho I am about this goal, four of these titles are on my January reading list: All the Light We Cannot See, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Where'd You Go, Bernadette, and Wonder.
I still have one book left in order to reach this goal. I think I'll read either Endurance or Homegoing. (I read all of the titles listed here, and I loved all but Where'd You Go, Bernadette which I really didn't like.)
6. Read 10 chunksters.
This goal appears each year. It keeps me honest and provides a good challenge. I have a lot of exciting options for this goal, including several presidential biographies.
Finished: July 9
I'm in the middle of The Spirit of St. Louis, and I have a few more planned before the year is out. I'll probably finish the year with 15-17 chunksters under my belt. (I didn't read any of my presidential biographies yet.)
7. Read 10 contemporary novels.
I finished 16 contemporary novels last year, and for someone who didn't read fiction up until a couple of years ago, that's quite the accomplishment. I'm not sure I'd need to have this goal anymore, since it was originally designed to force me to read fiction, but it gives me something to shoot for.
Finished: March 22
This has been quite a year for fiction. I've finished 23 contemporary novels, two classics, and nine children's novels, which means I've read more fiction books than nonfiction this year. My favorite novel so far has been Beartown, and I doubt I'll read anything to surpass it. You guys, just read that book!
8. Read 10 books about presidents, first ladies, first families, the White House, or American history.
This wasn't on my list of goals until just a little bit ago. I finally realized that if reading about history was one of my absolute favorite things, it should be a goal. It's something I would have done naturally, but I like seeing the goal there anyway. I have a feeling I'll read way more than 10.
I've finished seven books, have one in progress, and at least two more on deck for August. I've been reading so much fiction that this goal hasn't gotten quite the love I expected it to.
9. Read 10 children’s books.
This shouldn't be too hard. I've found I really enjoy children's literature.
I've finished nine children's books, and I plan to finish this goal in August. My favorites? Wonder and Eleanor & Park.
10. Read 1,000 poems.
This is a goal from last year that I enjoyed completing so much I brought it back for a second year.
Finished: April 25
As of this writing, I've read 1,592 poems this year. Perhaps I'll finish 2,000 poems by the end of the year. My favorite book of poetry was William Stafford's Ask Me. Phenomenal.
11. Read 100 books.
This is the general goal I set every year. Anything over 100 is gravy.
I've read 73 books so far this year, and at my current reading rate, I should finish this goal in late September or early October.
12. Read 50 picture books.
I always surpass this number, but I like having the goal to remind me to actually sit down and read them, not just hoard them for "someday."
I've read 31 picture books so far this year. My favorites include A Greyhound a Groundhog and Hotel Bruce.
13. Complete 5 mini-challenges.
This is something I just put on the list this morning, believe it or not. I've pared down my list of goals quite a bit from last year, and I was afraid I'd lost some of the whimsy of the multiple small goals of last year. Some challenges include:
  • A book about sports.
  • A book that will likely rile me up.
  • A re-read.
  • A novel set in contemporary America.
  • A book with a person’s name in the title.
  • A seasonal book.
  • A book of haiku.
  • A reading curveball (book I’d not normally read).
  • A humorous book.
  • A huge book from 2016.
  • A book with a pink cover.
  • A book with a strong sense of place.
  • A whimsical book.
  • A book about or set in the south.
Finished: March 25.
I've finished 18 mini-challenges so far, and I have a 19th in progress. I guess this one could have been more ambitious. I'll know for next year.

Some of the challenges completed:

  • A book that will likely rile me up.
  • A book that’s been on my TBR a long, long time.
  • A book with Bo or suggested by Bo (my grandson).
  • An Agatha Christie novel.
  • A reading curveball (book I’d not normally read).
  • A book about Christianity or living a Christian life.
  • A re-read.
  • A book about reading or words.
  • A book about personal growth.
  • A humorous book.
  • A book about gardening or the natural world.
  • A book about another country/continent or traveling.

A look at what I'm excited to read in the second half of the year:



Monday, July 17, 2017

What I'm reading this week (7/17/17)

Last week I finished:

I bought Everyone Brave is Forgiven the moment it came out. I felt that it would be one of those "it" books that I'd want to read. I was mostly proved right. But, it sat on my shelves for months waiting for its turn. Finally, I decided if I was going to read another thick World War II novel, it would have to be on audio, so that way I finally got around to reading it. This is the story of four friends, Mary, Tom, Alistair, and Hilda, who take up war work--and war attitudes--in different ways. Tom gets an exemption from fighting. Alistair enlists. Mary and Hilda volunteer. The book is split into three (I think) parts, and I have to tell you, I contemplated putting it down until I got to the second part--roughly halfway through the book (200 pages in). It wasn't until this point that I started to really care about the characters and that the plot really seemed to take off. This book does get grisly, and Cleave is not afraid of killing off his characters, which is shocking, but also shows war at its most real. It takes you to the front and to the London home front and examines the ways war changes lives, people, and culture. It is a well-written, well-imagined book based on Cleave's grandparents' lives during the war. At the halfway point, I think Cleave really hits his groove and shows you who his characters are, and he's a master at allowing them to change, subtly and not subtly. It was really very good. I've heard rumors that there is a follow-up book in the works, though I have no confirmation of that. I'd recommend this one, with the caveat that you might need to hang in there longer than you want to. The book does pay off. My rating: 4 stars.

Between Them is one of those books that I love to curl up with but know I'll probably never convince others of. It's unfortunate, but that's the way of some books. I have a collection of books like this: small, short books that are more stream-of-conscience books, full of insight and contemplation over life's details. They're a pleasure through-and-through, even tactilely, being just the right size in your hands. This is the memoir-ish reflection of Pulitzer Prize-winning Richard Ford's parents in the second half of the last century. He tells how the three of them (Richard was an only child born later in his parents' lives) got along, how his father's death affected the dynamic, and who they were individually and collectively. You could tell that Ford, now in his 70s, was trying to get to the heart of something, and his readers were invited along for the ride. This one won't appeal to everyone, I know, but I really enjoyed it. I felt a connection to it. I love books about fathers, for one thing. And the story of Ford's life bore some resemblance to my husband's life with his folks. Both had over-the-road salesmen fathers who came home on weekends; both were raised as only children (my husband has a brother, but he's much older); both lost a parent in their teens. I liked this one for its thoughtful, reflective tone. My rating: 4 stars.

Ah, Jane Austen. The love affair continues. Having finished all of her major novels last year, I decided to begin re-reading them one per year in the order I'd originally read them. I read Sense and Sensibility in about 1998, I'd say. But I've seen the movie version with Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet, and Hugh Grant many, many times. It's one of my absolute favorite movies. Having spent so much time with the movie, though, I find the characters in the book somewhat different than I remember them being. Mostly, I didn't remember Elinor being so judgmental. I think the movie casts her as being exceedingly prudent and selfless, but the book definitely makes the reader know that she's always weighing a person's character and deciding how much of her affections or attentions they're worthy of. It seemed much more pronounced this time through. The plot (I find it very difficult distilling an Austen plot effectively) revolves around the elder Dashwood sisters, Elinor (prudent and right) and Marianne (passionate), their love interests, romantic disappointments, and the various family and friends who make their lives difficult. I enjoyed re-reading this one. My rating: 4 stars.

I'm still reading:

Still enjoying the varied mix of poems in Poems to Read.

I've managed to sneak in:

I can't explain how, but I've thrown The Spirit of St. Louis, Charles Lindbergh's Pulitzer Prize-winning account of his famous solo transatlantic flight, into the evening reading mix. I've already read 100 of its 500 pages, and I'm at the part where financing is in place and a plane is being built for him. Fascinating and very readable.

My audiobook:

I'm listening to the third No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency book, Morality for Beautiful Girls, and I'm loving it. Truly loving it.
Next up:

My next main book will be Trevor Noah's Born a Crime. And my next audiobook will be West with the Night. That's a lot of books about Africa and flight all of a sudden!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

11 nonfiction books I've added to my TBR

I've been on a nonfiction tear lately. So far this year, I've read equal amounts of fiction and nonfiction (30 books of each, with another 7 of poetry). I seem to be wanting more nonfiction, especially travel and adventure stories. Here's what I'm excited to read. 


Frederick Russell Burnham was a man who led a very adventurous life. I'd never heard of him, but I stumbled upon A Splendid Savage (new in paperback this spring), and I'm delighted.

I'm also really excited to read Charles Lindbergh's Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir of his flight over the Atlantic, The Spirit of St. Louis. Plus, bonus points for having a pink cover! There are very few books with pink covers.


Two books about Africa, specifically Rwanda: A Thousand Hills to Heaven and Land of a Thousand Hills. The first is a memoir of husband and wife who open a restaurant in Rwanda. The second is a memoir of an American woman who lived in Rwanda for 50 years.

Writing Memoir

Mike Perry has two books coming out this fall. Danger: Man Working is about writing.

The next (last?) in the Killing series by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard, Killing England, is out in September.

Sons and Soldiers is the story of German Jews who fled Germany before WWII, then went back to fight them on the side of the U.S. 

The Last Castle is about the glorious Biltmore Estate.


And some straight-up "girl" memoirs: Notes from a Blue Bike (because I loved Tsh Oxenreider's recent At Home in the World), Give a Girl a Knife about a Midwesterner-cum-chef, and The Lucky Few about adoption.


Monday, July 10, 2017

What I'm reading this week (7/10/17)

 Last week I finished:

Mercy is something I think about a lot these days. The world, perhaps America specifically, is in need of a whole lot of mercy right now. We all need to reflect to others the mercy we feel shone on us. But while I enjoyed Anne Lamott's latest collection of essays on mercy, Hallelujah Anyway, I felt that I didn't walk away with any clear ideas of what Lamott felt about mercy. This book felt a little different than Lamott's previous work (I've read all of her nonfiction). There were whole paragraphs that seemed airy and nebulous, with nothing concrete to hold onto. These didn't go on for too long, but they felt strange. I would realize I'd read a whole page and had no idea what she said. I don't remember ever running into this before. Additionally, this book wasn't funny like her other work. I don't remember laughing once, and I don't really remember any attempts at jokes. Is Lamott changing her writing style? Was it the topic that affected it? Overall, though, I was happy with this one, and I look forward to more. My rating: 3.5 stars.

A year or so ago I watched the movie Anna and the King of Siam, a film I randomly DVR'd for some Saturday night at home. I loved that movie. While more people have probably seen The King and I, both movies are based on the book Anna and the King of Siam, published in 1944 by Margaret Landon. As soon as I watched the movie, I put the book on my TBR, and there it sat for months and months. Lately, I've felt like I need to up my reading game, so I made a list of "modern classics" that I want to read. This was at the top of this list. And then it moved to the top of my July reading list. I read a first edition library copy, complete with that glorious musty smell. It was kind of heaven (or it would have been if the typeface were larger). Guys, I adored this book. I don't imagine it's for everyone, but if you love adventure stories, stories about foreign lands, stories about Asia, you should add this one to your reading list. It's the fictionalized biography of Anna Leonowens who became the teacher to the 70-some children of the King of Siam (now Thailand). You read all about the palace and the intrigue of royal, as well as slave, life. This takes place in the 1860s. The French are trying to take over Siam. Siam rules over Laos and Cambodia (as I understand it). Anna is an idealist with high morals (think Jane Eyre) and a passion for righting wrongs. She cannot stand to see someone suffer, and she becomes the "fixer" for all kinds of Siamese. The King is an arrogant, intelligent, omnipotent ruler who is by turns cruel, vengeful, petty, tender, witty, and charismatic. The two clash terribly but also respect each other. It was not an easy life for Anna, and Siam was a very different culture from the England she grew up in. I was enthralled and fascinated by the vivid picture I got of the Siam royalty, grounds, and customs. And I was especially struck how at a time in history where the only information you have about other cultures is through word of mouth or perhaps books or journalism, folks knew next to nothing about the peoples and cultures of the world. I can't imagine living in a time like that. I loved this one, I really did. Enough to go to ebay and buy a musty first edition for a future return to Siam. My rating: 4.5 stars.

This week I continue reading:

I'm really loving Richard Ford's Between Them. Check back for a review next week.

I'm putting other things before Poems to Read lately, so it's been slow going. I'm surprised at how many of these poems are new to me.

Next up:

I'm so excited to begin my re-read of Sense and Sensibility.

My audiobook/s:

I have just a teeny tiny amount of Everyone Brave Is Forgiven left. I'll put up a full review next week. I was wrong about this one. My opinion has done a 180.

My next audiobook will be the third in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Morality for Beautiful Girls.