Monday, November 20, 2017

What I'm reading this week (11/20/17)

Last week I finished:

It's no secret that I love to read about the Kennedy family. (Check out my recent post here in conjunction with Nonfiction November.) As soon as it came out, I bought a copy of Jackie's Girl, but after reading After Camelot earlier this year, I was a little burned out on Kennedy books for awhile. Trying to clean up my TBR a bit before the end of the year, though, I decided it was time to read Jackie's Girl. To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for this one. I figured it would either be a tell-all or a tell-nothing, like most of the other I-knew-a-celebrity books. But this one surpassed all my expectations. I fell in love with it right away. Kathy McKeon was Jackie's personal assistant and sometimes nanny from 1964 to 1976. Having just arrived from Ireland, McKeon didn't expect her career in service would ever intersect with the likes of Jackie O. She tells of her years with Madam (as Jackie asked to be called by her staff) with respect, humor, and honesty. She doesn't paint Jackie as the perfect icon so many others did, nor does she deliver a nasty hit piece. She just presents Jackie as a person with positive and negative traits, personality quirks, insecurities, grace, and a charming, girlish sense of humor. McKeon also talks about Caroline and John Jr. (her stories of John are wonderful), Aristotle Onassis, and her catty Irish spats with the other mostly Irish staff. She also tells of the difficulty she had forging a life of her own while still being "Jackie's Girl" almost around the clock. It was a charming book that hit just the right note. I loved this one. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

Every now and then I pick up a book to challenge my reading. Although I read widely across genres, there are several genres I just don't have a lot of interest in. Sci fi is one of them. Yet, I love sci fi movies, so I'm not unfamiliar with what sci fi is and why folks love it. I decided that reading a book that so many others read and loved (14,000 reviews on Amazon) would be kind of fun, so I picked up Ready Player One on audio last week. The story is this: In the year 2045, the earth is a grim place to live. Due to a global energy crisis caused by global warming (wow, that happened fast), people turn to either drugs or the virtual reality universe of the OASIS to escape. Most of a person's identity and interactions with others exist in the virtual world rather than in reality. A billionaire game developer dies and leaves all his fortune to the person who can complete a virtual reality quest full of video games, trivia, and movies from the 1980s. And one young man does. If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, and more importantly, if you were a part of the gaming culture of that decade, no doubt you've read and enjoyed this book. But I'm proof that you can enjoy the book even if you knew little or nothing of the 1980s gaming world. I did like this book. I'm probably glad I listened to it rather than read it, because it was narrated by Wil Wheaton and because what you're getting here isn't exactly literature-with-a-capital-L, which is best listened to than read, in my opinion. There's a great deal of swearing, though, when the teen characters get together and trash talk one another. I was bothered by one thing beyond the rather simplistic writing: If this is 2045, it's roughly 30 years in the future, but nothing much by the way of technology has changed. Other than having the OASIS, all the currently popular technologies are still in operation: eBay, YouTube, email, text messaging. Also, culture itself doesn't seem to have been imagined out of the mid-2010s. Meth labs are still a problem. There are still SNL skits. I expected a few futuristic trappings, but it oddly delivered none. Maybe we're supposed to think that society just stopped innovating once the OASIS was invented, I don't know. At any rate, if you haven't tried this one but like a good adventure, it's a fun book. My rating: 3.5 stars.

I read the first Waylon book when it came out last year, and I really liked it. I also adore Sara Pennypacker's series of Clementine books, of which this is a spin-off. But this book, Waylon! Even More Awesome, was superb. I think Pennypacker is at her best here. If the Clementine books are a hair silly for you, try the Waylon books. They're a little more sophisticated and serious, but they're missing none of the heart or good values of the Clementine series. In this book Waylon and his friend Baxter are hatching a scheme to adopt a dog that neither of them can take home (allergies in Waylon's family and a no-dogs lease in Baxter's), but they have a plan as to where they can keep him safe, warm, dry, and hopefully, in one place ("Dumpster Eddy" is a runner). But when they go to the police station to collect Eddy from lockup, he's already gone to a shelter in another city. Will Waylon ever see him again? Will he ever get to have a dog of his own? In addition to the main dog plot, there are other plots involving Waylon collaborating on writing a science comic, Waylon's dad's screenplay that doesn't seem to be selling, the amount of time Baxter spends at the police station (in trouble?) and whether Waylon should be friends with him. I loved this book. It's great for a child looking for chapter books that will uphold good values. My rating: 5 stars.  
Oh, Emily Dickinson, why do I have such a problem with you? I can read 2,000 poems a year, understand almost every one of them, but a slim volume of Dickinson's poetry can absolutely flummox me. I can read page after page and not understand a word. Why? I think part of the problem is the almost cryptic way Dickinson writes her poems. They all seem to be a series of thoughts connected only with dashes (oh those dreaded dashes!). I prefer a more prosaic poem. Also, these poems are pretty old, and I've always had trouble with older poetry. While Dickinson doesn't often reference other works (like mythology, for instance), I still don't have a clue what she's writing about half of the time. So, I didn't get much out of The Essential Emily Dickinson, selected by Joyce Carol Oates. I will take all of my poetry professors' words for it that Dickinson is a cornerstone of the poetry canon, but I will go on shaking my head over her poems nonetheless. My rating (based on my own ignorance and how I enjoyed the process of reading the book): 2 stars.

You know by now how much I love a good book of cute photos. While I generally opt for photos of dogs, I recently discovered an Instagram account which has become the book Naptime with Joey. Joey is an absolutely adorable baby girl with huge cheeks who is a very sound sleeper. She sleeps so soundly, in fact, that her mother can dress her in costumes during her naps. And dress her she does! The photos are adorable and very well-imagined. Some are sent from folks in other countries as representations of their national dress. It's a happy little book, but if you pick it up without a background of the Instagram account, you'll have no idea what's going on. There is absolutely no introduction explaining who Joey or her mom are, that Joey is a girl, that this all happens while Joey naps, nothing. I don't understand that utter lack of information. A single paragraph would have been better than nothing. Also, you need a strong background in pop culture TV, movies, and music, or you'll miss a lot of the references. I sure did. The puns with each photo help sometimes, but not always. The whole thing kind of felt like a series of inside jokes that I just wasn't in on. It was frustrating to me. So I guess maybe I'm not the demographic Joey's folks are marketing toward. Still, cute book, but I prefer the Instagram photos. My rating: 3 stars.

Next up:

I have been waiting for this one for ages. I'm so excited to begin over Thanksgiving break.

Last week I began:

I'll finish The Penguin Lessons this week. I am loving this book. Too bad it took so long for me to get to it.

I also began Max Garland's newest book of poetry The Word We Used for It. It's amazing.

This week I'll finish:

Still loving this book. I hope to finish it before I have to cook my 15th Thanksgiving dinner for 9 to 12 later this week.

My audiobook:

I'm finally getting around to Circling the Sun. Since I finished Beryl Markham's West with the Night, I've wanted to read the novel based on her life (though it was on my TBR long before that).

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