Tag Archives: reading

Whatcha Reading…? 5/23/2020 Book Update

It has been a while since I last did a book update! And as I am currently in quite a few of them….I thought it might be fun. I read a lot. In fact, I have so far read 145 books this year alone. I also really like reading multiple books at once. So, when the number get particularly unwieldy, I do a post on here about what I am currently reading.

At the moment, I am reading: Symposium by Plato, A Hero of Our Times by Mikhail Lermontov, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim, Dare to Lead by Brené Brown, The Prospering by Elizabeth George Speare, Hear This Woman by Ben and Ann Pinchot, The Surrogate Proletariat by Gregory Massell, Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop, and The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King. Plus, kind of sort of The Great Debate by Yuval Levin but my hold is about to expire and I’m not sure I will renew it.

The TA I worked with last semester frequently recommended Plato’s Symposium. It is probably one of Plato’s more famous Socratic dialogues. So far I am finding it quite interesting, though I do not think it will be my new favorite. Too many statements like: “Then he and every one who desires, desire that which he has not already, and which is future and not present, and which he has not, and is not, and of which he is in want;–these are the sort of things which love and desire seek?” (Took me six tries to figure out what Socrates was saying. And I still probably am missing something.) Reading on Kindle.

I actually loved A Hero of Our Times by Mikhail Lermontov when I first started reading it. Then about 2/3rds of the way through, it switches from a narrative to a journal and almost completely lost my attention. I think I am going to just force myself to finish today. Reading on Gutenberg.org.

I’ve been eyeing The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim for quite some time. I even own a copy of it. But it is taking more effort to get through than I expected. There are lovely descriptions and delightful characters but I feel like I’m perpetually waiting for the plot to start. The synopsis promises a bit more comedy of manners, so maybe that will start soon. Reading a soft cover copy I own.

My brother lent me his copy of Dare to Lead by Brené Brown. I’m enjoying it so far, though not finding it particularity applicable. Or maybe applicable is the wrong word. There is lots of good content about leadership, but as I am not in a position of leadership at the moment, I am not precisely jotting down notes. Reading a hardcover copy owned by my brother.

The Prospering by Elizabeth George Speare is proving surprisingly…challenging to get through. Initially I was delighted by it. I love Elizabeth George Speare and have read every other fictional book written by her at least twice. But I think there is a reason this one did not take off. It takes a darker, more mature tone, and yet the narrator is a child which feels awkward. It will be interesting to see where it goes. Reading a hardcover copy I got through an inter-library loan.

Hear This Woman by Ben and Ann Pinchot has been on my to-read list for years and I honestly can’t remember what inspired me to read it originally. It is certainly nothing like I expected. Written in 1949, the synopsis merely reads, “Follow Faith Holmes in her journey to bring all American Women together.” The story so far is more complex, surprisingly feminist, and actually quite heavy and political. Reading a hardcover copy I got through an inter-library loan.

Speaking of weird books on my to read list…The Surrogate Proletariat by Gregory Massell spends almost 500 pages describing how the Soviet Union tried to target Muslim women and spread communism from 1919 to 1929. I haven’t gotten particularly far but I’m intrigued. (File under ‘things I did not learn about in history class.’) Reading a hardcover copy I got through an inter-library loan.

Vision in Silver by Anne Bishop is an urban fantasy novel and book 3 in The Others series. Mixed feelings all around about the series so far but I’m sufficiently intrigued to keep reading. I keep telling myself I can drop it at any time, but also…? Reading via my library’s Libby app.

I have purposefully and quite successfully avoided The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King for years now, but enough friends have recommended it that I am giving it a try. The book kicks off the popular Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, which, just like it sounds, involves a retired Sherlock Holmes and his equally intelligent female apprentice. I am not precisely a Sherlock purist but still…that description…we’ll see. Reading via my library’s Libby app.

What are you currently reading? Anything good?


Can’t Wait Wednesday

Can’t-Wait Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Wishful Endings to spotlight and discuss the books we’re excited about that we have yet to read. Generally they’re books that have yet to be released.

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TitleEmerald Blaze by Ilona Andrews

Publishing Date: August 25th 2020

This is book 5 in the series so I will skip the synopsis. Think magic, action, sisterly awesomeness. Maybe guys without shirts on. 

And man, that is one hideous cover. And it is actually one of the better covers in this series. BUT I AM JUST REALLY, REALLY EXCITED FOR IT TO COME OUT

My old roommate got me hooked on this series and I blew through the first 4 books (and the two extra short stories) in under a week. And now I have to wait till August! Ahhhhhhhhhhh.


Schooled by Gordon Korman

Homeschooled by his hippie grandmother, Capricorn (Cap) Anderson has never watched television, tasted a pizza, or even heard of a wedgie. But when his grandmother lands in the hospital, Cap is forced to move in with a school counselor and attend the local middle school. While Cap knows a lot about tie-dyeing and Zen Buddhism, no education could prepare him for the politics of public school.

3.5 stars

I feel a teeny bit irritated with this book. As a former homeschooler, I put up with far too many people assuming my education resembled Cap’s to read about someone portraying exactly that kind of homeschooling with any equanimity. Let’s be clear, yo. I did have friends. I did use books. I did use a computer. I did not have goats. And yes, I did do school in my PJs. And with quarantine, I still do.

So, please, stop portraying homeschoolers as a bunch of weirdos!

But I get it in this book. The point isn’t so much that Cap was homeschooled in a hippie commune. (Though obviously, that plays a central motivating role.) The premise is what happens when you drop a kid raised by hippies and without much sense of modern technology in a public school.

It actually paints a really affirming and sweet look of a kid raised to know at his core who he is. And while his extreme naivety gets him in some unlikely situations, I liked how his personality changed the people around him. The book does not sugar coat middle school. And because of that, it shows why homeschooling helped Cap become his own person without dealing with all the crap associated with school.

There was a lot to like. Thanks for the recommendation, Dad!


The Young Clementina by D.E. Stevenson

I’ve recently been enjoying the works of D.E. Stevenson, a writer from around WW1. I have avoided posting reviews of her books because I think several will appear on my end-of-the-year favorite book list. But as The Young Clementina only garnered three stars from me, I thought I might share this (unsuccessful) venture into vintage fiction. 

Written in 1935, the story follows Charlotte Dean—a woman life seems to have forgotten. At 35, she lives a monotonous life in London with no friends. Her life takes a dramatic turn when her former fiancé suddenly appears and asks her to take care of his daughter while he travels in Africa. Now Charlotte must face her past to bring healing to the difficult and withdrawn child.

D.E. Stevenson is a master of human emotions. Her comedy of manners books (like the Miss Buncle trilogy) somehow make the whole world feel cozy and good. Alas, with The Young Clementina she goes more Brontë than Gaskell, and the end result whips from excruciatingly depressing to predictably trite.

The description I gave of the plot, while the crux of the story, really doesn’t kick in till halfway. First we get to relive Charlotte’s childhood, her experience with WW1, and the tragic break with her fiancé . And despite how depressed it made me, I still low-key loved it. I felt moody and depressed reading it, but I also felt like it summarized how WW1 changed people. I read into it a bigger analysis about dreams and hope and lost youth.

Turns out, I was too ambitious in my interpretation. I still held hope for an alternate love interest to pop up and change the path the story was heading towards. No luck. The story shoulders on with some rambling paragraphs that don’t hide the very obvious, sappy conclusion. Characters generally get their comeuppance. I think I still would have rated this book 4 stars because I did love the tragic nature of the beginning, but the ending killed it by undercutting much of the character motivation.

If you like melodrama that feels vaguely Gothic without being so, you might enjoy this one. But personally, I found it underwhelming.


If You Can Keep It by Eric Metaxas

If You Can Keep It | Eric Metaxas

Several of my students recently participated in a writing competition where they answered a version of the prompt, “Should patriotism be taught as part of a liberal arts curriculum?” It came as no surprise to me when they all answered, “Yes, but….”

(Actually, I guess that did surprise me some. I expected at least one of them to say no.)

Anyway, patriotism has been on my mind recently and I picked up If You Can Keep It as an interesting foil to the essays. The students all struggled the most with defining patriotism. “Love of country, but not nationalism or jingoism” came up a lot. One person described healthy patriotism as falling between “hot dogs and baseball” on the positive end and “Civil War Reenactment” on the negative. Other students referenced reciting the pledge of allegiance or gathering around the flag.

They all definitely sensed that some love of country must be passed down, but that historically the United States has veered too far into the love and not far enough into self-criticism.

Although he takes an opposite view of America’s current way of teaching patriotism (too much criticism, not enough love), Eric Metaxas’s definition of patriotism surprisingly resembled my students’. I think I’d loosely define his interpretation as “love of country and the values she stands for, but not to the point of nationalism or jingoism.

The addition of “values” is where he manages to hit on something my students missed and so struggled with in their definitions of patriotism. How do you love your country and not become a nationalist? What do you focus on? Baseball and hot dogs might represent “America” to some, but at the end of the day, a love of baseball and hot dogs really means a love of a specific sport and a specific food, not a country. And even if you could somehow prove the three things infallibly interlinked, what do you do when someone claims to love America and yet prefers soccer and kimchi? Do you write off their patriotism because they do not share your preferences? It should also strike us as absurd because things might be inextricably American and still not the sole summary of our culture. Such a box presents too narrow a definition of patriotism.

Even the most stereotypical of red, white, and blue hot dog lovers recognize that many cultures fed the American melting pot. America is as much kimchi and tacos at hot dogs. Or to be more specific, America strives to tolerate kimchi, tacos, and hot dogs equally. You might love hot dogs and despise kimchi, or vice versa, but the fact that you can express your preference and then act on it, that is what it means to be American. Because by toleration I do not mean the false sense that you must accept my preference without question. I mean toleration as a virtue that allows people to vehemently disagree about their preferences and yet still live together.

This interpretation of patriotism also answers the opposite side of the spectrum: the one that praises multiculturalism so insistently that it ceases to truly praise anything. I mean the view that hot dogs and kimchi and tacos and really all food everywhere define America. And also, just about every other country. If patriotism means embracing all cultures, peoples, and food groups equally without any defining lines or common virtues, then what boundaries exist? Why should I love the United States when it is no different from any other country? Perhaps it is even worse than other countries, because it allowed white slave-owners to design its system of government. It permitted slavery. It only gave women the vote 100 years ago. Should the fact that I was born here really make that much of a difference? America did horrendous things; America perhaps did a few good things. In this it is no better or worse than any other country. I can feel the same emotions towards the place of my birth that I do towards China, or Chad, or Chile. And I can easily love those countries more because I do not live there and so do not have to deal with any of their flaws.

So, patriotism becomes more subjective. Love what your country does well, but hem it in on all sides with critique and complaints so that you never love your country too well. But by taking patriotism outside of its box altogether, any common interpretation of “love of country” becomes groundless and probably pointless. It is a matter of personal preference whether you love it or not. And if I don’t love it, who are you to say that I should?

But if the focus of patriotism shifts to the values that created this country, a slightly different pictures emerges. We can love America not for hot dogs but for toleration. Apple pie has nothing on freedom of religion. Free speech means I can criticize baseball as much as I desire and not fear the government telling me otherwise, even a government inextricably linked to the sport.

Of course, you might the problem simply shifts to defining values. What does liberty or equality or freedom even mean? But those debates take depth and discourse. They begin to push us outside of the gut reaction of “that’s different and I do not like it.” It also pushes the debate outside of “does America always do the right thing?” Because the answer of course is no, and we need to acknowledge that America frequently messes up. But that shouldn’t prevent us from still loving America as a place that strives for toleration or equality or freedom because though it often fails, it also often succeeds.

The consequence of this view, so Eric Metaxas presents, is not nationalism, but a love of virtue. We praise the virtues that define our country. We can praise those same virtues in another country. But we at least have a foundation for our praise and a commonality that goes beyond personal preference.

It is a much more nuanced and affirming view of patriotism than we typically hear. Eric Metaxas spends a great deal of the book looking at how to nurture patriotism. He praises patriotic statutes, heroic stories, and sacred ceremonies. And I think to an extent he rightly does so. “How do you pass patriotism along” is a vital question.

But it jumps to the “how” a little too fast for my taste. I really didn’t grasp his definition of “patriotism” till the end, and so any discussion of how fell flat for me while I remained stuck on the what.

The what needs more fleshing out. It is fine to point to Judeo-Christian values as a foundation, particularly since he aims this book at Christians. And I guess I can even see the merits of not “listing” the exact values that unite Americans (toleration, equality, rule of law, etc). A detailed list arguably falls outside the scope of this work. But I was still left hanging with a big question about what values specifically defined America.

At the end of the day, this is a popular text and not a political treatise. Nor is Metaxas strictly a political philosopher. This book really shines at its best when it falls squarely in the author’s wheelhouse: namely, biographies of various figures in the American Revolution. It becomes merely okay, but still interesting, when describing Metaxas’s own experience with patriotism. And finally, it becomes the least tangible when analyzing patriotism. But the view still stands surprisingly strong and made this a book I definitely recommend picking up.


Ranking Recent Pride and Prejudice Retellings

In my end of the year reviews for 2019, I compiled a list of all the Jane Austen retellings I read during the year. Though extensive, the list barely touched the surface of available “Pride and Prejudice Variations”–a genre that continues to grow with the increase in popularity of self-publishing and fan-fiction. In the list, I mentioned two recently popular ethnic Pride and Prejudice retellings and a third one I was eyeing that I finally finished last month.

So, time has come for a more thorough review of the three popular modern, ethnic P&P retellings published in 2019.  Added bonus that  y’all are probably quarantined and want something interesting to read. I present: Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin,  Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal,  and Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev. 

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Ayesha at Last presents the most “realistic” P&P retelling. Set in Canada, it follows two Muslim immigrant/refugees from India (possibly Pakistan but my notes say India) and contrasts Khalid (the Mr. Darcy character) who is a very traditional Muslim with Ayesha (the Elizabeth Bennet) who is equally devout but a bit more liberal in her faith (i.e. wears a hijab instead of a full burka.) While following the familiar P&P plot, the story deals with racism, stereotyping, forced marriages, and a variety of other emotionally weighty topics. 

Pros:

  • Lovely, diverse characters that exist as people and not as tokens
  • Genuine emotions and discussions about stereotypes and cultural expectations
  • The blending of cultures and the immigrant/refugee experience (Canada/India)
  •  Lovely couple/romance (they are both a little awkward but they mesh well and believably)
  • Subtle Pride and Prejudice retelling (especially at the beginning. There aren’t random P&P scenes or quotes shoved in unnecessarily.

Cons:

The book attempts to be both a social commentary and a “swoon-worthy” Jane Austen retelling and because it tries to be both, it fails at both. On the one hand, the author directly confronts issues of racism, stereotyping, and human rights abuses, even and especially within the Islamic faith. On the other hand, she is writing a Jane Austen retelling where everything must end with Happily Ever After. The result is dissatisfying. As a look at Muslims and much of the inner and outer challenges they face, it falls short because it veers into drama…possible kidnapping, trafficking, wrongful termination, embezzlement, etc. Which then feels extra weird when everything wraps up with a bow.  But as a Jane Austen retelling, it lacks the romantic punch that makes you swoon at the end because it takes itself so seriously and handles such mature themes. 

3.5/5 stars

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

Unmarriageable takes place in Pakistan and also involves Muslim characters, but it presents a much less hard-hitting exposé. Or any exposé, really, at all. It is the drama and fun of P&P, but in modern day Pakistan with Mr. Darcy as Valentine Darsee–a young jet-setter in town for a wedding–and Alys Binat, a rural school teacher from a once wealthy family. He’s got pride. She’s got prejudice. You know the drill. 

Pros:

This was a fun read. It is ridiculous at times and sometimes felt like a poor quality Crazy Rich Asians, but the story flowed well. I mean, the reason I love P&P retellings is because they give me a familiar story but in a slightly different setting, and this does just that. Five sisters. Three suitors. Lots of miscommunication. Sign me up! 

As a sort of pro and sort of con, the author frequently has characters rattle on about Pakistani movies, music, and literature. The goal, I assume, is to pique your curiosity and make you more interested in Pakistani culture. But too often it came across as reading a Comparative Literature syllabus for undergrads–not quite informative enough to be useful but still mildly informative. 

Cons:

There is something weirdly meta about reading a story where the characters live in a universe where Pride and Prejudice exists and they discuss it and yet don’t see how their own lives perfectly mirror the novel. Like, sure, pretend names like Binat, Darsee, and Bingla have nothhhinnnnggggg in common with Bennet, Darcy, and Bingley. I see you. Pure coincidence that there are five Binat daughters who behave exactly like their literary counter-points. The story also contrasts weirdly with Ayesha At Last because while the characters are nominally Muslim, they’re extremely loose Muslims. As an example, alcohol gets consumed frequently and the story ends by praising the Jane and Elizabeth characters for “requesting the right of divorce” on their wedding day. I struggled to understand what tone the author was going for. 

3/5 stars

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev

Unlike the other two, Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors does not really play the ethnic card as much as I expected. Set in the United States, the Darcy character comes from a family of immigrants from India but the main connection to the country mostly revolves around eating Indian food. And the Elizabeth Bennet character comes from England and works as a Michelin chef in France. But this story has other things going for it because…

Pros:

THIS IS A GENDER BENDER STORY! The Darcy character is actually the female (a brain surgeon named Trisha) and Elizabeth Bennet the male (the chef, DJ Caine.) It shakes things up a bit and adds several new layers to the story. Now she’s got pride and he’s got prejudice. Though it nominally follows the P&P plot (complete with a female Wickham!), the real drama centers on DJ’s sister, a painter about to lose her sight to a brain tumor and the fight to make her realize that life is still worth living even without her sight. And, oh yeah, something something about Trisha’s family…

Cons:

Trisha’s family is priming her brother to become the next governor of California and they blame Trisha for something the Wickham character did years ago that could ruin his campaign…yada, yada. It is all over-the-top and didn’t hold my interest very well. Romance also got unnecessarily edgy near the end. Unlike the other two, I don’t have as many “concrete” complaints for this story except that the Wickham story line made me roll my eyes so hard they got stuck in the back of my head. 

3/5 stars

 

 

Have you read any of these? What rating did you give them?


Can’t Wait…For My Holds

I thought about doing a Can’t Wait Wednesday post but when I think about the books I truly cannot to read, the problem isn’t that they have yet to be published. The problem is that I’m waiting for them on my library reading app, Libby.

I love Libby. I credit it for why I can read at the level I do. It means I have a book–or 9–at my fingertips at any given moment of the day. But Libby only allows 10 holds per card! And with holds taking weeks, if not months, to come in, it can take a while to get the book you want. 

For example, I’ve been waiting for Elantris by Brian Sanderson for over two months and I still have six months to go on my hold. 

Sometimes a bunch of the holds come in at the same time. Then you have 5 days to read them all. Pressure, even for me. Alas, it means reading as far as you can and then putting the book on hold again. I got 5% into Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario Giordano before it was due back. Then I put it on hold again and waited a month. Got the book again and made it to the 15% mark. Returned it and now have at least two weeks to go before I will get it again. 

Sometimes I will read a book and eagerly search for the next one in the series…only to learn I’ve got a 7 week wait ahead of me. This proves particularly tricky when I’m in a phase–for example, cozy mysteries–and desperately eager to get my hands on Book #16 of the Miss Fortune Mystery Series. But come 7 weeks later when the books come in, I’ve moved on to Regency novels and my eagerness to read a book titled Swamp Santa went out the window over a month ago. 

So, it is an imperfect system. And even with two library cards, I get angsty waiting for my 20 holds. I swear weeks go by with nothing and then they always come in all at once. But I get quick, convenient access to a lot of books and don’t have to worry about returning them on time (it is automatic!) Plus, I love the audio book option. It lets me play books at 3x the speed. 

So, my current Can’t Wait Wednesday reads? 

Elantris by Brian Sanderson

Auntie Poldi and the Vineyards of Etna by Mario Giordano

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis (audio)

Reflection on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis (audio)

The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

Spin the Dawn by Elizabeth Lim

Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan

Lovely War by Julie Berry

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

Bringing Down the Duke by Evie Dunmore

A Lady’s Guide to Gossip and Murder by Dianne Freeman

Murder of Crows by Anne Bishop

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

A Promise of Spring by Mary Balogh

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce

(And then more Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews novels than I will admit to 😉 )