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On My Bookshelf, February 2017

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee (2017)

We’re only three months in to 2017 and I already have a very strong contender for best book of the year. Best book I’ve read, anyway.

This was a random read for me. It was offered as a selection from Book of the Month and I picked it simply because I felt I needed to up my novel reading. I’m sure you’ve noticed that I gravitate towards nonfiction. Really boring nonfiction, at that.

I hadn’t heard any of the buzz about Pachinko (and there is a lot!) and was honestly a little wary when it arrived and clocked in at 496 pages. No need to worry though, I devoured the entire thing in an evening over a couple of glasses of wine.

The story was beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. I didn’t love the second half as much as the first – but to be honest I can’t think of any multi-generational work I’ve read that was as successful when it reached late twentieth-century. Highly recommended. Like, go to the store and get this now. Immediately.

From Amazon.com: “Profoundly moving and gracefully told, PACHINKO follows one Korean family through the generations, beginning in early 1900s Korea with Sunja, the prized daughter of a poor yet proud family, whose unplanned pregnancy threatens to shame them. Betrayed by her wealthy lover, Sunja finds unexpected salvation when a young tubercular minister offers to marry her and bring her to Japan to start a new life. So begins a sweeping saga of exceptional people in exile from a homeland they never knew and caught in the indifferent arc of history.”

POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
-A book that’s published in 2017
-A novel set during wartime
-A book where the main character is a different ethnicity than you
-A book that takes place over a character’s life span
-A book about an immigrant or refugee

*This post contains Amazon Associate referral links.

Reading, POPSUGAR Style

I’ve decided to tackle the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge this year. Never heard of it? The site puts out a few lists every year providing prompts to guide your reading. Some are themed, but the main list (this one!) is more general.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to try to read one book for each prompt or if I’ll accept some overlap. I already know that there are a couple I likely won’t try on the main list. Specifically “the first book in a series you haven’t read before” and “a book you bought on a trip.” I’m not a good series reader and usually avoid books that aren’t a one-off as I’ve been disappointed so many times. I’m not crossing that off the list immediately though; there might be something out there for me (make me a recommendation in the comments?). And I won’t purposely plan to buy a book on a trip.

I’ll consider anything I read from the Advanced section a bonus. Seriously . . . who has time for 800+ pages these days? I tap out around 500 or 600, at the most.

On My Bookshelf, March 2016

SarahVowellThe Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell (2002)

I’d never read anything by Sarah Vowell before, although I had heard her one of twice on NPR, so when my sister recommended this to me I decided to pick it up. Or check it out, actually. I audiobooked this one. At first, I didn’t care for Vowell’s pacing or tone, but by the second story I didn’t mind and by the third I didn’t notice. I enjoyed it and will probably read more of her works in the future. She kind of reminded me of me and it is always nice to find a kindred spirit.

From Amazon.com: “In The Partly Cloudy Patriot, Sarah Vowell travels through the American past and, in doing so, investigates the dusty, bumpy roads of her own life. In this insightful and funny collection of personal stories Vowell — widely hailed for her inimitable narratives on public radio’s “This American Life” — ponders a number of curious questions: Why is she happiest when visiting the sites of bloody struggles like Salem or Gettysburg? Why do people always inappropriately compare themselves to Rosa Parks? Why is a bad life in sunny California so much worse than a bad life anywhere else? What is it about the Zen of foul shots? And, in the title piece, why must doubt and internal arguments haunt the sleepless nights of the true patriot?”

StationElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

I have to say. . . I just didn’t love this one as much as the rest of the world seems to. This has happened to be before though; I found The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo practically unbearable. I wasn’t that disappointed by Station Eleven however. I was riveted by the first bit, but started to find the characters somewhat boring and the plot predictable. The story is based around connections between the characters and many of those felt forced to me. Maybe I was just expecting too much. It finishes with just an “okay” from me.

From Amazon.com: “An audacious, darkly glittering novel set in the eerie days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the spellbinding story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity. Spanning decades, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, this suspenseful, elegiac novel is rife with beauty. As Arthur falls in and out of love, as Jeevan watches the newscasters say their final good-byes, and as Kirsten finds herself caught in the crosshairs of the prophet, we see the strange twists of fate that connect them all.”

Onions Cure EaracheCan Onions Cure Ear-ache?: Medical Advice from 1769 by William Buchan (1769) edited by Melanie King (2012)

This was fun – original medical advice published in 1769 intended for English-readers unable to get to a doctor. I enjoyed it, but this certainly isn’t for everyone. Not recommended if you don’t usually read “old” literature, as I expect it will just bore you. Also not recommended if you are the kind of person who needs a “don’t try this at home” warning; a lot of these treatments will kill you.

From Amazon.com: “Originally published in 1769, Domestic Medicine was produced for the benefit of those without access to—or means to afford—medical assistance, and copies of the book were found in apothecaries and coffee houses, private households and clubs. In 1797, Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian and his crew even had the foresight to pack a copy before fleeing to the Pitcairns. Derived from folklore and the emerging medical science of the day, some of Buchan’s recommendations for how to live a healthy life still ring true: for instance, exercising, enjoying a varied diet, and getting an abundance of fresh air. Others are delightfully dodgy or even downright dangerous, such as genital trusses, the prescription of mercury, or the suggestion that Spanish fly might soothe aching joints. Bringing together an exceedingly entertaining selection of entries from one of the earliest self-help books, Can Onions Cure Ear-ache? offers fascinating insight into the popular treatments of the time.”

Amazing Book No FireThe Amazing Book Is Not on Fire: The World of Dan and Phil by Dan Howell and Phil Lester (2015)

Secret confession time: I watch a lot of youtube vloggers. Like, a lot. As far as this book goes. . . well, there is absolutely no reason to pick it up unless you know (and love!) Dan and Phil.

From Amazon.com: “From YouTube sensations Dan Howell (danisnotonfire) and Phil Lester (AmazingPhil) comes a laugh-out-loud look into the world created by two awkward guys who share their lives on the Internet. More than 11 million YouTube subscribers can’t wait for this book! Since uploading their first ever videos as teenagers, Dan and Phil have become two of the world’s biggest YouTube stars. Now they invite you on a behind-the-scenes journey, filled with absolutely essential advice, tons of humor, lots of awkwardness, and TMI honesty that they will probably regret.”

On My Bookshelf, February 2016

speak_now-book-jacketSpeak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino (2015)

Wow. Amazing. Already a candidate for best book I’ve ready all year (and it’s only March!). This is the story of what happens when civil marriage meets religious marriage . . . as it played out in the courtroom, not in television ads. I really loved it – I knew I was going to love it when I learned in the first few pages that the lawyers who brought the case against Prop 8 were the lawyers who faced off against each other in Bush v. Gore. How did I not know that? Random facts aside, Yoshino treats the subject, the lawyers, and the witnesses with respect while writing a thorough, but easy-to-read masterpiece. Yes, I said masterpiece.

From Amazon.com:Speak Now tells the story of a watershed trial that unfolded over twelve tense days in California in 2010. A trial that legalized same-sex marriage in our most populous state. A trial that interrogated the nature of marriage, the political status of gays and lesbians, the ideal circumstances for raising children, and the ability of direct democracy to protect fundamental rights. A trial that stands as the most potent argument for marriage equality this nation has ever seen. In telling the story of Hollingsworth v. Perry, the groundbreaking federal lawsuit against Proposition 8, Kenji Yoshino has also written a paean to the vanishing civil trial–an oasis of rationality in what is often a decidedly uncivil debate. Above all, this book is a work of deep humanity, in which Yoshino brings abstract legal arguments to life by sharing his own story of finding love, marrying, and having children as a gay man. Intellectually rigorous and profoundly compassionate, Speak Now will stand as the definitive account of a landmark civil-rights trial.”

*My copy is an uncorrected proof, but is a print fairly close to publication (I noticed maybe two typos and it already has the cover/back info). I’m happy to loan it to anyone I know in real life.

ImperfectionistsThe Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman (2010)

Very enjoyable. I don’t have anything else to say really, so I’ll let a professional take it from here.

From Amazon.com: “Printing presses whirr, ashtrays smolder, and the endearing complexity of humanity plays out in Tom Rachman’s debut novel, The Imperfectionists. Set against the backdrop of a fictional English-language newspaper based in Rome, it begins as a celebration of the beloved and endangered role of newspapers and the original 24/7 news cycle. Yet Rachman pushes beyond nostalgia by crafting an apologue that better resembles a modern-day Dubliners than a Mad Men exploration of the halcyon past. The chaos of the newsroom becomes a stage for characters unified by a common thread of circumstance, with each chapter presenting an affecting look into the life of a different player. From the comically overmatched greenhorn to the forsaken foreign correspondent, we suffer through the painful heartbreaks of unexpected tragedy and struggle to stifle our laughter in the face of well-intentioned blunders. This cacophony of emotion blends into a single voice, as the depiction of a paper deemed a “daily report on the idiocy and the brilliance of the species” becomes more about the disillusion in everyday life than the dissolution of an industry.” –Dave Callanan

GhettosideGhettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Levoy (2015)

I was afraid this book would be too painful to read, but I found the emotional parts well-balanced with facts and historical context making it much easer to tackle this difficult subject. It was a dense read, but good. Ghettoside is listed on almost every list of the best books from 2015 for a reason. Recommended.

From Amazon.com: “On a warm spring evening in South Los Angeles, a young man is shot and killed on a sidewalk minutes away from his home, one of the thousands of black Americans murdered that year. His assailant runs down the street, jumps into an SUV, and vanishes, hoping to join the scores of killers in American cities who are never arrested for their crimes. But as soon as the case is assigned to Detective John Skaggs, the odds shift. Here is the kaleidoscopic story of the quintessential, but mostly ignored, American murder – a “ghettoside” killing, one young black man slaying another – and a brilliant and driven cadre of detectives whose creed is to pursue justice for forgotten victims at all costs. Ghettoside is a fast-paced narrative of a devastating crime, an intimate portrait of detectives and a community bonded in tragedy, and a surprising new lens into the great subject of why murder happens in our cities—and how the epidemic of killings might yet be stopped.”

He Wanted The MoonHe Wanted the Moon: The Madness and Medical Genius of Dr. Perry Baird, and His Daughter’s Quest to Know Him by Mimi Baird with Eve Claxton (2015)

This book came to me through LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program (as did Speak Now; I received a copy of the new paperback released a couple of weeks ago. Overall, a good read. This kind of story is right up my alley – I’m fascinated by the history of mental illness and its treatment. The book contains portions of Dr. Baird’s manuscript (written while he was hospitalized) mixed with medical records, Mimi Baird’s memories, and other archival documents. It was an easy read; I tackled it in a couple of hours on a lazy Saturday.

From Amazon.com: “Texas-born and Harvard-educated, Dr. Perry Baird was a rising medical star in the late 1920s and 1930s. Early in his career, ahead of his time, he grew fascinated with identifying the biochemical root of manic depression, just as he began to suffer from it himself. By the time the results of his groundbreaking experiments were published, Dr. Baird had been institutionalized multiple times, his medical license revoked, and his wife and daughters estranged. He later received a lobotomy and died from a consequent seizure, his research incomplete, his achievements unrecognized. Mimi Baird grew up never fully knowing this story, as her family went silent about the father who had been absent for most of her childhood. Decades later, a string of extraordinary coincidences led to the recovery of a manuscript which Dr. Baird had worked on throughout his brutal institutionalization, confinement, and escape. This remarkable document, reflecting periods of both manic exhilaration and clear-headed health, presents a startling portrait of a man who was a uniquely astute observer of his own condition, struggling with a disease for which there was no cure, racing against time to unlock the key to treatment before his illness became impossible to manage.”

75 in 2015: October, Part II

Psycho USAPsycho USA: Famous American Killers You Never Heard Of by Harold Schechter (2012)

Okay, so the title is a little clickbait-ish. I passed it up several times before checking it out from my library’s e-book selection just because of the title. I was pleasantly surprised by the content though. Don’t judge a book by its cover, right? What we’ve got here is short snippets of the crimes that were infamous for their day – and often similar to those that still live on in pop culture today – but were ultimately forgotten. All of the “crimes of the century” that faded. I really enjoyed how the book gave you short blurbs about crime (a few pages each) grouped into time periods with a little bit of analysis and context in between. It really worked and made this an enjoyable read.

And fyi – I love a good historic crime television show and only recognized one of the crimes mentioned. Pretty good, I think.

From Amazon.com: “In the horrifying annals of American crime, the infamous names of brutal killers such as Bundy, Dahmer, Gacy, and Berkowitz are writ large in the imaginations of a public both horrified and hypnotized by their monstrous, murderous acts. But for every celebrity psychopath who’s gotten ink for spilling blood, there’s a bevy of all-but-forgotten homicidal fiends studding the bloody margins of U.S. history. The law gave them their just desserts, but now the hugely acclaimed author of The Serial Killer Files and The Whole Death Catalog gives them their dark due in this absolutely riveting true-crime treasury.”

ArbusAn Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus by William Todd Schultz (2011)

I didn’t like this one. I found it incredibly boring – and it certainly didn’t help that the book described photograph after photograph that I couldn’t actually see without looking them up online. I don’t know. . . my response to the psychological analysis of Arbus was pretty much “ugh, get over it.” I’m not proud of this reaction as I take mental illness very seriously, but it is what it is. The book was slow and seemed to rehash the same thing over and over again; I struggled to finish it. My least favorite so far this year.

From Amazon.com: “Diane Arbus was one of the most brilliant and revered photographers in the history of American art. Her portraits, in stark black and white, seemed to reveal the psychological truths of their subjects. But after she committed suicide in 1971, at the age of forty-eight, the presumed chaos and darkness of her own inner life became, for many viewers, inextricable from her work. In the spirit of Janet Malcolm’s classic examination of Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman, William Todd Schultz’s An Emergency in Slow Motion reveals the creative and personal struggles of Diane Arbus. Schultz veers from traditional biography to interpret Arbus’s life through the prism of four central mysteries: her outcast affinity, her sexuality, the secrets she kept and shared, and her suicide. He seeks not to diagnose Arbus, but to discern some of the private motives behind her public works and acts. In this approach, Schultz not only goes deeper into Arbus’s life than any previous writer, but provides a template with which to think about the creative life in general.”

MoreauThe Island of Dr. Moreau by H. G. Wells (1896)

Excellent. I’m a big Wells fan, so I was surprised to be picking this up for the first time.

From Amazon.com: “A shipwreck in the South Seas, a palm-tree paradise where a mad doctor conducts vile experiments, animals that become human and then “beastly” in ways they never were before–it’s the stuff of high adventure. It’s also a parable about Darwinian theory, a social satire in the vein of Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels), and a bloody tale of horror. Or, as H. G. Wells himself wrote about this story, “The Island of Dr. Moreau is an exercise in youthful blasphemy. Now and then, though I rarely admit it, the universe projects itself towards me in a hideous grimace. It grimaced that time, and I did my best to express my vision of the aimless torture in creation.” This colorful tale by the author of The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, and The War of the Worlds lit a firestorm of controversy at the time of its publication in 1896.”

2015 total books: 69
2015 total pages read: 13,507
2015 total pages listened to: 8,013

75 in 2015: October, Part I

On Second ThoughtOn Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits by Wray Herbert (2010)

I give them one a firm “okay.” It was a decent read, but nothing to write home about, mostly rehashing things I’d heard before.

From Amazon.com: “Our lives are composed of millions of choices, ranging from trivial to life-changing and momentous. Luckily, our brains have evolved a number of mental shortcuts, biases, and tricks that allow us to quickly negotiate this endless array of decisions. We don’t want to rationally deliberate every choice we make, and thanks to these cognitive rules of thumb, we don’t need to. Yet these hard-wired shortcuts, mental wonders though they may be, can also be perilous. They can distort our thinking in ways that are often invisible to us, leading us to make poor decisions, to be easy targets for manipulators . . .and they can even cost us our lives. The truth is, despite all the buzz about the power of gut-instinct decision-making in recent years, sometimes it’s better to stop and say, “On second thought . . .”

Catherine The GreatCatherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman by Robert K. Massie (2011)

A one-word review is all that is necessary here . . . spectacular.

From Amazon.com: “The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Peter the Great, Nicholas and Alexandra, and The Romanovs returns with another masterpiece of narrative biography, the extraordinary story of an obscure German princess who became one of the most remarkable, powerful, and captivating women in history. Born into a minor noble family, Catherine transformed herself into empress of Russia by sheer determination. For thirty-four years, the government, foreign policy, cultural development, and welfare of the Russian people were in her hands. She dealt with domestic rebellion, foreign wars, and the tidal wave of political change and violence churned up by the French Revolution. Catherine’s family, friends, ministers, generals, lovers, and enemies—all are here, vividly brought to life. History offers few stories richer than that of Catherine the Great. In this book, an eternally fascinating woman is returned to life.”

Scary StoriesScary Stories to Tell in the Dark by Alvin Schwartz (1981)

I was feeling nostalgic. Like so many children of the ’80s, I grew up with these books and read them religiously, but not at night b/c those drawing were haunting. I still have my original copy of More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark (or possibly my husband’s copy, we aren’t sure) and bought the trilogy for my daughter when Scholastic offered the set with the original art. After seeing a story online touting an upcoming documentary on the books (http://www.scarystoriesdoc.com), I felt the need to pick one up and see if it still had any appeal.

I enjoyed revisiting this part of my childhood. The drawings were still terrifying and, even though the stories didn’t have my shaking in my boots, I could really see their appeal for youngsters. And I also noticed for the first time that these books have extensive end notes and additional information in the back providing some history on the classic stories.

I only read the first of the books, but I remember the second one being my favorite and expect to pick it back up sometime soon.

75 in 2015: September, Part II

HardBoiledHard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami (1985)

Yes, continuing my love affair with Murakami. There is so much I shouldn’t like about his work; this one has a fantasy world, alternating narrators, an ending full of questions – all things I usually avoid. Something about his writing though leaves me engrossed from beginning to end. Needless to say, I buy-in to Murakami’s world building 100%. Like I said about Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki, this book is somehow both hyper-realistic and ethereal at the same time. I listened to this one and the narrators were excellent.

From Amazon.com: “In this hyperkinetic and relentlessly inventive novel, Japan’s most popular (and controversial) fiction writer hurtles into the consciousness of the West. Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World draws readers into a narrative particle accelerator in which a split-brained data processor, a deranged scientist, his shockingly undemure granddaughter, Lauren Bacall, Bob Dylan, and various thugs, librarians, and subterranean monsters collide to dazzling effect. What emerges is simultaneously cooler than zero and unaffectedly affecting, a hilariously funny and deeply serious meditation on the nature and uses of the mind.”

Rebel YellRebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson by S. C. Gwynne (2014)

I became a little bit fascinated by Stonewall Jackson after his brief appearance in Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. I knew next to nothing about the man – little more than he was a Civil War general with a reputation of being unmovable – but suddenly found myself wanting to learn more about this odd person. Rebel Yell was a hefty read; its 688 pages felt twice that much to me. I’ll blame this on the blow-by-blow detail of the battles and military movements. Yes, I expected that in a biography of Stonewall Jackson. I just wanted a little . . . less. If you are a biography-lover like me, I’d think twice before digging in unless you also have an interest in military history or the Civil War. That being said, a great read overall.

From Amazon.com:Rebel Yell is written with the swiftly vivid narrative that is Gwynne’s hallmark and is rich with battle lore, biographical detail, and intense conflict between historical figures. Gwynne delves deep into Jackson’s private life, including the loss of his young beloved first wife and his regimented personal habits. It traces Jackson’s brilliant twenty-four-month career in the Civil War, the period that encompasses his rise from obscurity to fame and legend; his stunning effect on the course of the war itself; and his tragic death, which caused both North and South to grieve the loss of a remarkable American hero.”

2015 total books: 63
2015 total pages read: 12,724
2015 total pages listened to: 6,865

75 in 2015: September, Part I

sleepyhollowThe Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (1820)
A short story, yes, but I listened to this as an individual audio book (and likely wouldn’t have read it in a collection) so I’m counting it. Classic for a reason; I enjoyed it.
From Amazon.com: “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is a short story by American author Washington Irving, contained in his collection of 34 essays and short stories entitled The Sketch Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent. Written while Irving was living abroad in Birmingham, England, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” was first published in 1820. Along with Irving’s companion piece “Rip Van Winkle”, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is among the earliest examples of American fiction with enduring popularity.”

TurnoftheScrewThe Turn of the Screw by Henry James (1898)
When I was a teenager, I managed to get it into my head that I needed to read and appreciate Henry James. So I did, tackling The Turn of the Screw and The Portrait of a Lady. And I hated them. I just didn’t get the stories at all. Re-reading The Turn of the Screw, I finished with a very different opinion and very much enjoyed it. I might even try to tackle The Portrait of a Lady again before the year ends if I’m feeling particularly adventurous. I’m not sure if my opinion about that one will be as easily changed though.

From Amazon.com:The Turn of the Screw, originally published in 1898, is a gothic ghost story novella written by Henry James. Due to its original content, the novella became a favourite text of academics who subscribe to New Criticism. The novella has had differing interpretations, often mutually exclusive. Many critics have tried to determine the exact nature of the evil hinted at by the story. However, others have argued that the true brilliance of the novella comes with its ability to create an intimate confusion and suspense for the reader.”

DeptofSpeculationDept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (2014)
This book made me feel very uncomfortable. . . in a good way. The narration felt real and flawed. I could see myself in some of it – and that frightened me a bit. A very engrossing read. Probably not for everyone.
From Amazon.com:Dept. of Speculation is a portrait of a marriage. It is also a beguiling rumination on the mysteries of intimacy, trust, faith, knowledge, and the condition of universal shipwreck that unites us all. Jenny Offill’s heroine, referred to in these pages as simply “the wife,” once exchanged love letters with her husband postmarked Dept. of Speculation, their code name for all the uncertainty that inheres in life and in the strangely fluid confines of a long relationship. As they confront an array of common catastrophes—a colicky baby, a faltering marriage, stalled ambitions—the wife analyzes her predicament, invoking everything from Keats and Kafka to the thought experiments of the Stoics to the lessons of doomed Russian cosmonauts. She muses on the consuming, capacious experience of maternal love, and the near total destruction of the self that ensues from it as she confronts the friction between domestic life and the seductions and demands of art.”

75 in 2015: August

regrettableThe League of Regrettable Superheroes (Loot Crate Edition) by Jon Morris (2015)

This was a fun read. I found the writing a bit dry though and it could have used better editing – several instances of missing works and awkward sentences stood out even while reading casually. That may only be an issue with the Loot Crate Edition though. FYI – Loot Crate is a monthly geek and gamer subscription box.

From Amazon.com: “Special 5×8 inch small-sized edition, a July, 2015 LootCrate Exclusive, is an abbreviated edition with 128 pages. For every superhero hitting the big time with a blockbuster movie, there are countless failures, also-rans, and D-listers. The League of Regrettable Superheroes affectionately presents one hundred of the strangest superheroes ever to see print – from Atoman to Zippo – complete with backstories, vintage art, and colorful commentary. Drawing on the entire history of the medium, the book celebrates characters that haven’t seen the light of day in decades, like Natureboy, Dr. Hormone, Thunder Bunny, and more. It’s a must-read for comics fans of all ages!”

zZ: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler (2013)

Confession: Even though it says so right there in the title, I didn’t realize this was a novel when I decided to read it during some recent travel. I figured it out pretty fast though. Overall, I enjoyed it. Not my favorite read this year, but it kept my attention and I liked the story. It probably wouldn’t come to mind if someone was asking for recommendations for their to-read list.

From Amazon.com: “When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is seventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes. Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous–sometimes infamous–husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it.”

dratchGirl Walks into a Bar . . .: Comedy Calamities, Dating Disasters, and a Midlife Miracle by Rachel Dratch (2012)

A fun read, but nothing spectacular.

From Amazon.com: “Anyone who saw an episode of Saturday Night Live between 1999 and 2006 knows Rachel Dratch. She was hilarious! So what happened to her? After a misbegotten part as Jenna on the pilot of 30 Rock, Dratch was only getting offered roles as “Lesbians. Secretaries. Sometimes secretaries who are lesbians.” Her career at a low point, Dratch suddenly had time for yoga, dog- sitting, learning Spanish-and dating. After all, what did a forty- something single woman living in New York have to lose? Resigned to childlessness but still hoping for romance, Dratch was out for drinks with a friend when she met John. Handsome and funny, after only six months of dating long-distance, he became the inadvertent father of her wholly unplanned, undreamed-of child, and moved to New York to be a dad. With riotous humor, Dratch recounts breaking the news to her bewildered parents, the awe of her single friends, and the awkwardness of a baby-care class where the instructor kept tossing out the f-word. Filled with great behind-the-scenes anecdotes from Dratch’s time on SNL, Girl Walks into a Bar… is a refreshing version of the “happily ever after” story that proves female comics-like bestsellers Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler-are truly having their moment.”

2015 total books: 58
2015 total pages read: 11,844
2015 total pages listened to: 6,275

75 in 2015: July

July was a slow reading month; I just haven’t found the time to pick anything up. I have been listening to Anna Karenina at work though. That 37-hour behemoth is going to take awhile – I’ve already had to renew it twice.

lovecraftThe Shadow Over Innsmouth by H. P. Lovecraft (1936)

Lovecraft might not have had a high opinion of this novella – claiming it “has all the defects I deplore—especially in point of style, where hackneyed phrases & rhythms have crept in” according to wikipedia – but I found it to be wonderful. Lovecraft rarely disappoints and The Shadow Over Innsmouth is no exception.

From Amazon.com: The story describes of a strange hybrid race, half-human and half an unknown creature that resembles a cross between a fish and frog, that dwells in the seaside village of Innsmouth (formerly a large town, but lately fallen into disrepair). The townspeople worship Cthulhu and Dagon, a Philistine deity incorporated into the Cthulhu Mythos.

plaidPretty in Plaid: A Life, A Witch, and a Wardrobe, or, the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smart-Ass Phase by Jen Lancaster (2009)

I am a fan of Jen Lancaster (although I’ve never read her most popular book, Bitter is the New Black), plaid, and argyle socks. Clearly this book spoke to me from the shelf. I didn’t love it though. I’d rate it a firm okay. Unless you are a big Lancaster fan, skip this one and read one of her other books instead.

From Amazon.com: Before she was bitter, before she was lazy, Jen Lancaster was a badge- hungry Junior Girl Scout with a knack for extortion, an aspiring sorority girl who didn’t know her Coach from her Louis Vuitton, and a budding executive who found herself bewildered by her first encounter with a fax machine. In this hilarious and touching memoir, Jen Lancaster looks back on her life-and wardrobe-and reveals a young woman not so different from the rest of us.