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On My Bookshelf, January 2016

WhoWhatWhenThe Who, the What, and the When: 65 Artists Illustrate the Secret Sidekicks of History (2014)

My first book of 2016 was a Christmas present from my parents – sneakily purchased after my mom saw it in this list I shared on Facebook. The book gives you short bios of sixty-five lesser-known (or more like unknown) people who supported, helped, inspired, or worked with the people we think of as “big players” in their respective fields. Each page spread had the bio on one side and a unique illustration on the other. I looooved the illustrations. The bios? Well, I found some better than others, but that is just par for the course with this many authors.

My favorite secret sidekicks? Julius Rosenwald and John Ordway

From Amazon.com: “In the bestselling tradition of The Where, the Why, and the How, this offbeat illustrated history reveals 65 people you’ve probably never heard of, but who helped shape the word as we know it. Muses and neighbors, friends and relatives, accomplices and benefactors—such as Michael and Joy Brown, who gifted Harper Lee a year’s worth of wages to help her write To Kill a Mockingbird. Or John Ordway, the colleague who walked with Lewis and Clark every step of the way. Each eye-opening story of these unsung heroes is written by a notable historian and illustrated by a top indie artist, making The Who, the What, and the When a treasure trove of word and image for history buffs, art lovers, and anyone who rejoices in unexpected discovery.”

Norwegian WoodNorwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami (1987)

Hmm. . .this is the first Murakami book I’ve put down disappointed. I knew going in that Norwegian Wood was going to be more straightforward than some of his other books, but I didn’t realize that would make me feel so unsatisfied with the ending. At this point, I’m not sure if the missing surrealism is the reason I didn’t love it or if I didn’t love the story in general. Either way. . . I guess I wasn’t disappointed really, just not as overwhelmed and electrified as Murakami usually leaves me.

From Amazon.com: “Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman. A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.”

BarkBark: Stories by Lorrie Moore (2014)

I’d give this books of short stories a 5/10. I enjoyed one of the stories a lot, a couple enough, and the rest were blah. This book has rave reviews, but I’ve always felt short stories are one of those things that are very personal. This just didn’t do it for me.

From Amazon.com: “Here are people beset, burdened, buoyed; protected by raising teenage children; dating after divorce; facing the serious illness of a longtime friend; setting forth on a romantic assignation abroad, having it interrupted mid-trip, and coming to understand the larger ramifications and the impossibility of the connection . . . stories that show people coping with large dislocation in their lives, with risking a new path to answer the desire to be in relation—to someone . . . Gimlet-eyed social observation, the public and private absurdities of American life, dramatic irony, and enduring half-cracked love wend their way through each of these narratives in a heartrending mash-up of the tragic and the laugh-out-loud—the hallmark of life in Lorrie-Moore-land.”

Super Awesome Wednesday Updates

I have absolutely nothing to say. Well okay, I always have something to say. Let’s change that to – I have absolutely no desire to write. Wait, also not true. Hmmm . . . how about – I’m lazy. Yep, that one works.

Things have been really quiet lately. Which is nice. Any free time I’ve managed to hoard is spent curled up on the couch reading a book. Which is also nice. Last night, for example, the little man and I read an article about privacy and medical issues in records from early twentieth century juvenile reform institutions while the rest of the family was at cheer practice. I enjoyed it, but he found it conspicuously lacking pictures. Aside from nerdy archival stuff, I’m reading Bark by Lorrie Moore (fiction, short stories, 2014)* and Speak Now: Marriage Equality on Trial by Kenji Yoshino (nonfiction, 2015). My goal this year is to up my fiction intake by alternating fiction and nonfiction selections (or, more likely, reading one of each at the same time).

My nonfiction to-read list is constantly growing. Currently, in no particular order –
Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell (2002, used an audible credit to get the audiobook)
The Physiology of Taste: Or Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy by Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1825, on my bookshelf)
1919, The Year of Racial Violence: How African Americans Fought Back by David F. Krugler (2015, on my bookshelf)
Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy (2015, on my bookshelf)
Grunt: The Curious Science of Humans at War by Mary Roach (forthcoming June 2016, preordered)
Tomorrow Is Now by Eleanor Roosevelt (1963, on my bookshelf)

And those are just the ones that float to the top of the pack. If you open up my library ebook to-read section, that list would instantly triple in size. On the other hand, my fiction list is small and I’m fishing for suggestions. Currently, in no particular order –
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (2014)
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1877, slowly working my way through the audiobook)
Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (2011, a gift from the LibraryThing’s SantaThing)

Leaving books behind for the moment, sort of. I have a couple of new projects in the works. One is an article I’ve been trying to write for a while about a local women’s group. It is time to sit down and finish it, so I imposed a February 28 first draft deadline on myself. I’m not a big drafter (I edit as I go), so it should just need cleaning up at that point. The other I’m not going to talk about because it is just an abstract concept for the moment. I’m pretty excited though.

This is our last week of cheering at basketball games. I am beyond excited. It’s not that I’m not glad my kid is in an activity she enjoys (and she does really, really love it), it’s just that this kind of schedule doesn’t really fit with our family dynamics. In other words, it is a bitch to keep this kind of schedule, keep up with the little man, and keep your sanity. A big factor in this is the lack of school buses to transport the kids to the games . . . . meaning every single away game requires a parental figure (the husband). One parent (me) has to stay home with the little man and hold down the fort. Let’s just say I’m not sad about getting a break for a bit.

I went to the first weekend of a large estate sale last Sunday and managed to avoid buying a wonderful set of dishes and at least a dozen different drawing and paintings. However, I did not manage to avoid walking away with a sculpture of a nude bather that now lives on my dining room table. Because where else would you put a sculpture of nude bather? And now I can’t go to the other weekends of the estate sale because I spent enough money. I couldn’t help it though; I love it. L-O-V-E, love it.

Last week the little man said, “Yeah, I’m going bye-bye.” Clear as a bell, would have been understood by anyone in the room. That is officially his longest sentence (beating out, “Here you go.”). It is absolutely encouraging when he has these little successes. My biggest dream for him is to gain the ability to successfully communicate verbally. Some days it is hard to keep working at it and working at it, but then something like this happens and it just lights up the room. It probably is time for another blog posts about the ups and downs of special needs parenting. The illness of his first few years is gone, so our parenting dynamic (I’m not even sure what I mean by that, you just make something up) has shifted.

*Confession: This book was a gift and I’ve already read half of it, but until typing this out just now I thought it was called “Lorrie Moore Bark.” The words are all evenly spaced on the cover and all looked the same color in the dim evening light at home. I literally thought the dog pictured on the cover was name Lorrie Moore.

75 in 2015: Recap

Let’s do a little recap of my 75 books in 2015 challenge. Spoiler alert! I did it!

First, some stats.

I read 78 books this year for a total of 24,487 pages.
31 (40%) were audio versions, accounting for 9,381 (38%) of the total pages.
12 (15%) I own. The rest were borrowed from the library (support your local library, yo!)

71% of the authors were completely new to me. 7% were actors.
Authors

45 (58%) books were (or claimed to be) nonfiction.
Nonfiction Chart
33 (42%) books were fiction.
Fiction Breakdown
62 (80%) were published in the twenty-first century, 12 (15%) in the twentieth, and 4 (5%) in the nineteenth. 4 were brand new in 2015.

I read the most books in January (15) and the least books in September (3).

Here are the five books I enjoyed the most. Follow the links to see what I said about them.
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami (2011)
The Kitchen Boy: A Novel of the Last Tsar by Robert Alexander (2003)
I Am Legend by Richard Matheson (1954)
Not My Father’s Son: A Memoir by Alan Cummings (2007)
Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War by Karen Abbott (2014)

Here are five books I really could have done without.
1914: A Novel by Jean Echenoz (2014)
Hollow City by Ransom Riggs (2014)
Cool, Calm & Contentious: Essays by Merrill Markoe (2011)
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto by Michael Pollan (2008)
An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus by William Todd Schultz (2011)

So, am I going to do this again? Nah. I do plan to continue to keep track of my reading and do mini-reviews on most of it, but I’m going to skip the challenge this year.

By Matthew Petroff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
By Matthew Petroff (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

75 in 2015: December

Then AgainThen Again by Diane Keaton (2011)

Eh. I really thought I would enjoy this, but I found the whole thing rather boring.

From Amazon.com: “. . . . Diane Keaton’s unforgettable memoir about her mother and herself. In it you will meet the woman known to tens of millions as Annie Hall, but you will also meet, and fall in love with, her mother, the loving, complicated, always-thinking Dorothy Hall. To write about herself, Diane realized she had to write about her mother, too, and how their bond came to define both their lives. In a remarkable act of creation, Diane not only reveals herself to us, she also lets us meet in intimate detail her mother. Over the course of her life, Dorothy kept eighty-five journals—literally thousands of pages—in which she wrote about her marriage, her children, and, most probingly, herself. Dorothy also recorded memorable stories about Diane’s grandparents. Diane has sorted through these pages to paint an unflinching portrait of her mother—a woman restless with intellectual and creative energy, struggling to find an outlet for her talents—as well as her entire family, recounting a story that spans four generations and nearly a hundred years.”

The Satanic VersesThe Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1989)

This is one of those books that I really can’t believe I hadn’t read before now. To be honest, I was shooting for this on to be my #75 instead of a fluffier book, but I finished Diane Keaton first. . oh well (ha!).

Overall, I found this to be fascinating. It was a bit more laborious than I usually like my fiction, but painted such a vivid picture that I’ll forgive that. My lack of knowledge of Indian culture and the Islamic faith made some of the passages difficult to digest and I’m sure I missed some of the more subtle references, but I don’t feel this hindered my reading. Not a book for everyone though.

From Amazon.com: “One of the most controversial and acclaimed novels ever written, The Satanic Verses is Salman Rushdie’s best-known and most galvanizing book. Set in a modern world filled with both mayhem and miracles, the story begins with a bang: the terrorist bombing of a London-bound jet in midflight. Two Indian actors of opposing sensibilities fall to earth, transformed into living symbols of what is angelic and evil. This is just the initial act in a magnificent odyssey that seamlessly merges the actual with the imagined. A book whose importance is eclipsed only by its quality, The Satanic Verses is a key work of our times.”

What Shes HavingI’ll Have What She’s Having: My Adventures in Celebrity Dieting by Rebecca M. Harrington (2015)

A fun, blow-off read, but hardly anything worth mentioning.

From Amazon.com: “A hilarious look at the eating habits of the fit and famous–from Gwyneth’s goji berry and quail egg concoctions to Jackie Kennedy’s baked potato and Beluga caviar regimen–Rebecca Harrington leaves no cabbage soup unstirred in her wickedly funny, wildly absurd quest to diet like the stars.”

Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales, Revisited, Volume 1 by Jacob Ludwig Carl Grimm and Wilhelm Carl Grimm (1812/1857)
Selected and narrated by Ulf Bjorklund (2012)

Another fun read. I knew some of these stories, but not all. My only complaint – I audiobooked this one and did not care for the narrator. He spoke quickly and lacked dramatic pause and emotion, sounding more like he was standing in front of a room reading from the book.

From Overdrive: Let yourself be transported back to “Once Upon A Time” with these engaging fables from the Brothers Grimm. These are magical adventures from the original storytellers, beloved throughout the world and passed down through the centuries – captured here in high quality audio. From Rumpelstiltskin to Snow-White, visit the world of the cautionary tales of Germanic folklore that inspired the modern fairy tales of your youth.

2015 total books: 78
2015 total pages read: 15,106
2015 total pages listened to: 9,381


And done!

75 in 2015: November

Salt A World HistorySalt: A World History by Mark Kurlansky (2002)

I’ve been doing a lot of database work lately allowing me to listen to an audiobooks uninterrupted for several days. This particular one has been in my to-read queue for a while now, but I was a little unsure if a history of salt could command my attention for thirteen hours. I’m happy to report that I had absolutely nothing to worry about. This book is a history of the world through the eyes of salt. Fascinating from start to finish.

From Amazon.com: “In his fifth work of nonfiction, Mark Kurlansky turns his attention to a common household item with a long and intriguing history: salt. The only rock we eat, salt has shaped civilization from the very beginning, and its story is a glittering, often surprising part of the history of humankind. A substance so valuable it served as currency, salt has influenced the establishment of trade routes and cities, provoked and financed wars, secured empires, and inspired revolutions. Populated by colorful characters and filled with an unending series of fascinating details, Salt by Mark Kurlansky is a supremely entertaining, multi-layered masterpiece.”

Amityville HorrorThe Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (1977)

I found the first half of this one interesting and a good read (i.e. listen), but was totally bored by the middle. Maybe it is just too well-known a story?

From Amazon.com: “In December 1975, the Lutz family moved into their new home on suburban Long Island. George and Kathleen Lutz knew that, one year earlier, Ronald DeFeo had murdered his parents, brothers, and sisters in that house. But the property complete with boathouse and swimming pool and the price were too good to pass up. Twenty-eight days later, the entire Lutz family fled in terror. This is the spellbinding, best-selling true story that gripped the nation, the story of a house possessed by evil spirits, haunted by psychic phenomena almost too terrible to describe.”

Don’t Get Too Comfortable: The Indignities of Coach Class, The Torments of Low Thread Count, The Never- Ending Quest for Artisanal Olive Oil, and Other First World Problems by David Rakoff (2005)

David RakoffEnjoyable, well-written, and humorous.

From Amazon.com: “David Rakoff takes us on a bitingly funny grand tour of our culture of excess. Whether he is contrasting the elegance of one of the last flights of the supersonic Concorde with the good-times-and-chicken-wings populism of Hooters Air; working as a cabana boy at a South Beach hotel; or traveling to a private island off the coast of Belize to watch a soft-core video shoot—where he is provided with his very own personal manservant—rarely have greed, vanity, selfishness, and vapidity been so mercilessly skewered. Somewhere along the line, our healthy self-regard has exploded into obliterating narcissism; our manic getting and spending have now become celebrated as moral virtues. Simultaneously a Wildean satire and a plea for a little human decency, Don’t Get Too Comfortable shows that far from being bobos in paradise, we’re in a special circle of gilded-age hell.”

Pluto FilesThe Pluto Files: The Rise and Fall of America’s Favorite Planet by Neil deGrasse Tyson (2009)

I was fascinated by the whole Pluto-debacle and – even though I don’t have any mushy feelings for the icy rock – fully intend to tell my grandchildren how “back in my day we had nine planets.” It was very interesting to learn about the background from the man on the inside.

From Amazon.com: “In August 2006, the International Astronomical Union voted Pluto out of planethood. Far from the sun, wonder Pluto has any fans. Yet during the mounting debate over rallied behind the extraterrestrial underdog. Disney created an irresistible pup by the same name, and, as one NASA scientist put it, Pluto was “discovered by an American for America.” Pluto is entrenched in our cultural, patriotic view of the cosmos, and Neil deGrasse Tyson is on a quest to discover why. Only Tyson can tell this story: he was involved in the first exhibits to demote Pluto, and, consequently, Pluto lovers have freely shared their opinions with him, including endless hate mail from third graders. In his typically witty way, Tyson explores the history of planet recently been judged a dwarf.”

Wind Up BirdThe Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (1997)

I can’t even explain my love for Murakami. I’m not a good reviewer of his works because I read them in complete awe.

From Amazon.com: “Japan’s most highly regarded novelist now vaults into the first ranks of international fiction writers with this heroically imaginative novel, which is at once a detective story, an account of a disintegrating marriage, and an excavation of the buried secrets of World War II. In a Tokyo suburb a young man named Toru Okada searches for his wife’s missing cat. Soon he finds himself looking for his wife as well in a netherworld that lies beneath the placid surface of Tokyo. As these searches intersect, Okada encounters a bizarre group of allies and antagonists: a psychic prostitute; a malevolent yet mediagenic politician; a cheerfully morbid sixteen-year-old-girl; and an aging war veteran who has been permanently changed by the hideous things he witnessed during Japan’s forgotten campaign in Manchuria.”

2015 total books: 74
2015 total pages read: 14,354
2015 total pages listened to: 8,977

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