Posts Tagged ‘book clubs’


November 5, 2014

I think I’ve somewhat rather unintentionally fallen into a rabbit hole. An interesting rabbit hole, but a rabbit hole all the same. See, I’ve been participating in a few more online book clubs and discussions lately. It’s lovely to have another group of people with whom I can chat about books and characters and ideas and pester for recommendations. And wow are there a lot of recommendations! When you read between 15-20 books a month, all of these recommendations and books of the month and read-alongs come in handy.

This month, one of my friends mentioned that she was participating in #NonFicNov, which is pretty much just as it sounds: for the month of November, participants are focusing their reading on non-fiction. My non-resolution every year (for I don’t exactly believe in resolutions) is to read more non-fiction. So my ears perked up.

First, I made sure I could use a rather elastic definition: I could include memoirs, right? And essays? We were defining “non-fiction” as “everything not entirely made-up”, right? Right. That was the first hook. Then I noticed that the only book I’d finished this month was a memoir titled I’ll See You Again, written by a women whose three daughters, ages 4-10, were all killed in a tragic car accident. (I do not recommend reading it if you have children that age. Whoops.) So I’d been playing by the rules… Why not join in?

Which is how I ended up in the rabbit hole.

Then I dug the hole deeper: I ordered a few non-fic selections online to shore up my at-home selections. I already had Eats Shoots & Leaves, about punctuation run amok in the wild; and Aleksandar Hemon’s The Book of my Lives, about growing up in Sarajevo, and then living as an adult in Chicago, unable to help his family back home when the war in Sarajevo unfolds. (Memoirs about living in central/eastern Europe? Yes, please!) I ordered Amy Poehler’s Yes, Please (it was on sale, shoosh); Michele Elam’s The Souls of Mixed-Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium, because it’s been on my to-read list forever; Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, because can you believe I haven’t read it? and because I love me some survival stories; and Darcy Lockman’s Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist, because me and mental illness books go together like peanut butter and jelly. I thought about getting Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, about four women who fought in the Civil War, but I put a hold on it at the library instead.

So there you go. It’s going to be a challenge reading only non-fic this month, especially when I scooped so many fantastic fiction books at the library last weekend. I decided my 24-in-48 can be a respite – though I’m only allowed to read Stephen King. (Hey, if you’re going to break the rules for fiction, go all out, I say.) The rest of the time, I’m going to be beefing up my non-fic section of my Books Read for this year.

So let me have it: what books should I add to my list for this month?

Book Review: The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen (without spoilers)

April 12, 2012

The Corrections was not my favorite novel. And even that is an understatement. But I didn’t not like it…er, um… Well… I guess I’d have to say that, like all of the bloody relationships in the book (and here I’m being quite literal for once), my relationship with the book is complicated.

Complication number one: I don’t remember why I first put the book on my To Read List, but I’m sure it had something to do with the fact that it was about family dysfunction (check) and a parent suffering from Parkinson’s Disease (checkcheckcheckcheckcheckcheck). Sound familiar? Yeah. Of course, I had forgotten all about the book by the time my ColleagueWhoReads mentioned she was reading it, except I was all, “Hey, I think that might be on my List?…” When she finished it – six months later – and handed it to me, she mentioned it was one of those books you trudge through, but that it was worth it. I read the back of the book again – “Oh.” – and this time felt a little differently about the Parkinson’s effect. Would I be able to handle it? Would it strike too close to home? Dysfunction I was used to handling and reading about, but Parkinson’s – that’s still raw. Of course, by this point I was locked in. I had accepted the book from ColleagueWhoReads – that’s practically a signed-contract. So in I waded.

And here it’s a bit spoilery, so you might want to skip down to Complication Numero Two-o. Okay. So At the beginning of the novel, boy was I pissed at Alfred. He was supposed to be all Parkinsons-y. All debilitated and tragic. THE DUDE COULD STILL WALK AROUND! Oh, boo-hoo, he fell down a stairwell. Big deal. My mom can barely make herself cross a room with a walker. Her muscles don’t respond. She can’t give herself a freaking enema, Alfred, because she can barely hold a cup with a straw in it to drink some water. I was pissed (to put it mildly) that Alfred’s quality of life was better than my mother’s.  But then you saw how far gone his mind was, confusing sunflowers for children’s faces in the living room, mistaking the floor in front of the door for the shower, and OH GOD, we won’t even talk about the paranoid dancing poop scenes. So, um, yeah, I decided that while Alfred might have better mobility (falling overboard off cruise ships notwithstanding), my mom has more of her marbles. Marbles trumps movement. For now. Ahem.

Complication number two: I only finished the book because I had to. I used to be the kind of girl who finished any book she started. Couldn’t help it; I hated not knowing the ending. I like knowing things – no, strike that, I NEED to know things. It’s a compulsion. But I’ve progressed to a point where I can set aside a book I really hate. (Oh don’t start clapping for me – I still have to google the book summary so I can find out what the bloody hell happened. What step of the program does that make me?) This book – this book I would have given up on about the time Chip abandons lunch and forces his sister to deliver them to the dock. I mean, I understand that the writing is brilliant; I critically examined the text the entire time, hoping to discover why exactly it won the National Book Award back in 2001 and I decided Franzen’s genius is in the details. He crafts each sentence as if his life depends upon the mad abundance of detail. And yet it’s not just volume: you wonder how in years of pondering (nevermind an afternoon of writing) someone could thinking of a turn of phrase so effortlessly realistic and pin it to paper with such finesse. And it’s not just one brilliant passage here and there – it’s the entire novel done up in perfect little vignettes. Enough to think, hey! this is so realistic! Until you turn the page and sink over your head in irony, into situations (cough:Lithuania:cough) so utterly bizarre and unbelievable, you wonder what the hell just happened. The problem is just… piling moment after moment after scene after scene of such detailed writing that by the time I finished the book (or each day’s allotment), I was utterly exhausted. I couldn’t enjoy the trees for the frakking forest that had no ending. It was just trees and trees and more trees. Beautiful trees, but I was so sick of trees by the time I found daylight.

So, yes, I am glad that I read The Corrections if only so I know what JFranz is all about – nothing is cooler than being able to talk about The Franz right now. But I still cannot say I liked the book, even if I did enjoy the brilliance of the writing.

So, yes, I can see the brilliance. That’s partly why I finished: because I know this book is going to be relevant in twenty years. This will be one of the classics thrown onto high school AP reading lists. Instead of the barren wastelands of the dust bowl, they’ll read about the barren desolation of family life. Desperate. Depressed. Full of misdirected feelings, rage and anxiety. But not unbrilliant. Still, I think most students will loathe The Corrections like I did Grapes of Wrath. It doesn’t erase its relevance or even mute its deserved honors. It just means the book will gather a lot of dust sitting of my shelf.

I might have gone ’round the bend (but at least there are books here).

January 7, 2012

Yes, yes, I know: all I talk about these days are books. But I can’t help it! It’s that time of year when you tally your Books I’ve Read This Year list, and update your To Read list, and set your 2012 Reading Goal over at Goodreads, and…well…make all sorts of other neurotic lists and assessments. It’s the bestest part of January, really. Since you obviously think I’m quite adorable when I’m at my most neurotic (you’re here, aren’t you?), I thought I would share with you some of my favorites.

If you haven’t already, a good place to start would be my recap of allllll 70 books I read in 2011. (Which, I have to admit now, isn’t entirely accurate. I realized last night that I accidentally left off The Boxcar Children, which I read to the girls this summer, and Anatomy of Deception, which I read in December after I had already typed up my list. Whoops.)

After I finished my epic recap (and shook feeling back into my fingers), I was curious about how many books from last year’s Christmas haul I had actually managed to read. Because let’s face it – sometimes my intentions and my accomplishments don’t actually match up all that neatly. Ahem. So I went back to this nifty post that I was smart enough to publish so I could see how well I did. Turns out I did pretty well: I read 29 of 30 books I got for Christmas 2010. The only book I didn’t get to was the one by Gene Wilder. (Yes, that Gene Wilder. Which, I think, explains a lot.)

I hope I can conquer this year’s booty, er, um, collection, with as much success. I have the happy conundrum of having too many books I want to read all at once! I’ve already finished a WWII loaner (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. 4 of 5 stars.) and I’m about ready to finish Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens. I’m also about 100 pages into Tea Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and I have to say – I’m falling a little bit in love with it. Other books in the tier I want to read first: Smashed: Story of a Drunken Girlhood by Koren Zailckas; The White Mary by Kirah Salak (which is a loaner from my sister); The Reader by Bernhard Schlink; Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon (my reward/escapism novel); The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry; 11/22/63 by Stephen King; Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan; and Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos. I have no idea how I’m going to choose my next book – they all sound so devourable. My second tier consists of: Sway by Zachary Lazar; Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood; feed by MT Anderson (another loaner from my sister); StoryLand by Jim Miller; Hannibal by Thomas Harris;  All Souls by Christine Schutt; and the Leader’s Guide to the Brownie Scout Program (circa 1950) that my sister gave me and will be rather useful for a diabolical scheme I’m brewing. Rounding out my list is Lush Life by Richard Price; A Mad Desire to Dance by Elie Wiesel; The Sea by John Banville; Gap Creek by Robert Morgan; Slam by Nick Hornby (which would have placed higher except the last few I read were such disappointments); The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara; Hoot by Scott Hiassen; Voyager and Drums of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon (loaners) and a Mr. Boston’s Guide to Cocktails and a winery book that I believe will both get plenty of use, if not read from cover to cover.Let’s see how many of these books I’ve read when I’m doing my recap for this year. Anyone wanna make a wager with me? <Insert eyebrow wiggling here.>

Since I had cleaned up on my Christmas Reading List, I then wondered if I had made any progress on my How Well Read Are You? challenge. Turns out I didn’t read too many classics this year: I am still stuck on 65 of 100 classics read. Maybe I should step away from the YA fiction and read something a bit more full of literary fiber. Guilting me even further in that direction is this really cool Web site I found yesterday: this teen is going to read all 179 novels on the Modern/Classic Must-Read List. I counted them and I’m only at 50.

Since I have now depressed myself with how little reading it looks like I’m getting done, at least according to those lists, I have to end with linking back to my To Read list I posted at the end of 2010. I’m proud to say that I read 37 books off that list of 100. Pretty impressive, is it not? Especially given how many re-reads I had and how many of my 2011 books were recommendations from other readers. I just find it so hard to say no to a book being thrown in my path: the most wonderful reading adventures happen if you’ll just accept the premise that books you’re supposed to read make their way to you one way or another. Then again, some of them just suck. That’s what makes it so exciting, I guess – trying to figure out if you’re going to want to smuggle the book across the border or have to come up with a complete and utter lie to your former friend about how “special” that read was.

So there you have it. It would have been a lot prettier if I could have uploaded all of my lists scribbled on and marked through, with crazy, illegible notes in the margin, but this will have to do until I’m caught up – I have books to read, you know.