Category Archives: Books

2018 TBR Pile Challenge

This appears to be the year that — following a few years’ hiatus — I jump back into the crazy world of reading challenges. Like many avid readers, my TBR (to be read) pile of books is out of control. Goodreads shows that I currently own 641 books, but I know it’s more than that because a) I’m not very diligent about adding my ARCs (advanced reader’s copies) or Kindle books and b) I’ve never done a complete inventory of all my books.

Clearly, a TBR challenge is in order. Fortunately, Roof Beam Reader has brought back The Official TBR Pile Challenge after a two year hiatus. There are several other TBR-related challenges but what most appeals to me about this one is that you’re not limited to reading only your own books for a certain period of time. That’s not feasible for me. I like that this is spread out over the course of a year.

Today’s the last day to sign up with a list of 12 books (plus two alternates) from your TBR that you intend to read in 2018. Each of these books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2017 or later.

In addition to the challenge’s criteria, I tried to select books that I’ve been “saving to read for a rainy day” because given the state of the world, it would probably behoove me to get to them sooner rather than later. I also wanted mostly women writers. Finally, I wanted some overlap with The Classics Challenge.

Without further ado, here are my dozen (plus two) for the Official 2018 Challenge:

  1. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2007)
  2. The Answer to Your Question by Paulette Bates Alden (2013)
  3. The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (2000)
  4. When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins (2009)
  5. A Big Storm Knocked It Over by Laurie Colwin (1993)
  6. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn (1989)
  7. The Liars’ Club by Mary Karr (1995)
  8. Into the Tangle of Friendship: A Memoir of the Things That Matter by Beth Kephart (2000)
  9. Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings and the Unearthing of Self by Beth Kephart (2005)
  10. Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor (1952)
  11. Above Us Only Sky: Essays by Marion Winik (2005)
  12. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)

Alternates:
In Our Time: Memoir of a Revolution by Susan Brownmiller
Unearned Pleasures and Other Stories by Ursula Hegi

There are also mini-challenges and periodic Checkpoints. The first one is today and asks which of these books have been on our TBR shelves the longest. I’m honestly not sure but I do know that four of these were purchased at a book sale in 2011 (as documented here) that boasted having 50,000 books available for sale.

I’ll update this post as I (hopefully) read and review all of these. In the meantime, check out what others are reading for the Official 2018 TBR Challenge here.

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Sunday Salon/Currently … Stable Genius with a Big Button

 

“Mars ain’t the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it’s cold as hell
And there’s no one there to raise them if you didn’t
And all this science, I don’t understand
It’s just my job, five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man …” 
~ “Rocket Man” performed by Elton John, written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

A mere seven days into a brand new year and — in what will undoubtedly be a common refrain for many of the 358 to come (should we be so lucky to see them) — this has been quite the week. We’ve had the Stable Genius boasting about the size and potency of his, um, nuclear button. There was a bombshell of a book release with a title that could be most Americans’ motto for this administration. (You know I got myself on the Fire and Fury holds list at the library — #180 out of #542, baby! I like my chances for the audio, for which I’m #37.)

Not to mention the weather has been downright frigid this week, with temperatures more suitable to Mars. All right, perhaps that’s a bit of an exaggeration for the sake of pithy blog fodder, but I think we can come together and agree that it’s goddamned fucking cold. Last night we got down to -14 and that’s the actual temperature, not the RealFeel (of which it was -20 on Friday.)

But here’s a little something that made me feel all warm and toasty. I woke up to find this from The Girl (who had a snow day) as I sat down to have my coffee at 5:30 am.

She’s a keeper, that one. She’s 16, so this is a proud teenage parenting moment for the win. (And yes, for the love of God and keeping the peace, please let it be known that she did spell out AWESOME. My phone camera cut it off and I’m too lazy to retake the photo.)

Reading
I had all good intentions of reading Tell Me More by Kelly Corrigan as my First Book of the Year, but decided I needed to get crackin’ on a review book, considering the review itself was due January 6. I’ll tell you more when it’s released in March. This week I’ll be reading another review book, so I don’t have much to talk about right now reading-wise.  Sorry.  I am reading a back issue of The New Yorker (10/23/2017) which includes this profile of our creepy-and-dangerous-as-fuck Vice President.

Blogging/Writing … 
Still hoping to finish my Best Books of 2017 post and a few other recaps of the year. Hopefully that will happen before, say, the Fourth of July.

I wrote a review for the aforementioned review book and submitted it within 29 minutes of the deadline. A great start to 2018. I’m working on another author piece, due tomorrow, so I need to spend some time with that today.

Oh, I almost forgot the biggest Blogging/Writing news. In what might be a regular occurrence or one time thing, The Husband made a return to blogging with this post (“Heaven and Hell Prepare For Massive Influx of Billions“)  It’s hilarious, but I may be biased. Anyway, consider giving it a look and showing him some blogger love.

Listening …

My current audiobook is It Was Me All Along by Andie Mitchell, a compelling memoir about Mitchell’s tumultuous childhood and how that affected her relationship to food. Mitchell writes candidly about her father’s alcoholism and destructive behavior, her mother working four jobs and preparing elaborate feasts for family gatherings (Mitchell’s descriptions of the food are mouth-watering), and how her traumatic formative years led to her weighing 300 pounds at age 20.

Many of the Goodreads reviews seem to be more complimentary to the first part of the book, but for now I’m finding this to be engaging yet heartbreaking. It seems odd to draw comparisons to The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls but I think this would appeal to those who connected with that book.

Podcasts of the Week …
Being back to work after a long (12 days!) break means I’m back to podcast listening during my commute. (I alternate between audiobooks and podcasts, depending on my mood.)  For 2018, I want to get back to doing my Podcasts of the Week feature, either as part of these Salon posts or in a separate discussion, because I listen to so much great stuff that I want to a) remember and have a reference point of sorts and b) share it with you.

One that stood out this week was Ezra Klein’s discussion with Jon Favreau of Pod Save America. Both The Ezra Klein Show and Pod Save America are two of my favorites so this was a must-listen.  Others I enjoyed this week:

Getting Things Done: Tips for a Year-End Review (1/1/2018)
The Bob Cesca Show: Fire and Fury (1/4/2018)
The Readers: Farewell 2017 … Here’s to 2018 (12/30/2017)

Watching … 
To my delight, The Girl is on a quest to watch all the great ’80s movies. I am more than happy to oblige. This week her selection was “The Breakfast Club” and now she’s obsessed with all things Ally Sheedy, circa 1985.

Wherever you are and whatever you’re doing, hope you’re keeping warm this Sunday.

 

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Sunday Salon … Reading Elf

That’s a photo of one of my favorite ornaments on our tree and among the oldest. I remember receiving it as a child — I’m thinking it was a gift from my grandparents, because it’s the sort of thing my Mom-Mom would have bought me as a kid — but I can’t remember how old I was. Maybe 10? Anyway, I love it. We decorated the tree on Wednesday (I had a vacation day from work).

It’s been a lazy weekend, which is fine with me. Other than grocery shopping, I haven’t done much of anything. The Girl and I had plans to go to the art museum and a craft fair yesterday, but I just needed a quiet day. I planned our meals for the week and prepped some chicken tenders for the kids’ dinners — that’s about it.

We have a mere dusting of snow outside, but nothing compared to what others have gotten. I’m planning to be a reading elf today. I need to write a review of a book I think is going to be a huge hit early next year (can’t say much about it yet) and I have to spend some time with another book for an author interview I’m doing on Tuesday. It’s a nice feeling to be heading into 2018 with several freelance assignments on tap.

This week’s reading included Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden which was everything I expected it to be — heartfelt, sad, real and honest. I’m planning a full review here on the blog soon, but one takeaway I had from this is while Promise Me, Dad is a memoir about a father’s (and a family’s) grief, first and foremost, it’s also a poignant and sobering reminder about how much we have lost as a country. While his son Beau was in treatment for aggressive glioblastoma, Joe was negotiating and managing world events in the Ukraine and Iraq. His recounting of those situations is like reading a national security brief. The depth of knowledge and understanding about the most volatile and complex regions, the familiarity and trust with global leaders … in a week that included the POSOTUS’s actions in regard to Jerusalem, it just underscores what should be apparent to any rational individual — that these fragile unprecedented times in which we live are being made even more so by the callousness and ignorance of the current regime.

And no, Joe Biden isn’t the author interview I have scheduled on Tuesday — how I wish! — but if I was so lucky, I know I’d be all full on Leslie Knope.

I could watch that Parks and Rec clip on a loop.  I love it.

Hope your Sunday is going well.

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This Is How We Read (#AMonthOfFaves)

December tends to be a reflective month for many people, myself included. This year, I’m going to try and keep my blogging momentum going (thank you, #NaBloPoMo and Nonfiction November!)  by participating in the 4th annual #AMonthofFaves hosted by GirlxoxoTraveling with T and Estella’s Revenge. It’s a fun way to recap the year that was. Yes, a significant chunk of 2017 deserves to be drop-kicked to the curb, but despite such, there was some good stuff worth remembering. We’ll be posting about them each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday of December — or, you know, anytime.

Today’s #AMonthofFaves is about our year in reading, a topic I usually wait until the first week in January to talk about for various reasons. I’m of the belief that it’s entirely possible for one to read one’s favorite book of the year on December 31. Consider this, then, a prologue of sorts to my annual year-end reading recap.

To date I’ve read 45 books, exceeding my 2016 total by two, a nice accomplishment. My goal is at least 50 — definitely doable. December is usually a plentiful reading month for me, given that I often have an abundance of vacation days to use up (which, thankfully, is the case this year).  More than half (27) were review books. Fiction consisted of 20 books; 21 were nonfiction. Only 9 were memoirs (would have thought that would have been higher); 3 were poetry collections and (in what might be a first) I read only one short story collection. The majority of my reading was print books, with 11 on audio.

Hints about my favorite book: it’s fiction, it was a book I reviewed for Shelf Awareness, I’ve never read the author before and I’ve written about it in previous posts. Oh — and this will give it away, for sure — it has the worst cover. I hate it. Seriously, the cover is awful, which is a goddamn shame because I haven’t seen this book discussed too much and I can’t help but think that’s one of the reasons why. It should be at the top of everyone’s best books list.

One thing that stands out to me is how much the current political and cultural climate has affected my reading this year — Ta-Nahisi Coates’ We Were Eight Years in Power, Hillary Clinton’s What Happened, Rebecca Solnit’s The Mother of All Questions as well as Hope in the Dark are just a few titles that helped me keep some semblance of perspective and calm during what has been a tumultuous, emotional and unprecedented year. And assuming the slim possibility that the POSOTUS doesn’t get us all killed with his apparent lust for war and his obvious lovefest with Russia, “resistance reading” is likely to be a predominant theme of mine for as long as this regime is in power — so much so that I’m even contemplating hosting a “Reading the Resistance” challenge for 2018.

Here’s my first potential member, my cat Douglas, reading You’re More Powerful Than You Think by Eric Liu and writing to her elected representatives from the comfort of one of my typical reading spots, an old (broken in places) chair that used to belong to my grandparents.

 

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Nonfiction November – Nov 20-24: Nonfiction Favorites

This week (Nov. 20 to 24), Nonfiction November is hosted by Katie @ Doing Dewey with the topic of Nonfiction Favorites: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Is the topic pretty much all that matters?

Definitely not. While there are certain topics that I tend to gravitate towards (basically the subjects I write about here on this blog), I’d like to think that I have a broad range of interests when it comes to nonfiction reading.

Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love?

I think that, with any story, it needs to engage the reader. That’s the most important thing, really. I’m merciless when it comes to DNF books; if I’m not hooked within the first 50 pages (sometimes less) then I have no qualms about abandoning the book. That goes for fiction, nonfiction, whatever.

When I think about preferred writing styles, I’m drawn most to creative nonfiction. I love Creative Nonfiction, the literary journal. Among my writerly bucket list items is to be published in CNF one day.

Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

So many factors go into whether a particular nonfiction book will be one that catches my eye. It can be anything from the subject matter to the author to the setting. It really varies. You can find some of my nonfiction favorites on my Book Reviews – Nonfiction page.

 

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Nonfiction November – Nov 13-17: Become the Expert

This week for Nonfiction November, Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness  (who happens to be one of my very favorite book blogging friends) invites us to either Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert by either sharing three or more books on a single topic that we have read and can recommend (be the expert), put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that we’ve have been dying to read (ask the expert), or create our own list of books on a topic that we would like to read (become the expert).

As I tend to do, I’ve been way overthinking this.

(Overthinking, now’s that’s something I’m an expert in.)

While I wouldn’t call myself an expert, there are certain subjects I tend to gravitate towards in my nonfiction choices.

Autism.

Politics and current events.

Death.

Feminism.

Mindfulness and spirituality.

Food.

LGBTQ issues.

I could easily and happily recommend three books to you on any of the above topics. (Feel free to ask me in the comments if you need a suggestion.)

But an expert?

Nah.

Since I believe there’s always more to learn about a subject, I’ll go with Door #3.

Become the Expert.

Recently, I’ve been seeking out books about the workings of the brain. I don’t mean a neuroscience textbook; rather, I’m very curious to learn more about memory and how trauma affects our memories. In addition to autism, our family has been impacted by dementia, depression and anxiety, migraines, and PTSD. I’m interested in reading more about all of these. A lot of lifestyle issues — sleep, exercise, food, stress, connection with others — are crucial to our brain health and our overall well-being.

A few books on this topic that I’m interested in reading include:

The Inheritance: A Family on the Front Lines of the Battle Against Alzheimer’s Disease 
by Niki Kapsambelis

Earlier this summer our library hosted Niki for a talk and book-signing. The Inheritance focuses on the DeMoe family. Of the six DeMoe children, five have inherited the genetic mutation that causes early onset Alzheimer’s; the sixth, Karla, has inherited the responsibility for all of them. But rather than give up in the face of such news, the DeMoes have agreed to spend their precious, abbreviated years as part of a worldwide study that could utterly change the landscape of Alzheimer’s research and offers the brightest hope for future treatments—and possibly a cure. Much of this research is happening right here in Pittsburgh.

Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams
by Matthew Walker, PhD.

In Pursuit of Memory: The Fight Against Alzheimer’s
by Joseph Jebelli

Memory Rescue: Supercharge Your Brain, Reverse Memory Loss, and Remember What Matters Most
by Daniel G. Amen

How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain
by Lisa Barrett Feldman

Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes on My Dementia 
by Gerda Saunders

 

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classics club spin #16

While catching up on some blog reading the other day, I was inspired by my friend JoAnn at Lakeside Musings who wrote about completing The Classics Club challenge and decided to check in on my own progress.

It’s … not that great.

No surprise there.

The Classics Club is a book challenge that started in March 2012 with the goal of reading at least 50 classic books within five years. Short stories, novellas and poetry all count. Re-reads are allowed too, so even if you know you read something in high school but you don’t remember anything about it, that’s fair game. You can join the club anytime. And it is somewhat flexible. I don’t do well with challenges or reading games where one needs to adhere to a list that’s set in stone until the end of time since preferences change and, as we know, I have zero qualms about abandoning books as soon as they aren’t working for me.

To participate, all one needs to do is post a list of at least 50 classics that you plan to read within the next five years, which I did in this post (“dustin’ off that English degree, joining the classics club”) here.   In my typical over-committing style, my original list included more than 100 books.

That was in April 2015. Two and a half years later, I’ve added to that list since then but haven’t made much of a dent in it. I’ve read three:

The Complete Short Stories by Ernest Hemingway
A Moveable Feast, also by Hemingway
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde.

And three additional books were DNFs:
The Cricket on the Hearth by Charles Dickens
The Very Best of O. Henry by O. Henry
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allen Poe.

The Classics Spin #16 

Coincidentally, it’s time for another Classics Club “spin.” This is a fun part of the challenge where, every so often, the organizers do a “spin” where participants list on your blog (or wherever) 20 classics from your list that are still unread. The organizers select a random number and whatever book corresponds to that number is the book you need to read by a certain date. They’ll select a number on Friday.

Clearly, this is fate that I need to do this, right? Here’s my list of 20 books:

  1. Allison, Dorothy: Bastard Out of Carolina
  2. Atwood, Margaret: The Blind Assassin
  3. Baldwin, James: The Fire Next Time
  4. Baldwin, James: Giovanni’s Room
  5. Calvino, Italo: If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler
  6. Dickens, Charles: The Mystery of Edwin Drood
  7. Du Maurier, Daphne: Rebecca
  8. Fitzgerald, Zelda: Save Me the Waltz
  9. Irving, John: A Prayer for Owen Meany
  10. Kundera, Milan: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  11. McCullers, Carson: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
  12. O’Connor, Flannery: A Good Man is Hard to Find
  13. O’Connor, Flannery: Wise Blood
  14. Orwell, George: 1984
  15. Plath, Sylvia: Ariel
  16. Wharton, Edith: The Age of Innocence
  17. Wollstonecraft, Mary: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman
  18. Woolf, Virginia: The Complete Shorter Fiction
  19. Woolf, Virginia: A Room of One’s Own
  20. Woolf, Virginia: Orlando

Update 11/17/2017:  And the lucky number is … 4!  Which means I’ll be reading Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.  This has been on my TBR for awhile so I’m glad to finally get to it.

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