Category Archives: Reading

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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Nonfiction November – My Year in Nonfiction

In addition to NaBloPoMo (that’s National Blog Posting Month), I’m also participating in Nonfiction November. As the title suggests, it is a month-long celebration of everything nonfiction and is hosted by Julie (JulzReads), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Katie (Doing Dewey), Lory (Emerald City Book Review) and Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), founder of the event and who explains the event’s history here. Each week, a different host will offer a writing prompt pertaining to nonfiction books and reading. Everyone is welcome to join in the fun, connect with other avid readers, and get plenty of great book recommendations to topple your piles and shelves.

For Week 1 (Oct 30 to Nov 3), Julie @ JulzReads asks about our Year in Nonfiction.

Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

Favorite Nonfiction Read of the Year

So far, I’ve read a total of 43 books this year and nearly half (21) were nonfiction. Eight of those were on audio. I usually don’t announce my favorites until year’s end or sometime in January, but here are the titles on my shortlist as of today — and it may be close to my definitive list because I won’t be able to choose just one. There are certainly some similarities and common themes, but they are all fantastic in their own right.

We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
A collection of powerfully insightful essays written by Coates during each of the eight years of Obama’s presidency.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Reflections on the 2016 presidential campaign by the woman who should be sitting in the White House right now.

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, by Rebecca Solnit
How history shows us that hope is always possible, even in the most difficult times.

Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction, by Derek Thompson
What makes something “go viral” or become wildly popular? It has much more to do with logic, patterns and familiarity than luck.

Big Love: The Power of Loving with a Wide Open Heart, by Scott Stabile
Embracing love and cultivating resilience in the midst of deep hurt, adversity and challenges.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Adams
Thoughts and reflections from the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu on choosing to be joyful despite life’s struggles and fears.

Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After, by Heather Harpham
A heart-wrenching and inspirational memoir about finding happiness and love through risk.

You’re More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen, by Eric Liu
We all have the ability to be catalysts for change.

Wishful Drinking, by Carrie Fisher
Hilarious memoir about growing up as “Hollywood royalty” and coping with addiction and mental illness.

From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death, by Caitlin Doughty
A wry and witty memoir and travelogue about death rituals in the most remote corners of the globe as compared to those in American culture.

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?
I’ve recommended most of the ones above, especially What Happened and Wishful Drinking (a fantastic audiobook, by the way). I just finished We Were Eight Years in Power this week and I think it should be mandatory reading for every American.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?
I’d have to say American and world history. Most of my history reading is more biographical, current affairs, and political.  

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?
Book recommendations, connections with other bloggers (both new to me and those already in my feed), and inspiration for several posts.

Looking forward to a great Nonfiction November!

 


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10 Years, 10 Books (#Readathon Challenge)

There’s a fun challenge happening today in celebration of Dewey’s 24-Hour Read-a-thon’s 10th anniversary.

Participants are asked to submit one book recommendation published in each year of the Readathon (2007-2017).

Now this is a #readathon challenge I can do!  All these books are ones I’ve personally read and gave at least 4 stars to on Goodreads.

I’ll even take this one step further. I’ll add a * if it’s a book published that year that I read during a Readathon! How’s that for book nerdiness?

2007

Dog Years: A Memoir, by Mark Doty

2008

Zenobia: The Curious Book of Business, by Matthew Emmons and Beth Kephart *

2009

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

2010

The Blind Contessa’s New Machine, by Carey Wallace *

2011

The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes*

2012

Helen Keller in Love, by Rosie Sultan

2013

In the Body of the World, by Eve Ensler

2014

History of the Rain, by Niall Williams

2015

Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nahisi Coates

2016

Love Warrior, by Glennon Doyle Melton *

2017

Long Black Veil, by Jennifer Finney Boylan

 

 

 

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Ready for the Readathon! (Kick Off Post)

It’s a special day for the book blogging community … today marks 10 years of Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, an event occurring every April and October that brings bibliophiles together for a day of reading and talking about books with other kindred souls.

Dewey was a beloved book blogger who founded this event in October 2007. Sadly, she passed away shortly thereafter but I have to think she would have been thrilled to see how her idea of spending 24 hours reading has grown into something that brings people together across the globe.

I’m pretty sure I’ve been participating in Read-a-thon since the beginning. I seem to remember the first one.  However, I looked back at my blog archives and the first time I posted about it was April 2009. Regardless, that’s a lot of years — some more successful and productive than others, but always a fun time, which is the point. In the end, it really doesn’t matter how many hours or books you’ve read, but the enjoyment you’ve gotten while doing so.

I guess that’s true of life itself, right?

Currently, I seem to be in the middle of a bunch of books that I’ve had checked out of the library for quite some time. (At our library, we have unlimited renewals, so you can practically keep books forever as long as someone hasn’t requested it). Here are the books I have in my Read-a-thon queue and as always, this pile is subject to change throughout the day.

What Happened, by Hillary Rodham Clinton
Yoga Mind, Peaceful Mind: Simple Meditations for Overcoming Anxiety, by Mary Nurriestearns
The Trump Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know About Living Through What You Hoped Would Never Happen, by Gene Stone
The Black Unicorn, Poems by Audre Lorde
Hourglass, by Dani Shapiro
Happy Foods: Over 100 Mood-Boosting Recipes, by Karen Wang Diggs
Living Mindfully: At Home, At Work and in the World, by Deborah Schoeberlein David
The Feelgood Plan: Happier, Healthier and Slimmer in 15 Minutes a Day, by Dalton Wong
Namaslay: Rock Your Yoga Practice, Tap Into Your Greatness, and Defy Your Limits, by Candace Moore

Clearly, there’s a bit of a theme going on here. (I also just realized there isn’t any fiction — much as I wish that The Trump Survival Guide was.) Like I said, that may change.

To get this started officially, here’s the Opening Meme:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania! It’s a beautiful, warm day outside so hopefully some of my reading time will be spent on the deck.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
Hourglass, by Dani Shapiro

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Starbucks Very Berry Hibiscus Refresher!

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

I’ve been blogging for 9 years.

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to?

Probably won’t do anything different. I’ve learned that the Read-a-thon works best when I keep it low-key, fun, and minimal pressure. That said, my goals for today are:
1) Finish at least one in-progress book.
2) Rediscover my blogging mojo. I’ve been rather scarce in this space lately and sometimes the Read-a-thon helps inspire me to want to blog more frequently.
3) Have fun!

I’m planning to do at least one update post here, participate in some Twitter conversations (I’m @thefirmangroup) and possibly Instagram and Litsy, too.

Happy Read-a-thoning, everybody!

 

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currently … in a funk

That’s a photo from a Pirates game we were at in 2013 — a lifetime ago, really. I’m kind of bummed this weekend because The Husband and I had an actual, honest-to-God date planned down at PNC Park where the Pirates are, as I type this, playing the Yankees in a rare series. We like the Pirates just fine; however, The Husband is a Yankees fan and it’s not often he gets to see them. This weekend’s games here in the ‘Burgh would have been the perfect opportunity and I encouraged him to get tickets as a belated birthday gift for himself. Unfortunately, The Husband hurt his foot on Friday — we suspect a sprained ankle (he’s getting it checked out on Tuesday) — so he sold the tickets on StubHub and here we are, watching from the living room on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon.

I was looking forward to the game, so not being able to go has added to my general bummed out mood lately. We’re dealing with a family situation that’s incredibly sad and difficult, one that falls in the “not entirely my story to tell” category of blogging, so that’s weighing heavily on our minds. We were in Philly last weekend for Easter because of this. It’s a hard time and being so far away from everyone right now makes us feel even more helpless. My attention span is nonexistent.

Reading … I’m in a bit of a reading funk. I brought Anne Lamott’s new book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy with me to Philly last weekend, thinking it might provide some comfort. I really wanted to like it but found it kind of rambling and scattered. That’s been the case for me with a few of her books lately. I’ve also abandoned two potential review books. I can’t seem to get into anything new.

This week wasn’t a complete loss in the books department. I finished The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes, a novel that draws heavily on the true story of Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich. In 1936, Stalin attended a performance of his opera and … well, he didn’t like it. Which does not bode well for Shostakovich, whose life is placed in danger. It’s a compelling story, one that feels especially relevant in these times. At times I felt a bit lost (I think the narrative assumes the reader has more knowledge of music and Russian history than I do) but I found it fascinating and disconcerting at the same time.

I also read Jennifer Jackson Berry’s new poetry collection, The Feeder, which is … emotionally intense. These are raw, personal, soul-bearing poems dealing with infertility and loss and sex and pleasure. I’m a fan of Berry’s work and this collection is one that stays with you.

Watching … Still in the middle of the first season of “Grace and Frankie.” Such a stellar cast in this show, which I am enjoying. I really want to see “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.” Maybe we’ll watch that tonight.

Loving … My new laptop. My hard drive died a few weeks ago and while it can be replaced (and we were able to save all my data), the laptop is four years old. The Girl really needs a laptop for homework so I decided to get a new one and repair my old one for her. Also, I’m loving this weather. It’s finally nice enough to sit outside at lunch with a book and on the deck after work.

Running … Slowly but surely, I’m starting to get back into some semblance of a running routine. There’s a great little walking path at my mom’s so I was able to get in a 1.25 mile-long walk on Sunday, with a little running tacked onto the end. We also did a walk on Friday evening too.

AnticipatingDewey’s 24 Hour Readathon is next weekend (April 29). I love this event, which happens every spring and fall, and I try to participate as much as I can.  I’m really hoping my reading rut will have ended by then.

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Reflections on the New Year and My Best Books of 2016 (part 1)

Books Transform in Hourglass

Happy New Year, friends. The beginning of another journey around the sun, a time for reflecting on what has gone before and what the future holds. Given the state of the world, this particular year brings a heightened level of uncertainty. It probably goes without saying that I’m right there with you if you’re feeling a bit (or a lot) apprehensive and anxious about the days ahead and not wanting to embrace the usual spirit of hope and new beginnings that typically marks this day. 

I get that. I don’t tend to make resolutions anymore, preferring to embrace the practice of choosing one word (or three) as a touchstone for the year. (I’m currently vacillating between two words.) I also like the idea of using this time to release those regrets, disappointments, mistakes — and yes, unrealistic resolutions or goals — that we may have carried with us into the new year. Sunday’s service at our UU congregation was “Letting Go” where we did just that with a Burning Bowl ceremony, also known as Fire Communion. In this ritual, you write down on a piece of paper a word or a phrase that represents something you want to release and let go of for the new year. It was all very meaningful and cathartic, especially on New Year’s Day itself. I loved it.

I had much weightier concerns to let go of, but as far as book blogging goes I’m going to try and forego setting a goal for the number of books to read this year. I don’t even think I’m going to join the Goodreads reading challenge. I mean, I read 43 books in 2016 and somehow I feel like that was a lousy reading year because I didn’t meet my self-imposed, twice-revised goal. That’s not a healthy mindset when you consider that the typical American only reads four books a year. Given that, 43 books is an exceptional year and that’s how I choose to look at it. Maybe I’ll change my mind — who knows?

What I do know is that among those 43 were some excellent fiction and nonfiction. In this post, I share my picks for the Best Fiction of 2016, alphabetical by author’s last name. (I’ll do my selections for Best Nonfiction in a separate post, hopefully later this week.) I don’t limit my selections to works published in 2016, however in the case of my fiction selections all but one was released this past year.  I also don’t limit my annual list to a specified number of books (i.e., my top ten). If I loved all 43 books, I would be highlighting every one.

So, without further ado,  I recommend for your reading pleasure the five works of fiction (among them two novellas) that I consider to be the best that I read in 2016. Links take you to my full review, if I wrote one.

I’ll Give You Something to Cry About, by Jennifer Finney Boylan
In this novella, the dysfunctional Riley family is en route to Washington D.C. where their teenage son Otis, a violinist, will be performing at the legendary Ford’s Theatre. The road trip is symbolic of each family member’s individual journey. The characters — especially Alex, a transgender teen — are brilliantly rendered and with its suspenseful plot, Jennifer Finney Boylan creates a dark-humored gothic mood reminiscent of the best of Flannery O’Connor. (SheBooks, 2014, 81 pages)

Whiskey, Etc. by Sherrie Flick
Flash fiction tends to be accompanied by the assumption that it’s easy to write. Dash off a few sentences, a handful of paragraphs, and a story miraculously appears. But the brevity can be deceptively hard. In this collection of “short (short) stories”, Pittsburgh author Sherrie Flick gives her reader enough details in a sentence — or a phrase — to make a story feel complete while still eliciting curiosity about what happens next or the backstory that led up to the situation. With succinct, tight sentences, Flick tells all that’s needed to know (His divorce settlement reads like an episode of Dallas), using food as simile (Snow covered the ground like a thick milkshake) and hooking the reader with more memorable opening lines than a frat boy. My full review, here.  (Queens Ferry Press, 2016, 224 pages)

This is the Story of You by Beth Kephart
Water defines life in Haven, an island shore community off the New Jersey coast. The residents, among them teenage Mira Birul, her mother, and brother, live among the shore’s natural beauty but know that with it comes the potential danger of storms. With their emergency kits and plans, they’re prepared — until the day they’re not. During a hurricane, everything that Mira knows is questioned as circumstances are altered. Mira must figure out how to reorder everything — or, if not, to figure out how to live and understand and accept her new reality. This Is the Story of You, Beth Kephart’s twenty-first book, uses extreme weather and the topography as metaphor for the major storms of life. It’s about the resilience inside everyone, regardless of age, physical capabilities, or resources. More of my review here. (Chronicle Books, 2016, 264 pages)

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift
Set in England, this decadent novella takes place in 1924 and centers on Jane Fairchild, a maid to the wealthy Niven family. They are friends with the Sheringhams, whose son Paul is engaged to marry Emma Hobday.  That small detail doesn’t stop Paul or Jane from having an affair. The entire story unfolds over a few hours, making this the perfect book to read over the same amount of time. In fact, I’d say that this should be required to be read in one sitting, as I did. It’s resplendent and luxurious, sexy and suspenseful, with hints of Virginia Woolf and reminders of Mrs. Dalloway.  I loved every word and every minute I spent immersed in this one. It’s also a tribute to the power of book bloggers because I would have never have known of this one if it wasn’t for JoAnn from Lakeside Musing’s enthusiastic review. (Knopf, 2016, 192 pages)

Reliance, Illinois by Mary Volmer
At 13, Madelyn Branch arrives in Reliance with her mother, Rebecca, who has answered an ad in the Matrimonial Times in hopes of a better life. But because Madelyn has a port-wine birthmark covering half of her face and continuing down one side of her body, Rebecca purposefully declines to mention Madelyn in her response to Mr. Lymon Dryfus, her future husband. Instead, she passes Madelyn off as her sister. Although Madelyn agreed to this deception, that doesn’t lessen her hurt and shame. Mary Volmer gives her reader more than a few characters to keep track of (but not too many that you get lost), several side stories that are connected, and a well-developed plot. Set in 1874, this historical fiction novel covers a lot of ground — women’s suffrage, reproductive rights, love and betrayal — all within the context of a fraught mother-daughter relationship. It’s a solid read that echoes the themes of a changing time. Read my full review here.  (Soho Press, 2016, 354 pages)

 

In an upcoming post, I’ll share my favorite nonfiction books of the year.

 

 

 

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sunday salon/currently … need a little christmas now

Sunday Salon banner

christmas-tree-2016

Our tree went up this afternoon, and you can see it there, above, tucked between the sofa and the old half-broken chair where I write this (and every other blog post) in our mismatched and oddly-configured living quarters.  I’m hoping the presence of the tree raises my spirits a bit and gets me more into a proper Christmas mindset, whatever and wherever that might be.  I’m just not feeling it this season.

It’s everything and not just one thing — there’s the election aftermath, of course, with its accompanying stew of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, and anger I feel on a daily, constant basis. I know — and I don’t really care — that I’m one of Those People whom others are frustrated with for what appears to be an inability to move on and accept this new reality. Believe me, I wish I could find some peace with this. I wish I could be all optimistic and hopeful but I can’t. I wish I didn’t give a damn.

I’m finding it hard to focus, which makes reading a bit of a challenge. I didn’t finish anything this week. However, November was a pretty decent reading month with six books read.

shut-up-and-runthe-rain-in-portugalmothering-sunday

springtime-a-ghost-storyborn-to-runhouse-of-silence

I’m at 40 books read for the year, which is my lowest total since 2008 (when I read a measly 28 books!) and the year I started blogging.  I’ll be happy if I reach 45 books. We’ll see.

Not much else to say today.  Hope all is well in your world and that you have a good week.

 

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