I have what are probably considered eclectic tastes in reading material. I tend to jump around quite a bit, but a few recurring themes would be historical fiction; feminist themes and strong female or feminist characters; dystopia; foreign settings, characters, and writers; critical exploration of religion; food writing; and young adult fiction. Oh, and I really love re-tellings and parallel novels, a la Gregory Maguire.
Here’s a list of what I’ve read, in reverse chronological order, since I started keeping track a few years ago. Some things I’ve written a great deal about, some I haven’t. It just depends if I have a lot to say about that particular book or not. Scroll through to find recommendations, or search for a particular book if you want to see what I’ve written about it. If I haven’t written enough for you to decide if you want to read it or not, or if you want to participate in a virtual book club with no meetings, deadlines, or pressure, leave a comment.
The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
The Thyroid Solution by Ridha Arem
Underground Airlines by Ben Winters
Quidditch Through the Ages by J. K. Rowling
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
What Is the What by Dave Eggers
Understanding Your Moods When You’re Expecting by Lucy J. Puryear
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J. K. Rowling
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby
Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler
Moonraker by Ian Fleming
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
It’s What I Do: A Photographer’s Life of Love and War by Lynsey Addario
How the States Got Their Shapes by Mark Stein
The Royal Physician’s Visit by Per Olov Enquist
Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
About A Girl by Sarah McCarry
At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
Euphoria by Lily King
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Arcadia by Lauren Groff
MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
The Life and Death of Sophie Stark by Anna North
Wonder by R. J. Palacio
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry
All Our Pretty Songs by Sarah McCarry
So amazing. I loved loved loved it. A punk-rock, feminist, intelligent retelling of the Metamorphosis. Poetry on every damn page.
Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann
Forever by Judy Blume
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
Fallen by Lauren Kate
Tenth of December by George Saunders
This collection of short stories was absolutely amazing. I loved them and wanted to keep reading more. Check out reviews from NPR and the NY Times. You can also read the title essay (a great one, though not my favorite) in The New Yorker.
Homo Mysterious by David P. Barash
Ugh, this guy.
Citizens of London by Lynne Olson
Sold by Patricia McCormick
The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Practical Ethics by Peter Singer
When He Was Wicked by Julia Quinn
Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg
A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby
Pretty good, easy read. I’d like to see the movie next.
The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
A book club pick, I really liked this one. Larson interweaves the story of how the World’s Fair of 1893 came to be in Chicago with the story of America’s first serial killer. The book is a lot more World’s Fair than serial killer, so I thought I might be a little bored, but I ended up being just as fascinated by the story of the fair. It was a time of such amazing innovation, and the fair became a huge expo of new things, like electricity and PBR. NY Times review here.
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Book of Life by Deborah Harkness
The final in the All Souls trilogy. I really liked this series. See below for my comments on A Discovery of Witches and Shadow of Night. A really fun series, it’s like a Twilight for adults, but better.
Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit
So, so good. Everyone should read it. The title essay is gold.
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Redundant, so kinda boring. A great thesis — it just could have been made in an essay instead of a book. Read a summary online or something.
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Very good. A story about a German family who hides a Jewish man in their basement during WW2. It’s narrated by Death himself, and told from the perspective of 13-year-old Leisel. At first I thought I wasn’t going to like the style, but I ended up loving it.
Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl
Fun read. Not the best supernatural teen novel I’ve read, but not the worst.
On Immunity by Eula Biss
Highly recommended. A collections of essays all relating to immunity and vaccination, with a great deal on parenting and morality. She brings in ideas from mythology, philosophy, biology, and more. I really liked it. NY Times review here.
Witch and Wizard by James Patterson and Gabrielle Charbonnet
Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman
Pretty good, but not much different from the movie. If you’ve seen the movie, not sure if it’s worth your time to read it.
Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson
This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper
I didn’t hate it, but I kinda did. The characters all suck and they do crappy things to each other. The author (to the extent that you can assume the narrator and the author are generally one) seems like a jerk. I bet he’s a Nice Guy.
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Oh my goodness, this was just so wonderful. Fangirl was amazing, and then there was Eleanor & Park. I can’t decide which one I like better. Just read everything Rainbow Rowell has ever written. She’s an amazing writer in all the ways – character development, story line, writing quality… all of it, just so good. Rowell also has a blog and the entries about E&P are great and insightful.
The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
The movie was better.
To Sir Phillip, With Love by Julia Quinn
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner
I liked this! When it was picked for book club, I was skeptical. But the more I read it, the more I liked it. Weiner is an NPR correspondent who went around the world to investigate why the happiest countries in the world are happy. Through his journey, he discovers a lot of wonderful insights about happiness and what it means.
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
I love Ann Patchett. Wonderfully written and a beautiful story about a multinational collection of rich people, including a famous opera singer, being taken hostage by a group of political terrorists. The stand-off lasts months, while the hostages and captors develop remarkable relationships. Like the characters in the book, I didn’t want this one to end. Guardian review.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
I really liked this one! I think it is my favorite of the original Sherlock Holmes stories so far.
Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America’s Fight Over WWII, 1939-1941 by Lynne Olson
This nonfiction account of the political battles in America leading up to World World II is amazing. Extremely well-written and well-researched, I found it fascinating every step of the way. So much attention is put on the war itself, that most Americans don’t learn about the drawn-out war at home between interventionists arguing support for Britain and isolationists asserting that the US should stay out of European conflicts. A great book — I look forward to reading her other works. For a sneak peek, Olson did an interview with NPR.
Romancing Mister Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
The Round House by Louise Erdrich
This is a story about the rape of and subsequent lack of justice for a Native woman, told from the perspective of her 13-year-old son. The heavy subject matter is difficult, but the story and storytelling are wonderful. I loved it. Many people have recommended Louise Erdrich to me, and I don’t know why I took so long to listen. I’ll definitely be reading more of her stuff. NYT Review.
Skipping Towards Gomorrah: The Seven Deadly Sins and the Pursuit of Happiness in America by Dan Savage
Read this for book club. Meh. I have issues with libertarians. And I have issues with people who are intentionally obnoxious.
The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
I thought this was good but overrated. Mostly, I thought John Green’s characters were really pretentious and that they all had the same voice — that is, John Green’s pretentious voice. I might have liked it better if people hadn’t hyped it up for so long.
Blindness by Jose Saramago
I would have liked the story — I tend to enjoy dystopian or apocalyptic tales — but once again, post-modern men writing about women are insufferable.
The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje
Post-modern men writing about women are insufferable.
The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
Can you tell I was on a YA streak for a month or so? I almost didn’t list this one because it’s embarrassing. I’ve discovered that when I’m stressed out (April was an incredibly busy month!), I like to read fun, easy books. Some of the YA I turned to was amazing (i.e. Fangirl – read it!), but this one was pure crap, which I knew going in, but enjoyed nonetheless.
Death by Black Hole by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
Technically I shouldn’t put this on here because I didn’t actually read it. I read a couple chapters for book club, and then I decided I hated it. I really didn’t like his sassy writing style: At one point, I may or may not have shouted, “F— you, Neil DeGrasse Tyson! Don’t you take that tone with me!” I decided if I was shouting at a book, it was better for my mental health to put it down.
An Offer from a Gentleman by Julia Quinn
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
I read this for book club, and I liked it a lot. There are aspects of the book I like better than the movie, and aspects of the movie I like better than the book. I definitely like the movie ending better though. Also JOHNNY DEPP. Yum. The book is worth the read! The characters are rich and likable, and the author’s writing is descriptive enough to take you away to another world. Nibble on truffles or sip on some hot chocolate while you imagine yourself in a tiny French village.
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Okay, I have such issues with path dependence. This was awful. This whole series started out only mediocre and just went downhill from there. But I felt like I needed to finish it, so I did. Boring, didn’t make any sense at all, kinda dumb and pointless, and then a horrible ending. Ugh.
Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Even though Divergent wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be, I still wanted to find out what happened in the rest of the series. Unfortunately, it just got worse.
Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
I loved this book! I thought it was so interesting, and as always, Krakauer is a master of narrative nonfiction. He seamlessly jumps back and forth between the story of a (relatively) modern murder case, in which a Mormon Fundamentalist murdered his sister-in-law and her infant child because he was ordered by God to do so, and the history of Mormonism and its leaders. Fascinating story and history, and he does a great job connecting violence, persecution, and doctrine. Highly recommended!
The Viscount Who Loved Me by Julia Quinn
Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
I have mixed feelings on this one. I enjoyed the story and enjoyed reading about her adventures on the trail. But I also felt like I just would not like the author at all. Like, her story was interesting, but I wouldn’t ever want to hang out with her, which made it a little difficult to read. I had a similar reaction to Eat, Pray, Love.
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Good story, but disappointing considering the hype. Not really substantive at all. I’m annoyed that so many people compare it to The Hunger Games, which was way better. Also the movie was better.
The Swerve: How the World Became Modern by Stephen Greenblatt
Some parts of this were awesome, and some parts were really boring. I read a few chapters and then couldn’t make myself read anymore when I got to a certain point. It sat on my table for weeks before I finally picked it up, skipped that chapter, and went on with the rest of the book. Best decision. The rest of the book was fascinating, and I really enjoyed it. I always thought I didn’t like philosophy, but I did like learning about philosophy through the lens of political history. Who knew I was somewhat of an Epicurean?
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Written by the same author who penned The Hundred And One Dalmatians, I wasn’t totally sure about this book when a friend recommended it. But I picked it up one day and I really enjoyed it. A coming-of-age story about Cassandra and the rest of her family living in genteel poverty in England, it was quite charming but also remarkably progressive considering it was written in the 1940s. We’re essentially reading Cassandra’s diary, and it’s rather delightful overall. Enjoy it with a cup of tea and a scone.
The Flame Throwers by Rachel Kushner
Meh. She’s a good writer in terms of the writing itself, but I didn’t like the story, plot, characters, or really anything. Yuck to post-modernism.
The Duke and I by Julia Quinn
The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant
An excellent book set in Medici Florence. Alessandra is 14 years old, headstrong and intelligent, craving independence she cannot have. She loves art and yearns to paint, which is not permitted for women. She has fallen in love with a painter she would never be allowed to be with, so she marries a much older man who promises a certain level of freedom. But once married, things aren’t all what they seem. Meanwhile, Florence is going through a religious revolution led by a fundamentalist monk who preaches hellfire and brimstone, and Alessandra’s beloved Florence is rapidly changing. A wonderful, fast-paced plot as the author explores the Renaissance, art, the nature of God, religious devotion, female power, feminism, war, political revolution, passion, love, and more. It’s good. I’ll be looking into other of Dunant’s novels. See the NYT review and The Guardian review.
Naked by David Sedaris
Quick, funny read. I always like Sedaris’ stuff. Also I’ve listened to him read his stories aloud before, which is awesome and hilarious, and now sometimes I find myself hearing his voice as I read. Also the first book I’ve ever read on an e-reader, but I wasn’t a fan. Probably going to stick with real books.
Lost by Gregory Maguire
I really liked this one! The first half was a little slow, but the second half really picked up. It is kind of a modern riff on A Christmas Carol, but unlike some of his other novels, it doesn’t exactly parallel with that story. It has elements of Scrooge and the ghosts and whatnot, but it’s not exactly a re-telling the way, say, Mirror Mirror or Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister were (both of which I highly recommend!). Interesting plot, interesting (though not very likeable) characters. Lots of cool literary and historical reference, the main ones being Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and the history of Jack the Ripper, but also lots of other references, especially to classic children’s books. I recommend it!
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
I think I would have really loved this if I had read it around age 18 or so — young enough to find this groundbreaking. But as it was, considering I’m a bit older and I discovered feminism about a decade ago, I found it to be a little heavy-handed. It’s a futuristic, dystopian re-telling of The Scarlet Letter. It was still a good story, very interesting, and I’m glad I read it. I finished it in a couple days. It keeps getting compared to Margaret Atwood, but really, if you’re going to compare to the Queen of feminist dystopia, just go read The Handmaid’s Tale instead of this. Review here.
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My first Patchett novel, and I really liked it. The characters, setting, and plot were vibrant. I read it quickly. I was a little disturbed/disappointed/WTFed by the ending, but I won’t give it away. I’ll definitely be reading her other works. NYT review here.
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton
Another book club pick — a good, fun read. The plot was exciting (though it got a little slow in the middle), and I did NOT see the final twist coming! But I also thought that the characters were very poorly developed, and it was a little longer than necessary. Read it for an entertaining break from more serious stuff.
The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
I recently signed up for a Coursera MOOC called Plagues, Witches, and War: The Worlds of Historical Fiction. From what I’ve managed to read/watch so far, I have enjoyed it. Unfortunately this is my busiest time of year at work, so I’m hoping to basically do the whole course in December/January, even though it will be after the official time. Anyway, one of the books they were going to discuss was this one by Katherine Howe, so I checked it out from the library. It took me a while to get started, but once I did, it was a very quick read that I really enjoyed. At this point, I’ve read quite a bit of historical fiction, particularly about witches, so some of it was a little predictable for me. But it was a great story with interesting characters. I liked that this one bounced between two time periods, the late 1600s and the early 1990s. I also liked that it officially qualified as historical fiction and used a lot of factual information about historical events and characters but also that it had one distinctive difference: the book assumes that some of the accused witches actually were witches.
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
See below for my comments on Outlander.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Almost a year after I picked Daughter of Fortune (reviewed below), it was my turn to pick again for book club, and I (strangely?) decided to go with nonfiction. Boo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist. After writing for years about poverty in America, she moved to India with her husband and investigated poverty in the slums of Mumbai. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is excellent narrative nonfiction, the true story of the people she interviewed over a period of a few years, but written more like a book. I thought it was very good and do recommend it, but for a more in-depth review, try The New Yorker, The New York Times, or NPR.
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
We read this classic mystery novel from my childhood for book club! I thought it was really good, and I picked up on some interesting race/class issues that I probably didn’t notice as a 5th grader. It was interesting to discuss this novel with adults, some of whom were reading it for the first time, and some who hadn’t read it in 20 years.
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
So this was a page-turner, and I even ended up reading the sequel, Dragonfly in Amber. But I can’t in good conscience recommend it. The story is good in a C-rated movie sort of way — the plot is interesting, and the characters are fun. But it was incredibly rape-y and had a LOT of graphic and intense sexual violence, most of which I felt was included/discussed inappropriately. Mostly, this is a glorified romance novel, complete with lots of sex scenes, unhealthy gender dynamics, and unnecessary violence that upheld stereotypical rape myths.
Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg
We read this for book club, and I had a lot of mixed feelings. I thought that as a book alone, it wasn’t horrible advice for elite, wealthy, educated, ambitious women. And if Sandberg marketed her book as a business/management/self-help book, then I would be totally okay and even supportive of that. I think it’s a great book for that purpose, and there were some parts that spoke to me that I found to be very helpful. But the problem is that Sandberg is claiming that she is creating a feminist movement and a community that would change the world for women, which is a whole different game. I don’t find her movement to be very feminist at all, and I don’t think she takes into account the situation (goals, desires, issues, limitations, etc.) for those women who aren’t in the One Percent (i.e. wealthy, educated, ambitious). And, much like pinkwashing (in which corporations sell carcinogenic products labeled with a pink ribbon for breast cancer awareness in order to increase sales), Lean In features a lot of corporate partners who have well-known issues with gender equality. All-in-all, I found her whole thing to be more of a campaign for status quo capitalism than for the advancement of women. (Susan Faludi has a great critique in The Baffler.)
The Last Witchfinder by James Morrow
This is a really weird but cool book. Yes, it is historical fiction that deals with witchcraft, a perennial favorite of mine, but it’s a little different from most. For one, it’s narrated by a book — Sir Isaac Newton’s Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. At first it was too weird for me, but as I read on, I started to like it more and more. The basic premise of the novel is that the main character, Jennet, after seeing her beloved aunt hanged for witchcraft, vows to find a scientific treatise that would disprove witchcraft and the existence of demons. To complicate matters, her father and older brother are official Witchfinders who hunt down witches and put them to trial. This plotline alone is interesting enough, but one thing I liked was that it operated as a lens to explore humanism, the enlightenment, and the Age of Reason. One thing about this book that I eventually liked but I know would rub some people the wrong way… It was very over-the-top and unrealistic in the way that old adventure novels are. Jennet is often at the center of multiple historical developments, interacts with multiple historical figures, and finds herself in a variety of outlandish situations. (For a time she is shipwrecked on an island with Ben Franklin, with whom she bears a love child.) But if you accept the high adventure, you will be entertained both by the plot developments and by the Age of Reason. (NY Times review here.)
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The next installment in the Sherlock Holmes series. I’ve been enjoying short stories before bed.
What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets by Michael J. Sandel
Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov
This was a book club pick, though I was on vacation during that meeting. I still read the book though, and had a lot of thoughts about it that I wasn’t able to pick apart with my book club ladies. Though I was skeptical at first, I came to the conclusion that Nabakov is a very gifted writer and was really messing with people as he wrote his book. I also came to the conclusion that most readers are dumb, and very stupidly have accused Dolores Haze of inappropriate behavior (rather than Humbert Humbert, child molester), as they are often wont to do in this rape culture (oy, victim blaming). I refer to the simple evidence of the word “Lolita” entering our cultural lexicon as a synonym for youthful seductress, despite the fact that the novel makes it very clear that Humbert Humbert is morally in the wrong, both from the plot and from the commentary. I highly recommend the annotated version.
The True History of Paradise by Margaret Cezair-Thompson
A friend loaned this to me, telling me that it’s her all-time favorite book. I loved it. It sets a great scene of Jamaica as a beautiful land and tells its history through Jean Landing’s story in 1981, as well as the stories of her ancestors on the island. My own brief summary can’t do the novel justice, so in short, I’ll say that I highly recommend it. (If you’d like to read more, the NY Times has a review, though it does contain many spoilers.)
Kiss the Bride by Patricia Cabot
Fun and not a little smutty.
The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant
I picked this one up at a used bookstore on the grounds that I really enjoyed Diamant’s The Red Tent. A very different, but also good, novel, The Last Days of Dogtown chronicles the decline of a small town outside Boston over a few decades in the 19th century. Each chapter could function on its own as a short story, telling of one inhabitant’s life, but together, they weave a loose narrative connecting all the town’s citizens, and explaining what happens to them as they slowly leave the town. I liked it.
The Sign of the Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The second novel in the Sherlock Holmes series.
The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean
Another book club book! Not a book I would ordinarily pick up myself, but I really liked this one. Well, at least the first half. Kean tells interesting stories behind the periodic table of elements. Some stories are very science-y, of course, but others talk of history, mythology, the arts, warfare, medicine, and the lives of the scientists who discovered the elements. It’s more or less chronological, which meant the second half got into a little more difficult science, which is when I had a little trouble following and paying attention. But the first half was great. And because they’re all little stories, if you don’t find one particularly gripping, just skip it.
The Still Point of the Turning World by Emily Rapp
A memoir about grieving for the loss of her young son to Tay-Sachs disease. I expected to hate it but slowly grew to like it. And after discussing it in book club, I liked it even more. The interesting thing for me is that the book is more about grief than it is about any particular disease. In this way, it becomes more or less universal — we’ve all experienced grief in some form or another. It reads something like a journal, without any overarching narrative, almost a snapshot of how she was feeling when she wrote that particular passage. It’s not always coherent, but neither is grief. Three main insights I had from reading this: (1) We all grieve in different ways at different times. Grief is messy and tangled. It’s not a straight line to ‘getting better.’ Grief brings along a lot of different emotions – anger, sadness, and more – that are often competing with each other. One person’s grief doesn’t look the same as another person’s, and that’s okay. Some people felt annoyed over a passage that basically said that everyone else sucks — if they say this to a grieving person, they suck for this reason, if they say that, they suck for that reason. But I stepped into Rapp’s shoes, instead of the comforter’s, and felt compassion. When you’re grieving like that, everything and everyone else really does suck. (2) Grief looks like a lot of different things. Being that I work for a rape crisis center, I thought of all the survivors of sexual violence and abuse who experience grief. I think a loss of any kind can be grief, be it the loss of a loved one, the loss of security, or the loss of innocence/childhood. (3) A friend and I had a super long discussion about grief as it relates to disease. She’s a genetic counselor who works with families of kids with diseases. We talked about the grief that parents feel when they lose a child or when a child is diagnosed with a terminal illness, like in the book. And we also talked about the grief that parents feel when a child is diagnosed with a non-terminal illness or condition, like autism. I’m certainly not arguing that one type of grief is on par/worse/more important/less important than another. I’m simply pointing out that parents can grieve the loss of a “typical” child while parenting an “atypical” child, and in light of the (very awesome, necessary, and important) modern PC campaign for disability rights, we don’t always provide support to the parents or even to the person who has a disability. Whew, I don’t usually write that much. It’s weird because even though I didn’t really even like the book itself that much, I feel like it had a huge impact on me, which is why I would recommend it.
A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
I started watching BBC’s new Sherlock on Netflix, and I became immediately hooked. There are 2 seasons out right now consisting of three 90-minute episodes each, so basically movies, and I watched every episode in about ten days. Seriously obsessed. I’ve even watched some of them over again. The only thing that has eased my obsession has been (1) reading all the Sherlock novels and short stories in order (duh), and (2) getting hooked on other BBC shows, like Call the Midwife and Doctor Who. Excuse me, I have to go make a cup of tea and settle in for more BBC TV now.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I feel terrible because this is supposed to be like amazing classic literature, but I did not like it one bit. Actually, it’s the only book club book I did not complete for my book club. I don’t like not finishing books. Probably in my life I’ve dropped a total of 10 books after I started reading them (not including boring college assignments). I think this was just a little too rambly for me. I actually really like the magical realism. I just can’t handle the rambling story line that doesn’t really follow any sort of arc. I like feeling like I’m getting to a point in the book. The writing itself was beautiful though.
Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
I had a hard time starting this one, and there are a lot of things I don’t like about it. I think the writing is bad, and I had a hard time with the rather obnoxious hipster characters. But once I ignored the writing quality and started assuming that the author meant it to be satirical of hipsterism, it was a bit easier. And then I got into the mystery and wanted to know what happens. Sloan manages to give computers and the internet the credit they’re due while simultaneously pointing out that while we’re living in an age of vast technological change, we’re not the first people to do so, and probably won’t be the last. I did enjoy the quest, but it was little saccharine in the end. It reminded of taking my then 12-year-old sister to see the 2008 Indiana Jones film. After 90 minutes of action-packed treasure hunting, she felt cheated, exclaiming incredulously, “The treasure is knowledge?”
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness
The second in a trilogy, I really enjoyed this one. Though the first book, A Discovery of Witches (listed below), was set in modern times, this one takes us to Elizabethan England with the help of a time-traveling witch. I’m still disturbed by her relationship with a typically controlling and dominating vampire, but the story is really good. Not the heaviest or most literary reading by a long shot, but certainly entertaining.
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling
I like Mindy Kaling. This was funny.
Educating Caroline by Patricia Cabot
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer
I read this for book club, and it was wonderful. I finished it in about two days. I had kind of expected it to be chick lit fluff, a la Ya-Ya Sisterhood, but I thought it was way better. And when I picked it up, I thought I’d really hate the format — it’s told through a series of letters — but I ended up really liking it. I knew a decent amount about WW2 in Britain, like the blitzkreig and hiding in the Tube and sending your kids away and whatnot. But this story focuses on Guernsey, a somewhat autonomous (but not really) region in the Channel Islands that was completely occupied by German forces during the war. Quite a fascinating story. A film adaptation starring Kate Winslet is supposed to be coming soon. Read a review in The Guardian here.
The Convert: A Tale of Exile and Extremism by Deborah Baker
This true story is about a young Jewish woman who leaves her family in New York, converts to Islam, moves to Pakistan, changes her name, and makes her living writing books and pamphlets condemning the West. From Lorraine Adams in the NYT book review: “Baker not only makes us care about this disturbed woman and her hectoring prose, she has succeeded in composing a mesmerizing book on one of the more curious East-West encounters…. Sexual secrets? Suspense? Drama? Reversals? They’re all here.” I think I like narrative nonfiction.
Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende
I picked this one for book club when it was my turn to host. I have been told many times that I would love Allende, and I finally read her stuff. This being my first of her novels, I undoubtedly will read more. Her books contain many of my favorite things: historical fiction, feminism, various cultures coming together (especially South American), magical realism (though not in this one), and more. Daughter of Fortune is a great place to start, and I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Portrait in Sepia, which follows the life of the protagonist’s granddaughter.
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
This one is like Twilight for adults. Needless to say, I loved it. The heroine actually has a personality and skills and abilities. She’s not just sitting around waiting for her handsome man to rescue her. (Though he does many times, of course.) There are still a few problematic pieces, particularly when it comes to sex and relationships (What is the deal with women being attracted to men who struggle with wanting to kill them? That’s not healthy!), but it’s way better than in your average vampire story. Long story short: it’s not a classic, but I will be reading the rest of the trilogy.
Wildwood by Colin Meloy
Colin Meloy, lead singer of The Decemberists, teamed up with his wife to write a children’s novel. Between my love for The Decemberists and my love for children’s and young adult novels, I thought I’d check it out. I thought the story and the writing were both pretty good. But also I thought it was a little long and slow in some parts to hold a kid’s attention. Overall, good book, but not a classic.
Behind a Mask: The Unknown Thrillers of Louisa May Alcott by Louisa May Alcott
A friend lent this one to me. I saw her reading it at work and was amused by the fact that Alcott, author of the ultimate vanilla Little Women, wrote thriller stories. Apparently it was how she earned a living. The book contains 4 novelettes. Some were decent, some were good. They all did that annoying thing where instead of slowly realizing the answer to the mystery at the end, she’s like, ‘Oh, and here’s what happened!” Like how the bad guy in an action movie talks too much right before he dies and tells you all the secrets. It’s a bit lazy and unimaginative. But, it was still an interesting read, especially considering it’s Louisa May Alcott, of all people.
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
We read this for book club. I liked it. The story itself was decent, and the characters decent. I think what I really liked was how well the period was set. The story takes place in the 1930s, and the author did a great job of building the ’30s environment for the reader. See the NYT book review here.
The American Way of Eating by Tracie McMillan
Not as on-the-edge-of-your-seat captivating as other food writing I’ve read, but still very interesting. McMillan goes undercover in the food industry a la Barbara Ehrenreich. She divides her year, spending a few months picking produce in the fields of California, another stint in a Detroit Walmart produce department, and a last section as a food prep worker for an Applebee’s in Brooklyn. In each section, she reports her own experience within the food industry while sharing a wealth of well-researched information about that area. With statistics on farm workers, the massive food distribution center that is Walmart, and the way food is “cooked” in restaurants, her account is very illuminating. Throughout it all, she also weaves in her personal relationship with food when she’s living off minimum wage or below minimum wage earnings, talking about how we have much to change if we want to improve America’s way of eating. Read more at the Times.
Gold by Chris Cleave
This is the first book I read for my new book club! How exciting. It was a decent book. I thought the plot was interesting but the characters were a flat. Having read Cleave’s Little Bee, I was a little disappointed in this one. I keep looking for book reviews to sum up what I feel about it, and I can’t find any. Actually, most of those I found are pretty bland: Yeah, it was good… Pretty entertaining… And then since there’s nothing to be said about extremely stereotypical characters stuck in a highly dramatic/implausible soap opera, they end up with a short synopsis of the story. So maybe the fact that there is such a lack of real reviews shows how exciting but completely vapid this book is. Also, I thought the whole thing was basically another installment in our cultural Mommy Wars, and I was equally annoyed that a male author would weigh so heavily in on that and surprised that none of the reviews brought this up. Maybe everyone was so distracted by the soap opera drama (Olympics! Secrets! Leukemia! Intrigue! Plot twist! More secrets! Ermagerd!) that they failed to notice the tiny bit of substance hiding in there, even if it was commentary on how women with children should behave.
Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives by Katie Hickman
I technically still haven’t finished this book, but I pick it up to randomly read another chapter every now and then. Sometimes I’m in the mood for it, sometimes not. It’s a little dense, but filled with interesting stories about the lives of the women who traveled with British ambassadors. Her stories span a few centuries, and it’s interesting to see where the women’s lives are similar and where they’re different over time.
The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs
I enjoyed this humorous exploration of religion and spirituality. Jacobs is a nonfiction writer living in New York who decided to explore his spirituality and his family’s cultural background by living as close as possible to biblical writings for one year. He spends a lot of time consulting scholars, trying to figure out the true meanings of various commandments. For example, ‘an eye for an eye’ cannot be followed literally both because of modern criminal statutes and because that was written as a metaphor. So while he literally follows some commandments, like growing out a beard and wearing white clothing, he also tries to figure out and follow the meaning is behind metaphorical commandments. Divided between the Old Testament and the New, I thought it was really interesting. He’s a good writer.
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor
Another fun young adult book. This one retells the story of Alice in Wonderland, changing it around so Alyss is actually from Wonderland and lost in England, finally returning to Wonderland to fight the evil Queen of Hearts and reclaim her right to the throne.
Leaving Tangier by Tahar Ben Jelloun
Good, easy read about Moroccans hoping to emigrate to Europe. I liked it. Born in Morocco, Ben Jelloun is one of France’s best-known novelists as well as a trained psychotherapist. Read more from WaPo and The Guardian.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
I’ve been thinking lately that considering my love of ridiculous genre novels, I really should start reading classic sci fi. I read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 as a teen, and all I remember about it is that I liked it. So I picked up The Martian Chronicles at a bookstore while on vacation, and I finished it before I got home. Loved it!
Island of the Sequined Love Nun by Christopher Moore
A quick, funny read to keep me entertained on a long flight. I get too tired traveling to read anything serious.
Devil in the Details by Jennifer Traig
I love a good memoir, especially funny ones about messed up brains. Jennifer Traig writes about growing up with obsessive compulsive disorder at a time when doctors didn’t know what OCD was. Very interesting, very funny. The only problem is, I’m something of a hypochondriac, and now I’m convinced I also have OCD.
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Friends have been telling me to read this for years, and I finally did. I LOVED IT. Historical fiction, check. Religious exploration, check. Parallel story, check. Feminist ladies, check. If you read my intro paragraph, you’d know that that about covers everything on my best-of list. Diamant reimagines the story of Dinah (pronounced DEE-nuh) from the Bible. All we know about Dinah from book of Genesis was that she was raped and her brothers took vengeance by slaying all the men in her assailant’s city. Diamant turns the story on its head, taking an entirely different approach: one not of sexual violence, but of love and brotherly betrayal. I was spellbound by the first half, really loving the scene and the description of daily life. And of course the Big Action scene was gripping. I was less impressed by the second half. Once the setting changed, it was a little too depressing for my taste. I understand that’s how life is sometimes, but if I have to read about it, at least don’t drag it out so long. Regardless, it was an excellent book, and I highly recommend it. Check out a review here.
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
I thought this was excellent, though that’s coming from me about a piece of historical fiction with a religious and feminist bent to it. So for me that’s like saying ‘the chocolate was excellent.’ Well, no duh. Brooks tells the story of a preacher’s daughter on Martha’s Vineyard and her relationship with a boy who goes on to become the first Native American graduate of Harvard College. As Bethia’s father struggles to convert the native Wampanoag they share the island with, Bethia struggles with her religious convictions. Caleb teaches her about his spiritual beliefs, which she is fascinated and disturbed by. Bethia also struggles against her family and her place in the world as a woman, yearning for the education she is not allowed to have. Not my favorite Brooks novel, but that may be just because her other works are so amazing. Here’s a review from the New York Times, one from NPR, and one from WaPo. Also, side note – Geraldine Brooks came to our local bookstore where I heard her speak and got my book signed! She wrote DEAR ALYSON in it! I was in such awe that I could only manage a “Thank you for coming!” It is not a lie that I have given a symbolic middle finger to a rock star, and yet, in Ms. Brooks’ presence, I’m stunned into silence. I’m such a nerd.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
I’d read this so long ago I couldn’t really remember it, but the movie is coming out in September and it stars the BF’s favorite hottie, Hermione Granger. And honestly, it was a slim little book, so it fit well into my cram-packed carry-on for my trip to New York. This is a classic coming-of-age story with a twist at the end. Though because the only thing I remembered about it was the end, it was interesting to read it a second time and catch all the foreshadowing. I thought the story was told very well and very respectfully — not a bunch of gratuitous violence just to be scintillating. Trigger warning: includes sexual violence.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
This is way outside my normal reading. I picked it up on recommendation from our local bookshop owner. Considering it’s not my taste at all, it was pretty good. It took me a long time to get through it. Very philosophical. I mean, it’s French. Check out the New York Times review.
Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
I enjoyed reading this memoir. Gabrielle Hamilton is something of a badass, and her stories about her childhood, her romances, and making in the restaurant business are pretty entertaining. Some of her writing is a bit convoluted, but overall, a good read.
The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach
I read this because the BF was hosting an event at his work for the author and his agent to come visit. Seeing as the book had a lot of hype and I might glimpse the author, I decided to add his debut novel to my list. A lot of people are put off by what they think is a “baseball book.” And there is a lot of baseball in the novel, but it’s not about baseball. It’s really more about college, growing up, and becoming an adult. The plot was good, if a bit slow, and the characters were very interesting. All of them were deeply flawed though, which was difficult for me. I prefer reading about an idealized hero. But I guess these days, unlikable characters are what makes it literature. At any rate, it was a good book. Pick your poison: reviews from The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Guardian.
The Woman Who Gave Birth To Rabbits by Emma Donaghue
Absolutely loved this. I usually am not a fan of short stories, but these are so great, I got over it. Donaghue based each story on some snippet of actual history, and after each story, she gives you the known history. I love creating back stories for unknown history. The stories all have female protagonists, some are politicized, some are light, some are sad, some are funny. Together they create a fantastic collection. Check out a review from Salon here.
The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga
I liked this book a lot. It was written in the first person by self-described Indian “entrepreneur” as an open letter to the Prime Minister of China. Good exploration of class structure in contemporary India while still having an interesting, readable plot line.
Dead End Gene Pool: A Memoir by Wendy Burden
Really funny read. Not sure I got much out of it, but definitely entertaining. Good beach read.
O Pioneers! by Willa Cather
Classic. I liked it.
Food Matters by Mark Bittman
Simple intro to contemporary food issues. Not a lot of detail, so if you’re looking for information about the food industry, there are better options. But if you want a simple overview, a simple diet, and a lot of great recipes, this is a good place to turn to.
A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin
I thought this was a really interesting story, but there were a few reasons I didn’t fall in love with this as much as everyone else seemed to. First, I’m sick and tired of men writing about strong male characters dominating weak female characters. And even when women are strong characters, they are inevitably raped, abused, or generally treated poorly. It disgusts me that authors either (1) want to see women in subjugated positions or (2) have so little imagination that they can’t write women into positions of power even in a fantasy novel taking place in an alternate reality. C’mon, really? And second, I hate it when authors kill off a main character. A guy at a party explained to me that he loved this series because the author is constantly changing perspective of who are the important major characters. But that’s precisely why I hated the end of this book. If I am invested in a character, I will not be happy if they die. And why would I be invested in your series if I’m not invested in your characters? So, long story short, I’m glad I read this so I can talk about it to the millions of people who are really into A Song of Ice and Fire, but I won’t be reading any further into the series.
Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
I liked this. If you’re into the court scene parts of Law & Order, you’d probably like it too. I recently got really into the concept of midwifery and home birth and all that stuff (I have a couple friends who are studying to be doulas or midwives), so I was excited to read about that part of the story. And that was in there, but more so, this was the story of the criminal trial of a midwife who was charged with manslaughter after one of her patients dies in childbirth. And it’s told from her teenage daughter’s perspective. This would be a great pick for a book club, especially if you also researched and talked about midwifery laws and restrictions in your state.
I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee
Fun, easy read. Nothing much to take away, but it was entertaining.
Blink by Malcolm Gladwell
This was an easy and fascinating read. I borrowed it from a friend and finished it in a couple days. But also, I’m generally fascinated by behavioral science.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead
A literary zombie novel? I’m in. I loved this. I have a strange obsession with zombies, and it was nice to read a zombie novel with substance. Whitehead fills his novel with commentary on the post-apocalyptic world, and therefore, smart insights into our current world. Read reviews from NPR and the NY Times. (Though the Times review explains the novel well, it may be the most pretentious piece of writing I’ve ever read, and that’s saying something.)
March by Geraldine Brooks
One of my favorite books ever. But I could say that about any of Brooks’ works. I love historical fiction (and I highly recommend her People of the Book). But the reason this one really takes the cake is because not only is it historical fiction, but it’s also a re-write, which I also love. March re-tells the story of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, but from the father’s perspective. He’s away, serving as a minister during the Civil War. A lot of his story is gruesome and difficult to handle, especially compared to the fluff in Little Women. But it’s such an excellent re-telling. Very moving, brilliant writing. Highly recommended.
A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert
I guess this didn’t impress me much because I don’t remember a ton about it. But I do remember liking it. It has a lot of my favorite elements: strong female characters, historical fiction, interweaving stories. She tells the stories of multiple women in one family over the generations. Cool concept, and the stories were great, but I did think it jumped around a bit. Check out the Times’ review here – they loved it.
The Leftovers by Tom Perotta
Story about something that might have been The Rapture. I liked it. From the NYT review by Stephen King: “Perrotta suggests that in times of real trouble, extremism trumps logic and dialogue becomes meaningless. Read as a metaphor for the social and political splintering of American society after 9/11, it’s a chillingly accurate diagnosis.”
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
One of my many forays into youth literature, I picked this one up at a used bookstore. It was a good story, especially for teens or pre-teens. The whole point is that the main character, Stargirl, is a weirdo, and everyone treats her bad because of it. And shouldn’t we just all get along? But frankly, I thought that though many elements of Stargirl’s character were endearing, quite a few were just downright annoying. So I’m not sure Spinelli would actually make his case to a bunch of kids.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
I read this partly because I had never actually read it before and partly because I really wanted to know the whole story before I read Geraldine Brooks’ March. As many people warned me, I found the book to be incredibly condescending and simplistic. I guess that’s what I get for reading a children’s book. And it probably wasn’t necessary to read the whole thing in order to enjoy Brooks. If you’re interested in refreshing your memory before taking on March, just rent the movie version with Winona Ryder and Christian Bale. Far better use of your time.
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
This is the first book of the Alex Rider children’s series. Alex is kind of a junior James Bond. I picked it up at the library because I had heard so much about it. I had even read an author bio praising the series. But frankly, it was crap. Don’t even let your kids read it. It was pure plot with absolutely nothing of value in it. It’s the children’s book equivalent of watching a formulaic action movie. The only way this could possibly be worthwhile would be if your kid refuses to read anything at all and you need something one step above comic books to entice them. But even then, try to find a book that explores even one theme at a minimum level.
Bobos in Paradise: The New Upper Class and How They Got There by David Brooks
The BF is a little in love with David Brooks, and I read this on his recommendation. I enjoyed it, though probably not as much as he did. I do always enjoy a bit of social science theorizing without having to read the boring case studies, so that was cool. If you want a better review than this, check out Kurt Andersen and Janet Maslin.
Little Bee by Chris Cleave
This book had two strong female characters and involved two foreign places. Sounds like something I’d like, right? And I did like it! Little Bee is a Nigerian refugee in England. Other than that, I can’t tell you much without giving away key plot twists. It’s a great book, though emotionally difficult to read, especially if you’re aware enough of current events to realize that this work of fiction is not at all unrealistic. Check out the Times’ review here, and then go read this book.
The Mockingbirds by Daisy Whitney
This young adult novel dealt frankly with a really important topic: date rape. Alex is a high school student at an elite boarding school who is raped by an acquaintance. I had mixed feelings about it. For one, the portrayal of the rape itself and how the main character copes with being victimized is pretty accurate, which makes sense considering that Whitney drew upon her personal experience of being raped in college. But the entire concept of a student-run justice system that handles trials and sets punishments is extremely unrealistic and possibly even irresponsible of Whitney. I think teens should be encouraged to talk to adults and report crimes to the police. This entire story took place sans adult supervision. And maybe that’s realistic – most victims, teens or adults, don’t report sexual violence, and many don’t tell anyone at all. But that’s not a great message to send to teenage readers. We should be encouraging more people to report. I didn’t find many reviews other than from a few bloggers, which you can read here and here.
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Absolutely loved it. I highly recommend anything by Geraldine Brooks. The central protagonist in People of the Book is actually a book. A book conservator finds a centuries-old Hebrew codex known as the Sarajevo Haggadah. As she analyzes the book and finds different pieces of it, the story jumps back to talk about other people who have come across this particular book. You get the book conservator’s story as she examines the book in Sarajevo in 1996. When the conservator finds an insect wing, Brooks takes you back in time to Sarajevo in World War II, and you find out more about the book and how the wing got there. When the conservator notes that the silver clasps are out of place, the story jumps to inquisition-era Venice, and you learn more there. A few other jumps, and the story of The Book is complete. It’s a fascinating, well-written story that weaves important themes over the centuries. And more of my favorite things: historical fiction, strong women, and an interesting view of religion (and in this case, that means Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam). Read this! And read the NYT review here.
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
Eating Animals is my number-one recommendation for anyone looking to get into food writing or learn more about the modern industrial food industry. Foer is of course a fantastic novelist, so I found his book a little easier to digest than some other food writers. And he did a lot of research, so there’s just as much useful information packed in there. I like his perspective, and I like that he talks about multiple issues while always returning to the same central thesis. Pretty difficult to do for this topic, considering all the intertwining issues you could address when it comes to the food industry. I think this should be required reading for every American. It’s time we learn about what it actually means to buy the groceries that we buy and eat the food we eat. Read reviews from the New York Times and the New Yorker.
Poop: A Natural History of the Unmentionable by Nicola Davies
I read through this in a library one day, but this 64-page illustrated non-fiction book about poop would definitely entertain some elementary and middle schoolers for at least a few days. The author profiles the pooping habits of a whole bunch of different animals and explains some really cool info about them. She also focuses on the importance of poop to the ecosystem and explains how it all ties into the circle of life. I think it’s really interesting stuff for kids, but admittedly, I am also obsessed with Animal Planet.
The Tent by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors, but I had a hard time with this one. It’s just not my style. I don’t usually do short stories anyway, and I never do poetry, and there was a lot of that mixed in here. I know people who love this, and you might, but it’s just not my jam.
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Tina Fey is my idol. She’s awesome. And her book is awesome. It’s really funny – duh. But she also delves into some women-in-the-workplace issues – women in leadership, female ambition, sexism, et cetera. But what I like about her is that she writes it all from a genuine place of experience, without any academic speak about ‘patriarchy’ and stuff like that. Worth a read.
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
I’m not even going to write much here because if I start, I will go on forever. The Hunger Games series is amazing, and everyone should read it. Period. I had mixed feelings about the ending, but I’m still glad I read the whole trilogy.
Food, Inc. Edited by Karl Weber
This collection of essays highlights the major issues brought up in the Food, Inc. documentary. I didn’t see the movie, but I thought this book was pretty great. It was my intro to food writing and the factory food industry, and I was caught hook, line, and sinker. I like that the essays covered such a broad range of issues that anyone could find something they cared about – the environment, animal welfare, personal health and nutrition, workers’ rights, and more. All of these things are incredibly intertwined with the food industry, and Americans need to know about it. I definitely recommend this book. If it’s to dense to get through, read a random essay every now and then.
It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini
I really enjoyed this book. I think I actually finished it in a day. I was having a lazy day around the house, and I didn’t have anything else to do, so I ended up finishing the entire thing. And it’s not short. It’s a pretty good story though, about a teenage boy who checks himself into the psych ward after contemplating suicide. Written for a young adult audience, it deals with some pretty hefty issues, though somewhat superficially. The whole concept is based on the author’s week-long stay in a psych ward as a teenager, so that’s interesting. And they recently made a movie out of it, which I’d really like to see.
St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell
Russell’s short stories are , in a word, crazy. From wolf-girls taught by nuns to be human, to a family of minotaurs crossing the country to settle out west, these stories are weird. But they are also incredibly moving. As this review in Orion Magazine says, “Russell uses non-realist situations to pursue a realist goal: illumining the human heart.”
Committed by Elizabeth Gilbert
I think most people read this because they wanted to find out what happened next. Did she stay with her Brazilian lover? Did they get married!? I read it mostly because I like her writing style, even if I do occasionally find her to be somewhat annoying. I liked that throughout her personal memoir, she worked in a bit about the social history of marriage. I thought that was really interesting. But also, I’m a nerd.
The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther
Great story about foreign characters in foreign places – one of my favorite things. Here’s a summary from bookbrowse.com: “…Crowther paints a magnificent portrait of betrayal and retribution set against a backdrop of Iran’s tumultuous history, dramatic landscapes, and cultural beauty. The story begins on a blustery day in London, when Maryam Mazar’s dark secrets and troubled past surface violently with tragic consequences for her pregnant daughter, Sara. Burdened by guilt, Maryam leaves her comfortable English home for the remote village in Iran where she was raised and disowned by her father. When Sara decides to follow her she learns the price that her mother had to pay for her freedom and of the love she left behind. Poetic, haunting, and brilliantly crafted…” Though this may qualify as a spoiler, I will warn potential readers that this book does include sexual violence.
Coyote Blue by Christopher Moore
Funny story, but not one of Moore’s best.
The Wishbones by Tom Perrotta
Good story, but Perrotta’s done better since then.
Nursery Crimes by Ayelet Waldman
I’m a big fan of Waldman and her husband, Michael Chabon. But this book wasn’t fantastic. I guess I’ve read a lot of their nonfiction essays, which are cool. I wasn’t expecting her book to be so… chick lit. But if you’re expecting that, then I guess it’s good on those terms. Good for the beach.
One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding by Rebecca Mead
I highly recommend this book for anyone who thinks they might ever get married. Mead delves into how out of control the wedding industry has gotten, and how they trick/guilt/manipulate women into thinking they need to pay tens of thousands of dollars for one day. For example, the figures for the average amount that is spent on a wedding (which currently is upwards of $26,000), is actually released by the wedding industry itself. They have a vested interest in bloating that number as much as possible by including things that most people wouldn’t include (engagement ring, honeymoon, wedding gifts not paid for by the couple) so that when a couple spends “only” $18,000, they self-satisfyingly claim the title of a “budget wedding” or “budget bride.” But really, only $18,000? That’s a lot of money for one day. Mead is a staff writer for the New Yorker, and she interweaves multiple themes and details about weddings and marriage over time. This is a great sociology book that offers much for people planning a wedding (sooner or later) to think about. Here’s the NYT review.
Of Bees and Mist by Erick Setiawan
I thought this was pretty good but very weird. It’s set in a somewhat alternate reality. It’s one of those that is perfectly realistic until some magic happens. It’s mostly the story of a domestic drama, a young couple attempting to live their lives with a crazy mother-in-law. Not exactly an original story, but perhaps through an original lens. The Washington Post offers less of a review and more of a summary.
The Final Solution by Michael Chabon
I finished this novella in a single car ride back from the beach. It’s slim, easy reading. But also really good. It combines themes from Chabon’s other works (fallout from the Holocaust, separation of families) with a Sherlock Holmes detective story. Read a review from The Guardian here.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This is the first real graphic novel I’ve read. (I’m not really going to count the one about zombies – that’s just on a totally different plane.) I didn’t think I’d be into it, but I really liked it. Satrapi tells an amazing story of a girl growing up during the Iranian revolution.
The Crowning Glory of Calla Lily Ponder by Rebecca Wells
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Oh. Em. Gee. Read this series. I can’t write much more about my feelings on this final installment of The Hunger Games trilogy without resorting to some serious spoilers.
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
I picked this up at a bargain book sale, and I thought it was pretty good. Another work of historical fiction with a strong female character, so maybe it’s a given that I would like it. It’s the story of witch trials in a small New England town, and how the narrator’s mother, Martha Carrier, stood up for herself. There were a few haunting moments that still disturb me today if I accidentally think about them. The most disturbing part being that this fiction isn’t far from the truth. The Guardian’s review mentions that the author is actually a descendant of the real Martha Carrier.
Bite Me by Christopher Moore
Part 3 of his hilarious vampire trilogy. Fun reading for a break.
You Suck by Christopher Moore
Part 2 of his hilarious vampire trilogy. Look, it was Christmas break, okay? I wasn’t trying to do any heavy reading. It’s a vacation.
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
I knew the story, but I had never actually read it, so I did. It was good.
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
I know a lot of people raved about this, but I thought it was meh. I didn’t like any of the characters, and it was unnecessarily long. Click for book reviews from NPR and the NY Times.
Zombie Haiku: Good Poetry For Your… Brains by Ryan Mecum
I didn’t admit this in my intro to this page, but I am slightly obsessed with zombies. I find them fascinating, and I especially like funny zombies, like Shawn of the Dead and Zombieland. I also have a weird thing about haikus, as in, I occasionally compose them, sometimes in the middle of conversation, for no reason other than my personal entertainment. This little book isn’t long by any means, but the entire story is told through haiku, which I find to be impressive. I read it while standing in a bookstore waiting for the BF to finish up. If I remember correctly, it also had a lot of comic-book style illustrations. In my opinion, something in haiku about zombies with comics should be funny. I found most of it to just be creepy and scary. But I guess some people go for that.
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
Memoir from a woman with breast cancer. Good read. Not much to write home about. Oprah liked it.
The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
Loved this book! A memoir from an amazing woman who served as a nurse/midwife to the poorest of the poor in the East End of London in the 1950s. Her stories are absolutely amazing. I’m also really interested in the medicalization of childbirth, especially as a function of patriarchal male dominance, which was really starting to pick up in the ’50s. If you’re not interested as much in that, don’t be turned off by my feminist speak. There’s still a great story here. Worth actually wrote a trilogy: Call the Midwife (released as The Midwife in the United States), Shadows of the Workhouse, and Farewell to the East End. She passed away in July 2007, and you can read her obituary in The Guardian, which tells a lot about her, her work, and her writing.
Drowning Ruth by Christina Schwarz
Hurricane Hazel in the Carolinas by Jay Barnes
Just a little coffee table book.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THIS, GO READ THIS NOW. STOP READING MY BLOG AND GO READ THE HUNGER GAMES. For serious, y’all. This may be the best young adult book I have ever read. It’s like a teen version of 1984. Except it’s better. I was very impressed with not just an action-packed, thrilling plot, but also exploration of major themes. Couldn’t put it down.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
I enjoyed this, but it really made me wish I knew more about British history. I think if I knew more, I would have enjoyed it more.
The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner by Stephenie Meyer
I read this in a couple trips to the bookstore while waiting for the BF to finish up. A short novella, not much to write home about. But I had read the Twilight series, so it was interesting enough to keep me entertained while waiting.
Picking Cotton by Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, Ronald Cotton, and Erin Torneo
Interesting. The story of a white woman (Jennifer Thompson-Cannino) who mis-identified a black man (Ronald Cotton) as her rapist, so an innocent man went to prison. After realizing her mistake and helping him get released, they have toured the country together speaking out against using eyewitness testimonies in court. While it is a true story, it does bother me to draw so much attention to the idea that women falsely accuse men of rape and that men who are accused of rape probably didn’t do it. Except for rare instances like this, that mostly doesn’t happen. According to the FBI, rape is falsely reported less than 2% of the time, which is a rate on par with any other violent crime. So considering that this story is very rare but that many people believe the myth that women falsely accuse men, I thought it was pretty irresponsible for UNC to pick this as their summer reading selection in 2010. Especially since college-aged women are at the highest risk for sexual violence. Okay, off my soapbox now.
A Lion Among Men by Gregory Maguire
The third in the Wicked series. Pretty good, but it really started to get dense and confusing by the end.
Bloodsucking Fiends by Christopher Moore
The first in his vampire comedy series. Hilarious, but not really, um, literary.
Stern Men by Elizabeth Gilbert
Fiction from the lady who wrote Eat, Pray, Love. Decent.
Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire
The second in the Wicked series. Liked it.
No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley
Funny. Not as good as Boomsday.
Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Loved this book! Set in the 17th century, a small village willingly isolates itself after the plague shows up. Like Brooks’ other work, she explores some of my favorite themes. Strong female characters, religion (Christianity, Islam, witchcraft), and more. Really great story. Wasn’t too sure about the ending though.
The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood
Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. Her stories tend to be dystopian post-apocalyptic type stuff. I like that she weaves in a lot of different themes. All of them include feminism and violence against women. She also throws in religion, technology, food industry, genetic modification, and more. Pretty interesting stuff. This one is a parallel novel to Oryx and Crake, telling the story of the end times from two different perspectives, so definitely read them both. I think these two are her best.
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter by Seth Grahame-Smith
Hilarious, scary, and awesome. Read it. I annoyed the crap out of the BF by telling him all sorts of things I “learned” about Abraham Lincoln before he caught on and realized I was talking about a vampire novel. Super excited for the movie coming out in June 2012.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J. K. Rowling
I read this because I was jonesin’ for some Harry Potter. The end of an era just makes me so sad. These tales were cute.
Mirror Mirror by Gregory Maguire
I like Gregory Maguire. He re-writes fairy tales from a different characters point of view, giving you the ‘true story’ of what really happened. His re-imaginings are often way better than the original. I thought Mirror Mirror was pretty good, but I liked Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister better.
When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
David Sedaris = Hilarious. Here is a true story: A friend of mine received a copy of one of Sedaris’ books for Christmas. The gift-giver had waited in line at a book signing to get it autographed. Mr. Sedaris asked him who the book was for, and the gift-giver replied, “My friend, Jesse. He lives in Chapel Hill.” Mr. Sedaris, who spent some of his young adult years in Chapel Hill, said, “Oh, so he’s gay, too?” The gift-giver replied, “Um, actually, yeah.” Mr. Sedaris said okay, and signed the book: “To Jesse: You’re such a fag. Love, David Sedaris.” And the f had little candy cane lines drawn into it. Jesse loved his gift.
Go Ask Alice by Anonymous
The classic story to scare teens away from drug use. I had never read it before, so I picked it up. It was more than a little crazy.
The Lust Lizard of Melancholy Cove by Christopher Moore
I think Christopher Moore is pretty funny, so I pick up his books when I’m in the mood for light humor reading. This was funny but not his best.
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Loved this. Go read this and then The Year of the Flood. And then all the rest of her works.
Wicked by Gregory Maguire
As I’ve mentioned, I love Gregory Maguire. The first of the Wicked series was probably the best. After that, it got a little dense and convoluted. I liked Wicked a lot though. Now that the fourth and final installment has been released, I’m trying to decide if I want to re-read the series, but that seems like a lot of work. They’re not so easy to get through. Also, if you saw the musical (which is also amazing) be warned that the book is very different. But good different.
The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
People are amazed that I’ve never seen The Wizard of Oz. I know it’s a classic, alright, geez. But my family was more into blockbuster new releases. As in, we went to Blockbuster and picked out a video from the New Releases shelf. The only Wizard of Oz I’ve ever seen are the snippets they show in other movies. I did read this as a kid, but I decided to go back and read it again to prepare for reading Maguire’s Wicked. Probably unnecessary, but enjoyable.
Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister by Gregory Maguire
This may be my favorite Gregory Maguire novel. I do really love Wicked so much, but it’s hard to tell if that’s love for the novel or if that’s getting all entangled with my love for musicals. At any rate, this one is really good. It tells the story of Cinderella from a stepsister’s point of view, and it really changes the whole story. I loved it.
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen
I really liked this memoir, but then it turned out that none of it is true. Bummer.
Lamb by Christopher Moore
Moore’s best book, by a wide margin. Lamb is The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal. It’s absolutely hilarious, telling the story of Jesus Christ as he lived and died from Biff’s point of view. Jesus isn’t allowed to do anything bad, because he’s Christ and all, so Biff does the little everyday wrong things for him, like tell white lies, and also a few big wrong things too. What I really loved about this was that aside from the surface “bad” things, like using a lot of swear words, he wrote a novel that was hysterically funny without really being offensive. Well, if you have a problem with the word “fuckstick,” then you’ll be offended. But aside from that, Moore doesn’t mock religion or Christianity. He actually deals with a lot of big things, like faith, humanity, and morality. There were a few times that the story went a little off the rails and a few plot points that could have been left out. But overall, I really liked this one.
Summer of Secrets by Paul Langan
A book for tweens and teens. Part of the Bluford High series, designed to engage reluctant readers or non-readers. Meh. It wasn’t very good, but if your kid won’t read, it’s a good start. At least it deals with some real issues and themes.
Amplified, Edited by Julie Schaper and Steven Horwitz
A collection of short stories written by alt-country, indie rock, blues, and folk musicians. Authors include Patty Larkin, Rhett Miller, and my favorite, Laura Veirs. (She autographed my copy!) The stories were pretty good and pretty weird, as expected.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
My aunt left this for me after Christmas. I wasn’t so sure about it because it’s not really my style, but I really liked it. I even took the time to copy down a two-page passage that really spoke to me. I think this could be one of those books that you periodically re-read to remind yourself of the message.
Manhood for Amateurs by Michael Chabon
I really liked this one. I might have developed a slight crush on Michael Chabon. Or his wife, Ayelet Waldman. Not sure, but either way, this book comes highly recommended by yours truly. Read NPR’s review here.
Fight Like a Girl: How to Be a Fearless Feminist by Megan Seely
Meh. I’m not even sure if I actually finished this one.
One for the Money by Janet Evanovich
Yuck. And now they’re making a movie out of it? Unnecessary. Though honestly, watching the movie would have been better than reading it since that would waste only 2 hours instead of 5.
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I thought this was good. Overrated though. Mostly I found Elizabeth Gilbert to be kind of annoying. Or maybe I found Julia Roberts to be kind of annoying. Either way, I liked this enough that I did end up reading Committed, so I guess I can’t complain too much.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
This was kind of hard to read because I thought it was pretty sexist. But I also remember reading something by Chabon (maybe one of the stories in Manhood for Amateurs or maybe an article, I can’t remember) where he talks about growing up and learning not to be a sexist jerk. So after reading him talking about that, it was really interesting to read his earliest work and then follow it up with his (at the time) newest release. It certainly showed that he did a lot of growing up from his early 20s to his late 40s.
When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women, From 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins
I’m a big Gail Collins fan – her columns are hilarious. I thought her book was pretty good. I honestly don’t remember it all that well.
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
I never read this as a kid, so I gave it a try. I liked it.
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen
Meh. I might have liked it more if I better remembered Sense and Sensibility.
The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks
This is the graphic novel version of the “Recorded Attacks” appendix in Brooks’ Zombie Survival Guide. I read it while waiting for the BF in a book store.
Ya-Yas in Bloom by Rebecca Wells
Beat the Reaper by Josh Brazell
I read this because it was recommended if you liked A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore. I thought it was funny, but I also thought it was a little too graphic, and in many parts, sexist.
Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
One of the best nonfiction books I’ve ever read. This husband and wife team names the oppression of women worldwide as the defining issue of the 21st century. They discuss sex trafficking, maternal mortality, sexual violence, microfinance, and girls’ education. They both are excellent journalists, so it’s filled with incredibly moving stories from women they actually spoke to. Their website is here, Kristof’s columns are here, and a review of the book is here. And good news: PBS is working on a Half the Sky documentary to be released in October 2012.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith
Hilarious. Awesome. And illustrated.
Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis
Instead of writing about the Revolution chronologically, Ellis focuses each chapter on a different historical character. I really enjoyed it, and apparently others did too. He won a Pulitzer in 2001.
The Night of the Gun by David Carr
Memoir from journalist David Carr about his history with addiction and recovery.
Supreme Courtship by Christopher Buckley
The Zombie Survival Guide by Max Brooks
A must-read for everyone concerned about surviving the impending zombie ‘pocalypse.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Classic. I liked it. I even read the 90-page essay that most people skip. I have a lot to say about Objectivism and its merits and shortcomings, but that’s a longer conversation than is necessary for a book review. I suggest reading this whether you agree with her or not, just because it’s a good point of reference since people are always talking about it.
Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
I liked it. He’s a good writer.
The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
I liked the His Dark Materials series. Heavy stuff disguised as a young adult book, my favorite. Read more under Golden Compass below.
Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow by Faïza Guène
Here’s a review from the Times.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Liked it. But I am a little fascinated with stories about people with autism or Asperger’s. Good story!
A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore
Hilarious. But still, his best is Lamb.
Boomsday by Christopher Buckley
Hilarious. One of my favorite books. This really put into one cohesive argument my frustration with the Boomers. I’ve given a few copies of this to friends. I also gave a copy to my Dad. I hope he doesn’t think that I want him to kill himself. Read the NYT review here.
The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman
Second installment in the His Dark Materials series. Like most trilogies, the first book was best, though I’m glad I read the whole thing.
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
Short story collection about the Vietnam War. It’s good.
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
Loved this trilogy. I do find it highly entertaining that they made this into a movie, and viewers didn’t realize that the entire His Dark Materials series is essentially an anti-church treatise. But overall, I thought the book was really well written. And I love reading novels that can be children’s books on their surface level (the plot and characters are great) and can have so much more for adults once you delve into them.
Stealing Buddha’s Dinner by Bich Minh Nguyen
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
I think I liked this, but honestly, I don’t really remember it.
Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer
Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer
New Moon by Stephenie Meyer
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Okay, yes, I read the Twilight series. How could I not? I started off reading the first one on the grounds that I wanted to know what people were talking about, especially since I had read a lot of articles offering a feminist critique. And frankly, I got hooked. It was an addiction, in every sense of the word. I knew it was crap, and I just wanted more. And the BF was an enabler, buying the next book as soon as I finished one. I could go on and on about all the awful things that Stephenie Meyer is teaching this generation of girls (such as Bella’s lack of personality, will, or free choice; Edward’s abusive and controlling tendencies; or Bella’s self-harming and suicidal behaviors upon losing Edward) or you could read this critique. In short, I would absolutely not allow my tween or teen daughters to read this series without a very lengthy discussion about healthy relationships and red flags. Because the truth is, men who act the way Edward acts are abusers.
Push by Sapphire
I don’t even know what to say about this. I can’t honestly recommend reading it, for the simple fact that there are scenes of sexual violence from this novel that unfortunately are still stuck in my head that I occasionally can’t stop thinking about. Even though it’s fiction, it’s stuck with me in probably an unhealthy way. After reading this, I did not watch the movie, but I’ve heard that the movie wasn’t as difficult or graphic. Either way, too much for me, and I kind of wish I hadn’t read it. You can read more from NPR.
The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta
Yikes, I read this so long ago that I don’t really remember it. But I do remember that I liked it. He explores similar themes as he does in The Leftovers. Check out the NYT review.
Words of Fire: An Anthology of African-American Feminist Thought, Edited by Beverly Guy-Sheftall
Read this collection of essays for school. It was decent.
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell
SPOILER ALERT: I am so sick of the surprise twist being that a woman was raped. It’s like every fiction writer ever thinking, ‘Oh, I know what will show that this is a Serious Novel: sexual violence.’ I would like to make it through one drama with a central female character without it turning out that someone was assaulted. Geez. Okay, if you can get over that, this was good. Very dramatic.
I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert
HILARIOUS. The BF and I took this on road trips, and while he drove, I read it aloud. Highly amusing for both of us. I’m pretty good at reading aloud, but I’m pretty terrible at accents, so that made for fun times.
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh
Fiction about a girl living with Turner Syndrome. I found it really interesting because it’s the first time I’d seen TS in the media, and I know a lot about it since my little sister has it. Good story, good book. I talked to a lot of people who had mixed feelings about it, but regardless, it made for good conversations. I think it would make a good book club choice.
The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America by Ruth Rosen
I loved this! Rosen is an excellent writer. This is a great choice if you’d like to start at the beginning in learning about the history of women’s rights. It’s a huge book, but it moves quickly. I thought it was fascinating, but I also knew very little about the women’s movement beforehand.
Foreign Bodies by Hwee Hwee Tan
I picked this up because it was set in Singapore and written by a Singaporean author. I studied abroad there in college, so a couple years later, I was looking to reminisce. I don’t remember much of it, but I think I liked it.
Modern Latin America, Edited by Thomas E. Skidmore
Read this for class. Meh – it’s a textbook.
The Assertive Woman by Stanlee Phelps and Nancy Austin
I found a copy of this from the ’80s at a library book sale, and I spent the car ride home reading it. I thought it was fantastic. It’s more or less a self-help book that explores how to be appropriately assertive and stand up for yourself. I found it very entertaining because they create characters to explain common ways that women approach interpersonal relationships: Indirect Iris, the master of passive-aggressive behavior, Aggressive Agatha, the mean B, and a couple others. It was also pretty entertaining to read examples that were written 30 years ago – a little out of date. But they have realized updated versions, and this is a great gift for young women. I periodically re-read it when I need a refresher.
A Man Named Dave by David J. Pelzer
The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine
I thought this was interesting but I certainly don’t know enough about science to offer a real critique.
Eleanor Rigby by Douglas Coupland
Dear Sisters: Dispatches from the Women’s Liberation Movement, Edited by Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall
Primary sources from the women’s movement. Very cool.
A Land on Fire: The Environmental Consequences of the Southeast Asian Boom by James David Fahn
Considering this was assigned school reading, I actually thought it was pretty interesting. Well written – not extremely dry like most assignments.
Sex and Revolution: Women in Socialist Cuba by Lois M. Smith and Alfred Padula
Interesting. One of the only books out there about women in Cuba.
Proud Shoes by Pauli Murray
Good book, and she was from Durham, so it was cool to be able to recognize some of the places the book discussed.
Contesting Castro: The United States and the Triumph of the Cuban Revolution by Thomas G. Paterson
The Lost Boy by David J. Pelzer
A Child Called “It” by David J. Pelzer
This was incredibly depressing, and I’m not really sure why I read all 3 books in this trilogy. Path dependence, I guess. Pelzer tells the story of the extreme abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother (very triggering). I personally thought he focused a little too much on plot (i.e. instances of abuse) and not enough on exploring issues behind that. Also, a few years later, I heard accusations that he made up a lot of what he wrote. Who knows? Seems like no memoir is true these days.
The Cuban Revolution: Origins, Course, and Legacy by Marifeli Pérez-Stable
The Origins of the Cuban Revolution Reconsidered by Samuel Farber
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
This story about a child soldier in Sierra Leone was depressing and riveting. I have since read nonfiction about how the system works, but at the time, I knew very little about child soldiers. Very illuminating. A good but difficult read.