Reading Challenge #30: A Book with Pictures

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Title: Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air

Author: Richard Holmes

How it fulfills the challenge: Besides the normal strategic inserts of color photographs, the text of the book is studded with black and white pictures of hot air balloons, portraits of the balloonists who flew them, and various documents and drawings.

Genre: Nonfiction

Quick Description: A detailed look at the rise of hot air ballooning, with less emphasis on its early history and more on the height of the ballooning craze and time of exploration and exhibition. (1700-1800s mostly). It also deals with the characters and histories of particular balloonists, trying to get at what made them take to the air in the first place.

Highlights: If you’ve ever wanted to get into the head of a historical balloonist, this book will take you there. It’s really great at explaining the time period and the lives of different balloonists. It’s set up for a fairly casual reader but still offers a lot of depth and covers a wide range of time periods and subtopics. The writing, for a book of this type, is fairly engaging–you can tell the author is very passionate about the subject. This could be a problem in a standard biography, but the range of subjects seems to help him keep his objectivity. He regards ballooning itself with something almost like reverence towards something greater or magical, and it’s really interesting to read what balloonists themselves thought about flying.

Low Points: Like many nonfiction books, there were sections that seemed to drag, but that could be because I was reading the book as research. Anything that resembles required reading is just automatically less fun for me.

Goodreads rating: 4 stars. The bottom line is it’s a well-researched book on a very specific, sort of obscure topic.

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Reading Challenge #20: A Book with Career Advice

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Title: Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She’s “Learned”

Author: Lena Dunham

How it fulfills the challenge: This book doesn’t actually give all that much advice in the traditional sense, but the essays are written in such a way that you discover the career lessons for yourself. Namely, listening to your heart and going after the things you want even when it’s uncomfortable.

Genre: Memoir/essays

Quick Description: A book of essays about growing up, discovering who you are, and not being (too) afraid of who you turn out to be.

But ambition is a funny thing: it creeps up on you when you least expect if and keeps you moving, even when you think you want to stay put. I missed making things, the meaning it gave this long march we call life.

Highlights: Dunham’s writing style is warm and chatty. I’m pretty familiar with it because I’m a Lenny newsletter subscriber, and so I already knew I would like her informal writing style. Her stories are interesting and easy to relate to, even though I haven’t experienced a lot of the same things.

Low Points: Non-fiction tends to be aimed at a very specific audience, given that it’s usually written on a pretty narrow topic. You probably won’t like Dunham’s book if you like a more cohesive narrative style, if you don’t identify as a feminist, or if you don’t have an interest in the arts or media.

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, though in parts I wish the writing had been a little closer. A quick, interesting read.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 2016 Releases I’m Really Excited About

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

This week’s topic is all about what 2016 releases we really meant to get to, but weren’t able to read for whatever reason. My reading is almost always at least a year (if not a century) behind, so I actually like waiting for the best-of-the-year lists to come out, and a lot of times I build up my to-read list from these compiled lists by people who do actually read the books when they come out. In particular, I really like NPR’s list because it’s super fun and visual and easy to sort through (I am a huge nerd about good indexing and cross indexing), not to mention the blurbs are written by people like librarians and NPR staffers instead of publishing houses. I like the different perspectives. So here are ten books that I mostly haven’t mentioned yet, but that I can’t wait to read whether that’s this year or years down the road when they happen to find me.

  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson–Starts on the brink of WWI in a small English town–a book about manners and how they’re affected by the chaos of war. Sounds like a great read. (in the Book Club Ideas Section)
  • Umami by Laia Jufresa–I love reading translated books (part of the enjoyment being thinking about how the book is different in the native language–pure speculation), and this debut novel about loss and connection in Mexico City seems like a great read. (in the Staff Picks Section).
  • Patience by Daniel Clowes–Graphic novels are so interesting and moving, and I like the change of pace from regular novels every now and again. This book is supposed to be a love story, but also involves time travel. Can you really ask for more than that? (in the For Art Lovers section)
  • Lucy and Linh by Alice Pung–A boarding school story set in Australia with a young woman who struggles to find a place for herself and her heritage, a YA with plenty of nuance–my favorite kind. (in the Tales From Around the World section)
  • The Vanishing Velázquez: A 19th Century Bookseller’s Obsession With A Lost Masterpiece by Laura Cumming–a nonfiction book about a man obsessed  with a work of art. (in the Seriously Great Writing section)
  • The Glass Universe: How The Ladies Of The Harvard Observatory Took The Measure Of The Stars by David Sobel–A group of female astrologists, long relegated to the sidelines are brought to the forefront. This books talks about the women themselves as well as their contributions to science. (in the It’s All Geek to Me section)
  • The One Hundred Nights of Hero by Isabel Greenberg–A spin on the 1,001 Nights, and that’s all I have to know to be interested in this graphic novel. (in the Ladies First section)
  • The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu and their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer–A nonfiction book about brave librarians who risk everything to save books…um yes please. (in the Identity & Culture section)
  • The Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman–YA historical fiction that takes the historical part seriously but isn’t afraid to throw a few demons in. (in the Rather Long section)
  • The Book of Magic: From Antiquity to Enlightenment ed. by Brian Copenhaver–I love reading about magic and how the perception of it has changed over time. This book looks like something of an undertaking, but a good one. (in the Eye-Opening Reads section)

 

How do you find new books for your TBR lists? Was there a book you missed this year that you really were looking forward to? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: Best of 2016

 

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

I took the week off of blogging for the holidays, but I couldn’t resist commenting on my favorite books last year (especially since this week’s topic is all about 2017 new releases and we all know that I won’t be getting around to most of those books this year anyway…). It still hasn’t quite sunk in that the year is over and the new one has begun yet. Maybe it will start to when we unpack our bags and finish unloading our car. Or maybe it won’t be until I make my ridiculously long list of New Year’s Resolutions like I do every year. Possibly I won’t be rid of 2016 until February. But now I’m rambling. On to the books!

Actually I read a lot of not-so-great books this year, along with a lot of things that I wouldn’t normally read (like wedding books), so this year I’ve divided my list of 99 books read into categories, and talk about the best books (and runner ups) from each one.

Best Fiction (read: 26)

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

runner up: In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

I can’t say enough good things about Doerr’s book. It’s a stunning and heartbreaking look at one of the most devastating events of the twentieth century. The characters are fully alive and unique, and the story is mesmerizing, inviting you to take your time in the created world without any part of it moving too slowly.

Capote’s most famous work is most correctly called (according to the man himself) a non-fiction novel. I was at a loss whether to put it in the fiction or nonfiction category, but since some of the information was proved to have been falsified, I decided it belonged here. Nevertheless, it is an extremely well written work–a provocative look into the minds and motivations of two killers.

Best YA (read: 4)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

I didn’t read much Young Adult stuff this year aside from the Divergent Series, which I was not all that fond of to be honest. I enjoyed the first book, but lost interest as the series continued. So, even though I didn’t read Riggs’ book until the very end of the year (after seeing the film), it became far and away my favorite. I love that the story was inspired by and freely incorporated old photographs and that the protagonist actually sounds like a young man (complete with bodily humor, sarcasm, and angst).

Best Science Fiction (read: 1)

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

Before this book, I’d never read anything by Asimov, which is weird considering how much I like science fiction. It just seemed intimidating I guess. But this book was great–I’ve never really seen a book set in the future jump time periods like this one does and I was blown away by it. I can’t wait to finish the trilogy.

Best Series (read: 17 books)

The Magicians Series by Lev Grossman

runner up: The All Souls Trilogy by Deborah Harkness

Can I just say how excited I am to watch The Magicians television series on Netflix? So pumped. These books were great–a mix of all my favorite children’s fantasy books but now decidedly grown up.

And Harkness’ books have become a favorite in my family circle. If the Twilight books had lived up to their best potential, it might have been this series which is full of magic, romance, and time travel.

Best Nonfiction (read: 10)

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

runner up: Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik

I don’t think it would be overstating things to say that Coates’ small book was the most important thing I read all year. His words are difficult and challenging, but in this fraught time of police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement on the one hand and a denial that a race problem even exists in America on the other, his words are poignant and essential. Everyone should read this book.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has long been a source of inspiration to me (and women everywhere, I think), but I never knew all that much about her life until I read this book. The well written biography is juxtaposed not just with pictures but with artwork inspired by the Justice. It’s a great, quick read that’ll bring you insight into the court system and the life of this remarkable woman who never backs down.

Best Graphic Novel (read: 6)

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua

runner up: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

What if Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace were able to follow through on their project and actually build the world’s first mechanical computer…in the 1800s? That’s the line of inquiry the author/artist follows. What seems to have begun as a little bit of research into an interesting subject became a deftly drawn alternate reality rife with information about Victorian life, mathematics, and the biographies of these two fascinating people. Unlike most graphic novels, it’s not exactly a quick read, but it’s totally captivating.

Bechdel’s tale is one of identity and family–coming to terms with your father’s death is never easy–especially when he was a difficult man with a dark secret. This memoir tries to capture her father’s identity as well as her own struggle with her sexuality. Be warned that the content is very adult (and not very happy), but it’s a great book about how your family influences who you ultimately become.

Best Cookbook (read: 4)

My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl

I love reading cookbooks cover to cover, especially when they tell a story like this one does. Reichl is famous as a critic and magazine editor, and when her magazine folds, she feels adrift. She finds her way back with food, and these recipes are her journey. They’re a pleasure to read because they’re less blunt instructions and more of a conversation about food.

Best Children’s Book (read: 6)

The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula K. Le Guin

runner up: The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery

I’ve got one or two more books to go in Le Guin’s Earthsea books, and I’m enjoying them so much. I picked the second book as my favorite. I love how though it’s related, it’s so different from the first book and a nice departure from the usual quest narrative, bringing up entirely different themes and characters.

This was the first time I’d ever read this book, and man do I feel like I was missing out. It’s such a beautifully told story about imagination and beauty and death–big themes for such a little book that takes place on such a little planet (and I really enjoyed the Netflix film as well!)

Best Parenting (read: 2)

The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine N. Aron, PhD.

runner up: In Defense of the Princess by Jerramy Fine

I checked out Aron’s book as research for my character–a highly sensitive child–and to my surprise it was not only really helpful as research, but it gave me so much insight into my brother’s character and my own when we were children. If you’re struggling with parenting but it’s not the usual struggles, and your kid is not the “usual” kid, you might think about picking up this book.

This book I picked up because of the title–never conscious that it was, in fact, a parenting book–and it contains a really interesting argument in favor of princesses and all things pink as an expression of feminine power. It’s really a book geared towards feminists who worry that all things pink make their daughters more subject to the patriarchy. While I really enjoyed this book, I do have issues with some of the arguments and I think it could have taken a stronger and more complex stance on objectification–particularly where Disney princesses are concerned.

Best Wedding Book (read: 23)

A Practical Wedding by Meg Keene

runner up: Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley

I guess I should have known that my research tendencies would not go away just because I got engaged. I read a ridiculous amount of wedding books (if you need a book for a specific case or type of wedding I probably can give you a recommendation…) and came out with two clear favorites. One is Keene’s pragmatic and level-headed guide, the companion to her wonderful blog. If you’re interested in creating an authentic celebration with emotions rather than stuff at the forefront–read this book. Her website and book are very open to all kinds of unions and are wonderfully helpful–much more so than 99% of the things I read this year.

In contrast, Knisley’s book is actually a memoir describing what it looks like to have a feminist, modern wedding. It shows with humor and charming illustrations struggles over budget, family issues, and what happens when ideas run amok. I think it’s a great read for anyone planning their wedding, or anyone who just likes reading about weddings.

 

Did you read a lot of books outside the norm this year? Or did you stick to your favorite genres? Let me know one of the books you loved this year in the comments!

 

 

My Holiday Book Haul

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I’m so lucky to have such a wonderful family. Even though the holidays were really hard this year because of my Papa’s health, it was still wonderful to take the week with my fiance to see all my family and so many friends back in Portland. I miss them already.

For Christmas, my family does a holiday gift exchange–a “stocking” filled to the brim with goodies of various sizes. My Papa had my stocking this year, but since he wasn’t able to go shopping my Nana took it over. She and my mom and my aunt apparently all had way too much fun at Macy’s on Black Friday and I received a ton of Fiestaware (which is the china/dishware that I was going to ask people to get us for our wedding) in all different colors. And along with my many colored dishes, I was given a ton of used books. Basically the best Christmas ever.

Some of these I actually picked up for myself and then they were added into my stocking (that would be the top three). This is because when I volunteer at the Mini Monday book sale for my Friends of the Library I’m constantly around used books. I really enjoyed E. Annie Proulx when I read her last year, and I liked Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake, and the other book just caught my eye.

My mom picked up the rest of the books for me–like me she has a thing for used books. She knows I love to collect older editions of Shakespeare, and a little birdy (aka me) let her know that I wanted a copy of Anne Frank’s Diary and hadn’t read anything by D.H. Lawrence (though I own a copy of Women in Love).

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She also got me some movie star biographies/autobiographies, since I love to read about Hollywood–including Cary Elwes’ book, which I was very, very excited about. I also received Wicked and Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which I didn’t have copies of before, and a new (to me) Margaret Atwood book. So much fun!

I’m so excited to get reading! Did you receive a book you really wanted for the holidays? Let me know in the comments!

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 New-To-Me Authors I Can’t Wait to Read More From

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature from The Broke and the Bookish.

Today’s topic is all about new-to-you authors. I’ve read quite a few books this year, but this post is all about new authors that stood out and that I look forward to reading more from. These are in no particular order (starred authors are those I read more than one book by this year).

Lucy Knisley*–I’ve read graphic novels before this year, but never so many. I really enjoyed my foray into this genre, and particularly enjoyed the graphic memoirs by Lucy Knisley. Her writing is honest and authentic and bittersweet (though never bitter). My favorite work of hers was her memoir about planning her wedding called Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride.

Elena Ferrante*–I have one more book before I finish the four Neapolitan Novels, but you don’t have to read much of her work to know that Ferrante is a very important writer. Her books about friendship are some of the most real (and most uncomfortable) I’ve ever read, dealing not only in connection and support but bitterness and jealousy and misunderstandings. I didn’t always find the books easy to get through, but I felt like I accomplished something each time I finished one and that I’d had to confront my own understanding of what friendship is and the many ways it can materialize.

Anthony Doerr–There’s so much I could say about All the Light We Cannot See–the writing is great, the story is spectacular, and there is plenty to talk about from the motifs to the setting. It’s a wonderful book. If you haven’t read it, it should really go on your list. It lives up to all its hype.

Ta-Nehisi CoatesBetween the World and Me won the National Book Award for nonfiction and the prize was well deserved. A father’s conversation with his son, Coates shares his perspective on blackness in America with devastating honesty. It may be a very short book, but it will stay with you long after you finish reading it.

Lev Grossman*–I’m a huge fan of fantasy in general, but The Magicians Series was one of my favorite things that I read this year. Grossman takes some of the most influential writing about magic for children (think C.S. Lewis and J.K. Rowling) and turns all of it into a book about what happens when you’re a magician and you grow up. Somewhere between a fantasy novel and a coming of age story, Grossman has a talent for making some of the most beloved fantasy books of all time come alive again for adults.

Rebecca Mead*–I read plenty of nonfiction this year, but most of it had to do with weddings. Mead’s take on the subject, One Perfect Day: The Selling of the American Wedding, was more serious than most, all about how our society has been influenced (as well as influences) by an industry that makes hundreds of millions of dollars a year. I also read Mead’s take on Middlemarch, which was part memoir and part literary criticism and enjoyed it immensely, having tackled Eliot’s opus last year.

Chinua Achebe*–We read this trilogy in my book club, and without a doubt the first book, Things Fall Apart, is the best of them. It’s an important story about colonialism and human dignity written by a Nigerian author.

Antoine de Saint-Exupery–I don’t know why I’ve never read The Little Prince before now, since it’s been on my list for a very long time. It’s not a book I was familiar with as a kid, but if I ever have children it’s one I’ll be sure to share with them. I love how it deals with imagination, beauty, goodness, and childhood. And I really enjoyed the Netflix movie (the soundtrack is gorgeous).

Kevin Wilson–Has anybody seen the movie adaptation of The Family Fang? I didn’t even know they’d made it into a film until I’d finished reading the book. It’s definitely a weird story about a family who does crazy performance art pieces in public spaces. It’s all about art and family dysfunction and screwing up your kids.

Isaac Asimov–Though I read a lot of science fiction I’ve actually been a little nervous about getting into Asimov. Either I like him and now I have a million books to read or I hate him and then I hate one of the most important science fiction writers of all time. I guess I shouldn’t have worried–it was definitely the former. I’m still catching up with this book club series (Foundation), but I can’t wait to read more.

 

Interested in last years post? You can find it here.

What author discoveries did you make this year? Let me know in the comments!

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books that Have Been on my TBR Since I First Set Up a Goodreads Account

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature brought to you by The Broke and the Bookish.

In college I took a required class that I hated–a library studies class that taught you how to use the databases. Useful, but mind numbingly boring. The best thing to come out of that class was the discovery of Goodreads, which combined my love of making lists with my love of books. What could be better than that?

It’s a love affair that’s continued all the way to the present. Currently, I have 523 books on my TBR list because that’s just how I roll. It doesn’t even include all the books I want to read (I have other lists of books in notebooks), but it’s plenty. There are dozens of books that are still on the list from the first year that I made it. Here’s ten, in no particular order.

  • Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

The first time I watched the film (with Reese Witherspoon) I understood exactly none of it. But I think I was twelve, so I’m giving myself a pass. After college, when it came on Netflix and with a wealth more reading about/from the time period, I enjoyed it so much. I just bought it recently, but I haven’t picked it up yet.

  • A Room with a View by E.M. Forster

This book must have been on a recommended list on Goodreads back then. Since I’ve seen the film (with Helena Bonham Carter), and I’m a little leery of the book and it’s almost certain lack of happy things.

  • Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Not much to say about this one. Haven’t read it. Still want to read it.

  • The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir

I love the Tudors. They are such a great, dysfunctional family. This book caught my eye at Costco and I didn’t pick it up. But one day it will be mine! Or I’ll check it out at the library.

  • The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Oh the great book club read with the crazy title. My mom said she couldn’t really get into it, so I snatched it from the donation pile.

  • The Neverending Story by Michael Ende

I wasn’t ever really that into the movie, but I’m obsessed with fantasy and maybe I’d like the movie more now if I saw it again.

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

My fiance has told me the book is better than the film but it’s still not that great. So it might actually come off this list. I’m not sure. Anyone have an opinion on this book?

  • The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

There’s really no reason this novel hasn’t been read yet. I’ve even picked it up from the library several times.

  • The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

All for one and one for all! Love the movies (like the one with Tim Curry), need to read the book.

  • Born Confused by Tanuja Desai Hidier

I used to eye this book at Barnes & Noble as a kid–the cover was hypnotic but there was always some other more urgent book to buy.

 

Want to scroll through my never-ending TBR? Here’s the link.

 

So over to you now. Have you read any of these books? Avoided them on purpose? Had a book that you’ve encountered over and over during the years and never gotten to?

Or have you, like me, seen a bunch of adaptations without reading the source material? Do you always read the book first? Let me know in the comments!