What I Read: January, 2015

Last month I introduced a new series (ish) for the books I’ve been working on reading lately. I’m still working on figuring out exactly how I want to go forward with this – whether I want to use it as a way to list the books I’m planning on reading, the books I’m currently reading, or the books I’ve read recently. Whatever I end up doing though, I do know I want to focus more blog posts on reading in 2015 so it’s a series that’s going to stick around in some form or another.

Trial and error tells me that listing the books I plan on reading doesn’t work because I usually end up reading entirely different books. And the same holds true for listing the books I’m currently working on (ex. of the books on last month’s list, I finished one and made some progress in one other). So this month, I’m going to try out sharing the books I’ve finished lately with short synopses (hopefully to be followed later by longer reviews) of each. Let me know which version you prefer and, as always, follow along on Goodreads for updates and short reviews (and so I can stalk your reading list for ideas).

Full disclosure: Looking back, I’m realizing that, without intending to, I became pretty preoccupied with the war and, in particular, the Holocaust this month. 

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The End of War, by John Horgan

I finished this book at the beginning of the month and actually already posted a review of it last week. Even though this was a research-based book, I found it incredibly easy to get through. I think this was partially because the subject was one I was really interested in, but also because Horgan writes in a way that’s easy to understand and punctuated straight research with quotes and personal anecdotes. Definitely a must-read if you’re interested in human nature and what seems like our predisposition towards fighting wars.

In The Garden of Beasts, by Erik Larson

I bought this book at the same time I bought The End of War and if I’m being honest, I didn’t have much hope that I’d actually finish it. I have what my roommate calls a sick fascination with the Holocaust (mainly because I just cannot fathom what made entire countries go along with Hitler), so I gravitated towards this book immediately, but as I was sitting on the bus heading home, reading the back and realizing that this was a non-fiction piece about the American Ambassador and his family living in Germany in 1933, based solely on research taken from diaries, recordings, and old photographs, I got worried that this book was more up my dad’s alley. As it turned out though, I loved this book and finished it in a few days. And actually, I learned a couple things about the Holocaust that I had never learned in school (and that, full disclosure, left me in absolute shock and slightly sick-feeling).

Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay

This is another book about the Holocaust, but this one took place in France and the atrocities committed by the French police in 1942 during the Vel d’Hiv. If you don’t know what that is don’t worry – neither did I and, from the sound of the book, neither do most people. Although this book was fiction, it was based on very real events and left me crying on the bus into work more than once. Based simultaneously in July 1942 and 60 years later in the spring of 2002, Sarah’s Key tells the heartbreaking story of Sarah Starzynski, a 10-year-old girl who was taken with her parents as part of the Vel D’Hiv roundup and who, thinking she’d be back in time to save him, locked her younger brother in a secret closet to protect him.

Have you read any of these books and, if not, what have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments!

The Bookshelf: The End of War

The End of War
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Earlier this month, I talked about the books I’ve been working on reading lately. Among those, the book I was most excited about and was most enjoying was The End of War by John Horgan, which I’d only picked up as a last-minute purchase at a Barnes & Noble a couple blocks from my office (all in all, it was a pretty successful trip given how much I also loved the other book I bought that night, In the Garden of Beasts). At the time that I wrote that post, I was only about a quarter of the way through The End of War and I was already loving it; the rest of the book proved to be just as interesting and easy to get through.

I’ve written about war and my opinions on it before, as it’s a subject that’s always interested me. From a young age, it struck me as absolutely insane that our way of settling arguments with other countries was to grab our guns and kill until nearly everyone was dead and someone held up a white flag. At the time, my teacher assured me that the older I got, the more I’d understand the necessity behind wars; but instead, the opposite happened and the older I get, the less I understand why we so staunchly believe in “an eye for an eye.”

So when I was wandering around Barnes & Noble a few weeks ago and saw The End of War, I immediately picked it up, curious as to what the author’s opinion was on war. To my surprise (but also my excitement) Horgan argued that war is no more ingrained in us than is peace and that there is every chance we could overcome it, as a society.  Without divulging too much information, Horgan puts forth several solid arguments for why we can, not only as a country but as a species, overcome our instincts towards war. Throughout the book, Horgan cites the behaviors of primates and of very small, largely unheard of civilizations, as well as that of ancient societies and people within our own society.

Perhaps my favorite thing about the book though was that Horgan did not simply charge on, citing source after source in support of his own opinion. Instead, he cited sources to the contrary, suggestions that war is ingrained and is something we will never overcome; sources he then went on to dismiss based on incomplete or incorrect information.

Coming out of college, I’m not sure I ever saw myself as a person who would enjoy reading what is essentially a graduate thesis. As much as I loved school and even research, I often found research essays incredibly dense and difficult to get through, so throughout the beginning of The End of War, I was concerned I’d find myself unable to understand or become interested in what Horgan was writing. Instead though, I found the book incredibly easy to read and, because of Horgan’s use of personal anecdotes and private interviews, thoroughly interesting.

Regardless of your personal opinions on war and its inevitability (or lack thereof), I think The End of War is an important read, filled with information we should all know in a world shadowed by constant war, particularly if you’re going to take a stance in that debate.

What I’m Reading Lately: December/January

Coming into 2015, I decided that one of my resolutions was going to be to read at least 20 books over the next 12 months. I love reading, and at any given time I have at least five books sitting on my bedside table that I’m in the middle of reading, and plenty more sitting on my bookshelf, in the living room, and in my purse.

Over the last few months, I’d taken to writing a reading goals post each month, with about three books that I planned to read that month; and what I’ve noticed is that those are almost never the books I end up reading. So this year, despite a resolution centered on reading more, I’m not going to be planning which books I’m going to read. Instead, I’d like to talk about the books I’m in the process of reading right now, in the hopes that it will motivate me to finish those books (I have a nasty habit of starting and never finishing books, because as much as I love to read, I love the feel of a new book even more).

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The Interestings, by Meg Wolitzer

I bought this book on my iPad months ago, and never really got into it until the last couple weeks. I’m a little torn on my feelings about it because while I love the characters and the general storyline, jumping back and forth all over the place in a book drives me crazy.

The Interestings spans a couple decades in the lives of several friends who met as teenagers at a summer camp for the arts. Instead of following a linear or at least logical passage through their lives though, the author jumps all over the place – in one chapter, a main character is 5-years-old, and in the next you’re reading a sex scene taking place in the life of another friend 15 years later. It can be difficult to follow, and while I do sort of like the omnipresent feel of knowing where everyone ends up and how that ties into who they are at 14, 15, 16 years old, I think I’d prefer if the book were at least somewhat more consequential.

Sherlock Holmesby Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have been trying for years to read through all of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but have only ever managed to make it through A Study in Scarlet, Hound of the Baskervilles, A Sign of Four, and about 10 or so of the short stories. I make this even harder on myself by starting at the very beginning with A Study in Scarlet every time I pick the book back up.

I absolutely love adaptations of these stories – Elementary, Sherlock, and House are some of my favorite shows; so I know I’d love the the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unfortunately, I sometimes find them difficult to get into, probably because of the writing as compared to writing today.

The End of War, by John Horgan

I just picked this book up yesterday at Barnes & Noble after work, and I’m already about a quarter of the way through just from the bus-ride home (the book is just under 200 pages, so if I’m being fully honest, a quarter is only a little over 50 pages).

The book reads more like a long research essay on our propensity as human beings to engage in war and how we’re just as biologically likely to engage in peace. I’ve always been bothered by the idea that we’re incapable of brokering a more permanent peace. In my lifetime, we’ve had about 10 years of peace between the first and second Gulf Wars (or the Gulf War and the War on Terror – whichever you prefer). And as much as I enjoy (some) dystopian novels (like Station Eleven), I’m ultimately really bothered by the fact that in every one of them, humankind finds themselves incapable of starting over peacefully. All that said, once I’m finished with this book I’ll definitely be writing a post about it.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talkingby Susan Cain

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I’ve been working on this book for a little while now, and am expecting that it’ll be a while longer before I’ve finished. Like The End of War, this book is also research based, but it strikes me as being a little denser and harder to get through.

So far, I’m enjoying learning more about myself as an introvert, but ultimately I think I’m a little disappointed, I think because I put too much pressure on the book to “fix” me.

Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I’ve been reading this book for about as long as I’ve been reading Sherlock Holmes, and it’s another one that I really want to get through but can’t seem to because of the writing. While the writing is easy to understand, likely because it was updated in relatively recent years, I think anyone who has read a book written before the 1900s would agree that it’s just different.

I also think that generally, romances are just not my cup of tea (unless they’re written by John Green, in which case give me all the books). For example, I’ve read all of two Nicholas Spark’s books, and I’m not impressed by either of them. I think this may be a personal problem with the idea of romance, but that’s a topic for another post.

So what’s on your reading list lately?

My Bookshelf: December Reading List

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What I Read in November

Somebody Told Me by Rick Bragg

Okay, so if I’m being honest, my November reading goals were a flop.  Somehow, I made it through to December only having read one book (which, I might add, wasn’t even on my list of reading goals for the month).  For some reason, even though I had to have started at least five different books, I couldn’t really seem to get into any of them, and by the end of the month all I’d read was this collection of newspaper stories written in the late ’80s and early ’90s.  Hopefully this month will be a little more successful in making it through my “required” reading!

My December Bookshelf

The Lola Quartet by Emily St. John Mandel

A couple of months ago, I read Station Eleven by this author and absolutely loved it!  The other day, armed with an Amazon gift card (birthday gift from my brother, who clearly knows me too well), I went searching for more books by her and decided to start with this one after reading a sample of it on my iPad.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I’ve heard a lot of good things about this book, and being an introvert myself I’d really like to see someone else’s take on the subject, and on how this personality type that I usually hate so much might actually be a good thing in disguise.

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel

The same list I read which told me to read Station Eleven listed this book as well, and given my recent love of creative non-fiction pieces, I’m excited to read this book full of them.  I’ve never read anything else by Mantel, so this will be a first.

So now I want to know – what are you reading this month, or what have you read lately that you’ve really loved?

4 Reasons Why You Should Read (and a giveaway)

If you’ve been around here before, you probably already know how much I love reading.  I’ve mentioned my love of books and of writing several times, and every once in a while you’ll even see me sharing book recommendations or reviews! But if reading isn’t your thing, it can seem strange to see someone who loves it.  So here four reasons I think everyone should give reading a chance (and why I’m shocked when I talk to someone who says they never read).

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For Entertainment

As much as we all love watching a good episode of our favorite show, going to the local AMC for a new movie with friends, or seeing a play on Broadway, it surprises me to see people who don’t think of books as a form of entertainment.  Just like anything else, books tell a story meant to entertain us in some way, whether it’s to teach us something new, to take us to another world, or to indulge a fantasy we might have.

To Learn

Books have been pushed on us for as long as we can remember as a pathway to learning.  Our years spent in school were built on textbooks, and our parents have always loved to see us with a good book.  But just because you’re out of college doesn’t mean that you should stop wanting to know more.  As human beings, we’re built to crave new information, and books are an amazing way to fill that craving, especially since there are hundreds of books on any subject you can imagine.

To Escape

I just wrote on Monday about how my student loans have me trapped in one place, but books are an amazing way of getting away from where you are.  Whether you’re reading Harry Potter to find yourself in a magical world, or The Book Thief to put yourself in another time and imagine what that would have been like, a good book can take you anywhere.

For Culture

For as long as we’ve been able, human beings have been compelled to write things down.  Every story, every piece of history, every religious commandment has been recorded in writing, in some form or another.  Reading is a way of embracing and learning more about your culture.  Without it, we’d have trouble knowing who we are.

The Bookworm Giveaway

A giveaway hosted by Elle of The Lady Errant


The Prize

Sixteen Kindle ebooks that are so good I’m already planning on reading all of them. Since we all just chose one of our favorite books to recommend, there’s an awesome mix of genres, meaning something for everyone :)

The Terms

1) The Amazon Kindle app is available for a variety of devices, including PCs and Macs. If you’re a diehard physical book lover who absolutely loathes digital reading, this might not be the giveaway for you. While we love physical books too, ebooks won because they’re usually cheaper and can be sent instantly worldwide. No mail mishaps here.

2) Regardless, the winner will need a Kindle or Kindle app on some device, and be able to send me the email address associated with said account within 48 hours once notified of her status. If no contact has been made within 48 hours, I will select another winner. And naturally, I’ll check the entries.

3) Once I have the email address, the winner should receive all ebooks within another 48 hours.

4) Giveaway is open internationally – but with conditions. If you’re living abroad (and don’t have a US billing address associated with your Amazon account) there may be copyright issues restricting what you can receive. In that case, instead of the ebook, you would automatically receive Amazon credit. If there’s a problem with getting credit or receiving your books, contact me because 1) I’d like to know if there’s an issue for future reference and 2) I’d like to help.

The Books

Want to know a bit about the books you could be winning? Check out the slideshow below to see what books each person contributed, and what that book is all about!

The Entries

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Bookshelf: The Book Thief

The Book Thief review
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I think I’ve said before that one of my absolute favorite books is The Book Thief, by Marcus Zusak.  I spent years working on reading that book, for some reason never able to quite get into it until one day I did, and then I couldn’t put it down.  The Book Thief is one of those books that I judge all other books against (in the way my mother told me I’d judge all other boys against my first boyfriend) because it was not only an incredible story, but was also amazingly written.  It left me near-sobbing on a bench in the middle of town, in the few minutes before my lunch-shift started at the Irish Pub where I was waitressing at the time (and not much makes me cry, in terms of fiction).

If you haven’t heard of The Book Thief, it’s a Holocaust story but at the same time not.  The book takes place in the life of a Jewish girl who has been taken in by a German family during the Holocaust.  A lot like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, this book takes place over a number of years, narrated by Death and always following Liesel from the time she is a little girl terrified of her new home, and through the years following that day.

Throughout the book, Death never keeps a secret – always telling you the points in a story which would otherwise be a twist. Somehow though, you’re always shocked, confused, and heartbroken when what he promised happens. There’s never a point where you don’t almost know exactly what’s going to happen, but somehow, I was still shocked at every turn of the page and I couldn’t put it down.

The Bookshelf: November Reading List

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What I Read in October

Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me by Mindy Kaling

The Answer to the Riddle is Me by David MacLean

The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris

At the beginning of October, I decided that going forward I wanted to use my commute each morning to read more.  I set a goal of three books to be read, and at the start of the month that was seeming pretty easy.  In the last couple weeks I’ve had more trouble finding and sticking to one book, but I did manage to get through my “required” three books!

My November Reading List

If I Stay by Gayle Foreman

I bought this book over the summer, and haven’t gotten around to actually reading it yet.  What I have read of it has been wonderful though, and I’m really excited to get through this book by the end of the month!

This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper

This is another book that’s been sitting on my shelf for a while now, and I honestly can’t remember when I did buy it.  I brought it home with me after my latest trip to my parents house, and I’m determined to finish reading it before seeing the movie!

Sherlock Holmes: The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This must be a month of previously-owned books, because I’ve own the complete Sherlock Holmes since high-school and have always had trouble getting through the stories.  I love them while I’m reading them, but somehow I always get distracted with another book and Sherlock Holmes lies untouched on my bookshelf.  So far I’ve gotten through A Study in Scarlet, The Sign of Four, and a bunch of the short stories.

The Bookshelf: The Unnamed

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The Unnamed by Joshua Ferris, is a book I’ve always struggled to get into.  The premise – a lawyer suffering from an unknown disease which, at any time and in any place, could suddenly force him to begin walking –  is one that really interests me.  Somehow though, when put into words on a page, the idea couldn’t hold my interest.  This month though, I promised myself that I’d finally finish the book; and to a point, I enjoyed it.

As I mentioned, The Unnamed is a book about Tim – a lawyer who is married with a teenage daughter, and who is suffering from a disease which no doctor, psychiatrist, or scientist has ever heard of or is able to explain.  At any time and in any place, for reasons unexplained, he is suddenly forced to his feet and compelled to walk great distances and with no control over his body or the direction he is taking. For years, his wife and daughter wait for the call so that they can go find him and bring him home.  But after a third remission which only leads to his suffering from the disease yet again, Tim keeps walking and walking until he is further away from home than he has ever been.

The premise, as I mentioned, is one which really interests me.  Unfortunately, I had trouble enjoying the way it was written, as Ferris takes nearly half the book before he gets to the primary storyline – Tim leaving his family behind. Besides that, I found trouble feeling like I knew the characters. While Ferris wrote Tim’s anger, depression, and surroundings beautifully, I never felt as though I knew Tim or, for that matter, his wife and daughter. Something in the language Ferris used distanced the reader from his characters, despite lovely details like a petname which Tim and his wife had for one another – banana.

In all, the storyline was meaningful and thought-provoking. There were several times where I stopped just to think about the situation Ferris’s characters were in.  The scene’s Ferris set were beautifully written, and while I couldn’t connect fully with the characters, I could fully imagine the pain and heartbreak Tim was feeling; I was angry on his behalf, at the sheer fact of not knowing more than at anything else.

Overall, I wouldn’t call The Unnamed a must read, but it was an enjoyable book with a thought-provoking story and idea behind it; and once I was enmeshed in the storyline, the book was an easy one to finish.

The Bookshelf: Station Eleven

Station Eleven Book Review
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Last month, I dove into the book Station Eleven after seeing it listed alongside Yes Please! and Eula Biss’s new book in an article about must-read books going into the fall season.  It was one of the few books in the article that was already out, and my love of dystopian novels drove me to download the sample almost as soon as I’d finished reading the list.

I’d never heard of Emily St. John Mandel before, and my first reading of the book’s description would not have lead me to categorize it as a dystopian, which is what Goodreads called it.  Generally, when I think of a dystopian novel, my thoughts run towards The Giver and Divergent – books about a world where the government has essentially taken over, and left society in a state of almost-blissfully-ignorant disaster.  I love them, but they all tend to have a pretty similar story line, and the “moral of the story” never really differs from one book to the next.  So when I read about a book where a hostile version of the Georgia Flu (think Swine Flu, except just as bad as your grandmother and the news wanted you to believe) resulted in the deaths of most of the world, dystopian didn’t cross my mind; and even after I knew that’s what it was, the rest of the story didn’t seem to fit that mold either. Rather than presenting the reader with a horrifying example of a world where the government attempts perfection and fails, Mandel gives her readers a world spun out of control because nobody had a chance to grasp the situation before it had already taken over.

In Station Eleven, Mandel takes us back and forth between three different times: pre-flu, post-flu, and in the first hours and then months of the flu’s descent over the world, and all in a way that never ceases to hold your interest.  Throughout the book, you’re pulled between the usual if not mundane lives of a few characters who can remember their lives before the flu, and between the lives of those same characters and others who crossed their paths, in the 20 years that have passed since the flu first started with a plane full of “patient zeros.”

But my favorite part about Station Eleven was that it wasn’t simply interesting, which is a reason I so often seek out dystopian novels.  More than managing to hold my attention with a quick and horrifying storyline, Mandel writes absolutely beautifully.  I knew the characters I was reading about, felt the fear and the heartbreak that they felt.  I asked myself the same questions that Mandel’s characters were asking themselves, and wondered what my life would be like in this post-apocalyptic-esque world.  By the end of the book, nothing was perfect; nothing had been “fixed” in the way typical of modern novels.  Instead, life went on the way you would expect it to: real, and horrifying, and sad, and just incredibly hopeful.

I once had someone say to me that there are books you read because they are gorgeously written, and there are books you read because you can’t put them down.  Somehow, Station Eleven managed to be both of those – fascinating and absolutely poetic at once, in a way that forced me to finish it within just a few days.  On a weekend-trip to the mountains with my family, I couldn’t stop talking to my Dad and brother about the book; and I’m suggesting it to you all now.

This book is one that makes you question humanity and what makes us real, what makes us keep going.  It makes you ask questions that most books will never approach, and in a way that makes you want to answer them.  It’s a book that left me with a hangover, hard-pressed to find another book as good, and it’ll go on my shelf of favorites alongside The Book Thief and The Leftovers.

So tell me: what have you been reading lately that you just couldn’t put down, or that really made you think?

The Bookshelf: October Reading List

I mentioned last week that one of my goals for this month is to finish at least three books before November.  Since then, I’ve been scouring Goodreads for what I want to add to my Kindle reading list, and so far, this is what I’ve come up with for October’s reading list.

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Is Everybody Hanging out Without Me? 

-Mindy Kaling

This book has been in my Goodreads “to read” shelf for months now, and I’m so glad I finally jumped and bought it.  I just started Is Everybody Hanging out Without Me? this morning, but I love it and I’m pretty sure I’ll be finished before the end of the week.

To start, I love memoirs, and Kaling has a hilarious way of writing her story that had me laughing in the middle of Starbucks this morning as I drank my pre-work hot chocolate.  She’s hilarious, especially because you can see yourself in a lot of what she writes, without actually thinking “hey, oh my God we’re the same!”  Kaling’s life is completely different than yours, but you’re going to see yourself in a lot of what you’re reading, and I love that!

Yes Please!

-Amy Poehler

I am not-so-patiently awaiting the release of this book which I’m sure is both funny and meaningful rolled into one great, easy-to-read book.  Poehler is hilarious, so I’m counting on that, but I know that I’m going to love this book because it’s a feminist piece.

The Unnamed

-Joshua Ferris

I’ve had this book sitting on my bookshelf for years, and I can never seem to quite get into it.  It looks so interesting though, and I want to finish at least one book that I already own, so I’m hoping to make that happen this month!

So what about you? What are you reading this month that I should add to my November reading list?