Category Archives: Book Report

The Most Adjective Books Of 2017

Bad news: I spent a lot of time commuting last year. Good news: audiobooks!

I read (and heard) more books last year than I think any other year of my life, which has made me feel incredibly smart and more than a little bit superior to my previous self.

And so I bring you my year of books, in Yearbook form. All voting was done by me. All opinions are subjective. You’re welcome to sign it in the comment section.

 

Most Mind-Melting: Annihilation

I only finished reading this a few days ago and am still in the wait what just happened? phase. This book will get in your head and give you goosebumps and you will like it.

It’s also coming soon to a theater near you, starring Oscar Isaac, Natalie Portman, Tessa Thompson, and was done by the same writer/director as possibly the only truly original movie in recent memory, Ex Machina.

Shout out to brother for recommending it. Now to read the rest of the trilogy before the movie comes out.

 

Most Fascinating: Elon Musk: Inventing the Future

You have likely heard enough about Elon Musk to get the general sense of his brilliance* and lunacy,  but hearing the details behind PayPal, Tesla, SpaceX, and every OCD email he’s sent his employees in between is fascinating and well worth a read.

*You will also feel largely like a big fat failure who has done nothing with your life. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

 

Most Honest: Hunger

This is an excruciatingly painful memoir, told in beautifully simple language. It was a one sitting, effortless read that I felt in my bones. Attempting to give it the Cliff’s Notes treatment feels distastefully blunt, so I’ll leave you with a snippet.

“They mean well, my parents. They love me. They understand the world as it is, and how there is no room for people of my size. They know that the older I get, the harder it will become to live at this size. They worry about my health and my happiness. They are good parents. My parents also want to understand — they are intellectual, smart, practical. They want my weight to be a problem they can address with the intellect they apply to other problems. They want to understand how I could have let this happen, let my body become so big, so out of control. We have that in common.”

 

Most How Did I Go So Long Without Reading This: East of Eden

Honestly what was I even doing for the 28 years of life before I read this book? Who were the English professors who denied me such a treasure?? I have come to cherish this book like scripture and do believe I will read it every year until my death.

“And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

Truly, words to tattoo yourself with.

 

Most Banned: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

This semi-autobiographical young adult novel is equal parts hilarious and tragic.

In real life, Sherman Alexie grew up on a Spokane Indian Reservation in Seattle. In this book, 14-year-old Arnold Spirit Jr. is born on “the Rez” but decides to do a year at the all-white public high school in a neighboring town. The book reads like his diary, complete with clever illustrations that are charming and sad and true.

Apparently it is banned from most Elementary Schools – but if you aren’t in Elementary School, you’re in luck! If you do happen to be in Elementary School, please find an adult who can white-out the bad words and let you read their copy.

(Special thanks to Jill for recommending this, as well as so many others.)

 

Most Kooky: The Book Of Laman

Kooky is not a good (or even real?) adjective, and yet it is the only one I can summon to explain this book.

It was written by a Mormon woman whose writing I’ve followed and really like, and is a retelling of the first chapter of The Book of Mormon from the perspective of the black sheep brother, Laman. I have to say the book felt almost unfinished to me and the pacing was a bit strange, but I loved the idea of it and really enjoyed challenging my perception of a story I’ve come to be so familiar with.

You can buy it on Amazon or BCC Press.

 

Most LA: Beautiful Ruins

As soon as this book sucked me into its shiny Hollywood romances, I would realize I was being mocked for being sucked into its shiny Hollywood romances and think noooo! I found the writing bright and entertaining, if not crass at times, and because it jumps between stories and time frames, it’s another super quick read.

“This is a love story,” Michael Dean says.

But really what isn’t? Doesn’t the detective love the mystery or the chase, or the nosey female reporter who is even now being held against her wishes at an empty warehouse on the waterfront? Surely, the serial murder loves his victims, and the spy loves his gadgets, or his country or the exotic counterspy. The ice-trucker is torn between his love for ice and truck and the competing chefs go crazy for scallops, and the pawnshop guys adore their junk. Just as the housewives live for catching glimpses of their own botoxed brows in gilded hall mirrors. Because this is reality, they are all in love, madly, truly, with the body-mic clipped to their back-buckle and the producer casually suggesting, “Just one more angle,” “One more jello shot.”

 

Most Brainy: The Undoing Project

I felt so smart when I decided to read a Michael Lewis book. I felt so smart while listening to it. I am entirely unable to summarize what it was about in a way that is coherent.

(You know Michael Lewis from Moneyball and The Big Short. Maybe they’ll make a movie about this one…?)

 

Most Fun: Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Bring this one to the beach. I lol-ed many times, and I don’t use that acronym lightly. It’s also very touching in parts, which is a term I try even harder to avoid than lol.

“I tried to love Dad and not hate him for his fake cheer and the way he gets dressed. I tried to imagine what Mom saw in him back when she was an architect. I tried to put myself in the shoes of someone who finds every little thing he does a total delight. It was sad, though, because the thought of him and all his accessories always made me sick. I wished I’d never made the connection about Dad being a gigantic girl, because once you realize something like that, it’s hard to go back.”

 

Most Haunting: The Handmaid’s Tale

Like any respectable American, I was motivated to finally read Margaret Atwood’s dystopian thriller after it was announced Hulu was making it into a TV show. Though I liked both versions, in my opinion there is no comparing an on-screen adaptation to her gorgeous, poetic prose.

“Falling in love, we said; I fell for him. We were falling women. We believed in it, this downward motion: so lovely, like flying, and yet at the same time so dire, so extreme, so unlikely. God is love, they once said, but we reversed that, and love, like heaven, was always just around the corner. The more difficult it was to love the particular man beside us, the more we believed in Love, abstract and total. We were waiting, always, for the incarnation. That word, made flesh.

And sometimes it happened, for a time. That kind of love comes and goes and is hard to remember afterwards, like pain. You would look at the man one day and you would think, I loved you, and the tense would be past, and you would be filled with a sense of wonder, because it was such an amazing and precarious and dumb thing to have done . . .”

 

Most Worst: The Secret History

Oh, I hated this book. I made it through a whopping 14 of 22 hours of the audiobook before I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I even tried her latest book The Goldfinch (it won a Pullitzer!) but after two hours of essentially nothing happening, I gave up on Donna Tartt forever.

 

Most Life-Changing: The Neapolitan Novels

Book three was my favorite of the four

I experienced this series on such an intensely personal level, I had to take a few month-long breaks to get through it.

 

Plot-wise, it’s really just about a friendship between two Italian women. That such a simple premise could inspire four of my all-time favorite books should tell you how thoroughly developed these characters are – messy and imperfect and so real-feeling, I now think of Lenu and Lila as friends.

 

If you take one recommendation from this list, it’s this series. Here’s a link to book one.

 

Most Pwned: Ready Player One

 

So I don’t exactly know what pwned means, or whether people still use it, but I do know it has to do with video games. And that pretty much sums up how it felt to read this book.

It was an entertaining read, but certainly would have been much more entertaining had I cared about video games or spent more than two years of my existence in the ’80s.

It’s also coming soon to a theater near you, because this is (was) 2017.

 

Most Nerd: Mistborn

Growing up, my brothers read these Robert Jordan fantasy books that were so thick and so many, my family began referring to them as simply “Nerd 7,” or “Nerd 13.” Fast forward two decades, and I’m reading the same nerd books by the same nerd authors!

I have yet to read the rest of the trilogy, but I thought Mistborn was so original and am just in general impressed by Brandon Sanderson and his gazillions of books.

 

Most British: H is for Hawk

 

In my imagined ideal future where I am a cardigan-wearing professor of something English-ish, this book is what I teach in our memoir unit.

It is to me a textbook memoir, in that it takes one event (the death of the author’s father) and examines it through a super-specific lens (training a young Goshawk as a means of dealing with grief.)

It shed fascinating light into a subject I knew nothing about, was insightful and honest, and just so delightfully British. I would absolutely recommend the audiobook on this one, which is read by the author.

(Thanks to Sarah for the recommendation. I have smart friends.)

Most Likely To Be Read In 2018:

Mennonite In A Little Black Dress, A Man Called Ove, Lilac Girls, Authority, The Well Of Ascension, Belgravia, You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me.

What else do I need to read in 2018? Tell me your most adjective books!

10 Book Reviews, In 10 Words Or Less

I set out to rank all the books I read in 2016, but that was a bit like trying to pick my favorite Lemonade from Lemonade. (Have you attempted this? It’s impossible. I’m currently stuck in a terrible dilemma between Blood Orange and Cucumber Mint.)

Instead I bring you a mere ten reviews of some of my favorites. Do text me about them later. I have much more than ten words to say.

1. The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank

 

So good I almost quit writing. Mandatory for all females.

“Finally, I asked how you got a boy to like you back. She said, ‘Just be yourself,’ as though I had any idea who that might be.”

“Robert and I can only talk during the intermissions in hurried exchanges: I learn that he’s a cartoonist, and I have to tell him that I work in advertising.”

 

2. The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

First-generation Chinese immigrant paints the plight of Chinese women.

“Not many women got to live out the daydream of women—to have a room, even a section of a room, that only gets messed up when she messes it up herself.”

“The immigrants I know have loud voices, unmodulated to American tones even after years away from the village where they called their friendships out across the fields. I have not been able to stop my mother’s screams in public libraries or over telephones.” 

 

3. When Breath Becomes Air

Dying words from a brilliant mind. Have tissues ready.

“Only later would I realize that our trip had added a new dimension to my understanding of the fact that brains give rise to our ability to form relationships and make life meaningful. Sometimes, they break.”

 

4. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

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Hapless, self-absorbed Brit searches for meaning among vinyl.

“It’s easier to have parents if you’ve got a girlfriend.”

 

5. Open by Andre Agassi

Boy who hates tennis becomes Number 1 in the world.

“I think older people make this mistake all the time with younger people, treating them as finished products when in fact they’re in process. It’s like judging a match before it’s over, and I’ve come from behind tooo often, and had too many opponents come roaring back against me, to think that’s a good idea.

What people see now, for better or worse, is my first formation, my first incarnation. I didn’t alter my image, I discovered it. I didn’t change my mind. I opened it. J.P. helps me work through this idea, to explain it to myself. He says people have been fooled by my changing looks, my clothes and hair, into thinking that I know who I am. People see my self-exploration as self-expression. He says that, for a man with so many fleeting identities, it’s shocking, and symbolic, that my initials are A.K.A.”

 

6. Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff

Charismatic he & conniving she share two sides of their marriage.

“Perhaps it was always there; perhaps it was made in explanation, but all along she had held within her a second story underneath the first, waging a terrible and silent battle with her certainty. She had to believe of herself that the better story was the true one, even if the worse was insistent.”

 

7. On Writing by Stephen King

Stephen King inspires you to write until you write Carrie.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

 

8. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

McSweeney orphaned at 23. Must raise 7-year-old brother.

“We are disadvantaged but young and virile. We walk the halls and the playground, and we are taller, we radiate. We are orphans. As orphans, we are celebrities. We are foreign exchange people, from a place where there are still orphans. Russia? Romania? Somewhere raw and exotic. We are the bright new stars born of a screaming black hole, the nascent suns burst from the darkness, from the grasping void of space that folds and swallows — a darkness that would devour anyone not as strong as we. We are oddities, sideshows, talk show subjects. We capture everyone’s imagination.”

 

9. Lit by Mary Karr

Mary Karr finds God; I lament not majoring in poetry. 

“In the end, no white light shines out from the wounds of Christ to bathe me in His glory. Faith is a choice like any other. If you’re picking a career or a husband — or deciding whether to have a baby — there are feelings and reasons pro and con out the wazoo. But thinking it through is — at the final hour — horse dookey. You can only try it out. Not choosing baptism would make me feel half-assed somehow, like a dilettante — scared to commit to praising a force I do feel is divine — a reluctance grown from pride or because the mysteries are too unfathomable.”

 

10. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Timeless female coming-of-age. Must read every 5 years.

 “Buddy Willard was a hypocrite.

Of course, I didn’t know he was a hypocrite at first. I thought he was the most wonderful boy I’d ever seen. I’d adored him from a distance for five years before he even looked at me, and then there was a beautiful time when I still adored him and he started looking at me, and then just as he was looking at me more and more I discovered quite by accident what an awful hypocrite he was, and now he wanted me to marry him and I hated his guts.

The worst part of it was I couldn’t come straight out and tell him what I thought of him, because he caught TB before I could do that, and now I had to humor him along till he got well again and could take the unvarnished truth.”

 

What should I read in 2017? Share your favorites please.

When Breath Becomes Air: A Book Report

[THIS IS NOT REALLY A SPOILER POST BECAUSE YOU KNOW ON PAGE ONE WHO DIES. BUT IT SORT OF IS SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, READ THE BOOK AND COME BACK]

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Ten pages into When Breath Becomes Air, I started texting friends, Have you read this? You have to read this! It is beautiful and thought-provoking and haunting, but one of the most powerful takeaways for me was simply how important it is to tell our stories.

Over the last year I’ve begun reading more creative non-fiction, and I’ve developed a love for the art form. Maybe partly because it feels validating to someone who writes mainly, uh, about herself.

Yes I’ve written about other things, for work I’ve had to write about many things I am not necessarily interested in, but I’ve found that my best, most motivated writing is usually about me or my life. At one point I got into my head the worry that this is narcissistic, and it’s been hard to shake.

I’ve started asking, why do I have this urge to turn my life into an essay? Or a short story or a blog post? Do you think your life is that interesting? A mean little voice asks. I don’t know that I think people need to read it so much as I need to write it. It is how I make sense of the mess, how I flame my creative spark.

As I read When Breath Becomes Air, what struck me most was the author, Paul Kalanithi’s voice. It had this rapid, breathless pace. It felt so focused, and I wondered how he’d had the restraint to only tell the most pertinent details and leave the rest behind. Because he leaves a fair amount of details out. (I think, let’s be honest I read it too quickly and too tired because I couldn’t put it down) His wife and family, while at the heart of the story, are given fairly little air time. I gobbled it up, as many have, and when I got to the “ending,” I came to understand his voice.

I say “ending” because before he can really finish writing the book, his body is consumed by cancer.

And the reason for his writing in the voice he did was because he was actually racing death.

!!!!!

In the Epilogue, his wife says how when she reads the book, she sees a part of Paul, but not all of him. She says we don’t quite get his sense of humor, or his tender disposition. Perhaps that was a choice he made — perhaps he didn’t have time to develop it.

We all inhabit different selves in space and time, she says. And that is just what makes his story so powerful. That only he, at that time, could have written this book, this raw, wondering psalm that asks more questions than it answers. It is the story he had to tell. And I am so glad he chose to tell it.

As the book is coming to a close, Paul writes:

In the end, it cannot be doubted that each of us can see only a part of the picture. The doctor sees one, the patient another, the engineer a third, the economist a fourth, the pearl diver a fifth, the alcoholic a sixth, the cable guy a seventh, the sheep farmer an eighth, the Indian beggar a ninth, the pastor a tenth. Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete. And Truth comes somewhere above all of them, where, as at the end of that day’s Sunday’s reading,

‘the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For here the saying is verified that “One sows and another reaps.” I sent you to reap what you have not worked for; others have done the work, and you are sharing the fruits of their work.’

We need each other’s stories to understand life, to approach truth. None of us can sow or reap everything — we have to take turns. I reaped so much from Paul’s story, but I hope to never sow it. In turn I can write what I have sown, and maybe someone else, or maybe just me, can reap a nugget of insight from it or maybe just a laugh.

This book has validated for me the special relationship between writer and reader, and the importance of telling our stories. I feel newly inspired to get over my laziness or procrastination and put words on a page. Case in point I am writing a non-sponsored book review on a blog I don’t even check the analytics on, but I needed to write it! And maybe someone needed an extra push to read this amazing book.

Like I said, not a sponsored post. But I’ll just help you out and tell you to click here.