Category Archives: Book Report

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.