Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What I've Been Reading - January

I haven't talked books in a while, so I thought I'd do a quick rundown of what I've been reading lately! I didn't get around to writing about *every* book I read last month, but I think I covered most of them here!

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

I've been a fan of Lucy Knisley's work for many years now, so I was really excited to get to check out an advanced copy of this book! (It's set to be released in April) Although I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as French Milk (which was the book that introduced me to her), it was still a lot of fun to read. I'm sure that my preference for the other book was heavily influenced by the fact that I'm a huge travel nerd (French Milk is about her trip to Paris), but not all that into food (the subject of Relish). This book is part memoirs, part cookbook, all told in comic book style.

My favorite part was a story from a catering event she worked at an art gallery, where she found a moment to sneak off and have a private, close-up moment with a piece of art that was important to her. It reminded me of those rare moments Disney cast members get, like when you're walking into work before the park is open for the day, and it's just you and the emptyness. It's a nice reminder to stop and enjoy those little moments that come with whatever job you do- the things that the average person doesn't get to experience.

You can check out Lucy's blog here.

 I was really excited to dive into Shakespeare Saved My Life: Ten Years in Solitary with the Bard, which will also be released in April. I'm a pretty big Shakespeare nerd, and I loved that this was an angle I've never read about before. The book is written by an English professor who started teaching Shakespeare classes to inmates, including maximum security prisoners in solitary confinement. I thought it was especially interesting when she mentioned that she'd go from teaching regular college classes to bored students, to the prisoners who she found "...genuinely hungry for knowledge and guidance to become better people."

The main subject of the book is a prisoner who has been in solitary confinement for 10 years. We hear about that kind of thing all the time, but the author does a great job of making you actually stop and realize what that actually means. She asks you to picture all of the major things that have happened to you in the past decade- maybe graduating, getting married, having a child, adopting a puppy, moving. Think about the places you've seen- new cities, maybe even travel to new countries, or even just the new Target in the next town. But then, think about the decisions you make every single day- what to eat for lunch, what to wear, which direction to turn at a stop light. Imagine NONE of that. For 10 years.

This was my favorite book of the month, probably since I'm a bit of a Shakespeare nerd, but also simply because it's so well-written. It did seem to end a bit suddenly, but that's the only criticism I have.

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

This book will be released on Feb 26, and tells the story of two women racing each other around the world, trying to beat the 80 day fictional record in "Around the World in 80 Days". Of the two, I related more to Bly in the beginning- her wanderlust, ambition, and sense of adventure. Alternately, Elizabeth sort of fell into her role in the race. She had to be talked into it, rather than begging to go. Still, Elizabeth grew on me a lot as the book progressed.

My only real criticism of the book is that it tends to go off on detailed tangents. They'll spend three pages describing a person who never comes up again and has no impact on the story. Similarly, it was 86 pages (in the edition I have) before the book actually got to the part where the two women set off on the journey. I totally get that they needed to spend some time establishing each woman's background and personality before diving in, but I'm pretty sure that could have been done just as effectively in 50 pages or less. To be fair, a lot of the slightly tangential details are fascinating. I never knew, for instance, that the arm of the Statue of Liberty spent seven years standing on its own in Madison Square Park as a fundraising appeal to collect money towards building the pedestal for the statue. I feel like some editing to cut out about 10% of the length would have been a big improvement, though. I have no problem with long books in general, but a lot of the extra detail felt like padding, rather than doing much to enrich the story, and nothing to move it along.

Despite that fairly lengthy criticism, I did really enjoy this book. As a travel nerd, it's interesting to hear about the women's experiences. You have to keep in mind when reading it that in the 1890s, there was no travel channel or Amazon full of travel books or internet stuffed with travel websites for them to consult to plan their trip. Most of the world was a total mystery, and the destinations they passed through certainly weren't as tourist-friendly as they are today. The fact that they were each traveling alone was also pretty unheard of for the time.

 It's been forever since I've read the Sookie Stackhouse books, but I remembered that there were a couple I still hadn't read, so after an especially stressful few days I decided to pick them up. I really enjoy this series- you can generally read each book in a single night or two, and they're fun reads. After reading Dead Reckoning (Book 11 in the series), I realized I still hadn't gotten around to watching season 4 of True Blood (I'm sooo behind!) so I went to watch the first episode of that season, but was instantly pretty confused because the books and series are really different at times, so I have two totally different storylines that feature the same characters to keep straight. I did realize that I like book Sookie much more than the TV version. However, watching it on TV means you get to stare at Alexander Skarsgard, which is a pretty huge selling point.

The Cape Ann: A Novel

The Cape Ann 
I don't usually get that into books with a young narrator (other than like, To Kill A Mockingbird), but I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed this one. I'll be keeping my eye out for the sequel, even though it doesn't seem to get as good of reviews.

The Birth of Venus: A Novel

The Birth of Venus
I got this one at the church bag sale a few months ago, and just picked it up when I was in bed sick for a few days towards the end of the month and was looking for a novel I haven't read yet among my bookshelves. It's a fun, quick read of historical fiction- it doesn't rank among my favorite books, but it definitely kept me interested. Probably especially interesting if you have an interest in Italian Renaissance art.

I also picked up an advance copy of a book called Change Your World in 71 Days on Net Galley. (It doesn't appear to be on Amazon yet.) I wish I had a better review for this one, but it just didn't do much for me. It falls into the category of Self Help, and while it did have some great ideas (such as focusing on improving whatever aspect of your life/skill you want to better by just 1% each day), the actual helpful info is sandwiched between way too much fluff. Rather than just putting forth the ideas, the author presents them in story form, with a frustrated businessman reading about the ideas and putting them into practice and then passing them on to his family. I'd much rather have ideas presented in a more straightforward manner with a couple of quick examples than this long, drawn-out story format (especially with its super unrealistic conversations.) The problem with that, I guess, is that if you take out all of the "story" and shared the info in a more traditional format, there would only be about 20 pages to this book, instead of 160.

That wraps it up for January! (I actually didn't get to finish 80 Days until this week, since it was on my laptop, which spent the beginning of the month dead!) What have you guys been reading lately?


Journeys of The Zoo said...

Wow, you read a lot. I love to read but haven't had time since my litter was born (December 2009). Just getting back into it and I love it. Thanks for sharing.

Besos, Sarah
Zookeeper at Journeys of The Zoo
journeysofthezoo at hotmail dot com

ReviewsSheROTE said...

I think the you've done a lot of reading--=^D