Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Reading, lately

I've been taking my reading a little more slowly than usual, in deference to my eyes. Let me tell you, lying around with your eyes closed is boring. I've been trying to make the enforced downtime feel useful by practicing timed breathing or listening to guided meditations, which makes it more bearable, but I still miss devouring books.

Runaway - Alice Munro's short stories are always lovely. These are simple, finely drawn pictures of people's lives. I loved that some of the characters spanned a couple of stories. Short stories are a double edged sword. I love the uncertainty and possibility you're left with at the end of a piece when everything isn't neatly wrapped up. On the other hand, it can be hard to let go of the characters. Having a story extended over a few "chapters" is a nice in-between.

The Peripatetic Coffin and Other Stories - Another set of short stories. I was just feeling it that week. These stories are darkly funny, emphasis on the dark. There were a surprising number of boats (ships?) worked in and I'll admit it took me two tries to get drawn into the title story mostly because my eyes glaze over at boat details. BUT it picked up quickly and I ended up really enjoying these.

The Artist of Disappearance - I think I had a Kindle fail here. I checked this out from the library as an e-book and it was the single titular novella. Apparently there are supposed to be three included, so I'll need to check out the print version to read the other two. Bummer. It was a beautiful, haunting short story about a solitary man who expresses himself through the creation of Andy Goldsworthy-esque nature art.

The Lowland - I've loved Jhumpa Lahiri since Interpreter of Maladies, and this was no exception. Her writing is lyrical but still pointed and it's easy to fall right into her stories. This novel is about two brothers, two continents, family loyalty and betrayals. I was expecting this to be another series of short stories and was already feeling sad about leaving the brothers behind when I realized it was a novel. Score.

My Hollywood - I'm not completely sure how to talk about this book. It revolves around a couple of families and their relationships with their nannies, set in a wealthy area in LA. As I read the book I felt more and more depressed, which was maybe the intention. The narration is split between the mother and the nanny and I was mildly uncomfortable with the broken English used for the nanny (too easily offended? quite possibly). I also thought the ending was a little too movie-ish. Maybe appropriate given the title?

Casebook - This is another novel by Mona Simpson and I enjoyed it much more than My Hollywood. You're witnessing a divorce (and the subsequent years) from the point of view of a young boy who is spying on his parents. As a narrator, Miles is engaging and the story carries. There's still something about Simpson's writing that just isn't my favorite but it's hard to put my finger on it. I think it feels a little pat and it's more plot driven than descriptive, sometimes.

Americanah - Everyone and their mother (and my own stepmother) recommended this book to me and it didn't disappoint. It follows a woman as she travels from her native Nigeria to the east coast of America and then back again. The story is good, the writing is sharp and the descriptions are wonderful. The only thing I'll quibble with is that the main character is supposed to be a blogger and the descriptions of her blog taking off like wildfire and growing into a lucrative business accidentally was a little hard to swallow. I mean, there is a huge difference between a hobby blog and one that you actively make money with and one of them requires a whoooole lot more in the way of effort, marketing, etc. But it's just a plot point and I was able to push that aside. The commentary on race in America was interesting. That is the world's flattest sentence, but I've tried rewriting it a bunch of times and it's tough to explain. I can't say how true it is or how well described it was, because I'm a white woman and I feel like everything I try to say about how wonderful it is comes off as condescending or oblivious or try-hard. Now I'm trying to craft a follow up sentence and failing. Let me just say that I really enjoyed this book and it gave me an amazing, observational peek on someone else's perspective.

All Souls Trilogy (A Discovery of Witches, Shadow of Night, The Book of Life) - Lauren and I share a love of decently written supernatural novels (no Twilight, thanks) and when she started reading this trilogy I had to jump in (two years later, after all three had been released). It's a tough one to criticize because the author is so clearly earnest and enjoying herself and I don't want to stomp on that. But I think it's fair to say that it gets a little weird. The basic premise is that a Yale University professor, who happens to be a witch, falls head over heels for a mysterious stranger who turns out to be a vampire. Chaos ensues. The first one is pretty solid, the second one gets a bit lost due to a time traveling plot that allows Harkness to get caught up in her obvious love of history (she's a history professor, as I was not in the least bit surprised to discover later). By the third one, I was feeling irked with the main characters and their obsessive love affair, complete with some of the most embarrassing sex scenes I've ever read. It's as if your favorite professor decided to write tasteful, terribly boring porn. All that said, if you like this genre, you'll probably enjoy it quite a bit. Harkness does a good job of building up the supernatural world and the main plot is engaging, although there's a lot of meandering so you just need to give in and be patient. You can go ahead and skim the vampire-witch action bits unless you're into that sort of thing. Lauren has a description of the first book up that's both funnier and better written than my rather vague overview.

Never Go Back (a Jack Reacher novel) - Not my favorite Jack Reacher but still enjoyable. It got a wee bit convoluted, which can happen with thrillers, especially if they involve the military. I'm not ready to say the series is going downhill, because I think it just has occasional misses.

Dust (a Kay Scarpetta novel) - I am obviously a crazy masochist, because that is the only possible way to explain the fact that I'm still reading this series. Every time I see that there's a new one out I have to grit my teeth and take a deep breath before diving in. I know it will be horrible but I still do it and then sometimes I re-read Cause of Death to remind myself that it wasn't always so bad. But guys, it's gotten bad. If I were any less compulsive I'd have stopped reading these years ago because at this point it's basically torturous.


22 comments:

  1. oh man, i could talk about the all souls trilogy all day. i was NOT expecting the science and you! focus of this one, but i guess i should be impressed that d-harks did not in fact run out of new ways in which her main characters could be exciting and special. in only vaguely related but somewhat exciting news, i found a box of count chocula(!) on the Free Shit Table at my office yesterday. me and the count, at last! i took it but had to return it when i realized the little ghost-star-bat-and-lightning-bolt marshmallows were made with gelatin. balls. i was also invited to the press opening of the count's spooktacular at the local sesame street theme park, but it's the afternoon we're leaving for southern california. one, two! two balls! (four balls?) maybe i can start watching dark shadows again for something now that we have an apple tv.

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    1. We are definitely going to need at least an hour of our bar time to discuss the series. I almost didn't even want to say anything about it without talking to you first. I'm one deep in the other trilogy (?) you recommended, but waiting for my turn with the rest. My head got a little confused keeping the various supernatural worlds straight.

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    2. the laini taylor daughter of smoke & bone books? i'm in the third one now and it's also going in some weird directions, but on the whole i've been pretty happy with it. she's pleasantly odd.

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    3. Yes! I devoured the first one, waiting for the rest.

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  2. I listened to the first two All Souls books on audio because I was living in LA and commuting a few times a week, and when it got to the sexy bits, I'd turn down the volume and roll up the windows out of embarrassment that someone might hear it. I'm on the wait list for The Book of Life at the library and I'm chomping at the bit, not necessarily because I have really high expectations (because I don't) but because I just want to be able to close the door on the All Souls period of my life.

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    1. Ha! Love this image.

      I think in some ways Book of Life was better than the second one (more action, less meandering) so hopefully you'll enjoy it! I had to wait for it for a while too.

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  3. what about audio books/podcasts? they might help tide you over while your eyes heal!

    excited to check some of these out - you just reminded to add "americanah" to my kindle downloads :)

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    1. Yes! My next step is to figure out how to check out audio books. I think it's really easy, I've just been lazy about getting around to it. I'm not awesome at absorbing by listening, so I'm nervous about audiobooks, but I'm curious to see if they'll work for me!

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    2. If you check out audio books from the LA library, it's just a matter of downloading the "OneClick" app and you can link it to your library account. I really like it because I can download all the chapters when I am on wi-fi at home and then listen to them when I am out and about without eating into my limited data plan. You can also just stream it if you have an unlimited data plan.

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    3. Oh, thank you! That sounds really easy and I should set it up. I was worried about the internet streaming so it's good to know I can download it all ahead of time. Yay!

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  4. Excited to read these! Any suggestions for finding good guided meditations? I'm looking for something with a voice that's tolerable (not too hippy dippie/woo woo).

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    1. I've been using the Calm app for guided meditation and it's decent. Not sure if I would pay for the upgrade (I did, but the additional meditations you get just don't seem that much better than the original one!). I like that you can choose a 5 or 10 minute session and they have a selection of background noises that are soothing. The woman's voice is pretty good.

      I also have the Anxiety Free app, which is a self hypnosis. I was a little freaked out to try it but it's really just a guided meditation. I honestly can't tell if I'm going into self hypnosis or falling asleep every time I listen to it, but I like the man's scottish accent and it feels soothing. It's longer, about 20 minutes, so harder to slip into an average day.

      For breathing I've been using the Bio Breathing app, which is free and has an audio cue so I don't have to look at my phone screen when I use it. I like it pretty well but it only lets you set the inhale and exhale. Ideally I'd like to find one where you can set the inhale, hold, and exhale, but I need one with an audio cue and I haven't tracked one down yet.

      I'll update if I find any that seem even better! I'm so not a meditation person (not nearly patient enough, my mind tends to go nuts when I lie still) but these have been helping convert me. But if I'm already feeling anxious I never try doing the guided meditation. I'll do 15 or so minutes of guided breathing instead and then see if I'm calm enough for meditation.

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  5. I would be curious to know more about the guided meditations. I have been hearing so many good things about meditation in general and I would be interested in your thoughts. Also, similar to what Andrea said above... podcasts! This American Life, The Moth, The Dinner Party Download, Radiolab, there are so many good ones I actually look forward to folding laundry or commuting when I can listen to them.

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    1. Left a super long comment about the meditation stuff above! I do think it's useful, even though I've resisted forever and still get frustrated with it sometimes.

      I'm sort of embarrassed to admit that I haven't figured out podcasts on my phone yet. I listen to them all the time at home and I have the TAL app so I can listen to that on my phone, but I should figure out others. I love, love, love Dinner Party Download! Always like to hear someone else is listening to it as well.

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  6. ahem!! the new Tana French book is out and what I've read of it is fantastic. (also, it's the first book to actually sound like it has a different narrator, rather than different narrators with the same voice....)

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  7. I'm on the waitlist for it! I've been looking forward to it all summer!

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    1. Ugh, that's supposed to be a reply to you, Diane! Comment fail.

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  8. I love your "reading lately" posts and often add a few to my wish list. I read the first All Souls book and really enjoyed it. I'd read a bunch of reviews for the second book and have been hesitant to continue since I've read that the main story gets kind of lost in the second book. How was the third book? Did you feel it was worth it to finish the series? I feel like I'd put up with the second if the third redeems the trilogy.

    I know you've been using your e-reader for a while now, but I'm curious to know your thoughts on e-reader vs book considering your eyes. I've been resistant to e-readers because BOOKS! I spend a lot of time on the computer and am not sure how hard e-readers are on the eyes (if at all). I do have way too many books in my house, though, so I'm wondering if it makes sense to cave and reserve book purchases to thrift/used book stores. I'd love to get your thoughts!

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    1. Well, I *always* finish a series because I can't help myself, but I think if you've read the first book it's worth reading the rest. You just have to give in to the meandering, I think. And the third book pulls it together a little.

      I have an older Kindle, and I love it. It feels exactly the same as reading a printed book, as far as my eyes are concerned. The screen isn't backlit (which means you need a reading light if you read in the dark) so I think it doesn't contribute to eye fatigue the same way a phone or tablet does. I've had zero issues with reading on it. When my eyes are dry I do need to rest them more, but that applies to printed books or e-books.

      I was really resistant to an e-reader but finally gave in because I was having so much trouble getting to the library and I got stuck on a couple vacations where I forgot to pack enough books and ended up having to buy some at the drugstore (bummer). I've never looked back.

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    2. Thanks! I'll look into finishing the trilogy and a Kindle. :)

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  9. every time i go on vacation, i check out your list and buy books from it! i actually loved My Hollywood a lot, but i remember being really fascinated by the foreign nanny topic in anthropology class.

    little failure was so hilarious!

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