Five on my Backlog – 3

Five on my Backlog

Due to years of browsing overstock stores, used book stores, library sales, and yard sales I’ve acquired more books than any person needs. I also didn’t really read anything outside of school for two years. The backlog is real and I really want to get through them but sometimes I just don’t know what to pick next. I often use a random number generator to choose but I’m curious if there are any books you guys can give me any thoughts about. 

In order to do this, once or twice a month I want to make a post where I feature five books on my backlog and see if you guys suggest I prioritize some or warn me about others – anything! I read from a ton of genres and will just be working across my shelves to gather some thoughts. In the past two entries, people have really pushed for Flowers in the Attic and Jane Eyre so I’m interested to see what else is recommended to me.

First, I have The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. I got this from my partner for our anniversary and I can’t remember if I read this in school or not but I do love Caramelo by the same author. This looks like a short, fun read and I seriously can’t wait to pick it up one afternoon.

I also picked up The Mothers by Brit Bennett on sale not too long ago. I’ve heard people talking about The Vanishing Half by the same author and a few mention The Mothers but I don’t really know a ton about the plot of this book but I do know it’s contemporary literary fiction and that’s a genre that I generally tend to love so I have high hopes!

The next book I have is one I picked up a few years ago as a “blind date with a book” choice. It’s The Spy by Paulo Coelho and I’ve since learned that spy books don’t really work for me so I’m a little nervous about picking it up and not really enjoying it but I want to try to not have too many negative thoughts going in so that I give it a fair chance.

Another relatively recent purchase for me is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. I used to read a ton of historical fiction and much of it was centered around both world wars because that was a research interest of mine but I have since took a break from reading them. I have been having a bit of FOMO with hearing people talk about this particular book. I want to pick it up but I am a bit nervous that I won’t enjoy that genre as much as I used to.

The last book I have this month is a classic – Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I am intimidated. I have read and enjoyed Tolstoy and Chekov so I have experience with Russian classics but I’m always nervous going into bigger classics. I have enjoyed both Tolstoy and Chekov (ESPECIALLY The Cherry Orchard) so I have high hopes but I know it’s going to be a commitment and take some real time to get through.

So, there’s a few books that are on my backlog. Have you read any of these and enjoyed them? Did you read and hate any of these? Are there any that you’re interested in but want me to read so I can report back? Let me know in the comments!!

August 2020 Wrap-up

Reading Wrap-ups

August was… a lot. I spent the first half planning courses and the second half teaching college English face to face. I talk more about what that’s been like in the context of a pandemic in this blog post. There has definitely been an update on that front, though. At the end of the second week, cases really began to spike on campus (obviously) so I was able to move my class online. It’s taken a ton of stress off of me and some of my students. We all meet on Zoom and talk about the same things we’d normally talk about in the classroom and getting comfortable talking that way will be an adjustment for some but I think most of them are understanding of the complexity of this situation. Also there was a hurricane last month! It felt like it happened ages ago.

Love is a Laserquest – Arctic Monkeys

Another thing that happened this month is that I’ve rediscovered how much I love Arctic Monkeys. I’ve been listening to them nonstop and really reliving my best college life through music. “Love is a Laserquest” has been a real favorite lately. It’s put me in the mood to read more romance so that’s been an interesting development.

But let’s talk about books! Audiobooks really saved the day while I was working this month so while I own most of these books physically, I ended up listening to so many of them.

Ratings:

4 five-star books

7 four-star books

1 three-star book

2 two-star books

1 one-star book

Formats:

7 physical books

1 eBooks

7 audiobooks

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The first book I read this month was The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva. I was lucky enough to be sent this book by the author to review and since I wrote a full review of this book on my blog, I will be brief but you can read more here. This book follows Amy throughout her average life but shows readers the ways her OCD and depression can change the ways in which she goes about her everyday life. Though there is a bit of a plot involving international travel and romantic relationships, this book definitely feels, at times, like a character study. In this way, Riva accomplishes her goal of showing what maintaining a regular office job and a social life can look like with OCD. I definitely think this book picks up in the second half as Amy starts to really have to deal with the things in her life that she feels are holding her back from being happy. Overall, a fairly quick read which I enjoyed.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I know that I was hoping to not really have any holds from my library come through this month but I did get Hunger by Roxane Gay in early August. It also came the day of Hurricane Isaias so I found myself with plenty of time to read. Hunger is a memoir that discusses Gay’s relationship with her body and how past trauma shaped that relationship. This is a powerful and real look at what it means to be a fat woman in this world and also gets into what it means to be a fat, Black woman. Though it does deal with weight and eating and is titled “hunger,” it is not just about being literally hungry; it’s also about being hungry for affection, attention, and other desires Gay has denied herself over the years because of her weight and trauma. “Enjoyed” isn’t the right word but I definitely recommend this book. I would suggest looking for trigger warnings as this book covers topics including rape and disordered eating.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

After reading and adoring Daisy Jones and the Six, I knew I wanted to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. This story begins with Monique, a journalist at a magazine. Her magazine is contacted by the famous actress, Evelyn Hugo who wants Monique (and only Monique) to tell her story after she dies. I don’t want to say much more because that’s about all I knew going into it and I loved reading this book. Since the book spans from the 1950s to the present day, Reid is able to cover such much history and touches on it as it becomes relevant to Evelyn’s story. The writing is beautiful and Reid keeps the reader interested as she describes Evelyn’s life with each of her seven husbands. The last 100 pages or so were definitely emotional and had me close to tears many times. We all know I like sad books so it’s no surprise that I adore this one. I do think I like Daisy Jones a little more though, but that’s simply because I have always been a sucker for the 70s rock aesthetic.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

I’m pretty sure I got this book from a box at a yard sale once. I was going through my spreadsheet of books looking for something I wouldn’t mind listening to on audio while I worked so I found this available through my library. The Bridges of Madison County is a book that follows Francesca who isn’t really happy in her marriage. When a photographer comes to town to take photos of the covered bridges, she begins a short affair with him. The whole time I was listening to this book, I kept thinking maybe she should just talk to her husband about the things she doesn’t like but he didn’t really seem to matter at all to anyone. Since this book is less than 200 pages, there was little to no development in the relationship so it just felt… fake. Not a fan.

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Due to last-minute changes with my job, I found that I needed to be at a computer for 12+ hours a day and needed something to listen to on audio. I own a collection of every Arthur Miller play and found myself listening to a few of them on Scribd while I was working. I listened to both After the Fall and The Man Who Had All the Luck. I found After the Fall to be really pretentious and self-serving. It’s semi-autobiographical and really made Marilyn Monroe look awful and made him look like an angel. The Man Who Had All the Luck, on the other hand, was really enjoyable. It’s about a man who has so much good luck and he’s just waiting for the luck to run out. I definitely recommend listening to this if you have the chance.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was nervous going into Never Let Me Go because I don’t usually connect with science-fiction but Ishiguro created something different from any other sci-fi I’ve ever tried before. This story follows Kathy as she reminiscences and pieces together the truth about the boarding school she used to attend. Switching from the past to present-day timelines, Kathy has the help of her childhood friends, Ruth and Tommy. Ishiguro creates a beautiful and atmospheric story that slowly drops information for the reader to piece together. Nothing is spelled out until the very end which means this is a world where everything feels almost normal but something is just a little off (aka the plot of all my dreams). I can’t really say anything about the social commentary without spoiling it but I read another book this year that has similar themes and I really appreciated that. The ending is pretty sad and we like sad endings in this house so definitely one I will come back to.

Rating: 2 out of 5.

My Lobotomy by Howard Dully is a book I’ve had for ages and just never got around to picking up. As I was going through my spreadsheet, I found that this was available with no wait through my library so I decided I’d listen to it while I continued setting up my courses for the new semester. This book is a true account of the horrifying experience Howard faced when he was given a lobotomy at just twelve years old. I have a difficult time assigning a star rating to this book because his experiences were so traumatizing; much of the “reasoning” behind his step-mother wanting this procedure was just Howard being a regular child and it’s important to bring attention to the fact that that happened at least as late as 1960. That being said, I just thought this story as a book was just okay. The writing was pretty average and I really didn’t enjoy the way Dully talked about other people in the asylum he lived in for a while – he kept making sure the reader knew he wasn’t like them. I haven’t listened to the NPR documentary that was released before the book but that might be a better way to take in this story. Overall, a powerful and important story but this format just didn’t work for me.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Somewhere in my mom’s house, there’s a low-quality VHS animated film adaptation of The Marvelous Land of Oz that I didn’t really like but still watched quite a bit and that’s the movie’s problem because I really enjoy this story. In this story, Tip lives with the evil Mombi until he has to escape so that she doesn’t turn him to stone. He travels Oz and meets the Scarecrow while he’s in the middle of a crisis. Adventure ensues. This book is definitely less iconic than the first and a little more silly but I still appreciate the sense of adventure and magic. I also think there were a lot of strong women in this story and the reveal at the end could bring up an interesting conversation but because it’s the twist, I can’t really say much here.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

The Percy Jackson series really is just fantastic book after fantastic book, isn’t it? I read The Titan’s Curse this month and the magic from the first books is still there. This one was a bit longer than The Sea of Monsters and I appreciated that. We got to spend a bit more time with each of the characters, old and new. There were some really sad and intense moments that I also really enjoyed. I also think the commentary about humans being willing to do whatever the gods ask, especially if there’s money involved was an interesting idea to drop in a middle grade. That makes room for some big conversations. Also, if Nico is a recurring character (which after that reveal, he HAS to be) I think I’m really going to like him. I can’t wait to see what happens next and I think The Battle of the Labyrinth will be one of my first reads for September!

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was a reread for me but it’s been over 10 years since I first read it and that made it like a fresh book for me. This is the first of Maya Angelou’s memoirs and recalls her life from early childhood to the birth of her child. This memoir contains stories of trauma and joy and family and what it was like to grow up predominantly in the south as a black woman in the 30s and 40s. I think the story about her graduation is particularly interesting and important to understanding her and her classmates’ experience with education during this time.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I don’t often pick up short story collections but I am glad I picked up Zora Neale Hurston’s complete collection. I read a story each day throughout the month and finished it a little early. The types of stories in this collection vary drastically in content and style and it took me a while to be able to read the dialect at my usual reading pace but there were certainly some standouts here including ‘Hurricane’ and ‘Sweat.’ I also loved the slang dictionary she created to go along with her stories. It made me think a lot about linguistics and how certain languages can be seen as less-than or nonsensical but there are rules whether people want to see it or not.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s been a while since I’ve picked up a literary fiction book. It used to be one of my favorite genres but for some reason, I’ve been reading less of them. The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi reminded me of the power this genre has to make me feel and to make me think. This story begins in 1990s Nigeria when Vivek’s mother finds her son’s body wrapped in cloth at her door. From here we explore a timeline of Vivek’s life as well as the time after where his mother, Kavita desperately seeks answers about what happened. We also see Vivek’s father, aunt, uncle, cousin, and friends process this grief in different ways. This story also deals with themes of reincarnation which I thought were incredibly interesting and done really well. Additionally there is queer and trans rep. I will definitely be picking up more works by Emezi as their writing is phenomenal. There are trigger warnings for violence and abuse in this book so just be aware going in. Additionally, there was one particular aspect of the book that made me stop and think for a minute and I initially had a bad reaction but I found that this interview with Emezi and Rivers Solomon was helpful in thinking about that. I don’t want to be too specific and spoil anything.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have owned Amy Tan’s memoir, Where the Past Begins since it came out but have just gotten around to picking it up. It was available through my library via audio so I alternated between listening to the book while doing household chores and reading along while listening to the book. First, I think Tan is a fantastic writer and I love the way she explains pieces of her life are often so beautiful. It made for an interesting experience reading her memoir but I do think there were some times where I’d have liked a more straightforward approach. I do think that as the memoir went on, it became more interesting and her writing style lent itself to the story. The section where she talks about learning to read was so beautiful and insightful. My favorite part was the end where she talked about linguistics and related it to the immigrant experience and, ultimately, her mother. It was heartbreaking, beautiful and insightful. I’ll probably find myself revisiting those last sections of the book again.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

On the last day of August I listened to the audiobook of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory while catching up on some work and it was a pretty fun experience. This story is fun and whimsical but also a little dark and I think that’s a theme throughout so much of Dahl’s work. It is important to point out the flaws, though. The way the Oompa Loompas are handled is definitely problematic given the imperialistic notion of how they came to the factory. The ways Dahl talks about fat characters isn’t all that great either so just knowing that and recognizing the implications of those elements is crucial if you’re going to pick up and talk about this particular text.

I’m starting to think I need to split my wrap-ups into two parts because this was ridiculously lengthy. As always, thanks for reading and come chat!

Stay safe!

Sam

WWW Wednesday – September 2, 2020

WWW Wednesday

Since I’m really enjoying checking in here weekly, I’m going to continue doing the WWW Wednesday tag hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I like having a chance mid-week to share what I’m reading and see what you guys are up to, as well.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Because I’ve finished a lot of books and reading a ton of books, I have a lot to talk about today so I am going to try and be brief. I’m currently in the middle of four books for absolutely no reason. First, I’m reading Trust Me by Nell Grey. She kindly sent me this book and the next in the series for review. Trust Me is equal parts thriller/mystery and romance. I’m not totally sure where this book is going and I’m having a really good time.

I’m also currently reading Camp by L. C. Rosen. This book takes place at a queer camp for teens and that’s really all I know about it. I am only two chapters in since I just got it from my library yesterday, but I’ve heard there’s some romance and drama so I’ll enjoy reading it.

Like I did last month with The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston, I’ve picked up This Bridge Called My Back edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua to read throughout the month. This is a collection of poems, letters, speeches, and other kinds of texts all written by women of color. They really get at the heart of intersectional feminism. I’ve read selections from it for school but wanted to come back and read the whole thing. I’ve read a couple of poems so far and I’m liking it a lot.

Last, I’m listening to James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl on audio. This was available with no wait from my library and it’s been fun to listen to this story while taking bookstagram photos and folding laundry. It really has me itching to watch the movie again and maybe I can convince my partner to join me this weekend ❤

Somehow (audiobooks) I was able to finish five books since I last checked in. If you want to know more of my thoughts about any of them, look out for my wrap-up on Friday. First, I finished I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I was almost done with it last week and finished it later in the day. I liked getting a glimpse into different moments in Angelou’s life and each chapter ranged from heartbreaking to exciting to fun. So much to offer here!

I was also able to finish The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston. Like Angelou, Hurston is able to tell stories with a variety of emotions. What interested me the most were the dictionaries of slang terms she created to show that her writing wasn’t nonsensical. From a linguistic standpoint, this was important and fascinating to look at.

Speaking of linguistics, I was also able to finish Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan. I alternated between listening to this on audio and reading along with the audio. I love Tan’s writing and think she has such a compelling way of giving readers information. I sometimes wanted things to be a little more straightforward but she doesn’t give us that. I was particularly interested in the final sections talking about reading and linguistics as it applies to the immigrant experience.

I also finished The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi this week. This book opens with Vivek’s mother finding his body wrapped in cloth at her door. From there it is about figuring out what happened to him but it also is an exploration of grief. Emezi is able to pack a lot into a book that’s less than 250 pages and it doesn’t feel rushed. They did a fantastic job telling this story and it’s definitely my favorite read of August.

Lastly, I listened to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl on audio. This was a short, fun listen and made me miss Gene Wilder. There are definitely some issues with the story especially regarding the Oompa Loompas that people should be aware of and think about but otherwise it’s just as fun of a story as it’s always been.

Who knows what audiobook I’ll find next but I know that as far as physical reading, I’d like to get to Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender. I’m finding it way easier to fly through ebooks right now and this is another from my September TBR I have digitally. Plus it has a gorgeous cover and I’ve heard SO MUCH praise for this book.

Thanks for sticking with me through this longer WWW post! Have you read any of these books? What are you reading? If you participate in WWW Wednesday, link me your posts!

WWW Wednesday – August 26, 2020

WWW Wednesday

Since I’m really enjoying checking in here weekly, I’m going to continue doing the WWW Wednesday tag hosted by Taking on a World of Words. I like having a chance mid-week to share what I’m reading and see what you guys are up to, as well.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

The theme for August is that I’m, again, in the middle of three books. While continuing to read a short story each day from The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston, I’m also listening to Where the Past Begins by Amy Tan. I’m not sure how I feel about this book yet. I enjoy hearing stories from her life and about her writing process but sometimes the writing feels a little too lofty for me. I am excited to hear more about her work with linguistics, though. I’ve always been really interested in linguistics and studied it a bit in grad school, but I’d always like to hear more about it.

I’m also *almost* done reading I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I’m enjoying reading this memoir as Angelou creates an immersive experience and contains both fun and exciting scenes paired with some much more serious and sad anecdotes from her life. I’m reading this fairly slowly both because I’m having a hard time focusing on anything for long and because the new semester is taking up so much of my time but I should be able to finish it today.

I was able to finish two books since last week. One was the audiobook for The Marvelous Land of Oz – the second book in the Wizard of Oz series. I really enjoyed this book. It doesn’t have the iconic factor of the first book but I think there are some strong women in this book and there is still so much adventure and magic involved.

I was also able to finish the third Percy Jackson book – The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan. So far, this is my favorite book in the series and was just so exciting! I really enjoyed meeting Nico and hope he’ll stick around (after THAT reveal, I’m sure he will). I can’t wait to read the fourth book in the series next month. I really am ready to see where this story goes and already want to get the next series in this universe. I’m thankful there’s so much more to read!

Who knows what audiobook I’ll find next but I know that as far as physical reading, I’d like to get to The Death of Vivek Oji by Akwaeke Emezi. This was my BOTM pick for August and I’m not completely sure how to explain the plot so I’ll link you to the Goodreads synopsis. This is a fairly short book and I just might be able to finish it before the end of the month if I can start focusing again.

Have you read any of these books? What are you reading? If you participate in WWW Wednesday, link me your posts!

Mid-Year Book Freakout Tag

Blog Tags, Uncategorized

I am incredibly late in making this post, so I hope you guys are still interested enough to give this a look. I was debating whether or not to do this tag because I’ve only really been tracking my reading for the past few months, but ultimately, I decided it would be fun to try and answer these questions with the books I have read either for fun or for school before July.

Best book you’ve read so far this year

This might just be because it’s a recent read and because I JUST talked about Fun Home last time, but I’m going to say that my favorite book this year is Home Before Dark by Riley Sager. I’ve never had so much fun reading a thriller, and I’ve also never been so scared! Talk about the definition of a page-turner; I sat on the floor for hours completely entranced by this story. I never needed to know the end of a book so badly in my life. As someone who primarily comes to books to be sad or scared, these haunted house vibes really did it for me.

Best sequel you’ve read so far this year

I haven’t really read many sequels this year, but I did re-read The Hunger Games trilogy, so I’m going to go with Catching Fire. Remember how I said I like to be sad when I’m reading? Well, this one gets me every time. I also just enjoyed meeting all of the contestants in this set of games. Each character really had something to offer, and they didn’t feel like they were just thrown in without any thought. Plus, I think most people agree that Catching Fire is the highlight of the series.

New release you haven’t read yet but want to

For this question, I’m going with Mexican Gothic. I just got this in the mail last week, and I am so excited to be creeped out again this year. I also just have a feeling this book will be really atmospheric, and that’s something I genuinely enjoy. The historical element is also incredibly appealing to me. Fingers crossed, I can read this before the end of July!

Most anticipated release for the second half of the year

I recently added Invisible Girl by Lisa Jewell to my list, and since we have a thriller/horror/general creepy theme going on, I’ll say that one. I don’t know a ton about it apart from a woman goes missing, and everyone thinks it’s a guy who lives near the place where she went missing. I also know GabbyReads included it in a reading vlog recently, and we tend to have similar taste in thrillers, so I definitely want to check it out.

Biggest disappointment so far this year

Since I’m not going with books I read in July, it’s a little more difficult to choose my biggest disappointment this year. I guess I’ll go with The Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer. This book had the potential to really give some new ideas about feminism, and instead, it was just a bunch of rich white people not doing much. I don’t really have anything else to say apart from the fact that it was so long and didn’t offer anything new.

Biggest surprise so far this year

Easy. The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. I was a little older than the target audience when this book came out, but my younger brother LOVED it. We usually don’t agree on books, so it was a LONG time before I picked it up. I’m so mad I didn’t read this book sooner. It’s such a good story that pulls from mythology and history while still being a ton of fun. And talk about magical! I haven’t finished the series yet, but I’m just going to say who needs Harry Potter when we have Percy Jackson?

Favorite new to you or debut author

I haven’t read a ton from the same author this year, but my experience reading Daisy Jones & the Six made me want to read everything Taylor Jenkins Reid writes. I flew through Daisy Jones in two days, and not long after, I ordered The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I am so excited to jump into more of Reid’s work.

Newest fictional crush

I don’t really crush on book characters at all, so I’m going to pass on this one!

Newest favorite character

I really admired Starr Carter’s ambition, and vulnerability in The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I also re-read The Fellowship of the Ring this year, and I have such a soft spot for Samwise Gamgee. What a great example of a friend!

A book that made you cry

I don’t ever actually cry at books this often, but the saddest book I read this year is probably Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (I had to talk about it, okay!). I read this for a class, and we were asked to listen to some songs from the musical as well, and that combination really hit hard. This graphic novel is funny and sad and insightful and made me feel so many things. 

A book that made you happy

I read volume one of One Piece this year, and Luffy just makes me so happy. There’s something about high seas adventure mixed with a bit of comedy that makes me smile the whole time I’m reading. Also, unpopular opinion, but Usopp makes me laugh a lot.

The most beautiful book you’ve bought or received this year

I treated myself to Gyo, Uzumaki, and Tomie by Junji Ito this year because I was really sad about finished grad school during COVID. Not only are the covers beautiful in such a creepy way, but the artwork inside is also fantastic! 

What books do you need to read before the end of the year

I definitely want to finish the Percy Jackson series this year, but apart from that, my main goal is to just work through my tremendous backlog of physical books so that I can start parting with some of them. I usually randomly pick books from a spreadsheet and work through them that way, so we will see what happens for the rest of the year!