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 – August 19, 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?

I’m still currently in the middle of three books. The fear and anxiety of having to walk back into a college classroom and teach face to face is really getting to me, but I might write a short blog post about that later. I’m still reading a short story a day out of The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston. I appreciate the atmosphere and how immersive each story is. Sometimes big things happen and sometimes it seems like not much happens but there’s still something to think about. I am getting a bit faster with being able to read the dialects so that helps!

I’m also listening to the audiobook for The Marvelous Land of Oz while I’m working this week. I am basically picking up any available audiobook for physical books I own so that I can get through more of my backlog. This sequel to the The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is much less iconic, much more goofy, but still really magical. I’m having a good time listening to this as it’s been a long time since I’ve read it or watched the 1987 animated film (it’s on Youtube and I am really tempted to watch it).

Lastly, I’m reading The Titan’s Curse by Rick Riordan. I’m still working through the Percy Jackson series for the very first time and even though I’ve just started the third book, I am already hooked! The beginning is so dark and intense and I’m so excited to see where Riordan takes us next. This is the lightness I need during such a stressful time for me.

Thanks to audiobooks, I’ve been able to actually get through a lot of books this week. First, I made the call to DNF Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan with only 100 pages to go. I just did not care; I’d accidentally spoiled myself but I didn’t really care that much to begin with so I decided to move on.

I listened to The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller this week, as well. I did not like this book. It follows a short affair between Francesca, who is largely unsatisfied with her life and husband, and a long-haired photographer who comes to town. Everything felt rushed since it was less than 200 pages and I just felt like she should have had a conversation with her husband or something. Not a fan.

I also listened to two productions of Arthur Miller plays this week. 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. 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.

Next, I finished Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I did have some time to actually hold a book and read and I used that time to finish this book. I LOVED it. Ishiguro’s writing is so atmospheric and beautiful while he tells a haunting story of childhood friends whose lives are aren’t exactly normal. Everything in this world is *almost* normal but something is a little bit off. The answers are slowly revealed in such a matter-of-fact way; it doesn’t feel like you’re reading major plot twists but you are. I highly recommend this one and I want to check out the film especially now that I know Carey Mulligan is Kathy.

Lastly, I listened to the audiobook for a memoir called My Lobotomy by Howard Dully. Dully get a lobotomy in 1960 at the age of 12 and his memoir follows his life both before and after this happens. This is a horrifying story and gives a look at what a life after a lobotomy can look like and the systems that allowed this to happen. That being said, I don’t know that this needed to be told in a written format or it just didn’t work for me. The story was a bit slow in places and the way Howard talks about the other people in the asylum he lived in for a while was not the best. Dully originally told his story on NPR and if you’re interested in what happened, this might be the way to go. I might eventually check it out myself.

Up next for me, I can’t predict what audiobooks will be available from my library but I do only have one book left on my official TBR for the month and that’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. I’ve only read parts of it and am excited to read the whole thing.

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

Austen-Adjacent: Austen Adaptations, Retellings, and Other Related Media

Book Recommendations

I don’t *love* many classics, but I do love Jane Austen. I didn’t read anything by her until I was in my mid-twenties. I started with Sense and Sensibility and I wasn’t really a fan, but I wasn’t going to give up on her. I continued by reading Pride and Prejudice and Emma and I was SOLD. Emma is one of my favorite books of all time and I think about it constantly. 

But that’s not exactly what this post is about.

Today I want to talk about Austen adaptations or Austen-adjacent content because I’m fairly new to the world of Austen-related things but there are a few that I really enjoy and I want to share three of them today. I was partially inspired by Sofia at Bookish Wanderness and her post “Ranking Jane Austen Screen Adaptations” so please go check out her blog!

The retelling that Sophia mentioned that inspired this post is Bride and Prejudice. Clearly a Pride and Prejudice retelling, this Bollywood film follows Lalita as she meets several suitors including the American Mr. Darcy. This movie made me laugh so much! I liked seeing the ways they modernized the original Austen text and the musical numbers were so extravagant and fun. Also, for fans of the TV series Lost, it was fun to see Naveen Andrews as Charles Bingley.

Another Pride and Prejudice retelling I enjoyed is Longbourn by Jo Baker. This story takes place during the same timeline as Pride and Prejudice but follows the servants who work for the Bennets. I know some people don’t like seeing a different side of the Bennets, but I think Baker does some interesting work in showing all of the things that have to be done so that the Bennets can remain in relative comfort. Baker does not shy away from the sometimes disgusting reality of the work Sarah and the other servants have to do. I also appreciated (and wrote a lengthy paper about) the difference in the way Austen and Baker portray the soldiers. Showing the “behind-the scenes” of classics can be a way of making people aware of what had to happen in order for things to be the way they are. I won’t talk about this adaptation here but the 1999 Mansfield Park film does a good job of this, as well. 

The last thing I want to talk about is not based on Pride and Prejudice and is not a retelling. It’s a science-fiction story about time travelers who want to recover one of Austen’s missing text and, potentially, save her life – The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen Flynn. I was a little skeptical about this book because I am not a sci-fi girl but I did enjoy the historical references to Jane Austen’s personal life and the romance. I don’t want to say a ton about one particular element I enjoyed, because spoilers, BUT the main character, Rachel, is Jewish and that plays an interesting role in the story. It’s been a little while since I read this and I would love to pick it up again when my physical TBR is a bit more manageable but I do have positive memories when I think back on my initial reading experience.

I have definitely read and watched other Austen adaptations that I would like to talk about here so if you want to hear about those in the future, let me know! Also, do you have any Austen-adjacent or Austen retellings/adaptations you particularly enjoy? I need more!!

WWW Wednesday – August 12, 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?

I’m currently in the middle of three books. I’m having a difficult time focusing this week as I’m really focusing on getting ready to teach next week and I think my current reading situation reflects that. I’m reading The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston and decided to catch up so that I can read a short story each day and finish it on the last day of the month. It gives me something to either start or end my day with. I’m out of practice with reading books written in regional dialect so that has slowed me down but I’m getting the hang of it, I think.

I’m also listening to the audiobook for Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. This follows a woman named Serena whose interest in reading gets her an assignment with MI5 to recruit and fund writers who would write stories that politically aligned with the British government in the 1970s. I like Ian McEwan’s writing but feel pretty indifferent to the story right now. It has been nice having something to listen to while I build my courses, though.

Lastly, I’m reading Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. I’m only about four chapters in and all I know is “weird boarding school” but I’m really enjoying it. There’s definitely an element of mystery that I’m excited by and am ready to see how these pieces that are dropped throughout the beginning come together. The writing is also so fantastic. It has the same beauty I remember from The Remains of the Day. I am moving a little slower than I’d like, but this might just be me at the beginning of a new semester.

I’ve only finished one book since last week – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. I’m not even mad about that being the only thing I’ve finished because I loved it so much. I love the narrative structure and the subtle mystery. I also wasn’t bored by any of the romance (something that usually happens to me). Also, the last 100 pages or so were heartbreaking. I felt like I was always on the verge of tears. What a great read! I’m so glad I finally picked it up.

I’m really torn about what I want to read next. I’m feeling kind of detached from everything I’m picking up and keep thinking about whether I want to throw out my TBR or keep going. If I stick to my TBR, I’ll be picking up The Titan’s Curse and continuing the Percy Jackson series. That might really interest me but I also don’t want to pick it up while I’m in a slump and it taint my enjoyment of the series. If I throw out my TBR, I know I’ll pick up the next two issues of the One Piece manga. I’m currently torn between wanting to binge all my manga (it’s a lot) and wanting to space them out and savor them. I guess we’ll see what happens next week!

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

August 2020 TBR

TBRs

Welp. It’s August. In June I was able to finish fourteen books (look out for a lengthy wrap-up Monday!). I will officially be returning to work in a few weeks and probably won’t be able to keep that same energy in August but I’m still going to put six books on my TBR and see what happens. Here’s what I’m planning to read!

The first book I want to read this month is The Existence of Amy by Lana Grace Riva. Lana was kind enough to send me this book so that I could review it on my blog. I got it last month and have been excited for a chance to read it. This book follows Amy as she navigates life with a brain that sometimes makes things difficult. I know that this book talks about OCD and depression but I don’t really know much else and want to go into it relatively blind. Keep a lookout for a full review of this book later this month!

I also plan to pick up I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou this month. I have owned this for such a long time and have read parts of it but haven’t read the whole thing. This is an autobiography and having read Angelou’s poetry earlier this year, I am delighted to learn about her life. I am hoping my hold on the audiobook comes in time for me to listen and read along but if not, I’ll still be reading it this month.

This month I’ll also be continuing my first read-through of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. This month I’ll be picking up The Titan’s Curse – the third book in the series. I’m expecting to continue loving this series and to write a fun, spoilery blog post about my experience reading this series for the first time as an almost-thirty-something.

I’m also definitely planning to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. This book is about Evelyn, an older movie star, who is finally ready to write her biography. That’s about all I know (apart from the seven husbands bit). Oh and apparently people have cried and I’m here for that. I read Daisy Jones and the Six by the same author a few months ago and it became an instant favorite. I’ve heard so much about Evelyn Hugo from people across so many platforms and it’s just making me even more excited. I hope to have another favorite after I finish!

I also hope to pick up The Complete Stories by Zora Neale Hurston. I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Hurston in high school and read at least one of the short stories in this collection in undergrad. This collection has her published stories plus some that weren’t published before. I don’t have much else to say about this collection currently but I am thrilled to finally pick it up.

Lastly, I’d like to read Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This book is about an English boarding school that doesn’t allow its students any outside contact but when a few kids do leave, they realize something isn’t totally normal about their school. I bought this book during undergrad after reading Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I adore. Though that book is historical fiction and this book is classified as sci-fi/dystopia, I still have hope that I will love Ishiguro’s writing just as much.

I guess the theme of this month is that I’ll be reading books from authors I’ve already read and enjoyed. I hope I can get to all of these but since I’ll be teaching this month, who knows! If I can’t get to all of these, are there any you’d prioritize (besides Evelyn Hugo obviously)?