Theft By Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris [Review]

Today I’m doing a little something different. The book review part isn’t different; I’ve reviewed a number of books here before (although, not for quite some time). Upon finishing this particular book at 12:30 a.m., I slept on it, and then I spent a good deal of time writing a longer review on Goodreads than I normally do. I use Goodreads a lot because if I don’t write down some details of a book I just finished, I won’t remember it. I refer back to it a lot just to refresh my memory if someone says, “Have you read_____?” and I have, but I can’t remember a damn thing about it because it was so long ago. I had a lot of thoughts, and I’m sharing it here because when I started to read this book, a lot of people said, “Let me know how it is!” This is my review. Happy reading! Continue reading

Frank Reads: Favorite Books of 2015

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Right off the bat, let me be clear that, while I did read a number of new releases in 2015, others were older. So when I say that this post is about my favorite books of 2015, I mean that it’s my favorite books that I read in 2015, regardless of what year they actually came out. Also I realize that this post is coming a bit late, but life got in the way.

So… books. I like ’em. I don’t remember the last time I didn’t have something I was reading. I’ve heard there’s a recovery period after college, but for me that lasted only a few months while I got settled into teaching, and then I started tearing through books again (“tearing” might be a generous term for me because, as with everything I do in life, I read very slowly because I’m afraid of missing something, much like I eat very slowly because I’m afraid of choking, and I run very slowly because I suck).

Process

I use Goodreads to track everything I read, manage my TBR list (which is unmanageable at this point anyway because every time I hear about a book I want to read, I go to Goodreads and add it immediately to my “want to read” list), and set yearly goals for myself. The Goodreads reading challenges are definitely not perfect, but I’ve found that it works well for my purposes. If you wonder what books I’m in the process of reading at the moment, check out the Goodreads widget in the sidebar.

Right, then. In 2015, I made it a goal to read 19 books. I read 21, so I met 111% of my goal. Here’s my data, along with the books I read in the order that I read them in 2015:

Renee’s Year in Books

click to enlarge

I think it’s interesting that Sara Bareilles’ book was the least popular but also the highest rated. Not as many people reading it as something like Why Not Me, but I loved it. I love Sara Bareilles. Also Mindy Kaling.  Continue reading

Frank Reads: Go Set a Watchman — Part 2: Reviewing the Book

photo credit: my books

photo credit: my books

In Part 1 of this post, I spent some time talking about the issues surrounding Go Set a Watchman‘s publication. In Part 2, I’m going to talk about what I actually thought of the book. So let’s get down to it, shall we? If you haven’t read the book yet and you plan to, be aware that this post will contain spoilers.

Expectations

First, having been following the story of this book’s publication since it was announced, I had an idea about what to expect. I wasn’t expecting a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, and I still maintain that it shouldn’t be read that way. I was expecting a rough draft of the book, which meant that I was also expecting it to be kind of awful, as most rough drafts are (thus the “rough” part). A few weeks before the book’s release date, it came out that in this book, Atticus Finch is a racist. I had adequate time to steel myself against that, as well. You don’t have to like it. You just have to know that it’s there so you can prepare yourself to deal with it.

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Frank Reads: Go Set a Watchman — Part 1: The Problem With Publication

Harper Lee Books

photo by me — these are my books.

If you’ve spent any time in the world (maybe watching the news or scrolling through social media updates), you have undoubtedly heard that Harper Lee, the reclusive author of one-hit-wonder (and one-hit-written, or so we thought) book To Kill a Mockingbird, had a “lost manuscript” that was recently published. You remember To Kill a Mockingbird. You probably had to read it in high school. Scout. Jem. Boo Radley. Tom Robinson. Atticus Finch. It’s a classic, and a much beloved one, at that. While TKAM isn’t really a book about race, per se, it does examine the topic in a way that is very memorable to most people who read it: Atticus Finch, upstanding southern lawyer during the Depression, defends Tom Robinson, a black man who is accused of raping a white woman who lives on “the wrong side of the tracks.” In the end, it’s clear that Tom is innocent and the girl’s own father attacked her, but Tom is still convicted because it’s Alabama in the 1930s and that wasn’t how the world worked. It was barely, if at all, how the world worked in the early 1960s when the book was first published.

I spend a considerable amount of time on the “Bookternet” — the part of the internet that is basically just a whole bunch of book nerds reading, writing, and talking about books and publishing and all that goes along with them. When this “new” Harper Lee manuscript was first announced, it was maybe the biggest thing I’ve ever seen happen to the Bookternet, and though I’ve heard just about every review and criticism of the book in the loosest sense (second and thirdhand accounts that I only halfway pay attention to), I’ve tried to largely avoid and ignore them. This meant staying away from my favorite podcasts and websites for a while so that my opinion would be my own.

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Readasaurus Rex: 5 Favorite Reads of 2014

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photo credit: moqub via photopin cc

According to Goodreads, I read 5620 pages this year. That was just books that I finished. This was the year that I finally gave up trying to finish books that just weren’t doing it for me. A moment of silence for the ones that met the end of my attention span far before their time:

  • The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon (a re-reading, originally read in 2006)
  • The Giver by Lois Lawry (a re-reading, originally read in 1993)
  • Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed (I heard it would make me feel the feels. I felt very little. It remains on my nightstand in case I run out of books for some reason … even though I have several hundred in my apartment. Perhaps someday I will return to it).

But that number doesn’t take into account all the reading I do each day for work — the emails and articles. It doesn’t take into account all of the reading I do around the interwebs just for fun (Huffington Post, Buzzfeed, Book Riot). It doesn’t take into account everything I read to keep up with things so that I can be good at my job. It doesn’t take into account all of the reading I do on social media (and anyone who follows me on any social media site knows that I am a daily participant because I think social media is fascinating for a plethora of reasons I won’t get into now).

Ultimately, I feel better having a page count at 5620 combined with all of the other reading I’ve done than I would if I would have spent, like, 6 months slogging through Infinite Jest and another 6 through War and Peace or something. There’s a reason I’ve not re-read Ulysses, as well. There are so many things to read and my to-be-read list grows weekly. I blame the following podcasts: Book Riot, Literary Disco, and Overdue Podcast.

I’ve been a reader forever. There are pictures of me as a toddler, passed out on stacks of books. I couldn’t wait to participate in the library’s summer reading program, or Book It! during the school year. I loved being a part of Great Books and reading outside of class as a kind of club activity. With very few exceptions, I only ever got in trouble in school if I was reading when I should have been paying attention (joke’s on my 7th grade life science teacher who took books away from me weekly… I still have yet to find a practical use for knowing all of the nitty-gritty details of the pasteurization process, but reading is crucial). Sometimes I’d get in trouble because I didn’t do my homework… because I’d been really engrossed in a book the night before. Sometimes my parents would take me to the bookstore on a Friday night. I’d get a new book and, being somewhat insomniac at an early age, stay up all night reading it, finishing it before the sun came up — by flashlight, so as not to wake my otherwise narcoleptic sister. I never minded being sent to my room as a kid because I’d hide in my closet, which is where my mom kept baskets full of my books — the same ones she would sit on my bed for me on days when I stayed home sick from school.

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Why Billy Joel is the Best Storyteller [With Book Recommendations!]

By David Shankbone (David Shankbone) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A few months back, I had the rare occasion to be channel surfing (I hardly ever do this, as I usually only turn my TV on when there’s something specific that I want to watch). Showtime was airing a documentary called A Matter of Trust: The Bridge to Russia and it was all about Billy Joel’s tour of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. Far from being merely a “tour diary” though, the documentary examined the difficulties involved in taking the tour to the USSR and what it meant that Billy Joel was willing to take his then-wife, Christie Brinkley, and young daughter Alexa along with him amid all the tensions between the US and USSR. Brinkley was interviewed, as well as the band members who accompanied Billy Joel, and they talked about the tour and its place in history in the context of the Cold War. It was fascinating to a pop culture junkie with a music problem (like me).

Listening to Billy Joel tell the story of what inspired the song “Leningrad” got me thinking about why it is that basically everyone likes Billy Joel (especially people from New York, who rabidly adore him). There really aren’t a whole lot of singer-songwriters who have been able to bridge generations the way Billy Joel has, after all. The answer was one that seemed so simple, but was (at least for me) overlooked:

Billy Joel is an amazing storyteller.

And I don’t just mean in documentaries or during concerts. I mean that his music actually tells stories. He writes about subject matter that resonates with real people instead of just lots and lots of love songs (to be fair, he has a number of those as well, but I find his more tolerable than others).

The reader and writer in me is particularly drawn to some of those songs that tell stories that you just don’t hear on the radio. They’re working class stories. Regional stories. Life stories. Some writers can only write what they know. Billy Joel is one of those writers who is good at telling stories beyond his own experience, as well. This is very difficult to do (think about books you’ve read where the writer just couldn’t pull off the different perspective and it seemed contrived).

Of course, then I started thinking, “Well, if you like this Billy Joel song, you might like this book….” So I want to talk a little about some of the storytelling that makes Billy Joel’s music so appealing and relatable. Please note that there aren’t book recommendations for all of these, and of the recs given, I haven’t read all of them. Some of them are just based on my understanding of the book, which could certainly be incorrect. Feel free to leave kind rebuttals in the comments. Continue reading

The Challenging Thing About Reading Challenges

photo credit: ginnerobot via photopin cc

photo credit: ginnerobot via photopin cc

Oh, reading challenges. Bookish people either love them or hate them. I have never once heard someone say, “Meh, they’re just okay.” What readers either love or hate about these challenges tends to be related to numbers — the feeling of success when you read x amount of books in a week or a month or a year.

For a long time, I stayed away from them just for that reason because I am a s.l.o.w. reader. I mean… painfully. I get really anxious that if I start reading too fast, I’m going to miss something. Like many others, I also operate on “found reading time.”

Still, while the numbers are certainly a challenge, they feel more like a checklist. A quota that needs to be met. And I don’t know about you, but I know how I am with quotas: once I’ve reached the goal, I feel burnt out and like I just want to take a break. Or a nap. Or one followed by the other.

So… it feels like work.

This is where I start to get to the root of what is, at least for me, problematic about reading challenges. If challenges are going to end that way, what have we really learned from them? Sure, it’s a challenge to meet a quota, but if you’re going to put in all the work, shouldn’t you at least get something out of it?

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Does Listening to an Audiobook Still Count as Reading?

photo credit: the bbp via photopin cc

There isn’t a time in my life that I can recall not having books around me to pick up and escape. While most kids probably enjoyed staying home sick from school to watch TV, I enjoyed it because my mom kept plastic bins full of books in my closet, and when I’d stay home sick, she’d put those two bins up on the bed with me so that I could read. Before we went to sleep every night, she read to us. (Meanwhile, my dad made up crazy stories which probably contributed to my love of creative writing, as well. He sometimes also used hand puppets and silly voices to tell those stories, which is possibly why I am amused to review books using a homemade dinosaur puppet on this site.)

Book stores, book fairs, RIF days (Reading is Fun..damental, aka free book day!), library programs, book order forms, you name it and I was bleeding my parents dry doing it. I basically never got in trouble in school unless it was for reading when I was supposed to be paying attention (or not doing my homework because I’d been lost in a book). For a period of time, I wanted to be a “book keeper” when I grew up because I thought this meant someone who collected and shared books. Aka… a librarian. (Now that I know what a book keeper actually does, I would NEVER want to do that. Ever.) I don’t even know if I played at recess until 3rd or 4th grade. I just took out a book and read. It reminds me of this great and totally true thing that one of my college friends said:

“I used to love to play outside and read. And then I kept reading and stopped playing outside, which is how I got to be what I am today: an out-of-shape English major.” 

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