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

Artists You Know Who Have Sampled David Bowie Songs

via giphy

via giphy

I was kind of surprised last week at the number of people who told me that they couldn’t name a single David Bowie song. As I mentioned in my post about Bowie’s influence, I wouldn’t consider myself a HUGE fan in that I didn’t follow everything he did very closely, but I would consider myself a fan with more than a passing interest. My point there was that David Bowie’s influence extended so far that even if it wasn’t your thing or you didn’t know anything by him, he probably influenced artists you do know.

So with a few searches on whosampled.com, I thought I’d do a follow-up post of artists you know sampling David Bowie as an example of how far his reach extended. Continue reading

Why Bowie’s Death is Important Even If You Don’t Know Anything He’s Done

By iluvrhinestones from seattle, oceania (bowie) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By iluvrhinestones from seattle, oceania (bowie) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Two of last week’s many unpleasant surprises landed with a boom on Monday morning.

  1. David Bowie has cancer.
  2. David Bowie has died of cancer.

A third surprise, just for me, at least, was how much this news upset me. I have been listening to David Bowie since high school. I know lots of his songs and I like them, but I don’t own any complete albums. I was aware of his innovation and influence, and I’ve seen the Jim Henson film Labyrinth once or twice (in which he plays Jareth, the Goblin King), but never followed his career with the closeness and fervor that a hardcore fan might. Still, the news was upsetting to me. I kept finding myself getting a little teary-eyed about it. [Author’s note: about halfway through writing this post, which took me several days, news broke of a 4th unpleasant surprise: Alan Rickman has also died. It would seem it’s a bad week to be a 69 year old British male performer with cancer that no one knows about.]

After ruminating on it for a bit, I think it’s the enormity of Bowie’s 50 year career — his accomplishments and his ability to transform himself again and again, thus allowing him to remain relevant — that I feel at his loss. Continue reading

Meta: In Which I Write About Writing to Make Sense of Things, In Order to Make Sense of Things (Or, Why Journaling is Crucial)

Over the past week or so, I’ve grown a little bit bored with my usual podcast lineup. Maybe bored isn’t the right word. It just felt a little stale, and while I was still enjoying the shows I listen to every week, I wanted some new content too. While listening to an episode of Literary Disco, I heard one of the hosts, Rider Strong (yep, that Rider Strong), mention some work that he did with another podcast, Mortified. From his description, I could tell that it was very similar to another show I’ve recently started loving called Grownups Read Things They Wrote As Kids (pretty self-explanatory).

The premise for both of these shows is simple: at various clubs where the events are hosted, adults get up on stage and read things that they wrote when they were kids. It ranges from really bad poetry and weird stories to middle school diary entries, notes passed in high school to AOL conversations printed years ago, and everything in between. The results are typically really humorous (and often very poignant at times). Many of the participants are also roughly my age, so a lot of the references and particular habits resonate with me (printing “important” AOL conversations in the late 90s so that you could read them again later to make sense of them? Guilty. Also my mom just recently threw away boxes of notes that I had from junior high).

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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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Time is a Weird, Warped, and Frighteningly Powerful Thing

photo credit: Daniel Kulinski via photopin cc

photo credit: Daniel Kulinski via photopin cc

I’ve been staring at my hands for three days trying to figure out what’s bothering me about them.

On the surface, they just look like my hands. My short, stubby fingers. One is crooked from playing trombone in high school (I wish I were kidding… actually, no I don’t). One is crooked because I broke it playing basketball in 5th grade, before I stopped growing and everyone else got tall. The others are all mangled from when my brother wound them up in the car window as I was reaching through for more papers on my paper route one day in 8th grade. They’re all knotty from the juvenile arthritis that set in when I was 15. On my left hand I wear a Claddagh ring that my grandmother gave me the day I graduated from college. On my right, I wear a ring that I truly can’t remember where it came from. I’ve been wearing it since my junior year of high school, at least. These are my hands as I have always known them to be and they haven’t changed drastically.

And yet.

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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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Hey Internet, How About We NOT Be Dicks to Children?

New_Jersey_Counties_by_metro_area_labeled.svgI take a lot of crap for the fact that I religiously watch The Real Housewives of New Jersey. I’ve been watching it for years. Yes, I think it’s ridiculous, and no, I won’t stop watching it because it’s not high-brow enough. You take your mindless entertainment and I’ll take mine (and can we please agree that everyone knows that no one in the entire history of the Real Housewives franchise represents actual real housewives, but we can know that and still enjoy the mindlessness of it?).

So all day, I’ve been reading articles and following along with the fraud trial and sentencing involving Teresa and Joe Giudice, who have been cast members since the show’s first season.

The story has been trending on social media all day, and as such, there is no shortage of people pointing fingers and passing judgment all over the damn place. It’s really irritating me. Really irritating me. To the point where I thought, “Ok, I’m not going to get up on a soap box about the Real Housewives of New Jersey.”

And then I thought of the Giudices’ four daughters, ages 5-13, and I thought: I have a soapbox. It’s called a blog. And so I apologize, but I’m about to get a little righteous. Because what is happening to those girls tonight is not okay.

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