What I Read | SUMMER 2017

Favorite Books of the Summer

inexplicable

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz

Saenz is one of my all time favorite authors, so I was not surprised when I fell in love with his new book.  It’s about growing and discovering who you are and coming to terms with your dark side by accepting others.  I really admired that Saenz side-stepped the romance detours that I anticipated and instead wrote a book entirely about family.

golem

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

A historical fantasy novel that explore the culture of early 1900s New York immigrants through the experiences of a Jewish golem and Syrian jinni.  It’s incredibly well written, and our central characters reveal the beautiful balance between caution and passion, and how they need each other.

gentleman

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee

This is a VERY fun story with excellent dialogue and rich teenagers traveling around historical Europe with pirates! highwaymen! alchemy!  In the midst of the madcap adventure fun, the book seriously deals with the historical consequences of sexuality, race, and illness.

inquisitor

The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

Longtime fan of Gidwitz’s irreverent yet earnest tone (he wrote the excellent A Tale Dark and Grimm series), this book took his talent to a new level.  In a Canterbury Tales-esque setup, he creates a medieval children’s story that is ultimately a treatise on the theology of suffering.  Incredible.

symptoms

Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

Written from the perspective of a genderfluid teenager, this book seriously challenged my habit of categorizing humans, refusing to give any indication of Riley’s biological sex throughout.  Genderfluidity is something I know little about, and I was so grateful to step into the journey of Riley’s bullying, safe spaces, and self-acceptance.

too fat

Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Peterson

An excellent celebrity culture journalist, Peterson dives into the stories of numerous “unruly women” in society today, from Serena Williams to Nicki Minaj to Hillary Clinton. It’s very well researched and ultimately empowering, encouraging readers to be unruly themselves in pursuit of societal change.

no baggage

No Baggage by Clara Bensen

This book is exactly my kind of pretentious – two well-off people meet on OK Cupid and a month later, they’re traveling Europe without a schedule.  It’s a relationship + travel + mental illness memoir, which are pretty much three of my favorite things.

Other Summer Books

  • Caraval by Stephanie Garber (6/10)
  • Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones (6/10)
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin (5/10)
  • Small Victories by Anne Lamott (8/10)
  • The Ship Beyond Time by Heidi Heilig (6/10)
  • Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (8/10)
  • A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (7/10)
  • The Trials of Apollo: The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan (7/10)
  • Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott (8/10)
  • Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (8/10)
  • The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli (8/10)
  • Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (7/10)
  • And We’re Off by Dana Schwartz (7/10)
  • 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson (7/10)
  • Dragon Age: The Stolen Throne by David Gaider (5/10)
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo (8/10)
  • Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones (7/10)
  • The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (7/10)
  • The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley (7/10)
  • Chemistry by Weike Wang (6/10)
  • SkyBreaker by Kenneth Oppel (9/10)
  • Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (4/10)
  • The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones (7/10)
  • The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu (8/10)
  • The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile (7/10)
  • The Republic of Pirates by Colin Woodard (9/10)
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (8/10)
  • When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman (8/10)

 

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What I Read | FEBRUARY 2017

This month I read some fantasy, some non-fiction, and some contemporary fiction both satirical and…weird.  Recommended books are italicized!


1Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

The second book in Hobb’s Farseer trilogy started out slow but became quite engrossing about halfway through.  Initially, I complained about the dearth of female characters, but then Kettricken wound up being amazing (I’d still like more amazing female characters in this series, please!).  I liked how the Wit was explored more, but I’m still very confused as to why it is so stigmatized when Seeing is not.  Of course, since it is the second book in a trilogy, the novel ended with everything horrible.  Here’s hoping things will get better in Assassin’s Quest!

2Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Recommended to me by a bookkeeper in Santorini, this book totally lived up to my expectations!  It’s a post- (and pre-) apocalyptic novel that focuses on cultural and individual changes rather than Outrageous Action.  It’s both haunting and hopeful, and the writing is stunning.  I definitely recommend it!

3We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson

This is a beautifully sad and hopeful book about bullying, suicide, and depression that ultimately proclaims that there is beauty in the broken.  This is all pretty standard when it comes to YA novels, but this stands apart by using alien abductions as a metaphor…or maybe they were real!

4Gender & Grace by Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen

This has been sitting on my bookshelf for years, and I’m so glad I finally got around to reading it.  Using both theology and psychology, Van Leeuwen creates a very compelling and easy to read defense of the biological and cultural influences on gender and sexuality.  It’s conservative while also being open and accepting, and I really admired her balanced perspective.

5South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami

I’ve been hearing a lot about Murakami recently, but I have to admit that I was disappointed by my first foray into his work.  I feel like I missed something, but maybe this book really was about a self-obsessed and possibly psychotic middle-aged man getting over his exes and finally choosing commitment simply because he doesn’t want to be lonely.  It all felt like obnoxious patriarchal “literature,” but I’ll give him one more try.

6The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher

What is the opposite of patriarchal nonsense?  CARRIE FISHER!  Her last book is amazing: a testament to her wit and ability to self-reflect, and wow, when it was over did I wish she were still alive to continue gifting us with her talent.  This is the book that reveals her affair with Harrison Ford while filming the first Star Wars movie, and her memories of that time are both humorous and touching.  The world needs more people like her.

7The Liar by Stephen Fry

I picked this up at a book bazaar, and it is quite possibly the most British book I’ve ever read, by which I mean it is extremely absurd.  If you like twisty words and witty dialogue (and don’t mind a LOT of absurd British sex thrown into the mix), you’ll probably enjoy this.  Just remember, everyone is lying, all of the time.

8Packing Light by Allison Fallon

A book about a Christian writer who doesn’t want to be a “Christian writer” and packs up all her things to go on a 6-month road trip in pursuit of a simple, adventurous life couldn’t be more tailored to me.  Perhaps that is why I highlighted so much of Fallon’s memoir, but I think it’s possible that she’s also just extremely quotable.  It’s more of a thinkpiece than a travel memoir, but I recommend it nonetheless!

What I Read | JANUARY 2017

In January, I left my beloved library behind in the States, which was very sad.  But I also returned to twelve new books that I bought at a Christmas bazaar before leaving Athens last year, so it all balanced out (not really, twelve books does not equal infinite library access).

51t0npdw14l-_sy344_bo1204203200_We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This tiny book is adapted from a TedX Talk, and boy is it effective.  I mean, I guess she was preaching to the choir, but I found her balance of personal anecdotes and academic research very persuasive.  I would love to know if someone who is not a feminist could read this and come away unmoved.

hpHarry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

Everyone already knows how awesome this book is, but do you know how amazing the illustrated edition is?  It has the full text printed like a children’s fairy tale book, and just holding the heavy thing in my hands made the whole story feel important and magical in an really evocative way.  The artwork is stunning, both familiar and unique.  I was especially impressed with how the kids looked like actual 11-year-olds.  I cannot wait to see what they do once they publish the fourth book in this format – will it come in two pieces or require a forklift?

the-geography-of-genius-9781451691658_hr1The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner

This book combines three of my favorite things:  travel, history, and sociology.  Weiner visits several cities that were the birthplace of geniuses.  Some are obvious, like ancient Athens or Florence during the Renaissance.  Others I was unaware of, like Edinburgh and Hangzhou.  The whole journey is in pursuit of what creates genius, abolishing myths (the lone genius) and positing new theories (genius requires diversity, disorder, and discernment).

scrappy-little-nobody-9781501117206_lgScrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

The simplest recommendation is this:  if you like Anna Kendrick, you will like this book.  It sounds like her (especially if, like me, you listen to her read the audiobook version), both very funny and often insightful.  It is vaguely interesting as a child actor story, but that’s not its real purpose.  Instead, she’s doing what she does best:  entertaining us with stories.

27362503It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover

WOW.  This book was recommended to me by a librarian friend, and it completely blew me away.  It’s all about breaking the cycle of abuse, but instead of being maudlin or overly dramatic, Hoover gives us the “best” case scenario and challenges us to empathize with people on all sides of the situation.  It felt incredibly weird to occasionally root for the abuser, but that’s the power of her storytelling capabilities.  And the ending was just beautiful.

51jqqolltjl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham

Once again, if you like Lorelai Gilmore – I mean Lauren Graham – then you will like this book.  And once again, I recommend you listen to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself.  I really admired that she knows her audience; she spent a little time on her childhood, but the bulk of the material lies in describing her experiences working on Gilmore Girls (and to a lesser extent Parenthood).  Her joy and gratitude are so evident, and it makes the book a delightful thing to experience.

51vf1u6wpfl-_sx326_bo1204203200_The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

I’m a full-fledged socialist now!  Russell’s description of being a British ex-pat in Denmark for one year totally converted me to the benefits of paying 50% taxes.  But seriously, her memoir/non-fiction story is really fun to read…just start saving for that plane ticket, because she’s hella convincing.

1618The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Although this is a great book written from the perspective of a teenager with Asperger’s, I never quite connected with it because it was not what I expected.  I thought I was reading a mystery, but that ends quite quickly, and I found the true story far less interesting.  Still, it’s a great piece for those who want a glimpse into inner workings of someone with Asperger’s, especially in making obvious just how much WORK every action and reaction is.

Sunday Summary #39

THIS IS EVERYTHING.  Thor hanging out with Darryl in Australia, unhappily “not caring” about Tony Stark and Steve Rogers fighting without him, making nonsense mystery boards about the Infinity Stones…PERFECT.

“Dude? Don’t you get it??  Here at Lambda Alpha Lambda, we keep toxic masculinity in check!”

Let’s make this man our next vice president!

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

 

Okay, this wins apenelopiad_coverll the retellings (of which I am, admittedly, just starting to read)!  I LOVED reading Penelope’s side of the story, seeing Odysseus’s cleverness from her perspective, gently allowing her unreliable narration.  Was she faithful?  Was she not?  She sure wants us to think she was, just like Odysseus wants us to think he’s a tragic hero.  They’re a perfect match for each other….which is only half the story!

Undoubtedly, the highlight of this book is the way it dissects the story of the twelve maids who were hung at Odysseus’s return.  The historical, cultural, and sexual discussions surrounding their role in the story are both fascinating and horrifying. And so clever (which is fitting, in a book about Penelope and Odysseus).  Every few chapters, the maids speak for themselves, sometimes in poetry, sometimes in song, sometimes in lecture, sometimes in a mock trial.  Their righteous indignation is so simple and powerful, right from the beginning, with their “The Chorus Line: A Rope-Jumping Rhyme”:  Continue reading

No Slut Shaming in Hamilton

I was listening to Hamilton for the 500th time, and I noticed something strange when I got to “Say No to This,” the song during which Hamilton has an affair with Maria Reynolds.  I thought, ugh, she ruined his life.  When the affair goes public, his political career crashes and burns and his wife understandably distances herself from him.  All because of Maria.

Then I realized….the song was decidedly not placing the blame on her.  So why was I?  My “internalized misogyny” bell started ringing in my brain, and I was horrified to realize I was doing what culture does best:  blame the woman.  After all, Alexander Hamilton is the hero of the musical.  We’ve seen him through years of his life, we’re rooting for him, and we want the best for him.  When something goes wrong, surely it’s someone else’s fault.  Surely it’s hers (because she seduced him, she corrupted him, she tempted him).  Surely she’s the slut, and Eliza is the saint.  Surely women exist as a dichotomy, served to bolster or destroy the male hero.

A lesser musical would have followed these old familiar tropes, but Hamilton is not a lesser musical!  Throughout the song, Maria is portrayed as a fully developed person and the onus of decision is placed firmly, and repeatedly, on Hamilton’s shoulders.

Maria:
My husband’s doin’ me wrong
Beatin’ me, cheatin’ me, mistreatin’ me…
Suddenly he’s up and gone
I don’t have the means to go on

Maria must bear the fault of intentionally seducing a married man, that’s true.  But she isn’t only a seductress.  She’s the wife of an abusive, horrible man.  (Tellingly, the only time slut shaming happens in the song is when James Reynolds calls her his “whore wife.”  We’re obviously not meant to trust his judgement, since he says this in the middle of blackmailing Hamilton.)  She seems desperate for a better life with a better man, and let’s face it, during that time in history the only way for her to move upwards was by attaching herself to a man.  She’s in a horrible situation, and she makes the wrong choice, but the song never minimizes her or demonizes her.

Hamilton:
I am helpless—how could I do this?

Instead, the blame is placed firmly on Hamilton.  No matter how fiercely Maria might have flung herself at him, the musical is adamant:  he could have said no.  That is, in fact, the name of the song: “Say No to This.”  Throughout the piece, Hamilton goes from praying “Lord, show me how to say no to this” to admitting “I don’t say no to this.”  To make it even more obvious, the end of the song concludes with a chorus of voices:  the ensemble shouts “NO” while Hamilton and Maria sing “Yes!” to each other.  If that’s not consent, I don’t know what is.

The fact that Hamilton cheated on Eliza with Maria is a tragedy.  But in the face of cultural schemas that portray women as sluts begging for it or temptresses ruining men’s lives, Hamilton says “no.”  Maria Reynolds is responsible for her actions only.  Alexander Hamilton is responsible for how he responded.  It is so refreshing to listen to a musical that does what it can to diminish our dangerous stereotypes.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

I re-read The Lost Hero (well, I listened to it on audiobook), and I am so amazed at Riordan’s ability to modernize myths, expand the scope of his own story, and create diverse characters who are deeply troubled and funny.  All this in a “children’s” book.

I was able to enjoy the story more immediately this time through.  When it first came out, I was so confused and annoyed that Percy Jackson wasn’t narrating the story.  In fact, he was nowhere to be found!  But since I’ve read the rest of the series, and I’ve learned to love Jason, Piper, and Leo, I really enjoyed re-reading their first adventure.

I mean what I said above, about Riordan’s remarkable ability to create diverse characters.  The three narrators of The Lost Hero are a white male (aka stereotypical hero), but then we change perspectives and get to be in the head of a Hispanic male and a Native American female!  Jason struggles with identity issues relating to his loss of memory, Leo struggles with identity issues relating to his potentially destructive power, and Piper struggles with identity issues of wanting to be valued for more than beauty and fame.  In other words, they are total human, unsure of who they are or if they’re good.

Piper is especially impressive to me, since Riordan manages to delve into distinctly female-centric topics such as beauty, body positivity, and romance.  I loved what he did with her character, adding depth to the conversation that most authors miss.  Although Piper is initially hesitant to express her beauty, afraid that it will diminish her in the eyes of others, she learns that beauty has a power of its own.  But Riordan doesn’t stop there, granting women the “right” to be beautiful.  Instead, he validates and encourages her stereotypically feminine power while also giving her a bunch of other skills.  She learns to fight with a dagger, speak persuasively, and make difficult decisions in times of stress.

I’m going to continue listening to The Heroes of Olympus series, and I cannot wait to get back to Percy, Hazel, and Frank (and eventually Annabeth, who is my favorite!).

The_Lost_Hero_210Book Jacket

Jason has a problem.
He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and a best friend named Leo. They’re all students at a boarding school for “bad kids.” What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly?

Piper has a secret.
Her father has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason, and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out.

Leo has a way with tools.
When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too—like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who;s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them—including Leo—is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts?