19

Books I Loved This Summer

Officially we have another couple of weeks of summer left. But as everyone heads back to work and school, we all know that actually the summer is totally over. Sure, you can all sneak in some evenings in late summer sunshine, pretending like picnics in the park or at the beach are still every day but you’re lying to yourselves.

I’m not including myself in this because I’ve been waiting for summer to be over since May.

Still, summer is good for some things and one of those is reading. I had a more low-key reading summer than I’m used to but I still did manage to read some wonderful books. I didn’t manage to post about many over the summer so I’m telling you about them now.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. Oh my god, this book! I put off reading it because its length put me off. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to finish 479 pages this summer. Don’t let that put you off if you haven’t already read it. This gorgeous multi-generational story set in Korea and Japan is a stunner, a must-read. It was the kind of book I thought about when I wasn’t reading it, one I couldn’t wait to get back to. I told so many people about this book when I was reading it because I wanted to talk about it. A great book club selection if you’re looking for one!

The Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992 by Tina Brown. This was a great book to dip in and out of as circumstances required. Brown’s memoir of her time editing Vanity Fair is eye-opening, gossipy and whip smart. It was a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the people who shape our media landscape, made all the better as Brown herself is learning how to play the game. It was refreshing to read a story about a woman going after her dream job and coming to best those who would try and keep her in her place.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman. More of a novella, I wasn’t at all sure that I was going to love this book and then it ended and I felt like I’d been punched in the heart. Tin Man is a kind of unrequited love story with so many layers, it’ll have you thinking about it long after you finished the last page.

The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir. We all know I’m a reality TV junkie and I really appreciate when this interest shows up in my reading. It happened with Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister as well (another of my favourites this summer). Both books offered a closer look at the people who make these shows, about what really goes on behind the cameras (I know they’re both fiction but they’re not, you know?), and examines the impact on the people who are featured and the ones who watch.

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, A Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson. This was the only one of Larson’s books I hadn’t read yet and it was hard to find. When I saw a copy at the bookstore early in the summer, I didn’t even hesitate before I grabbed it. Reading this book nearly a year after Hurricane Harvey was kind of unsettling. In 1900, no one took the force of the storm seriously and it ended up killing around 6,000 people and leveling Galveston, Texas. Before the storm, it had been competing with Houston as the fastest growing city in the region. Larson has an incredible talent for finding the human element in all of his stories and Isaac’s Storm is no different. Sadly, it doesn’t seem as if we’ve come that far when it comes to taking weather seriously.

The Romanov Empress by C.W. Gortner is the first story to feature Empress Maria Feodorovna and honestly, that shocks me. She saw so much history over her lifetime (1847-1928): married to Alexander III, the mother of Nicholas II, related to English, Danish and Greek royals at a turbulent time for monarchy. Gortner ably handles this overlooked woman in history and I loved every page of The Romanov Empress. Thanks to Catherine @ Gilmore Guide to Books for my copy!

So that’s the highlights tour. Did you read any of these? What did you read this summer that you loved?

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10

Antilibrary Liberation

A couple of weeks ago, Naomi @ Consumed by Ink posted this article on her facebook.

I can never resist bookish content so I immediately clicked on it and read it.

I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

The article basically gives permission to have stacks and stacks of unread books in your house. The idea of an “antilibrary” is basically to show you all the things that you have yet to learn, to reinforce the idea that you don’t know everything, which makes you a smarter person in the long run.

I had been feeling BAD about all the books that had been piling up around my house. Since we’ve moved, I’ve been driving to work instead of taking transit and I’ve lost about 2 hours of reading time every day! So the unread books have been accumulating much more quickly. I’ve been mostly avoiding the library and trips to the bookstore didn’t hold the same joy because they just made me think about all the books I already had that needed reading.

Since I’ve read this article I’ve been released from that guilt. I’ve been adding books to my stacks at an alarming pace. Don’t believe me?

These are the books I’ve brought home since reading the article just over a week ago:

  • I’ll Be Gone in the Dark: One Woman’s Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer by Michelle McNamara
  • The Blood of Emmett Till by Timothy B. Tyson
  • Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure by Amy Kaufman (yeah, I did)
  • Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
  • The Girl in the Woods by Camilla Lackberg

belle_library

If you’re wondering how I died, just know that being crushed by all the things I didn’t know was the way I’d always hoped to go.

7

Why I buy non-fiction

A couple of weeks ago, on a post about monthly library usage, Buried in Print left a comment about buying versus borrowing non-fiction that I’ve been pondering ever since.

The exchange ended with the question: Have you always bought more NF than fiction, or has it become a habit over time?

And I’ve been thinking about this ever since, about my relationship to non-fiction versus fiction, why I’m drawn to one over the other when I buy books, why it’s important to me to buy non-fiction but I almost never take it out from the library.

book-stack

A few times a year, I go through my collection and purge. Physical books obviously take up space and when you have as many as I do, it gets out of hand quickly. There are some books that I read that I just don’t love and I don’t mind giving them away to make space for some that I might fall for. And even though I donate books a couple of times a year, almost none of those books are ever non-fiction.

Still, I own a lot of books (I have forgone formal dining space in the apartment in favour of setting up a library). Once I started earning my own money, it became important to me to buy books. That has mostly remained true over time. I do go to the library fairly regularly, in an effort to keep the numbers of books I own down somewhat.

But given the choice to buy or borrow non-fiction? I will pretty well choose ‘buy’ every time. I impulsively buy non-fiction in a way that just doesn’t happen with fiction. Partly, this is because I have been haunted by non-fiction titles that I walked away from once only to spend months and years trying to find it again. So now? I just buy the book.

And partly, it’s because when I was a kid, I dreamed about one day having the kind of library that could be used as reference for school work. It seemed like an insane luxury not to have to troll the baby internet for knowledge, not have to physically go to the library. And that’s not to say that there were no books in my house – there were. Just not on the kinds of things I needed for my homework.

It’s important to me to buy non-fiction because I like being surrounded by history, politics, feminist voices, biographies and the kinds of books that are labelled as social science. I like being able to look something up when I want to, to look at pictures of things that happened a hundred years ago.

When I’ve not been able to afford to buy books, I’ve used the library a lot. And I always end up reading amazing non-fiction books that I then have to give back. And as is so often the case, those books haunt me as I realize that finding them to buy is no simple thing.

So buying non-fiction was a habit born of a childish desire to learn everything, to have that knowledge on hand when I needed it, for this introvert to be able to stay at home and have access to the information I need.

Of course, one could argue that the internet and smartphones have made this desire obsolete. But you all know that there is no way that I would ever trade my books for the internet.

Especially my non-fiction titles.

13

Comfort Reading

Well. Here we are.

I don’t have much to say right now. I’m still struggling to make sense of what actually happened. And I know that a lot of you are feeling the same way.

I don’t live in the States, but I live in the world. And these results are just the latest in a global trend of the far right trading on fear and hatred to take control.

I don’t have words of wisdom for you. I can’t make this OK. Not today.

But I can offer you some comfort through books. This is a month dedicated to non-fiction reading but I haven’t been able to read much of it in the last 24 hours.

In case there are others looking for comfort reads, I offer you a list of books that have always made me feel better. Here’s hoping that any of these can soothe some of the heartbreak.

Harry Potter. An entire series dedicated to the eradication of hatred, predicated on the magic of the power of love. Get thee to Hogwarts.

Anything by Maeve Binchy. Her books are all about how hard work can right the ship. Her characters heal, change their lives, move forward because of the support of the people they love and a strong work ethic.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed. Find refuge in this book meant to offer hope to those who are struggling in a myriad of ways. Let Sugar’s empathy show you that all is not lost.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. Ove hates the world. No one follows the rules and he doesn’t see the point in anything. But then he accidentally opens his door to a family across the street and his heart breaks wide open. You’ll cry but it will be cathartic.

The Humans by Matt Haig. The story of how an alien learns to be human. The most important takeaway? Love’s the thing that matters most.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. It’ll take a while but Jean Valjean is probably the best character in all of literature. He is obsessed with doing the right thing, no matter what.

Anything by Jane Austen, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and/or A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. These books brought comfort to soldiers fighting in WWI and WWII. Seems like they’d have something to offer today.

Most of all, look after yourselves. Eat cake, watch movies, hug your pets, love your kids, and:

ellen

9

Lake Reads – Weak Sauce edition

lake reads

You know what that means! Time for another edition of “here are the books I’m dragging with me to the lake!”

I suspect that this time will be different – we’re only going up for a few days, and more people are coming with, including 2 little boys.

Regardless of how much time I will have to actually read, I would never want to be in a situation where I had nothing to read. I’m still bringing options! Whether I will get through any of these is anyone’s guess, but these are the books that will be making the trip this time:

Cecilia by Frances Burney – I’ve been limping along recently, trying to keep up with the Summer of Cecilia hosted by Laura @ Reading in Bed. I’m more than halfway though so if I just make some kind of effort, I should be able to get back on track!

All the Stars in the Heavens by Adriana Trigiani. If I do get some time to sit and read in the sun, I feel like a book about Golden Age movie stars will be perfect.

Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel. I read the first few pages of this book about privileged white people who lose all their money – it took place at their summer home. I’ve also heard that the characters in this one are fun to hate. Reading about despicable people in a beautiful place? One of my favourite things.

The Singles Game by Lauren Weisberger. I just re-watched The Devil Wears Prada. It’s been too long since I read something by Lauren Weisberger (we probably should just forget Revenge Wears Prada ever happened, ok?). I was dragged to Costco with the promise of a book, this was the one I picked (also, I had already read most of the books on offer. Get your sh*t together, Costco!)

Feels like a weak list doesn’t it? I’ll probably sneak something else in last minute but I really don’t think it’ll be reading productive time this trip.

Enjoy the last days of summer, friends! See you on the other (scheduled, September) side!

11

Lake Reads: BC Day Edition

 

lake reads

Look at what I did! Learning and growing, guys.

As my shiny new graphic may have indicated, I’m off for another long weekend at the lake. This time around is a little different – my sister, Audrey of Aud Thoughts, is coming with! I’m sure for a lot of people, the addition of an extra person would mean that less reading would occur. But Audrey and I are the kind of sisters that will just read together. I suspect Holly and Amanda at Gun in Act One are similar.

But you didn’t come here to hear about sister reading (did you?). You want to know what I’ve brought with me to the lake, right? I have some good ones coming with me! Right now, I’m reading one of these.

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight. You may recall that I LOVED Reconstructing Amelia. Her second book, Where They Found Her, was just OK for me. The Outliers is our book club book – apparently this is the first in a trilogy. Wylie gets a text from her best friend Cassie, ‘Please Wylie, I need your help.’ This is the first Wylie has heard from Cassie in over a week so of course she’s going to do what she needs to to help her friend.

Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan. This one is described as Emma set in Modern Asia so that’s really all I need. Amanda read it recently and said it was more serious than she expected it to be but I guess now I’m prepared for that!

Primates of Park Avenue by Wednesday Martin. First of all, this woman’s name is Wednesday and I can totally get behind that. This book, an anthropological look at the insanity that is the Upper East Side, sounds gossipy and snotty and great. I’d been meaning to read this one for a while and when I walked into Chapters the other day, the paperback was on for $15. Yes, please.

The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty. Guys, this is the last of Moriarty’s books that I have to read! Once I read this, I will have read ALL of her books and have to wait for her to write something new. (I read Truly Madly Guilty and it was amazing. Totally maintaining the Moriarty Standard of Excellence). Sophie’s perfect boyfriend is going to propose but on the day he’s going to do it, she ends the relationship and breaks his heart. A year later, he’s  married to someone else and Sophie wonders if he’s the one that got away. Listen – it might not sound like your cup of tea but when Liane Moriarty is at the helm, a straight forward story becomes so much more.

Belgravia by Julian Fellowes. Anyone else feeling like they need a hit of Downton? This book from the show’s creator is set in the 1840s but begins on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. It all starts at the Duchess of Richmond’s infamous ball and I am here for it.

The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler. Guys, I can’t get enough of this series. Kepler has become one of my favourite Scandinavian crime writers. After this one, I still have Stalker to go. This one tells the tale of a gruesome and strange murder in a home for teenaged girls. Joona Linna returns to find out what happened. Lake rule: you must always bring crime fiction.

The Hopefuls is also coming up with us because Audrey has requested it. And! For the first time ever, my husband wants to read a book that I recommended. I’m not supposed to make a big deal out of it or he won’t read it… (The book is Dark Matter)

Hope you have some good reads on deck this weekend!

outisde

 

 

 

12

Library ghettoes

I started reading Beatriz Williams for the first time this year. I bought A Hundred Summers and the next time I went to the library, I thought I would go ahead and pick up another one of her books.

When I got to the W section, I couldn’t find any of her books. I assumed that she was incredibly popular and all of her books were currently out. The next time I was in the library, I did the same thing. Still, none of her books were there. I decided to use the computer to see what was going on and learned that Beatriz Williams’ books are considered Romance books and have their own section.

The problem, for me, is that I’ve long held Romance novels to be the domain of silver haired golden girls. I couldn’t just roll up to the Romance section and have other people see me searching the shelves for a book to read! I strolled past, like I was just passing through, and quickly dipped down to pick one up – luckily the Ws fell at the end of the row.

sneaky

Me, sneaking into the Romance section

I’ve since returned a couple of times (for more) and every time I get the same feeling. I actually stopped and checked out some of the authors the other day and realized that I had looked for some of these authors in the past but never found them because I never go to the Romance section.

And this got me thinking: why the hell is there a romance section? And how are these decisions made? Jane Fallon, Jane Green and Sophie Kinsella are not Romance but Nora Roberts and Beatriz Williams are?

What about Danielle Steele? I’ve definitely seen her books in the regular fiction section.

The thing is, there are probably loads of readers that have never read work by authors they might really enjoy because they’ve been relegated to this Romance ghetto. I used to bypass the crime fiction/mystery section for the same reason. I thought that those books were only for old people (why am I so ageist?!) and gave them a pass until I started reading Agatha Christie several years ago. Crime fiction is still fiction. Romance novels are still fiction. Fantasy is still fiction.

Graphic novels – those can have their own section, that’s totally fine.

Why can’t they all live together in one big fiction section?

If you know the actual reason, please tell me!