Thursday, January 28, 2016

2/50: Room by Emma Donoghue

After watching Short Term 12 (recommended by the best movie-recommender, Julie Ritchey), I started to fangirl over Brie Larson. This fangirling led me to Room the movie... which led to me to Room the book, because obviously I wanted to read the book before seeing the movie.

So I read the book! And really, really enjoyed it. I do not have a way with words like many of you do on this blog, so I will not go into too much detail. I also do not want to give away any spoilers, so I will only say that this is the book about Jack and his Ma and their life in a tiny room they are held captive in. Jack thinks Room is the whole world, until Ma, in fear of their safety, begins devising a plan to escape into the real world.

The book is told from Jack's perspective, which made a really dark story have a little more light. I was sad for the book to end and to be out of Jack's little, innocent head.

I would give Room a 4.5/5. Now I just need to see the movie!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

More Recommendations, Please!

Book friends! I am leaving on my honeymoon soon where I will lit'rully be Beach Reading. While organizing myself to go, I realized that all of the books on my nightstand pile are, well, not fun. What are some good, fun-but-not-totally-trashy pleasure reads I should grab before I skedaddle?
I trust you all implicitly and eagerly await your thoughts.

Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun, and Be Your Own Person - By Shonda Rhimes

To begin: A side note: I tried reading two books at the same time (this and my January themed book; A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). It is a talent that I do not yet possess and will likely need to possess if I want to even think about making it to 50 books this year. It's just difficult for me to go from one book to another, mid-story. That being said; I am now reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and will get that post to you at a later time.


For anyone who has watched and enjoyed an episode of Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, Private Practice or even How to Get Away with Murder, you will be jive well to the writing style that Rhimes uses in YoY. She is coloquial, intimate, and has a sassy sense of humor throughout. (She refers to sex as her "client" having "meetings"; her client being her "vajayjay." See? It's sassy. Funny. Quirky.

The book takes you on a year long (plus more) journey of her deciding to say "yes" to any and everything that frightens her; she is spurred into this journey by 6 words that her sister says to her at Thanksgiving "You Never Say Yes To Anything."

First she says yes to a commencement speech for her Alma Mater; Dartmouth
Then she says yes to playing more with her children...
Yes to taking care of her body...
Yes to speaking the whole truth...
Yes to acknowledging her true feelings on relationships; romantic and otherwise....

Yes to etc...

Each chapter is a small "Yes" Journey.

How can saying Yes to those things that frighten you make you a truer more honest version of yourself, like Shonda? If we were all sitting and drinking wine and discussing this: I imagine this would be one of the questions the book would probably create for us as a discussion starter.

It's not really a "Self Help Book. She doesn't give the reader explicit instructions in every chapter on how to better their own life, but you do get a little inspiration simply from her writing style and her words on her own experiences. "I can be a 'doer', rather than a 'dreamer'." "I can be a Cristina Yang and 'be my own sun.' " (Sounds a little hippie, I know. But it didn't feel like that when I was reading it).

This was not an "OH MY GOD. It Changed My Life Book" for me. Although it might be for some people. I have a friend who read it and absolutely loved it and has been inspired to be a DOER in his endeavors.

But. It kept me engaged because I love Shonda's writing. I got sucked into Grey's many years ago and I go along with her on all of the non-believable, believable, fantastical plots; because I really do like her writing. The woman is talented, ya'll. And I think she makes some valid points throughout the 300 pages.

I would say this is a great summer/vacation/beach/airplane book. It has sass, humor, reads quickly, and doesn't condescend to those readers actually struggling with "saying yes" (#LikeMe).

Would I recommend. Yea sure! Why not? It's a fun, easy read that will make you at least think about a few deeper issues that are probably laying dormant ;)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Should have read in high school: The House on Mango Street

Book: 3/50
Author: Sandra Cisneros

Here is the awful story of why I didn't read this in high school. My high school did a play version of this and when I was told that I would not be cast in this play because I was not Latina (a COMPLETELY legitimate reason but I was a teenage asshole) I put the book aside and never picked it up again. Which means I spent the next 13 (barf) years of my life missing this absolutely gorgeous dream of a book. 31 year old me is SO annoyed with 18 year old me. That guy is a dick.

Thankfully, I rediscovered this book by way of viewing an art exhibit at the Mexican Museum of Art in Chicago which is dedicated to artists reimagining scenes from Mango Street. Sidenote: MMA is my favorite museum in Chicago, if you live here and get a chance, I highly recommend it. Then walk through the park and head east and you will find several amazing Pilsen restaurants and shops.

If you have not read this book, it is a series of small vignettes (very small, sometimes only 1 page) that follows the train of thought of a young Latina girl growing up in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood (as Cisneros did). Her language is so precise, so image heavy I felt like my imagination was on overdrive. It has everything lush and colorful like other Latin writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez but it's much more like poetry. It's also mostly about the women and girls in her life and the small and huge injustices they face in that culture and in that class. I found myself physically angry at the unfairness of their lives sometimes. But she doesn't dwell in darkness. The book is a moment in time and gave me so much to dream about.

Would extremely recommend to anyone--double bonus it's tiny. I read it twice in a day.

Favorite passage: "Hips: One day you wake up and they are there. Ready and waiting like a new Buick with the keys in the ignition. Ready to take you where?...They bloom like roses..."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

2 Down...58 to Go!

Between the World and Me
By Ta-Nehisi Coates

Rating: Required Reading.

Written for his son, Coates, writes with the imperative of life and death. His language reads like prose, and his message is one we all must embrace: that passive understanding and indifference are at the peril of black bodies. We must do more.

I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone.

"But race is the chief of racism, not the father. And the process of naming "the people" has never been a matter of genealogy and physiognomy so much as one of hierarchy."

"It is horrific to understand yourself as the essential below of your country. It breaks too much of what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us. The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness."

"The destroyers with rarely be held accountable. Mostly they will receive pensions."

"But a society that protects some people through a safety net of schools, government-backed home loans, and ancestral wealth but can only protect you with the club of criminal justice has either failed at enforcing its good intentions or has succeeded at something much darker."

What I'm reading next:
To fulfill the monthly challenge next I will be reading: The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien

What I'm listening to:
I'm still listening to American Gods, and I'm completely hooked. (7 more hours out of 19)

Thursday, January 21, 2016


Hi guys!

I'm so late on this - and I'm gonna start off on the right foot by not feeling bad about it.

Because I'm here to feel good.

I lived in Chicago for about 8 years after college, doing theater, waiting tables, working as a standardized patient and lots of other weird things, and, finally, writing.

I moved to the Bay Area almost three years ago now, and my writing has been suffering ever since. NO! I'm working on it. Anyway, I'm here to read and hear about what you're reading.

I sometimes write for an online film magazine called Bright Wall/Dark Room. You should subscribe. It's fun. I most recently wrote a series of essays about the final episodes of Mad Men. (I've been recovering emotionally since then.) I asked to write about Magic Mike XXL for the end-of-the-year issue, but like four other writers beat me to it ;)

I also love: watching/thinking/talking about TV (historically a lame hobby, but to me TV is art right now); reading (seriously probably the thing I love most); musical theater (seriously love this too but somehow don't have a lot of it in my life); making weird shit with people I can laugh with (also need more of this); drinking iced tea with nowhere to be,

Reading status: I was sick for a full week right before the holiday, and kind of fell off the reading train at that point. I haven't been able to get into anything since. I started Dark Places by Gillian Flynn, thinking it'd be an easy page turner, was too scary to read in bed. Not usually an issue for me, but I'll go ahead and trust my gut on that one.

Five books, in no particular order and not necessarily permanent:

1. the Emily of New Moon series (L.M. Montgomery)
I read these at least once a year. This year I noticed something HUGE that I hadn't caught before.

2. Another Country (James Baldwin)
The most beautiful and honest writer. Helps me get close to knowing things I can never truly know.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
This book hypnotizes me. How does she do that with the child's voice but the adult's perspective but not really but but but....

4. Nicholas & Alexandra (Robert K. Massie)
Nonfiction and almost impossible to believe.

5. Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
Deliciously creepy with a couple of great gasp moments. I love when books make me gasp.

*bonus short story: "Black Box" by Jennifer Egan
**also love Kazuo Ishiguro, Chekhov, Fun Home was revelatory, Murakami short stories, Saunders short stories, Joan Didion, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Stephen Sondheim writing about how he works, The Great Gatsby, Hollywood history, loved All the Light We Cannot See, you know--Shakespeare...I'm open

Glad to be on board!


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The One Upside of the Stomach Flu...

... I finished my book and read another!

Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel
Seeing this book on my darling friend Carie's recommendations list bumped it higher in my queue. I ordered it online last year after hearing Esther Perel interviewed on the Dear Sugar podcast.  You can download the episode here - it's a great conversation and will give you a very precise thumbnail view of Esther's philosophies and her general awesomeness.

In Mating in Captivity, therapist and erotic intelligence genius woman Esther Perel tackles the question "How do we desire what we already have?" It was empowering/realistic and filled me with lots of non-flu related feelings to be reading about the inevitable challenges of long-term relationships at the very very less-than-three-months beginning of my own marriage.  My only criticism of this book is the same one I have with nearly all non-narrative social science books - once you're on board with the thesis, the actual chapter-to-chapter unfolding can get redundant, even as it takes on slightly different angles of the issue at hand.  But still, an essential read, will definitely be forcing it on my husband, and let's all breathe a sigh of relief that functional relationships come in every imaginable stripe. *SIGH*

Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead
I grabbed Liar & Spy after reading Rebecca Stead's winding and interesting When You Reach Me last year.  I was super interested in her unique voice as a writer of YA fiction, and curious to read more. While ultimately I found When You Reach Me to be a slightly more satisfying read, I'd definitely give L&S the thumbs up to any grown-up humans who like young adult books, or to any actual young adult humans.  My suspicion is that it will not remain tremendously memorable in my brain, even as the moment-to-moment experience of it was quite pleasurable.

The story's protagonist, Georges (the S is silent), is twelve years old and living in a new apartment in Brooklyn after his father got laid off and the family was forced to sell their house. Stead is particularly gifted at capturing the moment of early adolescence where we are still too young to fully face the world, but have outgrown the innocence of true childhood - and the nostalgia and empowerment that comes with that crossroads.  Georges befriends the unusual Safer, his upstairs neighbor, and together they embark on a mission to spy on the mysterious Mr. X. But, as always, not everything is as it seems.

The passage that won me over for good: “Here’s a piece of advice you will probably never use: If you want to name your son after Georges Seurat, you could call him George, without the S. Just to make his life easier.”

Next up..... 1984 for my January theme book and Creativity, Inc. for my heart!

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

1/50: I am Malala; The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot By the Taliban

I am Malala By Malala Yousafzai
I gave a little bit of insight on this book last week, and then afterwards I couldn't stop reading the rest. Each page flew out of my hands. I so badly didn't want her to stop talking that I read every last bit (epilogue, afterward, notes, glossary etc).

What I loved:
The relationship between Malala and her father
Her love for her homeland; Pakistan and the region of Swat
Her dream, desire, and life's work of making education available, not only to children in Pakistan about around the world.

I really do think that she is one of those people in our lifetime that so many future generations will talk and learn about.

Instead of trying to summarize this in my own words, I am going to include excerpts from the book that I found to be poignant and resonated with me. Perhaps they will be little nuggets that might entice you to read the book, as well.

"For most Pashtuns it's a gloomy day when a daughter is born. My father's cousin Jehan Sher Khan Yousafzai was one of the few who came to celebrate my birth and even gave a handsome gift of money. Yet, he brought with him a vast family tree of our clan, the Dalokhel Yousafzai, going right back to my great-great-grandfather and showing only the male line. My father is different from most Pashtun men. He took the tree, drew a line like a lollipop from his name and at the end of it he wrote, "Malala." His cousin laughed in astonishment. My father didn't care. He looked into my eyes after I was born and fell in love. He told people "I know there is something different about this child." He even asked friends to throw dried fruits, sweets, and coins into my cradle, something we usually only do for boys."

"I close my eyes and for a moment I am back in my valley - the high snow-topped mountains, green waving fields and fresh blue rivers - and my heart smiles when it looks at the people of Swat. My mind transports me back to my school and there I am reunited with my friends and teachers. I meet my best friend Moniba and we sit together, talking and joking as if I had never left.
Then I remember I am in Birmingham, England."

"The man was wearing a peaked cap and looked like a college student. He swung himself onto the tailboard at the back and leaned in right over us.
"Who is Malala?" he demanded.
No one said anything, but several of the girls looked at me. I was the only girl with my face uncovered.
That's when he lifted up a black pistol. I later learned it was a colt .45. Some of the girls screamed. Moniba tells me I squeezed her hand.
My friends say he fired three shots, one after another. The first went through my left eye socket and out under my left shoulder. I slumped forward onto Moniba, blood coming from my left ear, so the other two bullets hit the girls next to me.
My friends later told me the gunman's hand was shaking as he fired.
By the time we got to the hospital my long hair and Moniba's lap were full of blood.
Who is Malala? I am Malala and this is my story."


"Once I had asked God for one or two extra inches in height, but instead he made me as tall as the sky, so high that I could not measure myself. So I offered the hundred raakat nafl that I had promised if I grew.
I love my God. I thank my Allah. I talk to him all day. He is the greatest. By giving me this height to reach people, he has also given me great responsibilities. Peace in every home, every street, every village, every country - this is my dream. Education for every boy and every girl in the world. To sit down on a chair and read my books with all my friends at school is my right. To see each and every human being with a smile of happiness is my wish."

If you want an additional little something, I would encourage you to watch this 30 minute documentary that Adam Ellick did for the NYT in 2009; three years before Malala was attacked.  NOTE It is very graphic. It does not blur out or cut away from scenes that are hard to watch/look at (I.e. You will see a decapitated corpse and an execution at point blank range). But if you want a glimpse of the state of life in Pakistan as well as the special relationship between Malala and her father. This is worth watching.
Class Dismissed


Monday, January 18, 2016

Dystopias Near and Far

Books 1 and 2, How Do You Do?

So over the past couple of weeks I have listened to two audiobooks and I shall review them now! 

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Tag line: 

It's Enders game meets Brave New World meets Harry Potter if all of those were no fun at all and you hated the protagonists. 

But what would the book jacket say?:

Darrow likes his life on Mars, living underground, as a pioneer. He has a beautiful wife, great family and friends, and the elite job as his clan's hell diver (mining resources so the people of Earth can one day leave their dying planet and live in Mars in harmony). Sure, the rules by the upper class humans are very strict and brutal, and food is scarce, and they live as slaves, but Darrow figures if he just does his part, all will work out. But when tragedy strikes, Darrow's narrow perception of the Galaxy is questioned, and he's thrown into a dangerous game of rebellions and elites, sheep and wolves. Darrow must play this game (where he doesn't know the rules) and he must win because if he doesn't, it means death. Death for him and everyone he loves.

What I liked: 

The main character's moral dilemmas are complicated and his journey to become a leader is winding with many setbacks and mistakes. Though written for young adults, the book does not shy away from tough subjects nor is it afraid to kill off main characters. This led to the stakes being higher as anything seemed possible. I found some of the strategy as he tried to become powerful, and his confusion (and the readers) over rules, alliances, who to trust, and who the enemy was, compelling. 

What I didn't:

This book was no fun for me. It is brutally violent. Name it and it's described in graphic detail: rape, body part maiming, cannibalism, scalping, murder etc and there was little joy or relief for me. The moments of excitement and joy come from battle victories, of enslaving and hurting the enemy, again usually pretty graphically. I'm sure there is a demographic who would enjoy that but I'm not in it. It's hard to like the main character-he seems especially stupid in the beginning of the novel, he eventually becomes smarter, and more powerful but I'm at a loss as to when we are supposed to like him as a person, I guess we're supposed to like that he's better at things, but it doesn't wash for me. It makes me care little for a Mars slave rebellion when our only entry to the people is Darrow. 

Would I recommend?: 

I wouldn't NOT recommend. I mean it's okay and probably for the right person would be considered very well done. I appreciated the dystopic world building and there were definitely multiple twists I didn't see coming. But I didn't enjoy reading it nor do I care what the main character's ultimate outcome is 

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

I HAVE already read this book but in my defense, it's been many years. 

Tag line:

A world created entirely from notes Donald Trump doodled in a notebook entitled, "My Life Goals". 

But what would the book jacket say:

A woman remembers important moments of her life and tries to cope in a future where a fundamentalist Christian group has taken over control of the United States. In beautiful, haunting prose, this novel asks the question: In a society in which women are completely subjugated and controlled, used for the bodies and kept from knowledge or choice, how does one woman stay herself? Can they really take everything away including her own thoughts and identity? 

What I liked: 

Everything, all of it. Every single line. 

What I didn't:

That it ended. 

Would I recommend?

I would stage a coup and take over the government as its dictator just to make this novel is required reading for every citizen. 

Bonus: boy is this book scary to reread in the current climate. Atwood predicts so much. 


Sunday, January 17, 2016

Give me a side of Shakespeare

Book 2/50

Book: Fool by Christopher Moore
Given to me as a gift this Christmas by a cousin who remember that I "liked Shakespeare a lot." This is a hilarious understatement as I have made a lifelong hobby of Shakespeare. So the fact that I had not really heard of this book is deeply embarrassing.

This is Moore's comedic send-up of King Lear, as told from the prospective of his Fool named Pocket. It references nearly a dozen other Shakespeare plays from geography (scenes in Birnam Wood) to wicked lines (he's a turd in the milk of human kindness). It follows the basic Lear plot but it's irreverent, bawdy and a lot funnier. The main characters are given a really satisfying back story that answers some of the problems within the play, but without suggesting that the play is worse off without them.

I enjoyed the hell out of this. It's fast, funny and a loving homage to the fact that Shakespeare was both a genius and probably a human man who liked boobs. You would probably need to be at least familiar with the King Lear plot to fully enjoy it, and additional knowledge of Macbeth and Hamlet wouldn't hurt. I would highly recommend it to anyone who has Shakespeare living in their lives but would like something light and naughty.

One of my favorite passages: "And fuckery? Will there be fuckery Pocket?...Heinous fuckery most foul, lad. And possibly the fucking French."

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Guiltless Pleasure!

In the Woods 
by Tana French 
 (Not the Stephen Sondheim musical "Into the Woods," no matter how many times I call it that instead.)

A passage I read over and over, because even though it's specifically about a being in a Murder Squad, which I know nothing about, it encapsulated the depth of trust and love I often feel for artistic collaborators:  The girls I dream of are the gentle ones, wistful by high windows or singing sweet old songs at a piano, long hair drifting, tender as apple blossom. But a girl who goes into battle beside you and keeps your back is a different thing, a thing to make you shiver. Think of the first time you slept with someone, or the first time you fell in love: that blinding explosion that left you cracking to the fingertips with electricity, initiated and transformed. I tell you that was nothing, nothing at all, beside the power of putting your lives, simply and daily, into each other's hands.

I know there are some Tana French fans here (hi, Allison and Lydia!), and after reading In the Woods I suspect there are some future Tana French fans here as well.  I tore through this book with that desperate, can't stop, flashlight under the covers kind of feeling. You guys, internet book club is so fun!

With no details and no spoilers, Rob Ryan is a detective haunted by a childhood tragedy, solving a case which may or may not be linked to his past.  It checks all the boxes of the best crime thriller beach reads. A detective duo to beat any of the Law & Order franchises.  Corrupt politicians.  Suspicious fathers. Antisocial archaeologists. What sets In the Woods apart from those crime thriller beach reads, however, is that Tana French is a really good writer. Like, really good. It's everything I love about a tawdrier, say, Gillian Flynn-type romp, while still allowing me to feel like I'm reading something Literary. At a point about halfway through, I realized I didn't even care whodunnit - I was just pleased to spend time in the dark, deranged mind of Rob Ryan.

I'm so glad Tana French has more Dublin Murder Squad books to follow this one. They shall sit snugly in my back pocket, ready to kick me out of any more reading ruts that come my way this year.

Update, unrelated:
I'm using the little "Julie's Books" tab in the sidebar to track and link the books I read this year. If you'd like to do the same, just click your "So-n-So's Books" page in the left sidebar, and then click the image of the little pencil at the bottom of the post. You can then edit away, and add your newest reads to the top of your post. And, if you wish, you can copy and paste the URL from the corresponding post to link directly to your review of that book. If you want to keep track that way, it'll be an easy way that we can find each others' recommendations throughout the year.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Got my books!!!

Here's to some weeks of great, and hopefully inspiring reading ahead. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Finding Balance

This year has been off to an unusual start, reading-wise. Normally I spend the holidays devouring a pulpy paperback or three that I raid from Mom's bookshelves. Instead, I wrenched my heart, gut and sense of national pride with The Good Soldiers. (Technically, I started  in 2015, but the majority of my read happened in the last 10 days, so: I'm counting it.) This is the non-fictional tale of an American battalion deploying to Iraq for the famous 2007 surge. It's strange to read the detail of such recent history that I was sure I was up on. I'm a news junkie, after all, and was studying public policy at the time. I even dated an Iraq war veteran a few years later, and so have long felt I understand the nuances of the political versus personal experience of American foreign policy. However, David Finkel, the author, does an incredible job of juxtaposing Presidential rhetoric, strategic intentions and the reality of insurgent war-fighting, and I have found myself considering the conflict, and its continued hopelessness, in an entirely new way.  (I should note, it's an incredibly readable, well-crafted book. Finkel is a journalist, and writes a compelling, human-focused story.)

Unfortunately, I decided to simultaneously binge-watch Making of a Murderer, and was also going through a bit of a crisis about the civic, political and moral implications of my job. One week into 2016, and I was beginning to feel very pessimistic about everything. And so I grabbed The Martian off the nearest bookshelf and escaped America and Earth itself for a celebration of all that humanity can be: resourceful, funny, kind, collaborative, generous.

With that, (personal) balance has been restored, and in recognition of that happy fact, I've just picked up The Balance Within. It was a Brain Pickings recommendation, and a good precursor, I hope, to a highly anticipated vacation at the end of this month.

Reading Progress: 2/50

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Injustice

Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town
Jon Krakauer, 2015

Number 3 of 50

Cravings inspired: the ability to castrate rapists remotely using only my mind
A passage I loved: "After a victim has reported a crime to the police, many people believe that the decision whether or not to charge the suspect with a crime, and then prosecute the suspect, is the prerogative of the victim. News media often contribute to this misconception in stories about rape victims by reporting that a victim "declined to press charges." In fact, the criminal justice system gives victims no direct say in the matter. It's the police, for the most part, who decide whether a suspect should be arrested, and prosecutors who ultimately determine whether a conviction should be pursued." [I did not know this fact. The implications are staggering for victims of sexual assault, especially non-stranger sexual assaults.]
If this book were a person: Your favorite college professor. The one who seemed have endless information and the ability to make all of it fascinating and comprehensible.

Look, my husband is out of town, so I'm reading like a fiend. And it's a good thing for him that he missed being around me while I was reading Missoula because 1) I did practically nothing else but read it until I had turned the last page and 2) it gave me a temporary allergy to everyone with a penis.

You might know Jon Krakauer from his books Into Thin Air and Into the Wild, both of which were made into major motion pictures. He is really, really good at turning complex, large-cast, true-life stories into rip-roaring page turners, loaded with suspense and drama. This book is not an exception. I am so grateful that this author, with his massive popularity and broad audience, chose to dig into this infuriating, heartrending subject.

Unfortunately and maddeningly, it's clear that the men who are committing non-stranger sexual assaults wouldn't recognize themselves as the perpetrators in these stories. These are people who, by whatever disaster of mental illness or upbringing or demonic possession, do not actually believe they are doing anything wrong. The sheer certitude of their belief makes them, insanely, very credible advocates for their innocence. Victims, on the other hand, have a slew of responses to being victimized that prejudice police, juries, judges and the public against them. Result: rapists go free.

And this is assuming the case even comes to trial. Look, the deck is so insanely stacked against justice, you just have to read the book to believe it. It's bitter medicine, but Krakauer's dramatic flair hooks me every time, and I was captivated, even when I wanted to burst into a towering pillar of righteous flames.

Up Next: January Theme book, TBD

Monday, January 11, 2016



I apologize that I'm still only just saying hello, but I've been following all your reading adventures as I've spent too many days composing this introduction, so I'll be caught up soon.

I live in Portland, OR, where I hand-pull espresso by day, write by night, and am mama my two small fellows (Pan, 7, and Quinn, 6) pretty much all of the time.

I spent 2011-2013 in a fiction MFA program in NYC, reading 3-4 novels/story collections a week, in addition to working on my own projects, and got pretty deeply burnt out on reading for a good year after that. 2015 was a good year for books, though, all read for pleasure, and I'm really looking forward to more of the same this year with all of you.

There are many, many not-so-new books I love (Jane Eyre , Sense and Sensibility , Skylark , Orlando , Willa Cather , Gabriel Garcia Marquez ), as well as non-fiction (for me, it's mostly parenting and cookbooks - but also memoir + essays - I have a big lady writer crush on Eula Biss).




Sara 1/50

Hey, everyone. I have not finished my 1/50 yet. In fact I started this book a while ago and I need to discpline myself to finish it. It's not that it's not awesome or captivating, I just find that my spare time is taken up with other things. Either way. Just thought I would give a little update:

I am currently reading I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai. The young Pakistani girl who was shot in the face by the Taliban and who went on to continue her campaign for female education in her home country and region. Right now what I am loving about this book is not only Malala, but her father, as well. He is a very poor man, came from nothing, and yet was probably the biggest advocate for women's education in their country; started and built schools and continues to fight very hard for equal educational opportunities for women.  And I love reading about how much he loves his daughter; something most men in that area of the world do not talk about, let alone feel!!! So I will let you know what I think of it. It's great so far.

 I also bought three new books today from Amazon:
Year of Yes; By Shonda Rhimes - Everyone has been talking about it. I have been wanting to get it for a while
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead - Brene Brown  
Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear - Elizabeth Gilbert (She wrote EAT PRAY LOVE)

So as you all can see I am sort of on this path of discovery right now. Trying to navigate through these thoughts and questions of how I can live my creative life fully and most truthfully! ~Sara

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hollow City: Miss Peregrin's Peculiar Children #2

Number 1 of 50

Hollow City: Miss Peregrin's Peculiar Children #2
By Ransom Riggs

A passage I loved: It got quiet. I slowly uncovered my head. The bees were gone. So were the soldiers. Then, from outside, a chorus of panicked screams. I jumped up and rushed to the shattered window, where a knot of Gypsies and peculiars were already gathered, peering out.

I read the first one on the recommendation of a friend and found the execution within the genre very compelling. To be sure, it is a very classic coming of age bildungsroman. Kid discovers he has magical powers, finds others like him, finds a mentor, joins forces with other young people, confronts and battles a physical and spiritual evil. And I will admit that I was initially annoyed when I figured out that we were going to be using scenes from World War II. It's obviously a compelling time but it feels like millions of stories at this point have tried to make themselves seem relevant by tacking on a "and also we are fighting Nazis" premise.

However, the novel immediately distinguishes itself by the author's use of vintage photography. After collecting odd photos, the author used those photos to inspire the fascinating characters and they totally deliver. In the second book, the children are sent out in the world to face a terrible enemy and the bombed out London makes a perfect background for their panic and despair.

I'm planning to read the third and am excited to see what Tim Burton does with the movie!

Patti Smith Is Too Cool for Me

M Train
Patti Smith, 2015

Number 2 of 50
Cravings inspired: coffee, brown toast with olive oil, having a neighborhood
A passage I loved: "I reverted to an old game, one invented long ago as an insomnia counterattack but also useful on long bus rides as a distraction from carsickness. An interior hopscotch played in the mind, not on foot. The playing field amounted to a kind of road, a seemingly limitless but actually finite alignment of pyrite squares one must succeed in advancing in order to reach a destination of mythic resonance, say, the Alexandria Serapeum with its entrance card attached to a tasseled velvet rope swaying from above. One proceeds by uttering an uninterrupted stream of words beginning with a chosen letter, say, the letter M. Madrigal minuet master monster maestro mayhem mercy mother marshmallow merengue mastiff mischief marigold mind, on and on without stopping, advancing word by word, square by square How many times have I played this game, always falling short of the swinging tassel, but at the worst winding up in a dream somewhere?"
If this book were a person: Fellow passenger on a bus to purgatory. Tetchy, tense. Muttering to herself so long you wonder if she's actually talking to you, but her eyes are closed so you can't tell.

I read Some Kids cover to cover at one go, standing up in a bookstore in Soho, which felt proper. I felt like I was being let in on a secret history, one that made me feel proud to be an artist living in New York City.

M Train did not leave such an inspiring or romantic impression on me. It tasted like the dregs of a life, raw-edged and lonely. In that sense, maybe it's an incredibly brave book. There is a lot of grief on display here. So much looking back, and everywhere ghosts.

Patti Smith is the grandmother of that cliche hipster tendency to drop a name and then imply, "Maybe you've heard of them, but you don't know them like I do." Her habit of making obscure cultural references feels defensive: a device to keep less elite minds at bay. Result: she's prickly company. If she's the gatekeeper of the cool crowd, I'm happy to stay an uncool kid.

Next up: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System by Jon Krakauer

Friday, January 8, 2016

First Fiction, two novellas by Murakami

Wind / Pinball
Haruki Murakami, 2015

Number 1 of 50
Cravings inspired: cold beer, french fries, waking up with twins
A passage I loved: "I sat with my nose to the taxi window looking out. As time passed, the black came to appear somehow flat, as if someone had taken a razor to matter without substance, and the darkness was the severed end."
If this book were a person: Chummy and easygoing, but I don't miss them when they're gone.

Admission: the Murakami book everyone loves (you know the one), it's sliding somewhere underfoot in the backseat of my car, cover going sun-bleached, the lengthwise edge crimping into waves. I am ashamed to so mistreat a book, but I just can't fall in love with it.

My mom got me this new publication of the English translation of Murakami's first two novellas for Christmas. I admire Murakami's style. It's so unfussy, and has this shaggy charm. He also has a beautiful ability to lay in surprises that feel unexpected and natural at the same time. Like some trampish rumpled everyman who turns out to do perfectly elegant sleight of hand.

These novellas are probably most interesting to people who already love Murakami and are specifically curious about his early work. They do show an attention to detail, an ability to conjure setting, and an affection for humanity that is unique and enjoyable, but to what end? It's a kind of a subtle ride.

Some helpful context from the author's note at the start of the book: Murakami and his wife owned a jazz bar in the 70's, and Murakami is a huge jazz fan. Knowing this helps me appreciate the way he cycles back to images and settings, riffing, meandering...

I don't know. I'm not a jazz person. Maybe if I get into jazz I'll finally finish Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.

Next up: M Train by Patti Smith


Please don't judge me on the title of the first of my 50 books: Primates of Park Avenue. I downloaded this to my kindle over the holidays because I was interested in the concept: a woman and her family move to the Upper East Side (from the West Village). There, she studies the women of the UES as an anthropologist would.

I love New York and thought this would be an interesting read... but I was not a huge fan. In short, the book was like reading one large humble-brag, which was not what I was looking for.

3/10 (I finished it, so it couldn't quite give it a 1).
Dear Reader,

On the recommendation of a dear friend, I am currently reading "Why be Happy when you could be Normal" by Jeanette Winterson, and it is everything I typically hate about literature. Indulgently verbose, self-pitying, victim-aggrandizing, poetical in lieu of clear/linear.  I do and have read a lot in my life and know what I like and what I am beyond, and this is that.  Something I have no time for is other people's beloved, cliched aha moments.  I endeavor never to impose those on my audience/readers, and ask not to have my time wasted with that of other writers.

And yet.

I kept reading it because I have a nasty habit of buying kindle books and forgetting they exist. While the mass of a book carries its own magnetism (if only the pedantic reminder of money spent) a kindle - or, the kindle app on my iPad - offers none of that. And now, I am no longer a student, nor an itinerant world-traveling teacher with all expenses paid, and so cannot afford expensive, profit less habits. In 2016, I have vowed to finish my Kindle list.  Not liking something is not sufficient reason to stop reading it (as it is not, in my opinion, sufficient reason to end a relationship or quit a job), but rather it is an opportunity to expand my mind through new experiences and direct inquiry. So I soldier on.

I've just reached the chapter where Jeanette leaves Accrington and takes the train to Oxford to beg for a place at university. She is reading Gertrude Stein and making much of it - which I suppose means it will be important in her later life, though now she is not particularly attached. She's living in her Mini, having been kicked out of her mother's house, subsisting on beans and toast made over ton camping cookware.  That chapter.  And she's going on about Margaret Thatcher because it's 1979 and that political voice was rising.  Not the voice of militant, corrupt consumerist conservatism - those are opinions layered on over the last 30 years since Margaret Thatcher was in power.  The voice of opportunity parity, class transcendence, bootstraps.  The loud, angry, able-bodied objections to feeble-minded post post-war appeasement pacifism. Where family values and traditions and old adages and grumbling were the problem, and the solution was brutal, honest pragmatism. The rise of the best man to win. (I am a fan of Thatcher's. Yes, in spite of Pinochet. Women like that are what I want to be. Fuck consensus.)

I wrote a play about that time period, and specifically about Margaret Thatcher and her influence on England, and her influence on my family - making my father leave an England wracked by inefficiencies and union politics and old boy systems.  So when Jeanette admits to voting for Thatcher (in that brittle cold Englishwoman way, that suggests she is now ashamed of herself), my interest peaks. I am now reading the book while winding from the 6 train through 53rd street station, up the stairs, across Lexington Avenue and on my walk home, narrowly missing the passers-by in my peripheral vision.  I am now interested in Jeanette.

Then, there's this:  

"And later, when I was successful, but accused of arrogance, I wanted to drag every journalist who misunderstood to this place, and make them see that for a woman, a working-class woman, to want to be a writer, to want to be a good writer, and to believe that you were good enough, that was not arrogance; that was politics."

And I realize that I still write because I'm angry about England, and growing up as a foreigner in a country I thought was mine. Never being good enough in school, or for my parents who were not abusive but who were too busy and too stressed and too confused by my rage to handle me, so who gave me the benevolent handicap of total, chaotic freedom.  And that isn't it a blessing that she doesn't have to apologize for voting for Thatcher, because I understand, because everything she's already written makes sense of her from the inside out, makes me become her, and isn't that what it is to be an artist?  To make someone fall in love with you?  And see the world the way you see it because they are you? Or, a more spirited or less-advantaged or differently-gendered or exotically-located version of you? And isn't the point to be indulgent?  And isn't that what's
been so wrong with my writing for the past 12 years, since I have formally "learned to write"?

Anyway.  These were my thoughts.

Thanks for listening.

- Lucy

Thursday, January 7, 2016

1 Book Down...49 to go!

Oh man guys! Here we go. The ball is rolling. I have finished my first book of the year. Now, I'm not sure if it really counts because I technically started the book before I got into this lovely challenge, but knowing how much I love a countdown.... 1 Down!

I have really loved reading everybody's introductions of themselves! I was excited before, but now I am pumped. I'm not exactly sure the form these posts will take over the next many months, but for now, for me, I plan on giving some feedback from what I've read.  If you're currently reading Modern Romance, please don't feel the need to read my comments!

The Book: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
Rating: A fairly middle of the road 5 out of 10

Aziz, what a funny guy, am I right? And he just couldn't stop pointing it out. The subject matter of dating in the modern era of technology and the unique problems that face this generation of love seeking masses is an interesting one, and for part of the book I was engaged. I especially liked when he began to discuss the dating habits of other countries whose views on marriage and sexuality differ from our own. I even liked the beginning of the book where talked about how each generation reimagines dating based on changing views of gender equality and the role a life partner is expected to fill. What I couldn't get over was my internal face-plant at his prescriptive solutions to modern dating. Maybe, this was just more of a self-help book than I had signed on to read.  I was looking to read about the sociology behind what drives our current romantic attitudes and the book just never went far enough in that direction for me.
Also, as I was listening to the book, Aziz referred to the listener as lazy for not actually reading a hard copy of the book multiple times, which I found frustrating.

Up Next:
So I've compiled a list for myself including at least 1 of everyones' favorite books, as well as books I already had on my queue. I also have a few books that I have to read for grad school (these aren't text books, I promise, and would probably be something I would want to read outside of school!)

So, I am now currently working on:
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
American Gods (Audio Book) by Neil Gailman (Thanks Jackie! I'm already hooked!)
Acting in Film by Michael Caine (for school, but very good so far)

PS. I love all the monthly challenges, and am searching for the perfect missed classic for January!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Hi, everybody.

I live in Los Angeles, but don't judge me I'm cool I used to live in Brooklyn (please like me).

I'm an actress and I also work for an art dealer. I work in the backyard of a Beverly Hills house in a very swanky garage full of beautiful art books that I never look at because I am the digital janitor and I take my job pretty seriously for someone who tidies a database for a living. What's cool, though, is that I get to leave the swanky garage whenever I want, to go on auditions or to do plays out of town, so I will keep doing this job for as long as I can stand it.

So basically, I spend a lot of time in front of a screen or in a car going to and from auditions. The screen time is crippling my attention span. I have become a moron. I am applying the 50 books as an aggressive assault on my moronification. Look, I'm inventing words. It's already working, you guys!

Okay, enough about me.

Books I have loved that made me me.

1. Amy's Eyes by Richard Kennedy
A children's fantasy novel. I read it when I was a kid, and I don't remember the details, but it made some deep impression on me. Rich and strange. Two-in-one entry here, because, a similarly strange YA book: Behind the Attic Wall by Sylvia Cassedy. Both of these books have magic, living dolls, and orphan girls. Both these books gave me the enchanted feeling that I had discovered something written just for me, written by someone who understood my alien mind. If you know these books, come whisper to me. We are kin.

2. The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
I love coming-of-age stories. Penny. Stop. I'm going to cry again.

3. Mating in Captivity, Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel
I read a lot of self-help and spiritual stuff by the kinds of people who do Ted talks. I find it illuminating. This book asks interesting questions and offers amazing insight, with none of the banal "solutions" you might think of when you hear "self-help".

4. anything by George Saunders
Short stories, you guys. I love them.

5. Wind, Sand and Stars by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
The memoir from the writer of A Little Prince. Here's another two-in-one, A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit, another memoir from an adventurer with a wanderlusty heart.


Hey lovely people!

I'm Lydia.  I'm a songwriter, road-traveller and person-lover and I'm excited to see what books come out of this :)

Some of my favourites in random order are:
  • Winnie the Pooh by AA Milne
  • Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  • In The Woods by Tana French (actually, all of the Dublin Murder Squad books are my jam)
  • The Goldfinch by Donna Tart
  • But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz by Geoff Dyer

I could agonize about this list forever and I haven't included JK Rowling or Barbara Kingsolver, but I'm just going to let it be.
I also love engaging history books and non-fiction (Fordlandia, Lost City of Z, etc.)

Yay! I'm pumped about this.
-LB xx

Monday, January 4, 2016

Monthly Reading Themes

Hey Book Lovers! 

Every month we will have a theme, and your challenge will be to read one book of your choosing in that category (of your many). It'll be a fun way to all connect and get out of our comfort zones as we take this journey together. The monthly themes to follow (but I'll remind you as we go too): 

JANUARY: What I Should Have Read in High School. 

Never read Pride and Prejudice but have seen Bridget Jones' Diary at least 20 times? Wrote your entire senior paper on just the opening scenery descriptions of Grapes of Wrath because you only read the first chapter? Well, here's your chance for redemption. Read a classic book that most people read in school and you somehow missed (maybe it was because you were smoking a doobie behind the library, maybe you were just spending too much time volunteering with illiterate orphans for your college applications, maybe your English teacher was a stray cat you met on the sidewalk and luckily, was willing to work with no Union representation but, unluckily, had no concept of human language. No matter the reason-No judgment)

FEBRUARY: Love is in the Air. 

Read a book with the word "love" in the title. Any genre will do but the word LOVE must be somewhere in the book title. Maybe it will be Love in the Time of Cholera. Maybe it will be The Lovely Bones. And maybe just maybe, this month will melt your cold, frozen, murder-filled heart.

MARCH: Spring Forward.

As the cold, snowy world becomes green again, read a book that features a major transformation. Also, maybe think of getting a makeover yourself. You've had better haircuts (is all I'm saying). 

APRIL: Meet New Friends.

Read the Biography of someone whose name you've never heard of! Bonus if you then start to hallucinate them Angels in America style, they become your actual friends, give you poor advice,  and your family starts to get really, really concerned. "Oh hey guy who invented Oreos. No I won't rob the 711. I won't! Oh you are always so good at convincing me! I'll tell you what, I'll kill all the children in the neighborhood as a compromise".

MAY: It's Too Nice to Stay Inside and Read. 

Have more time to enjoy the sunshine. Get your literary fix in short bursts by reading a short story collection. Don't worry, they are just like regular stories....just...shorter.

JUNE: Can't We All Just Get Along?  

You've been reading like a mad fiend for 6 months now, and it may be making you a little irritable. But try not to invade another book club member's thread or any small island nation (that you're pretty sure you can take). We'll get through this hump together. Read a nonfiction or fictional book set during war times and know that it's never the answer. Unless you really, really want their land.

JULY: It's Gettin' Hot in Here. 

Read the trashiest romance book you can find. We'll have a contest for the most cringe worthy sex scenes we find. There will be a prize, but the real prize will be all the sexy times they will inspire. Who doesn't love all the clothes ripped off their heaving bosom?

AUGUST: The Book Was Better? 

Read a book with a popular movie attached that you haven't seen. Then watch the movie and compare them in your review. If you like the movie more, you may be a heathen but we'll like you anyway.

SEPTEMBER: School Was Out For Summer (But Not Forever). 

Read a book geared towards middle schoolers (grades 5th-8th) and then remember how terrible those years were. We never have to go back. We're never going back.

OCTOBER: Oh the Horror!  

Read a novel with a haunting in it. I prefer the ghostly variety, but, yes, if ghosts and ghouls terrify you, a character "haunted by a memory" will count (but I'll taunt you, ya scaredy cat). 

NOVEMBER: The Real Horror-Election Month.

The world is probably ending! Read a dystopic novel set in the future so we can prepare for a world with Trump as president. President Trump is going to Handmaid's Tale this mother up. 

DECEMBER: Time for a Vacation. 

You've read so much that you deserve a break. Travel away and have some fun! Read a mystery or detective novel set in an exotic location. Also, if you've read this far, you're now legally obligated to buy me an all inclusive vacation somewhere warm. I don't make the rules. Oh wait....I do. I'll accept gift certificates as well. 

John's Big Introduction Post

"Read much, but not too many books" - Ben Franklin (attributed)

I'm not sure if Franklin ever actually said that, but it's been my approach the past few years. I read pretty much constantly, but it can take me a long while to get through a book. It's hard to read the whole Internet every day AND get through a couple chapters of the latest Tom Clancy-branded tome, y'know?

That said, I'm excited to be a part of this group and get a bit more structure to my reading regimen. Right now I'm reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow (the book the musical based on!) and listening to Augustus by Adrian Goldsworthy. I just finished Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel.

Preeeeeetty much all the books on that list and the one below are about white dudes creating new power structures or mastering existing ones. So I clearly need to broaden my horizons. Enter your suggestions! Hurrah! Cheers!

  • Postwar by Tony Judt
  • Engines of Democracy by Alan Rosenthal (Best book ever written about state legislatures)
  • Kennedy by Ted Sorensen
  • American Pharaoh by Adam Cohen and Elizabeth Taylor (or Boss by Mike Royko if you're in a hurry)
  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal by Christopher Buckley
  • Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
  • Master of the Senate by Robert Caro
  • A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin


Read in 2016
(I promise that having a titular article is not a weird sub-theme I'm pursuing.)

1. The Good Soldiers  David Finkel
2. The Martian  Andy Weir  
3. Junie B. Jones Loves Handsome Warren*  Barbara Park
4. The Mark and the Void  Paul Murray
5. The Drowning  Camilla Lackberg
6. The Preacher  Camilla Lackberg
7. The Skeleton Road  Val McDermid
8. The Children Act  Ian McEwan
9. Slade House  David Mitchell
10. And When She Was Good  Laura Lippman
11. Death in a Prairie House  William Drennan
12. Arcadia  Lauren Groff


By day I am a policy wonk here in Chicago focused on making the world (of Chicago) a better place to live. (That's going okay.) At most other times, I am reading or wishing I had remembered to throw that book/magazine/pamphlet/back-of-the-cereal-box into my bag. 

Fun fact: as a kid, my parents actually grounded me from reading because that was the only punishment that made me even a little bit sorry that I had just told my little brother that, yes, there really are monsters upstairs. 

Favorites are, naturally, impossible to pick. But my go-tos when answering this question are usually one of these:  

  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson
  • Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
  • Crapalachia by Scott McClanahan
  • Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty
  • The Snow Leopard by Peter Matthiessen
That being said, at any given time, I am most likely to be reading a plot-driven mystery or thriller. I also dabble in nonfiction (usually with a disaster-bent, I'm realizing: The Great Influenza, The Sixth Extinction, The Good Soldiers...) and essay collections (mostly journalists: Joan Didion, Ernie Pyle, Martha Gellhorn, Hunter S. Thompson, Wendell Berry...). 

Totally stoked to be joining this group and to get all of the best book recommendations. 

Happy reading!,



Hi! I'm so excited to be a part of this. (Thank you, Julie!) I'm an avid reader and have tried starting book clubs before, but they always end up feeling like homework assignments and the members slowly disperse. I've never done an online version like this, so I'm super pumped to jump in.

I live in the Chicago suburbs with my husband and two daughters (ages 8 and 11), and I work from home for a nonprofit consulting firm. I'm also an actor. I'm a big lover of all things pop culture, and I'm currently heavy into TV show binge watching...which has been a distraction of late from reading. So I'm hoping this group will help me find my way back to books again. I don't know if I have 50 books in me this year, but I'm game for trying! And I look forward to hearing about what all of you are reading too. I'm a total sucker for book recommendations. (Does anyone besides me have over 100 books in their "To-Read" section of Goodreads? Too many books, too little time.)

Five books I love...oh my. That's hard. Here's my attempt, while avoiding duplicates from others' pages. (I'm a huge Harry Potter fan too!)  I like all kinds of genres, although my list is pretty reflective of my faves...contemporary fiction and fantasy.

1. Straight Man by Richard Russo
2. Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
3. The Queen of the Tearling series
4. The History of Love by Nicole Strauss
5. Ben Canto by Ann Patchett
6. (I can't help it!) The Passage Series by Justin Cronin

Okay. That's all for now. Happy reading, everyone!


Macy's Books

Hi everyone!

I am Macy, founder of this blog's little sister. I live in Dallas, Texas and work at a marketing firm. I am a mom to a beautiful cat-baby named Winnie.

Five books I love are (in no particular order):
-         Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
-         The Book of Daniel by E.L. Doctorow
-         The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
-         Harry Potter (all… duh)
-         Bossypants by Tina Fey

I am also a big fan of biographies, and recently read Mrs. Kennedy and Me by Clint Hill. I am finishing up Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and am looking forward to skimming your recommendations for my next book.

Happy 2016!