Sunday, March 2, 2014

Bracketology

Kelly,

Tomorrow is the big day! I have finished 12 of the 17, which isn't so bad. I also spent some time today filling out my brackets, mostly to enter into Kerry's ToB pool over at his blog, Hungry like the Woolf. 



It's always so tricky, the brackets. I used to do brackets for who I thought *would* win, but that was sort of boring. Now, I have a weird hybrid method. I always pick who I *want* to win in the first round; then, I try to be more pragmatic about who *would* win in later match-ups. Ultimately, this is probably the worst strategy, but I'm sticking with it.

Did you vote for a Zombie? I chose Long Division. I'd have to say that at this point, Long Division and A Tale for the Time Being are probably my favorites. I'm hoping to read The Son before it's first round match up on March 13. Then, I'll see which books advance into the further rounds. Of the remaining books that I have yet to read, I'm most interested in The Luminaries. 

I think the best news so far is that of all the first round match-ups, I have read at least one of the books. However, there also means there are only a few where I've read both of the first round books.

I'm excited for tomorrow!
Jenny

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Kelly's Book 2.14: Detroit City is the Place to Be

Dear Jenny,

I'm still one post behind -- I have finished reading On Writing but I haven't written about it yet -- but I've just started this book, so I thought I would write the preview. I'm a wild woman, you know... I mix it up. (Also, maybe lazy... it's easier to write these preview posts than the re-caps.)

I think you recommended this book to me... I don't think that you had read it, but that you had read about it. And I bought it with our TBR winnings last year. So that's fun!

So far I have enjoyed some of the Detroit "insider knowledge" that makes me feel like an insider for already having it. For instance, Detroiters take a certain civic pride in knowing that there is, in fact, no place called "South Detroit" as referenced in Journey's song, "Don't Stop Believing." [2] (South Detroit? That would be Windsor.) And the term "party store" is explained in a footnote as "Our term for liquor stores in metropolitan Detroit" [23]. (I had not heard that term until I met Bill, but have since found that everyone here says it -- I always thought a "party store" was a place to buy buy streamers and balloons, but Detroiters know what *really* makes a party.) (Yup... It's booze.)

I have lived in the Detroit area for almost two years (time flies, eh?) and honestly have no idea how the city could pull itself out of its mess, but this author claims he's going to look beyond what's gone wrong (a common topic for books and articles) and shine a light on how the future could be better. I look forward to reading that. And, of course, I'll keep ya posted.

love,
kelly

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Jenny's book 2.14: A Problem From Hell: America and the Age of Genocide

Kelly,

A quick ToB X update before I talk about my February book. I'm feeling pretty good about my progress so far. I have read 10 so far and have started another, The People in the Trees. I am hoping to finish that and at least one of the longer ones before the official start of the tournament in March. I was making pretty good progress and moving a lot of the shorter books off the decks, but now I have several of the longer ones left. My grad school class has geared up, and I ended up doing a lot of work for that last week. Either way, not a bad place to be a few weeks before we even start. I'm happy.

Of course, then I realized, I still have to make some time for my February book. It seemed like a good idea to have a non-fiction read for this month with all the other novels I've been working on, but I put less non-fiction titles on my list this year, too. They tend to be longer and more demanding, and I wanted to make sure I had a manageable list with all that's going on this year.

Here's where the serendipitous nature of the internet comes in. One of my old friends from California, Marjorie, retired from our school in Oakland and moved back to Michigan. At some point, we found each other on Facebook. I've been to see her once (it's on the way to your house, actually!) because it's right over the border into Michigan and only about 90 minutes away. Heck! I've driven 90 minutes and not left the Chicago city limits, why not take a quick jaunt to Michigan? I need to do that again one day. Anyways, Marjorie is a former history teacher and counselor. At one point, she posted a Goodreads list that said she wanted to list one of my TBR books, A Problem from Hell: America in the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power. My strange fascination with the terrible things people do to each other continues.

 I asked Marjorie if now was a good time for her to read it, and now we're reading it together. We set up a reading schedule and will discuss it on Facebook every week. This is a good plan for me for a couple of reasons. Obviously, having a schedule and a time to talk about the books is appealing. It's a pretty manageable bite, about 125 pages a week for four weeks. More importantly, I think it will be great to talk about it with a history teacher. I bet she will have some illuminating ideas about the book and the historical context.

I'll get back to you on A Problem from Hell in early March, but if you want you can also read our discussion on FB as we go along. Originally, we talked about a Wednesday discussion day, but we are a little late this week and so my first post just went live this morning.

How's your TBR pile doing so far in 2014?
Jenny


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Completed: Purple Hibiscus

Kelly,

I had a rare two-fer yesterday: I finished up the last 50 pages a ToBX book, The Tuner of Silences; then I started and completed my replacement January book, Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. 

As you know, my intended January book was Snow, but I was struggling with it. It was one of those books where the main character mostly wanders around and interacts with people, and sometimes those people tell their own stories, and then there's more wandering around. I found myself wanting something to happen! But I feel bad about it. I do know that they way a story gets told is different in other cultures, but in this case, I just wasn't in the right space. Usually, I will abandon books that aren't working for me, but I try to finish TBR books. I'm glad you encouraged me to move on. I wasn't enjoying it. And, I LOVED Purple Hibiscus

Funny story about Purple Hibiscus, which is written by the author of one of our 2013 favorites, Americanah. Last year, the chair of the English department was looking for new books for their global lit class for 10th graders. She asked me (because I read all. the. books.) if I knew of any books written by a non-Western author, set in another country, ideally featuring a female protagonist, and appropriate for early high school. In other words, the needle in the literary haystack. I thought about it for a minute and suggested they try Purple Hibiscus, which I had just bought but hadn't yet read. They ended up choosing it! Hah--I feel like one of my primary services to the upper school English department is my extensive book knowledge. 

Then last summer we both read and loved Americanah. Purple Hibiscus was on my TBR list, so I thought I should prioritize it, but my copy was making the rounds of the upper school English teachers. It fell off my radar again.  After Beyonce sampled Adichie on her new album (which is great, by the way) I decided to read it in December but I couldn't find it. Just last week when you encouraged me to quit Snow, I saw it in Darrell's car and actually said "A-ha!" out loud. Finally, the timing was right!

The novel is about a 15 year old girl in Nigeria, Kambili. She comes from a very wealthy and devoutly Catholic family. Her father owns a newspaper and several factories. She seems to have everything. However, Kambili's home is quiet and full of fear. Her father is obsessed with his vision of what it means to be a good Christian, and he's willing to beat obedience into his wife, son, and daughter. The story takes a turn with Kambili and her brother, Jaja, are allowed to visit their Aunt Ifeoma, a university professor who lives a few hours away. Suddenly, they see what it's like to live in a household full of light and laughter. 

I definitely enjoyed the book. It was a super fast and easy read, and although it's clear that Kambili's father is physically abusive, with a few notable (and upsetting) exceptions those scenes happen mostly off stage. We see the aftermath and the terrible toll the abuse has on the family, but this is not a book that feels the need to give long, in-depth descriptions of abuse. I think that's partly a feature of Kambili's first person narration. She doesn't know how to understand her father's abusive nature, and so she turns away from it. She loves him and she loves God, there's a part of her that does feel he is "right" even if she doesn't understand it.

There are other things about Eugene (that's the Dad) that make him a pretty interesting character. He's clearly a symbol of a certain type of African, one who embraces his colonizers. No one is more devout. He trusts the white priests over the Nigerian ones, and he prefers to speak English in a crisp British accent and frowns upon those who speak the native language, Igbo. His Catholicism is so rigid that he has cut off his father for being a heathen and refusing to convert. Eugene won't allow his children to see their grandfather for more than 15 minutes at a time or eat or drink anything from his home. He fears that the old, "heathen" ways will corrupt his children and perfect family.

The best parts of the book are with Aunty Ifeoma. Her home is poor, but she listens and teaches her children to question rather than to blindly obey. Kambili and especially Jaja change after spending more time with their family. It's a nice coming-of-age story.

I guess I'd say that I have 2 minor complaints. One, Kambili develops a crush on a Nigerian priest when she's with her aunt. Honestly, it just seemed super creepy and had an uncomfortable Thornbirds vibe to it. Ew. (By the way, I only watched part of that clip. It's *HIGH-LARIOUS*). At one point, her cousin makes fun of her crush and says, "Oh, all the girls in church have crushes on him. Even some of the married women. People have crushes on priests all the time, you know. It's exciting to have to deal with God as a rival" (220). I must say, that's a pretty funny line and probably has some truth in it. But still. Descriptions of the legs, arms, and chest of a priest? No thanks. LUCKILY, nothing happens, but it still was just kind of weird. I guess, given her religious upbringing, it makes a sort of sense. Meh.

Finally, there's sort of a shocking event at the very end that seems a little forced; and the way it plays out is very different from the rest of the book. In real life, sudden and surprising events do happen. But in a book, it's hard not to think the author was like, "How am I going to end this thing?" It wasn't terrible. We've discussed before how hard it is to stick the landing. It was a solid read and it was thought-provoking. I'd recommend it.

Jenny

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Kelly's Book 1.14: On Writing

Dear Jenny,

Does this feel like déjà vu? Didn't I already post a preview of my Book 1.14? Yup. But there has been a change of plans!

After reading one chapter of Don't Know Much About History, I knew that I couldn't do it all in one month. Conveniently, it's got 12 chapters so I'll read one per month and tell you all about it in December (or maybe do some mini-reports along the way... depends on how I'm feeling).

I didn't like the unsettled feeling that I would have all year if the numbers of my books did not correspond with the actual month numbers (Yeah, yeah. I've got my issues.), so DKMAH will be my 12.14 book and this post is about my new 1.14: On Writing by Stephen King.

When I first heard about this book, I wasn't that interested because I'm not a writer (of fiction) (I am, of course, a writer of blog posts) (and emails and comments and... oh, you know!) but it turns out that the book is also a memoir (it actually says so right in the subtitle: On Writing: a Memoir of the Craft) and I am interested in Stephen King, so I picked it up.

My favorite King novels have been the non-horror ones (like 11/22/63 and Joyland -- so good!) and I am totally amazed by his ability to create memorable characters (I still think about the crew from It and I read that book over 25 years ago). I, myself, could not invent a completely made-up story to save my life (seriously -- making up a story? Can. Not. Do. It.) so I am pretty curious to get into the head of a guy who not only can do this, but often does it spectacularly.

I also thought this would be a good one to read with the ToB coming up, since there is usually a lot of discussion about authors and writing during the book-y talk, so it seems like it might be pertinent.

love,
kelly

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Gearing Up for ToBX!

Kelly,

Well, the good news is that they released the short list for the ToBX this morning. Yahoo! The bad news is that we are not in good shape! I've only read 5, and you've read 2. I'm starting school, you're starting crafting! What's going to happen?

All right. Let's take a moment to mourn the unbelievable fact that Americanah was not included.

And now a moment of joy that neither of us will ever have to think about Tampa again.

Of the contenders, I've read  At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón, The Dinner by Herman Koch, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.

I'm mostly happy because 3 of these were end of the year/winter break reads for me. So I was pretty successful at selecting from the Long List there. The only "wasted" read was The Flamethrowers, because I would have definitely abandoned it, but I was sure it would make it. Oh well.

Of the remaining, I ordered a few using holiday gift cards: The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid, The Son by Philipp Meyer, and A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. My guess is that I'll tackle How to get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia first. I've heard good things about it, and let's face it, it has a killer title.

I know that the library at school has Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, and The Good Lord Bird by James McBride.

That leaves the following *four* that I've never heard of: Woke Up Lonely by Fiona Maazel, Long Division by Kiese Laymon, Hill William by Scott McClanahan, and The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara. This group can go either way, I guess. I usually try to make time for these, because they tend to be outside of my "usual" fare as a reader. Some of these types of ToB selectons have been some of my favorites, others I have hated the most.

I guess we'll see where that leaves me come March. The one I'm willing right away to leave on the road is The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert. I just thought Eat, Pray, Love was so annoying. I can't imagine making time for this one. Last year, by the end, I had finished an impressive 17 of 18, but I don't think I'll get that lucky this year.

Jenny

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Kelly's Book 12.14: Don't Know Much About History

Dear Jenny,

This book has been in the TBR rotation for the past two years and on my TBR shelf for far longer (almost 10 years, so I'll be missing recent history...) This year, I am doing it!

Although... with my commitment to abandoning books in 2014, this may also be the year that I finally say, "Forget it. This book is not for me."

But I'm going to give it a chance, at least. Stay tuned to see how it goes!

love,
kelly

Edited on January 8, 2014 to add:
This book is now my "final" book for the year -- I will read one chapter per month and report on the whole darned thing in December. Accordingly and confusingly, I have now dubbed it "Book 12.14."