Book Clubs: My Summer Reads

I have been on a massive book kick recently. And rather than buying a ton of new books (I won’t lie, there are like 60+ in my apartment that I still need to read), I’ve been binge watching BookTube videos about book reviews. Yes, I am that person who is watching stationary haul videos in their entirety.

(Should this also sound up your alley too, my favorite channels include Jen Campbell, Ariel Bissett, Jean Bookish Thoughts, Books and Quills, Peruse Project, and Sophie Carlon.)

This year I set a goal of reading 27 books in a year — not including comic books or kids books — and am really proud to say I’m nearly there! And it’s only August! This summer I’ve been making reading more of a priority throughout the day. The time away from computer screen, immersed in someone else’s imagination, has become both energizing and relaxing. At times I feel a bit guilty for ignoring my long to do list of actual responsibilities and instead, curling up in my brown leather chair and reading the hours away. But I’m learning to be a bit more selfish. I’m thinking of trying to read 40 books next year? And do a 24 hour reading marathon just for fun? I saw all the BookTubers doing it and any excuse to read with cats is fine by me. But enough blabbing, onto the books!

Due to the amount of books coupled together here, I’m going to try and keep my thoughts brief. Well as brief as possible because book talks are the funniest conversations to have. Am I right?

If you’re a fan of Meg Cabot or the “Bridget Jones Diaries” series, “Sofia Khan is NOT Obliged” will be right up your alley. Set in modern day London, Khan is a Muslim hijabi juggling writing a Muslim dating book while trying to find love herself. As you’d expect, her quest doesn’t go exactly as expected, but what drives this novel is the supporting characters who bring out Sofia’s cheekiness. It’s the perfect quick, fun summer read that you can still follow after a couple margaritas on the beach.

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If you love reading the blog Cup of Jo or religiously follow the Instagrams of artists Mari Andrew and Cindy Mangomini, then Susan Branch’s “A Fine Romance” is about to capture your heart. Susan Branch is a very famous artistic author who publishes personal journals and cookbooks full of anecdotes and hand drawn illustrations. In this book, Branch documents her two month dream trip across the English countryside with her husband. I was so enamored with this book. It was beautiful, fun, heartfelt, and as a reader, left me inspired to better appreciate life’s delicious little moments. For a friend who loves to travel or if you’re just in need of a literary pick-me up, I highly recommend this memoir.

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By now you’ve probably heard about George Saunder’s “Lincoln in the Bardo.” It’s been the talk of BookTube and was just nominated for the Man Booker Prize. If you’re a fan of “March” or innovative historical fiction, “Lincoln in the Bardo” is going to be your book of the year. The novel is set during the Civil War and follows the death of Willie Lincoln. The narrative alternates between reality and the purgatory in which Willie is stuck within. Willie encounters hundreds of souls trying to right their past sins and is being urged along by a handful of ghosts concerned about his delayed state between life and death. For the chapters on Lincoln and the “real world,” Saunders uses real newspaper clips to describe Lincoln’s 24 hours after Willie’s death. While not a perfect novel, it’s an extraordinary piece of work I greatly enjoyed spending time within.

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“The Interview” is a graphic novel by Manuele Fior set in 2048, Italy. The story follows two characters who believe they can communicate with aliens during a time when humans have completely lost personal contact with one another. Drawn entirely in black and white, this novel is a beautiful look at what it talks to stay connected to those around you, and why technology isn’t the best answer to everything.

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If you’re a fan of unconventional narratives and characters, these two novels might be your next great subway companions. Both left me thinking about them long after I’d turned the last page and questioning what I inherently expect of main characters.

In John Burnside’s “A Summer of Drowning,” 18-year-old Liv lives with her reclusive artistic mother in the Arctic Circle. When two boys drown in one summer, Liv begins to question the world in which she’s grown up –caught between her reality and the myths that drive the island. Creepy and very introspective, the power of this novel is that it feels like something is always just around the corner, even though most of the action is internal.

In this way, the novel had a very similar feel to “A Separation.” Both Liv and “A Separation’s” narrator — whom is never named or described — are the reader’s only eyes and ears for the entire story. We hear their assumptions — mostly unconfirmed — and watch how in many ways they’re unchanged from start to finish. In “A Separation,” the narrator goes to find her faithless husband who has gone missing in Greece. The pair have been secretly separated for months and upon agreeing to bring him home, rather than confront her in-laws, the narrator uncovers more than she anticipated chasing her husband’s ghost. I was a fan of both books but believe they’re for a very specific reader. They’re dense, unique takes on the “summer novel” genre, but the pursuit is worth the reward. If you enjoyed “Beautiful Ruins” or “The Vacationers,” I think you’d really like these as well. Must pair with a large ice tea for best reading results.

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And lastly, my favorite of the pack, “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. As we all know, I’m a very big Ann Patchett fan (see here and here). I’m currently reading her writing memoir “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage” and so enjoying being inside the mind of a writer. In “State of Wonder,” one of her six fiction novels, readers follow Dr. Marina Singh, a 40-year-old scientist sent to South America to bring back the results of her department’s rogue doctor and the next great fertility drug. Marina is the department’s second choice, but after her laboratory partner is killed in the jungle, Marina volunteers to take his place. From the first 100 pages, you are rooting for Marina in a way that doesn’t negate her faults. She’s impatient, unconnected to others, tormented by nightmares, but as time passes, she begins to open herself up to the possibility that she may want more than a quiet, tiny life. And the ending, THE ENDING! It’s the best part of this adventure. Marina’s story is as emotional and personally fulfilling as it is adventurous, and will leave you questioning, what would you sacrifice do to save the life of someone you love? And when it comes to science vs. nature, who really wins in the end?

 

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Book Recs for Your Summer Holiday

One of my favorite parts of packing for any trip is the books. I am the definition of a book overpacker. For six day trip to Montauk, three books seemed in order. But then I bought three more books while there and had to lug them all home. For my upcoming two week trip to California, is six books too much? It’s the longest part of my packing process as I like to weigh how the subject matter will fit into the mood of my trip. For Montauk, I was feeling particularly creatively drained and so loved taking along books like “Big Magic” and the “Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” as a little pick me up. And after the enormous amount of birthday book generosity my family sent my way, this upcoming trip to California, I’ve got A LOT of choices to choose from.

But should you be scavenging to figure out what to take as your carry-on companion, here are a few I recently finished that might just be up your alley.

All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan – If you’re a fan of unique narrative structures, this book is one for your bedside table. Not wanting to give a lot away, “All We Shall Know” is set from the perspective of a woman whose life completely changes after getting pregnant from a secret, and illegal, affair. What makes this novel great is the realistic, flawed character of the narrator, whose past secrets and present actions collide as she attempts to become a better person. I ordered it after hearing one of my favorite Booktubers Ariel Bissett rave about this tiny novel for months and after starting it, I couldn’t put it down.

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How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran – A famed journalist in the UK, Caitlin Moran’s feminist memoir is chalk full of advice on how to grow into yourself, understand and embrace your body, and make decisions that aren’t easy but right for you. Moran uses her tell-tale wit and humor to discuss topics of obesity, love, marriage at a young age, periods, birth, abortion, and the experience of being the only woman at the table. If this seems up your alley, “Eat Sweat Play,” “Dear Sugar,” and “What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding” are also great feminist pep talks.

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“The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck” by Sarah Knight – If you feel like your life could use a little bit of a tune up and a hint of emotional decluttering, this book is a fun and super helpful guide for discovering where and who you want to give energy towards. It’s worth it for the worksheets alone. I’m also excited to read Knight’s other little book “How to Get Your Sh*t Together.”

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Big Magic” by Elizabeth Gilbert – This book was the pep talk I needed at the exact moment I read it. A must for anyone pursuing a creative endeavor, “Big Magic” is Gilbert’s musings on motivation, passion and how to stay open to inspiration. Gilbert uses her own life as a canvas to show that it’s only when you’re taking care of yourself, pursing curiosity, and enjoying a project that great things will happen. Also mentioned in this book, which I read after, was Ann Patchett’s “State of Wonder.” Set in the Amazon rainforest, an Indian American doctor from Missouri goes on the hunt for her lost coworker and a famed doctor working on a game changing fertility drug. The book is like a well-tuned clock, moving beautifully between the action and the interior life of the narrator. But in true Patchett fashion, what shines most in this novel is the complexity and depth of the many characters whose actions cause the reader to ask: What would I have done in this situation?

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Any book recommendations you have in mind? I have a couple more here if needed and am almost done with “Lincoln in the Bardo” which everyone has been raving about. Will return with a full review soon!

Happy reading,

C

 

Book Club: My January Reads

I think we can probably all agree that this past week has been a heavy one. Each night after work I’ve felt capable of few things other than curling up with the kittens in order to recharge. Right now, little acts of self-care have been crucial in maintaining my hope and fire to fight back against the injustices being imposed against Americans and immigrants around the world. For me, that has been putting my phone away at night, writing cards to my loved ones, or watching an episode of “Call the Midwife.” I’ve binge watched A LOT of Estée Lalonde’s lifestyle videos and gotten in deep with the Disneyland vlogging community (Disney bounding, it’s the big new thing). But mostly, I’ve been reading as much as possible, even if just for a 15 minute before bed. Below are my HELL YES reads from January as well as some recommendations if your TBR list is looking a little light.

“Missoula” by Jon Krakauer. I’ll yell it from the rooftops if need be, but this is book is something everyone should read! Known for his nonfiction novels “Into Thin Air” and “Under the Banner of Heaven,” Krakauer spends two years investigating the growing epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses by looking at the experiences of five different survivors from Missoula, Montana. His novel shines a much needed light on the mishandling of rape cases and drives home the reality that survivors are often the ones blamed from the assaults inflicted against them. For all readers, this book shows how sexual assault can affect every aspect of a survivor’s life and the good vs. bad effect an ally’s language can have on a survivor’s healing.

PS. Sidenote. This week I launched Voices, my story project working to empower survivor narratives about sexual violence. HUZZAH! This has been four years in the making so it’s both exciting and nerve wracking. If you’re curious what it is or how to get involved, please follow these links.

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“Giant Days” by John Allison and Whitney Cogar. Now three episodes in, “Giant Days” follows the misadventures of a group of college misfit floormates — mainly Daisy, Susan, and Esther. I don’t laugh out loud at books often but this one has left me in stitches. Each of the characters is just so earnest, awkward, and relatable making this a great read for new and veteran comic readers alike. It’s battling my heart for #1 comic but might be pulling into the lead.

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“Bloom” by Estée Lalonde. As you may or may not know, I watch close to 500 YouTube videos a week as a part of my job. Yes, my real-life-pays-me-benefits job. So when it comes to my spare time, I’m very picky about what creators make the cut. It’s become a bit of a running joke that literally every YouTuber has a book, and I’ll be honest, most are nothing to write home about. But then there is the occasional gem that rises to the surface and for me, that is Lalonde’s lifestyle guide “Bloom.” In this memoir, Lalonde writes about her battles with depression, anxiety, and her decision to move across the world to be with her great love. It talks about how YouTube went from being a passion to a full-time career, and most importantly, it provides inspiration for readers about spaces and energies. Her letter to London and chapters on self-care had me organizing my space and hanging frames that same day. I finished the book in 24 hours and have been excited to share it with friends.

Very similar to this book “Hey Natalie Jean” which I wrote about a couple years ago.

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And my most recent read, “The Underground Railroad” by Colson Whitehead. This book received a ton of buzz last year after winning the National Book Award and I am here to say it’s all true. The novel follows the journey of Cora, a slave who escapes from a plantation in Georgia using the Underground Railroad. With each state presenting a different experience and “future,” Cora witnesses first hand how the travesties of slavery are sewn so intrinsically into the tapestry of America. This novel is heartbreaking and chilling as its incidents of racial violence and injustice are ones we continue to see in modern society. But it’s Cora as a character, who is beautifully captured in the chapter Cesar, who gives heart and hope to this novel. This year, do yourself a favor and read this book.

Book Club: ‘Nimona’, ‘Improbability of Love’ and more

Books, books, books – is there anything else worth talking about amongst the humidity and back sweat sweeping through Brooklyn? I’ve been trying to cut back on buying books this year and while I’ve been pretty good at sticking to my word, tonight I splurged and now have “Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers” and “Every Girl Can” on their way to Google. If you have any recommendations, please send them this way, but until then, these are some of my recent recs for your summer TBR list.

A Definite Read

The Improbability of Love – For the past six months almost every BookTuber I follow has been raving about this novel set amongst the galleries of London’s art scene. The story is told from six intersecting narratives that begin to collide after an aspiring chef, Annie, buys a mysterious painting from a pawn shop. As you might guess, the painting is a super famous work of art that is being hunted by a series of people determined to keep the piece’s history a secret. The story could have easily become just another art chase ala “The DaVinci Code,” but due to Hannah Rothschild’s clever use of the painting as one of the narrators and the story’s surprise plot twists, I couldn’t put this down. Favorite book of the summer, hands down. If “Improbability of Love” is very your style, also consider “Modern Lovers” and “The Portable Veblen.”

Nimona – Beautifully illustrated and written, this dark comedy of a “villain” and his shapeshifting sidekick Nimona is a sweet story of the power of friendship overcoming the tragedy of the past. Nimona is a snarky, sassy sidekick whose enthusiasm for destruction and villainy comes to a head when the secrets of her past come into question. If you liked “Lumberjanes” (my favorite comic also by this same author) and “Through the Woods,” this book will be a light, quick, and enjoyable read for you.

Beautiful Ruins – People have been losing their minds over “Beautiful Ruins” for the past two years and finally, with summer hot on my heels, it felt like the right time to read it. The story takes place in the differing worlds of the Italian coast in 1962 and present day Hollywood as an almost love affair comes back to transform the lives of five different people. While I don’t quite agree with NPR review that it is “a literary miracle” (cue eye roll), this was one of my favorite books I have read this year.

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The Meh List

Are You My Mother? 

This is the second graphic novel from Alison Bechdel, author of “Fun Home,” that revolves around her complicated, misunderstood relationship with her mother. Unlike “Fun Home,” Bechdel is writing about a parent who is still living which leads to the text to use most psychological research than personal experience to propel the story. Despite my best efforts to not compare it to “Fun Home,” “Are You My Mother?” left me wanting a story as rich and reflective as Bechdel’s previous work. While I am glad I read it, I am still at a loss as to who exactly I would recommend this book to.

And finally, The Mystery of Mercy Close. While I am the biggest fan of Marian Keyes – she’s one of the few authors I’ve read everything they’ve written – I did not enjoy this novel at all. The story dragged on without much purpose and suddenly wrapped up in the end without any clues to help the reader figure out the mystery on their own.

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For all my book thoughts, should you be able to handle them, here is my ever growing column

Book Club: 5 Books, 1 Review

This review originally started as just a few thoughts on “Americanah” but as time passed, and the pile of finished books grew larger on my desk, it evolved into the mammoth of literary tangents you see below. From personal memoirs – “A Body, Undone;” “All I Know Now” – to novels outside the realms of reality – “Oryx and Crake,” “Through the Woods” – this hodge podge of literature is a mix of books I enjoyed, books I wouldn’t take on a second date, and some I insist you buy for everyone you know.

A Body, Undone: Living On After Great Pain

In 2003, English professor Christina Crosby was paralyzed in a bike accident at the age of 50. Just released in March, Crosby’s memoir is an unexpected vehicle of hope. But not in a corny way. Crosby is a very realistic, trustworthy narrator that invites reader in to her often painful acceptance of her new life of dependency. The novel travels between Crosby’s present relationship with her mangled body and her reflections on her body growing up, her tomboy tendencies, her affinity for movement, religion, and her sexuality. It is also an examination how by age 50, she and her brother were both confined to a wheel chair – her due to her accident, him due to a long fought battle with MS. A beautiful book, it left me most inspired by Crosby’s relationship with her partner whose actions and words continued to reaffirm Crosby’s existence even when Crosby was unable to articulate that for herself. If you enjoyed “Wild” or “Me Before You,” this is a great  for novel for you.

Through The Woods

This graphic novel was on my to-be read list for quite some time before I finally took the plunge and it was every bit as beautifully illustrated and eerily haunting as I had hoped. Reminiscent of “Beautiful Darkness,” “Through the Woods” is a collection of four horror stories each connected by the theme of a supernatural darkness taking over and controlling a human. If you’re big on graphic novels or enjoyed books such as “Her Fearful Symmetry” and “Jane Eyre,” “Through the Woods” is right up your alley.

All I Know Now: Wonderings and Reflections on Growing Up Gracefully

A bit of background. Carrie Hope Fletcher is an actress, former “Les Mis” star, and currently touring in “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.” But aside from her writing, performing, and general awesomeness, Fletcher is also one of the most well-known YouTube vloggers in the U.K. – and my favorite creators of all time.

Fletcher started on YouTube in 2011 as a way to express her creativity in between waiting to hear back from auditions. She quickly became known as a big sister to her audience of “Hopefuls” and over the years has talked candidly in videos about relationships, bullying, body confidence, being cheated on, finding love, performing, growing up, mental health, and everything in between. Last year, her blog got turned into a book that – though meant for a high school audience and not really myself – still struck me with its authenticity and desire to help. Written in the structure of a play, Fletcher’s guide to growing up includes thoughts on bullying, staying safe online, sexual health, friendship and learning to be comfortable in your own skin. And if you have a minute, a few of my favorite of her videos: “She Used to Mine” cover, Utterly Brilliant You, The One When I Live Alone, Dear Tom and Gi, and “A Whole Lot of History” Saying Goodbye to “Les Mis.”

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Americanah

The book that started this entire review two months ago. I thought of letting this GIF just be my review because despite thinking about it frequently, I continue to feel at a lose for how to best describe my “Americanah” experience. Thus far I have: Thoughtprovoking, moving, dense, eye opening, and thought shifting.

Named one of the top ten books of 2014 by the New York Times, the novel follows the stories of Ifemelu and Obinze, two young lovers growing up in Nigeria that find their lives suddenly traveling in opposite directions: A Masters program in the United States and the undocumented underground of London. Adichie’s characters pop off the page as she uses them and their relationship to ferry readers through discussions of race, racism, immigration, discrimination, sex, interracial relationships, being from Africa vs. being African American, and the crumbling of the American dream. This book felt like a full literary meal that made me more thoughtful about privilege and allyship by the end. Just do yourself a favor and read it, then find my roommate M for some deep “Americanah” talks. She’s the “Americanah” sherpa if there ever was one.

Oryx and Crake

My best friend Joe gave me this book as a birthday present about three years ago, and on the plane to Taiwan, I started reading it in anticipation of visiting him and being able to – I assumed – squeal about this post-apocalyptic book. But alas, there was no squealing. I’m not a fan of this book. (I’M SORRY JOE!) The first of the MaddAddam trilogy by Margaret Atwood, “Oryx and Crake” is told from the perspective of Snowman, a man who survived the human-induced apocalypse and is overtime, is being turned into a God figure by a tribe of perfect human-like experiments. The story begins with these mystery: Who is Crake? Why is Snowman so in love with Oryx? How did they make this world? Is Snowman the last human on earth?

If science fiction, specifically post-apocalyptic narratives, are your jam, this book would be a great addition to your subway journeys. But for me, like my experiences with “Catcher in the Rye,” the narrator truly bothered me. Snowman’s perspective, his way of speaking; I began to feel only the smallest amount of kinship towards him in the last 50 pages and then then the book was over. Well, you’ll just have to see. Will I read the rest of the series? I might, mostly because I trust Joe’s opinions so highly that I’m thinking I must have missed something.

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11 novels down, 19 more to go before the end of the year. Any suggestions, please send them this way! My book piles haven’t yet reached the ceiling so there is totally room for more.

For more of my recs and reviews, click here!