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2 different books, 2 positive reviews

2 different books, 2 positive reviews

i just finished a book of essays called “world of wonders” by aimee nezhukumatathil, where she connects memories of her life with natural elements like obscure creatures or trees or no-so-obscure creatures. her childhood was a quiet one in the 80s, so her experiences she shared were relatable, but from a different lens of a first-generation non-white child. but what this book really shines in is the lyricism of the writing. she’s firstly a poet, is my understanding, and you can tell that by the way she weaves her prose. her writing reminds me of michael perry’s, in its leaving you wanting for a time that’s gone by.

the book is short and a quick read, and several essays are illustrated by the natural world she makes connections with. i have a hard cover copy that i will gladly lend to anyone.

******

speaking of the 80s, i read the book “we ride upon sticks”, which was a recommendation from another blogger, and it was the opposite of the collection of essays, but equally reminiscent of the 80s. the pages were dense, with text crowding the page in a small size and one paragraph taking up a page a times. but after i got into it, i definitely got engrossed with this book. it features a field hockey team in the late 80s in a town outside of salem, and they make a weird pact through emilio estevez and witchcraft, though, actual witchcraft, or just the knowledge that they were in this together? either way, i was constantly reminded of things that happened in the 80s that i had decided didn’t need to take up space in my brain anymore. specifically, gitano jeans, which produced such a rush of nostalgia, i couldn’t help but gasp when i read it in the book.

this book is not necessarily short, and not a quick read. there are no illustrations, but i think if you want a rush of 80s nostalgia and a plotline that is nothing like anything i’ve ever seen before, then pick up this book. i think the last page and a half are worth the entire read, and i was smiling hard as i finished it up.

books of 2020

books of 2020

every year i do the goodreads challenge, where you set a reading goal for yourself. you’d think that with a pandemic and all, it’d be easy to knock out a boatload of books this year, but i didn’t even make my challenge number, which was weeny since i set it before the pandemic (if pandemic had set in when i made my challenge, i might’ve failed hugely).

i set a goal of 55 books for the year and managed to get through 51 (a couple were rereads). but before i get all bent out of shape, i like to note that i’m a believer in the page count rather than book count. i read a lot of long books. sure, there are usually a couple shorties, but geez, a stephen king book is almost always more than 600 pages. so let’s take a look at that data first!

i really knocked it out of the park in 2016. i chalk it up to listening to audiobooks on my drives from southern mn to central mn during the four months of turbulence. oh, i also read a lot of stephen king that year.

so, what were my top books of 2020?

i have two favorites i read this year.

  1. where the crawdads sing by delia owens was my number one book this year. i inhaled this book. it was a mystery, an ode to the natural world, and just lovely. there are some dark sections (i’m ok with that). and one section that was so patronizing to couples who don’t have children (not really ok with that).  i hesitated reading this because for some reason i’m a book snob  (smut for one) and this book seemed to be super hyped up and put on every book club list. but there was a reason!
  2. the wanderers by chuck wendig was my number two book this year. totally different from crawdads, this is about preserving the human race from its annihilation in the event of a pandemic (wow, how apropos. i read this in early february!). don’t worry – this is different from “the stand”, which i also read again this year. why not read about pandemics that are SO MUCH worse when you’re amidst one? anyway, if you like some action/post-apocalyptic novel action, this book is wort the 782 (!) pages. (much shorter than the stand.)

those are my favorites this year. here’s the runners-up list.

  1. big summer by jennifer weiner. a nice beach thriller mystery read! i love her books and have read them all.
  2. book of two ways by jodi piccoult. see above about jennifer weiner – i have read all her books! this was a good book with lots of information about egyptian mythology with a weird twisty middle that made me laugh at her genius.
  3. the dead zone by stephen king. this book has entered my top five SK books! i thought it was great. it’s about a guy who gets a TBI and can see a person’s future just by touching them.
  4. leave it as it is by david gessner. gessner intertwines some biographical info about teddy roosevelt’s mission to create and bolster the national park system and his conservationist (almost) ways with his trip across the west in TR’s footsteps to several national parks. he also focuses on bears ears national park and really focuses on american indian perspective.
  5. the midnight library by matt haig. while this started off a little depressing, it turned into a lovely book of redemption with a really interesting premise of experiencing other lives you could have had.
  6. the four agreements by miguel ruiz. i picked this up because lesley fightmaster quoted 🙁 a lot from it. it’s short and small and gives guidance on how to live an authentic life. i underlined a lot in it, and i’m sure i’ll pick it up again and again.

books i expected a lot from that didn’t live up to the hype? (hmm… see i’ve just got to read hype-y books, i think.)

  1. the starless sea
  2. the ballad of songbirds and snakes (trying to give a more human background to cornelius snow just makes me hate him more)
  3. the bookish life of nina hill

i think if i want to read more books in 2021, i just need to start reading more fiction. i like to learn things, but nothing really prompts me to pick up a book like the storyline of a good piece of fiction. we’ll see how that pans out.

books i want to read in 2021?

  1. american dirt (this got a lot of good press then a lot of bad press, and now i think we’re back to good press. i’m going to borrow it from the library so i don’t give money to the author if it is back in bad press territory.)
  2. a promised land by barack obama. memoirs are as insatiable to me as fiction.
  3. we ride upon sticks – this is on my list because of a rave review of a blogger i’ve followed for 15 years.
  4. this books is anti-racist. i know this is not fiction and will probably make me learn, but it goes hand in hand with my “resolution” to do more antri-racist things
  5. in the same vein of nonfiction, i want to read something by wallace stegner.

is this the year i reread harry potter?

and when is the year i read all of stephen king in a row? (that is a huge commitment.)

book review: unspeakable things

book review: unspeakable things

the author jess lourey is an instructor at my school, so the library has all the books she’s written. she just came out with a new book inspired by the jacob wetterling kidnapping; she grew up in paynesville, and if you’ve listened to the “in the dark” podcast, you know that was a hotbed of unsavory behavior in the 80s and 90s.

so i was at the school library the other day and swiped it off the shelf; it’s #54 in amazon’s most-purchased books today, which she is super excited about (and for good reason!). i picked it up friday night and finished it this morning.

the book is told from the viewpoint of a 12/13-year-old girl who lives in rural, small-town stearns county; it’s always so weird to be reading a book and see references to places i know – i’m sure people run into this all the time, which means i need to up my minnesota author game. the parallels between her fiction narrative and the actual crimes that happened here were unsettling at times – the music teacher who lives with his parents; mother of the abducted/murdered child with the name mrs. wellstone; the syllables in jacob wetterling’s name equals the syllables in the fictionalized child’s name.

and add in all the other creepy things that were going on in the narrator’s life, which were very adult, very ick-inducing for that age – swingers parties, drug dealing, pedophilia themes, an abusive father – and it painted a very disgusting portrait of central minnesota residents. but what is very apparent in her writing is the shimmer of truth surrounding some of the themes. paynesville boys were abused in the 80s and 90s, and someone was doing it – someone who was a resident of this area.

despite the ick-factor themes of the books, i loved the narration by our 13-year-old heroine, cassie. the book is written such that it’s the looking-back narration by the present-day woman narrator. i loved the description of the band room at her school, sucking on a clarinet reed while assembling it, calling out “i seen it” or “can you borrow me that” as minnesota-isms, the clique-y-ness of lunchtime and trying to fit in.

i know this book is not for everyone. but i even liked that it made me uncomfortable at times, which i’m sure was the author’s intent. people don’t get through childhood unscathed, and some more scathed than others. multiple times it was highlighted how adults just don’t believe the kids, how it’s just boys messing around for attention. it’s even called out that what finally forced big action was that the kid who was abducted was middle class. the other victims had been from “the wrong side of the tracks” (so to speak). by making readers uncomfortable, maybe it will nudge some to start believing kids and encouraging them to speak out about assaults and prevent future assaults.

all the birds in the sky: a book review

all the birds in the sky: a book review

i just finished up “all the birds in the sky.” have you ever read a book where every time you set it down, you think, man that’s a weird little book. and then you continue to pick it back up because you want to see what on earth happens in this weird little book? that’s how i felt with “all the birds in the sky.”

it’s a melding of two genres and somehow, it works. it’s got the old-school fairy tale vibe going on with the female character in the natural world and witchy powers, and then it’s got a techy/futuristic vibe with the male character holding fast to his intelligent AI he’s built and a 2-second time machine on his wrist. somehow, the two end up falling in love in a world that’s creeping closer and closer climate disaster (oh yeah, it’s also borderline environmental apocalyptic genre too!), but when disaster strikes, the way they deal puts them at odds.

i wouldn’t give this five stars. i think i’d be hard pressed to give it four stars. it’s an entertaining read and fascinating how the different genres come together, but the story didn’t compel me like other stories have. i’d recommend it for how it messes with your preconceived notions of how storytelling genres work and to get your mind to wrap around how storytelling can shift between them and still work.

book review: “the library book”

book review: “the library book”

i just finished up “the library book” which was excellent. it’s about the LA library fire in the 80s and just info on the library in general. i learned a lot about how it came to be, the building, the head librarians (a couple early ones were women!), and the investigation into the guy who was accused of arson.

her description of the fire itself was fantastic: how it started, its movement, the way it was a perfect fire and burned so hot that it had no color. she started the book with the fire, so this was real hook into reading the rest of the book.

it was also really encouraging to read about how the LA library system is evolving as it grows. because it had to basically start over in the early 90s, it was one of the first libraries to go electronic. and now they’re trying to figure out how to help the homeless population and the patrons who want to utilize the library for more than just books. i love how libraries have always been about more than just books, too. the first head librarian wanted to add tennis racquets to the loan list.

 

interesting fact: the fire happened on the same day as chernobyl, so the media coverage of it was almost nil. i had never heard that the LA library had a major fire (neither had the author; it’s why she wrote the book).

so, highly recommend reading the book to learn more about the LA library fire, the investigation, and libraries in general.

book review – invisible women: data bias in a world designed for men

book review – invisible women: data bias in a world designed for men

unpaid work.

sex.

gender.

does it seem like i’m going to start a feminist rant? no. i’m going to talk about what we women have known forever.

i just finished up “invisible women: data bias in a world designed for men” and boy howdy am i annoyed. despite being the majority of people who inhabit the earth, we get the short stick when it comes to, well, just about everything.

caroline criado perez does a nice job of making statistics and data points palatable in her book, which tend to make me set aside a book if it becomes too boring. instead, she weaves in stories and examples with her data, using recent, actual events to back up what she’s talking about. (and if you’re worried about “citation needed”, about 30% of the book is footnotes and annotations.)

she talks about three major parts of women’s lives that are ignored in our world: sex, gender, and unpaid work. each of them is infuriating in themselves to think about discrepancies, but the most irritating for me was the medical section (dealing with the sex portion of this). think about all those medical studies and drug studies and all those medications you’re taking. now think about how the majority of test subjects and even mice are male. now think about how different the female body is with hormones and different muscle mass and metabolism, even. and the data they do get after these studies? they don’t disaggregate them by sex! so there could be a great drug out there for women that didn’t do squat out there for men, but do we know? no. science grants have generally dismissed research into childbirth and menstruation due to them being “not pressing” even though one happens every 28 days for most women and the other happens 360,000 times a day! if that’s not pressing, i’m not sure what is. and then let’s not talk about how doctors dismiss women’s pain as “all in their head”. did you know that a lot women are given antidepressants instead of painkillers? and the men in the same situation are given painkillers?

WHAT. ON. EARTH.

now, let’s touch briefly on the fact that when you include any vehicular crash tests that include dummies that are the size and stature of women (but not anatomically, so the chestal area is flat [think about where a seat belt goes]), the safety ratings PLUMMET. and they don’t even do crash tests with these smaller dummies in the drivers seats, because, you know, women don’t drive ever, amirite?

and let’s not even get started on phone size and the pocketriarchy. yes, she talked about both those things. i wish she had used the term pocketriarchy though. i’d probably’ve written her a love letter.

*EYE ROLL SO HARD*

and that’s just one. unpaid work is another huge portion. one of the scandinavian countries decided to do their snow removal backwards (start with the sidewalks and side roads and move outward) and the number of injuries massively reduced. why? because all the women who travel to various places for different errands and to take care of people are more likely to walk and use side roads. the men who don’t do all this unpaid work just use a main road to get to their jobs and go home. women are also more likely to combine various trips into one: i go to work, but on the way home, i stop at target, i stop at the grocery store, i stop to pick something else up. husbands generally don’t do this because their wives do.

throw in childcare, eldercare, taking care of infirm relatives, housework, etc.: what do you think it would add to the GDP? she posits that it would more than double what the GDP is worth in its paid work. considering the average woman’s leisure time versus a man’s, this wouldn’t surprise me one bit. consider emotional labor.

ok, phew. i’m getting all riled up here.

for the last one, gender, which is inculcated in us from day one, i think what’s most telling is how the workworld is designed for men and women are told “hey, just be more bold. be more insistent. be more” when talking about the pay gap. didn’t get a raise? well, you obviously didn’t sell yourself as well as jeeves did over in the corner office. so we’re going to have a workshop on how to teach women to show their worth in the workworld. instead of this, can’t we just acknowledge that women aren’t as aggressive as men in the workworld and are just as, if not more, worthy? can that just be… the NORM? instead of telling women they need to be more aggressive in the workplace? and when they are, well then they’re just shrill. they’re too much. they’re HILLARY CLINTON. (such an odd insult.)

*EYE ROLL AGAIN*

bottom line in ALL of these is that when standards are set or buildings are designed or drug tests are commenced, maybe a few women at the table would help. heck: if the table were half women, that would be at least egalitarian. because chances are that they will think of something that men don’t think about because they don’t experience it. that’s why it’s good to have diverse backgrounds at the table as well.

so. read this book. women, prepare to want to scratch your eyeballs out in frustration (only because you know it happens all around you all the time). men, prepare to have your eyeballs opened a bit. at least i hope that’s what happens and i hope you think about it next time you’re making decisions for the whole in a room full of men.

kudos, caroline. keep fighting the good fight.

all hail the book nerd

all hail the book nerd

i did a cool thing today! the local libraries exchange was on campus to record 5-minute book reviews for their podcast, and i did TWO books! (unfortunately, i was the only one who signed up, so i guess it was a good thing i brought a second book!)

i had listened to a few of their podcasts before i headed into this foray, and i was worried about being able to spend enough time talking about my books. well, after i rambled on and on about the first book (“the dreamers”), the interviewer said that it was almost exactly 5 minutes. i was worried i wouldn’t be able to talk about it enough!

then i talked about “a walk in the woods” which one of the interviewers had also read (and loved the author), so we almost tag-teamed on the interview, and that one was really fun. hey, if you haven’t read that one and you enjoy memoirs and humor, this is the book for you.

THEN they invited me to come to their space over the summer sometime when they’re recording podcasts about specific genres of books! OMG. i asked if harry potter was considered a genre, and then we got excited about a podcast talking about HP.

book nerds are great.

s. king’s latest

s. king’s latest

when i saw there was an additional book from stephen king out, i thought oh boy! he’s really on a roll now. i mean, we all know he writes monster books (heh could be a double meaning) and quite often. earlier this year i’d purchased “the outsider” and was amazed that a second one was already published.

i stopped at BN in the moa to pick it up and…

it’s so little!! of course i still picked it up. it’s fewer than 200 pages with large type, more of a novella than a novel. i finished it over the course of two days; it would have been one, but i started reading at 10:30 p.m. and had to go to sleep.

like all king books, it’s got a little weird element to it, but it’s an uplifting story (heh – again) with a lesson for readers.

i know i’ve said this before, but i’ll say it again. if you’re afraid to pick up one of his books because it’s attached to horror, just push that aside and dive in. most likely you’ve already watched a movie adaptation of one if his: shawshank, stand by me, green mile, etc. what i like about his writing is that he ties a lot of the stories together, a lot of times to the man in black.

if you are looking for a decent one to start with, pick up 11/22/63, my favorite. it’s got the right mix of weird (there’s always something weird in his books), sentimental, and thriller-esque.

do NOT pick up the tommyknockers. only book of his i was literally scared.

(or IT. read that one after you’ve read a few of his and start wondering what the heck is going on in derry, maine, and you’re fully acquainted with the king-style weird.)

on laura ingalls wilder (and the ALA)

on laura ingalls wilder (and the ALA)

when asked about the most influential books i’ve read, there are two series in my top ten: one is the harry potter series and the other is the little house series. i’ve written a few times before about LH, most often when reminiscing about my aunt colettie, who snagged me remainder books from her time at the rochester school system library. i also remember reading them very young, when the librarians at the small gradeschool i went to wouldn’t let me out of the children’s section to explore chapter books.

for me there’s a romanticism to reading the LH books – from laura’s time in the big woods, gathering food from the woods and eating maple syrup candy that had been poured onto smooth cold snow, to the endless prairies of south dakota and the harsh winters with grains stored in walls. i know it was rough going, but 7-year-old me wanted to live in that world.

this past week, the association for library service to children (a division of the american library association) voted to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award.

first, a little background on the LIW award. the award was established in 1954 when it was giving to laura herself and it’s been given every 5 years through 1980, then til 2001 every 3 yrs, then 01-16, every 2, and now every year, to a childrens author or illustrator whose books have made a substantial and lasting contribution to kids’ lit. past winners include maurice sendak, beverly cleary, eb white, and dr. seuss. the authors who receive this award have a “substantial and lasting contribution” and “occupy an important place in literature for American children and that over the years children have read the books and the books continue to be requested and read by children.”

the ALSC decided to change the name of the wilder medal because of the LHoP books’ racist themes throughout. they claim that the books are inconsistent with their core values. i have a beef with that. the books are a product of their time, just like mark twain’s books. they also reflect the thoughts of people around her: ma hated american indians and pa didn’t.

this line from pa in particular is pretty ahead of its time:  They “would be as peaceable as anybody else if they were let alone.” Pa says. “On the other hand, they had been moved west so many times that naturally they hated white folks.”

there was this line in the books when it was first published:

There the wild animals wandered and fed as though they were in a pasture that stretched much farther than a man could see, and there were no people. Only Indians lived there.

laura was just mortified when someone pointed out the line to her. she wrote her publisher post haste:

You are perfectly right about the fault in Little House on the Prairie and have my permission to make the correction as you suggest. It was a stupid blunder of mine. Of course Indians are people and I did not intend to imply they were not.

that line now says settlers. i think that in itself is reason to keep the wilder name on the medal. the thing is, her books fully embrace the theme of the medal. and given the above, i think laura the author embraces the ALSC’s core values, “which include inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.”

and if the ALSC really wants to embrace their values, well, they’ll change the name of the carnegie medal as well. despite his philanthropic ways, there were some controversies in his life. and perhaps we should pore over randolph caldecott’s illustrations to make sure they also embrace those core values? and dr seuss, who also has an award named after him, supported the internment of japanese americans during WWII! (afterward, he changed his mind a bit with horton hears a who as an allegory for hiroshima.)

this all said, i can understand how someone reading the books outside of the white person lens sees these books as a glorification of racism and stereotyping of native americans. but as a set of historical, semi-autobiographical fiction that was explaining the time and perspective, i don’t know how we can’t see that laura’s books aren’t still relevant and educational.

i was reading reddit’s books forum and saw this comment:

As a proud Native American and member of the Blackfoot tribe, I am disheartened to hear that children will no longer have it explained to them what our roots are.

Growing up in public school we often learned of the struggles minorities faced in the history of this country, but my Native ancestors were ether under represented or left out all together.

These books were my first experience of what non-res people heard about my people. It raised questions that were sometimes hard, but gave all the class the ability to look at our history through the lens of today. A reminder not to repeat the mistakes of hatred from the past.

I think that this award for all its flaws sparked an important conversation. A conversation that is no more. One less source of truth about my nearly extinct people.

i think it’s important to hear those other voices. but did the ALSC just get complaints and decide to change the name based on those, or did they go out and find other perspectives from american indians, like the one above? and do the ALSC’s awards reflect the author or the author’s works? in EITHER case, if the ALSC is going to change the name of the wilder award, it needs to take a closer look at its other awards and how they relate to its core values.

i’m disappointed that the award has been renamed. while her award hasn’t been revoked and her works still widely published and read, stripping laura’s name from the long-time award does a disservice to historical viewpoints, a turn-of-the-century female author, and to the spirit of laura and other long-read authors.

book review: Out West

book review: Out West

what a FANTASTIC book. i picked this up on a random reddit recommendation and couldn’t have been happier i did.
written in the mid-80s, so much of duncan’s insights are still so relevant. with his road rules (never turn back. don’t stop to ask for directions.) and his stories of his traveling the same route of lewis and clark but in less time and better accommodations, this is such a pleasant read for anyone interested in the west, the lewis and clark expedition, or anyone who has an itch to travel. this book is dense but worth reading every word.
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