Recent Reads

I am shamefully behind on my book reviews. Here’s a quick recap of the books I’ve finished recently. I want to start with a series that I devoured:

YA fiction historically hasn’t been my go to book genre. Reading this series has made me give YA a second look. It was recommended by a trusted bookworm friend so I gave it a chance and I was quickly swept up in the story. If you liked Harry Potter, or like YA at all you should definitely check this series out.

I admire an economical writer. This a super short read that packs a lot of punch. If you get breathless at an immaculate sentence (like I do), check this one out.

I read this in one sitting at a local bookstore. It’s in textbook format, more picture heavy than text heavy. It was very funny and hysterical just like the show. Would I buy this? No, but it would be a fun gift for someone who is into political satire.

Shteyngart’s, Lenny was just too much of a creeper for me. The older man falling for the younger girl as he tries to clasp onto his youth is a pretty typical story in literary fiction. Lenny, the main character is just so desperate and icky, I would often cringe reading it. It is very well written, maybe too well written I had to take a shower after deciding that I would take a break from the book.

My new favorite term is “defensive pessimism”.

“The ‘defensive pessimist’ looks at everything and thinks [that] this is going to be a disaster,” he explains to Fresh Air‘s Terry Gross. “They lower their expectations … and they go through all of the negative capacities and the negative capabilities of a given event. You imagine the worst-case scenario you can and you go through it step by step, and you dismantle those things and you manage your anxiety about it.”

Rakoff is the quintessential defensive pessimist, and I love him for it. The stories are sardonic but generally surprise you with some feel good sentiment. I’ve found that Rakoff’s stories are much better listened to than read. There is something unique to his narration that adds more weight to the stories. If you like David Sedaris, you’ll like David Rakoff.

My favorite Rakoff review: “Like a whore with a heart of gold, David Rakoff says all the nasty things we want to hear and then reveals that, actually, it’s all about love.” -Ira Glass

Those are the books that stuck out most recently.  So far I’m at 72 books; I’m pretty confident I’ll hit the 100 book goal by the end of the year.

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Atticus Finch (making American men feel inadequate for 50 years)

I attended an event tonight at Symphony Space to celebrate Harper Lee’s birthday and the influence “To Kill a Mockingbird” has had on the American psyche for the past 50 years. Panelists included Authors and actors:  Libba Bray (award winning young-adult novelist Going Bovine, winner of 2010 Printz Award), Oskar Eustis (Artistic Director at The Public Theater), Kurt Andersen (novelist and Studio 360 Host) ,Jayne Anne Phillips  (novelist and National Book Award finalist Lark & Termite), filmmaker Mary McDonagh Murphy (author of the upcoming book Scout, Atticus, and Boo) & Stephen Colbert (who let’s be honest is the only panelist I really cared about). The highlight of the evening was Stephen reading a chapter from the book.

The panelists discussed how the book affected their lives and the way they thought it had affected America. Oskar Eustis shared an anecdote about of a little girl he fancied and how she said “I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch”. Oskar went on to say that the Atticus Finch standard has made him feel inadequate as a man and after having kids, an inadequate father. He said this jokingly of course, but like most jokes there was a sad sad truth behind it. Atticus is not your typical hero. He isn’t overly militant, he is understated and determined. He does what’s right because it is right and doesn’t make a show about it. He is wise, generous, humble & compassionate. With his kids he is patient, honest, and tries to instill in them good values by example.  I want to echo Oskar’s girl’s statement. I want to marry a man like Atticus Finch too!

The panel discussed Harper Lee and the mystery surrounding why she never wrote again. Today (April 28th) is Harper Lee’s 84th birthday. She has rarely done interviews or made appearances. I think the general consensus was that she never wrote again because she could never live up to the anticipation. To Kill a Mockingbird was too much of a success for her to write anything again. I guess we’ll never know. Personally I think she is more than happy with the masterpiece she has contributed to American literature.

I read To Kill a Mockingbird when I was in 4th grade. My mom took us to the library almost every week and it was on one of these excursions that I stumbled upon and into the world of Scout Finch. I think even at that age I was able to glean so much about what integrity looked like, what justice was, how entrenched social constructs were hard to change but it didn’t mean you shouldn’t try if they were wrong.

I love this book. I loved the movie too. Thank you Harper Lee for giving us Atticus, Scout, Jem, Dill & Boo. Happy Birthday.

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
– spoken by Atticus Finch, by Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Stranded

I started listening to a podcast recently from the BBC where the premise of the program is you’re stranded on a desert island and you are allowed 3 albums (comedy albums & audio books count as well), 3 books (the Bible is out of the running, the Gideons reach apparently extends to deserted islands), and 1 luxury item (purely luxury, it’s too easy to say a boat) and why. The desert island question isn’t a new one but I thought it was an interesting way to tackle interviews with notable people and I think it reveals a little more about people than normal question answer sessions. It also got me thinking, what I would bring on a desert island.

3 books

–        The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien: I know it’s kind of cheating since they’re broken up into three books but Tolkien meant for them to be one book and it was the publisher’s decision to break them up so I’ll side with the author’s original intentions.  I love these books. Tolkien created a world you could get lost in, the detail and attention he paid to the lore of Middle Earth is astounding. I read this series the first time and got lost in the adventure, I’ve re-read it multiple times since to study the nuances of the world Tolkien imagined.

–        The collected works of William Shakespeare: Yes I know cheating again, but hey if they make it a complete one bound book edition I’m going to say it counts. I’m not an obsessive Shakespeare fan, but his command of words makes my heart swell with joy when I read/see/hear his work. My favorite tragedy is Hamlet and comedy is Much Ado About Nothing.  I would entertain myself on the island by performing the plays and basking in his genius.

–        Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen: I probably have most of it committed to memory already but my well worn copy of this book continues to get a lot of use. The scene where Mr. Darcy goes to tell Elizabeth that he’s in love with her never fails to make my heart beat quicken with girlish delight.

3 albums

–        Set List by the Frames: If any of you have seen the movie Once you’ll be familiar with Glen Hansard. He is currently touring with the girl from that movie as the Swell Season, but before that he was longtime front man to a band called the Frames. I prefer the eccentric rock and roll style of the Frames. They are so much fun to see live, it feels like you’re at a pub watching one of your friends play. Glen often introduces a song with a short story of what inspired it, most of the time it’s funny, sometimes sad but always entertaining. Set List reminds me of this experience.

–        In Rainbows by Radiohead: I know I’d want to have some Radiohead thrown into the mix but it was tough choosing one album. Kid-A  and Ok Computer are notable contenders. There’s just something about In Rainbows that makes me happy, a stupid grin is often plastered to my face while listening.

–       The Beatles Anthology (1-3): I was obsessed with the Beatles in 7th grade. When the Beatles anthology came out and played on TV I used to sneak downstairs with my sister to watch it since my parents didn’t allow us to watch TV on school nights. My siblings and I still quote lines from the movie A Hard Days Night. This was such a fun time for my siblings and me. I would pick this album not only for the great music but also the nostalgia it provides.

1 luxury item

–        Saturday NPR programming: This was a tough one but when I thought about what would most distract me from the loneliness of a desert island my first thought was NPR. Yes this is ridiculously nerdy but those power hours when Car Talk is followed by Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, then This American Life and topped off with Radiolab make me never want to leave my car. Yes my idea of luxury isn’t diamonds* it’s listening to Ira Glass and Carl Kassel on the radio. (*I’m not opposed to diamonds though)

So what would you bring to your desert island?