Winter Reading: January 2017…
Books have always provided great entertainment for me, as well as escape. I don’t know about you, but this January felt like the perfect time to climb into the pages of a book, hunker down, and hibernate. And I decided since my love for books extends far and wide and deep into my soul, I may as well share my thoughts right here. This won’t be a typical book review feature, though. Just a snippet of what I thought (or didn’t think) about whatever books made it to the top of my to-read heap.
I read seven books in January. Truth: Reading seven books in one month is not typical for me, so don’t expect February to be as productive. Unless I continue to hibernate. And I might.
About my “reading style”…
- I often read two or three books at a time. At any given time I have ten or so books on my bedside table.
- Life’s too short to slog through books I don’t enjoy. If I really, really dislike it, I won’t finish it, and I won’t include it here.
- I know what it takes to write a book, and because of that, I’m not going to give someone a completely terrible review. Different strokes for different folks, right? I can always find positive things to say about everything I read (unless I can’t and then I won’t include it here.)
- Bookmarks make me happy. I don’t turn down the corners of my books to mark my spot (something I learned from Mr. Joyner, Rivercrest High School).
- Sometimes I write in the margins (something Mr. Joyner would frown on).
- I like to hold books (i.e. I rarely read electronic versions). I enjoy audio books, too, but miss holding the book and re-reading favorite passages.
- I re-read favorites especially classics and Newbery Award winners.
- I generally prefer the book over the movie. If the movie is coming out, I usually rush out and read the book first. But not always.
Here we go. My winter reading for January 2017…
Lillian Boxfish Takes A Walk, by Kathleen Rooney
From her vintage mink coat to the way she truly engages with the people she meets, I want to be exactly like Lillian Boxfish when I’m eighty-five-years-old. Once the highest paid advertising woman in the world (pre-Mad Men era), Lillian is charming, witty, and hip for her age. She tells her story in naturally occurring flashbacks and stream of consciousness type thoughts as she walks around her beloved Manhattan on New Year’s Eve 1984. What a great (and timely) reminder of how we shouldn’t judge people by appearances. I was completely captivated by this story, more than a little annoyed I didn’t write it, and can’t wait for the movie. I imagine Dame Maggie Smith in the lead role. Of course.
This Book Made Me: research Margaret Fishback (the lady Lillian Boxfish is based upon); research the author for other books and writings; commit to walking even more each day than I already do.
Favorite Line: “If you love something, know that it will leave on a day you are far from ready.”
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath
This is Plath’s only novel, and I’m stunned that I waited my whole life to read it. I absolutely could not put this book down, mainly because the protagonist’s voice hooked me from the get-go. Filled with dry humor and dark despair, the author portrays life from beneath a suffocating bell jar. You know what a bell jar is, right?—those glass cloches used to display plants or decorative items. While cool for tabletop decorating, I can’t imagine living beneath the stifling air of one. Although many, many people do. If you haven’t read The Bell Jar (or maybe I was the only person!), my description probably sounds incredibly depressing, but seriously this book included laugh out loud humor and such talented writing. Knowing The Bell Jar is semi-autobiographical makes it all that much more powerful. This book now occupies a spot on my list of favorite all-time books. Yes, I keep a list.
This Book Made Me: read more about Julius and Ethel Rosenburg; look up the word “dybbuk”; buy two more Plath books (Unabridged Journals and CollectedPoems) because now I’m mildly obsessed.
Favorite Line: “I also had a dim idea that if I walked the streets of New York by myself all night something of the city’s mystery and magnificence might rub off on me at last.”
Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family
and Culture in Crisis, by J.D. Vance
You can count on me to read anything about hillbillies because I figure I’m only a couple or three generations removed from a good many moonshine-making Ozark Mountain hillbillies. This book wasn’t what I expected. It’s the author’s true story of becoming a successful Yale Law School graduate despite growing up in a massively dysfunctional family. Yes, an incredible feat thanks in part to his grandmother who raised him, the Marines that taught him discipline, and his own inner strength. Hillbilly Elegy is a statement on the often invisible poor white working-class. I appreciated the author’s frankness. He’s not afraid to say things most people don’t utter about life choices and about how the government can’t and shouldn’t be expected to “fix” everything. For me, the most profound thing about Hillbilly Elegy is how truly surprised people seem to be by Hillbilly Elegy. And my number one takeaway was: people really are out of touch with rural America.
According to the Economist, “You will not read a more important book about America this year.” I can’t say I agree with this statement, not for me personally. But yes, yes, yes, this book could be a huge eye opener if you’re a movie star or Wall Street tycoon or even a regular city dweller who doesn’t know where the wheat you don’t eat (because gluten) is grown. BUT. If you grew up in Middle America or the Rust Belt or in small town USA south of the Mason-Dixon line where shake and bake meth is made in the back seat of cars, Hillbilly Elegy may seem like reading about people you already know, or yourself, (minus Yale University). Regardless, bravo to the author for illuminating the situation and starting a conversation.
This Book Made Me: think more young people should join the military right out of high school; wonder how on earth things will ever improve for our country.
Favorite Line: “I don’t know what the answer is, precisely, but I know it starts when we stop blaming Obama or Bush or faceless companies and ask ourselves what we can do to make things better.”
Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler,
More Soulful Way of Living
by Shauna Niequist
This book came recommended by a friend, and I found it to be the perfect reminder I needed, especially during January, the month of goal and resolution setting. I heard the author’s message loud and clear and even cheered the simplicity of it within the first couple of chapters. And I felt like I was sitting and talking with a friend—that’s how the book is written, in a casual way with real-life stories that morph into lessons before your eyes. About mid-way through, though, the book began to feel repetitive to me. Perhaps the message of being present over perfect could have been delivered in a shorter format? Or maybe, just maybe, I couldn’t be present enough to enjoy the entire book. Totally possible. For the right audience—harried mothers, true perfectionists, career women pulled in a million directions and doing nothing well—this could be your ideal read. Life-changing even.
This Book Made Me: worry waaaaay less about cleaning out my closet.
Favorite Line: “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and look back and realize that the best thing about me was I was organized.”
Love and Treasure, by Eyelet Waldman
The history behind this novel is intriguing—the Hungarian Gold Train (a train filled to the brim with treasures stolen from the Jews during WWII). The book is written in three parts. I very much enjoyed the first half of this book (a dedicated soldier guards the train, meets a spunky concentration camp survivor, they fall into a messy relationship…). The characters in part two of the story (seventy years later) were not as relatable. The third part is more about the history of a particular piece of jewelry, central to the story and something that intrigues me. Found objects and treasures with history alway fascinate me. I found myself wanting more of a true historical narrative of the gold train rather than the imagined story around it.
This Book Made Me: super curious about the gold train (something I knew nothing about), and think again about WWII atrocities (something we can’t let happen again).
Favorite Line: “How many people will die, have died, because of the wasted talents of intelligent and gifted women, forced into domestic drudgery, corseted by paternal demands, strangled by denial of opportunity?”
A Great Reckoning, by Louise Penny
This is not the sort of book I typically read (mystery), but I read it for book club. I had a difficult time forming bonds with the main characters, but once the tale took hold, I found it to be entertaining. I understand now it would have been better for me to read Penny’s stories in order of publication. (A Great Reckoning is Penny’s twelfth book.) While the author’s books stand alone, they also build on one another, and I think I missed out on nuances and layers built into the story by jumping into this one first. (Would be like reading The Order of the Phoenix before The Sorcerer’s Stone.) I’m putting her first book on my list. It’s exciting to find a brand new to me author with a slew of books already lining the library shelf. Back in the day I inhaled Agatha Christie, so maybe the time has come for me to give mysteries another go?
This Book Made Me: want to visit Quebec; find an old map with a secret; re-read Ten Little Indians.
My Favorite Line: “It was a careworn face. But most of the lines, if followed back like a trail, would lead to happiness.”
When Women Were Birds, by Terry Tempest Williams
This is a collection of short essays on one woman’s life and voice set against the backdrop of her mother’s life and strength in silence. The author’s writing is poetic and rich and meditative, like a guide book to living in the present while seeking wisdom and clarity. She doesn’t mince words, which I appreciate. What a perfect bedside book, one to keep on the nightstand to read in bits and pieces. I love everything about the book design, too, from the small size of the paperback (easy to slip inside your bag), the cover (depicting feathers) with French flaps, and the heavier than normal paper with deckled edges.
This Book Made Me: think about all the strong women in my family who came before me, and research bookbinding methods and deckle edged paper.
My Favorite Line: “I wonder what would happen if you gave up your need to be right?”
Are you on Goodreads? Are you doing the Goodreads Book Challenge for 2017? If so, let’s follow each other. My link is HERE.
Do you have a Pinterest Reading or Book board? If so, shoot me the link so I can follow.
What books did you read in January? What was your favorite?
What books are on your bedside table?
Grace Grits and Gardening
Farm. Food. Garden. Life.
Nelly Furtado, I’m Like A Bird