Book Shelf: August 2017

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August was our first month home and I wasn't sure whether I'd keep up with my reading or not.   One thing kept me motivated, which was finishing the BookBar Summer Reading (Without Walls), which I did!  I always love a contest, but this really resonated with me because it forced me to read outside my comfort zone.  I can't remember the last time I picked up a book of poetry, nor have I read many political memoirs or works of literary criticism.  I've included my complete BINGO board below - I hope you all get a laugh out of my "middle grade" read (The Babysitters Club, a favorite of my youth).  The hardest for me to finish was a book of poetry (The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson).  When I read, I enjoy getting wrapped up in the story, which is why I find poetry difficult -- you have to stop and think about each word.  I suspect that reading poetry is good thing for me to do that I ought to do more -- I don't slow down well -- perhaps I'll give another poet a try.  The most pleasant surprises were Colorado author, Colorado publisher (Stars Go Blue), El Deafo, my first graphic novel, and Madam Secretary, Madeline Albright's political memoir.  In the upcoming month, I plan to read all of the incredible new releases stacked on my nightstand: The Four Tendencies, Forest Dark, My Absolute Darling, and Home Fire.

Madam Secretary - I loved this political memoir written by Madeline Albright.  I particularly loved reading about her childhood, education, and family life -- she grew up in Denver and her father was a renowned professor at the University of Denver.  She had three daughters (including twins) and didn't have her first "real" job that would lead to her becoming Secretary of State until she was 39! If that isn't inspiring, I don't know what is.  I was less interested in the detailed account of her foreign policy work, but still enjoyed the entire book.  

Franny and Zooey - I read this because it is a friend's all-time favorite book.  I enjoyed the short story, Franny, but didn't enjoy Zooey, the novella (they are related), nearly as much. 

Hum If You Don't Know the Words - A poignant look at Apartheid-era South Africa through the eyes of a nine-year-old girl who has lost her family.  I wanted to rave about this book, but it didn't quite live up to its potential.  

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl - This is an autobiographical account of Harriett Jacobs' journey against all odds to escape slavery in North Carolina and reunite with her family in the north.  This isn't an enjoyable read, but an important one nonetheless.  I read this for my "classic by an author of color" book after I failed miserably at trying to read Beloved.  I just could not get into it!

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson - There were some really beautiful poems in this collection, but poetry is just not my thing.  I'm accepting that and moving on. 

Stars Go Blue - Laura Pritchett lives in Colorado and sets her novels here as well.  I devoured Stars Go Blue.  The novel is set on a ranch on the Colorado plains and focuses on a family with a complicated past and present.  It was heartbreaking and riveting and Pritchett painted such vivid descriptions of the characters that I felt like I knew them.  I'll be reading more of Ms. Pritchett's books and love that she is a local.

Wonder - This book was magical.  August Pullman, the main character, was born with a facial difference that has previously prevented him from attending traditional school.  This book traces his first year of school and offers the perspectives not only of August, but of his family and friends as well.  

The Island - It wouldn't be the last month of summer without one more Elin Hilderbrand book and I particularly enjoyed the one set on the rustic Nantucket Island of Tuckernuck.  If you want to read your first Elin Hilderbrand book, I'd recommend this one.

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Home

Home

We returned to Colorado at the beginning of August.  I felt giddy as we landed in Denver and caught our first glimpse of the Front Range.  I entered our house with trepidation given that other people have been living in it for seven months (everything is fine).  We shared joyful reunions with our family and friends.  But mostly, I felt incredibly calm and so very happy to be home.

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Book Shelf: July 2017

Reading at Cabane Bambou in Saint Tropez

Reading at Cabane Bambou in Saint Tropez

Only a week late... we've been busy re-adjusting to life in Colorado, scheduling service providers, unpacking, socializing, and generally getting back into the swing of things at home (more on that in a separate post).  July marks my last month of traveling and I'll be interested to see if I can keep up my reading now that we are resuming "real life".  I'm determined to complete my Summer Reading (Without Walls) BINGO card, so in August I plan to tackle Franny & Zooey (a friend's favorite book), Madam Secretary (Madeline Albright's memoir), Wonder (middle grade), and Beloved (classic by an author of color).  As always, I want to know what you are reading and enjoying (or not) so I can add it to my ever-growing list.

A highlight of being home is that we have our local library back.  Before we returned, I requested a number of books that had been on our "to read" list for Blythe and we are all enjoying reading new books.  My current favorites are Up In the Garden, Down in the Dirt, The Wonderful Things You Will Be, Ada Twist, Scientist, and Should I Share My Ice Cream?  In any event, here are the books I read in July:

The Hate U Give - A fantastic and important read about life as an African-American in the inner-city, police brutality and racial profiling, and the Black Lives Matter movement.  The book is written from the perspective of a teenage girl who lives in a rough neighborhood reminiscent of scenes from The Wire.  It's juvenile fiction and a quick read. 

The Dog Stars - After reading Celine, I wanted to read another Peter Heller novel and Dog Stars did not disappoint.  It's completely different than Celine - it is set in post-apocalyptic Denver, Colorado where a terrible illness has killed off most humans on earth.  The main character, Hig, and his beloved dog, Jasper, survived and are attempting to stay alive against the odds.  The story is mostly about Hig's past and his relationship with Jasper and Bangley, his misanthropic neighbor.   I enjoyed Celine more, but continue to like Peter Heller's writing style and love that his books are often set in Colorado (where he lives). 

Men Without Women - I intended to read more Haruki Murakami while we were in Japan, but better late than never.  Each of the short stories in this collection deals with men who find themselves alone for various reasons.  The stories were more accessible than other works by Murakami that I have read and I really loved two of the stories (Kino and An Independent Organ) and find myself thinking of them weeks after finishing this book.  If you'd like a taste of the short stories before diving into the book, four were previously published in the New Yorker online: Yesterday, Kino, Scheherazade (my least favorite), and Samsa in Love.

El Deafo - The BookBar summer reading challenge that I wrote about last month includes a square for graphic novels.  I've never read one, but I listened to a podcast interview of the author, Cece Bell, about El Deafo last year and was intrigued.  This is short graphic novel about the author's experience after she contracted meningitis at a young age and lost her hearing as a result.  She tells the story of figuring out she is deaf, learning to use various hearing aids, making (and losing) friends, and generally the trials and tribulations of being a young child who is different from her peers.  The story is touching and taught me several things about being deaf, plus I had fun reading a new genre of book.

What We Lose - A novel about a young African-America woman coming of age and losing her mother to cancer, this was gripping, sad, and reflective, particularly because it is reflective of the author's own life, although not a memoir.  I particularly enjoyed the parts of What We Lose that are set in or discuss South Africa (where the author's family is from and still resides).  

In Praise of Messy Lives - This is another book I probably would not have picked up were it not for the BookBar summer reading challenge.  It falls into the category of literary criticism, but Katie Roiphe writes not only about various literary figures and books, but also Mad Men, Hillary Clinton,  Facebook, and her own life.  The essays are grouped by subject (Life and Times, Books, The Way We Live Now, and The Internet, Etc.) and Life and Times was my favorite section and I felt that she made insightful and accurate observations about modern culture, particularly about marriage and having children.  A passage that resonated with me was one about word choice as it relates to the author's choice to have a baby out of wedlock: "Such small word choices, you might say. How could they possibly matter to any halfway healthy person?  But it is in these choices, these causal remarks made while holding a glass of wine, these throwaway comments, these accidental bursts of honesty and flashes of discomfort, that we create a cultural climate; it's in the offhand that the judgments persist and reproduce themselves."  

More Elin Hilderbrand - We were at the beach for two weeks in July, so indulged in a beachy read between each more serious read.  I'm still devouring Elin Hilderbrand's books and this month read A Summer Affair, Silver GirlThe IdenticalsBeautiful Day, Nantucket Nights, and The Blue Bistro.  A dear friend shared an interview with Elin from NPR that I enjoyed reading, too.  I'm going to take a break from her books for awhile so that I still have a few to enjoy down the road.

Winding Down

Winding Down

It's been almost a month since I last wrote about our travels.  We've been on the move since we left Stockholm on the 2nd of July, spending time in Slovenia, Venice, the Côte d'Azur of southern France, and now the Côte des Basques of southwestern France and northern Spain.  And in just three days, we will board a plane back to the United States.  

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Our Favorite Activities & Toys for Traveling

Our Favorite Activities & Toys for Traveling

I don't claim to be an expert on traveling with a child, but I definitely have enough experience at this point to share which activities entertained Blythe on the 15 flights we've taken in the past 6 months, 4 of which were long-haul flights (plus numerous train rides and extended travel time in cars).  In addition to the obvious recommendation that you pack plenty of snacks, particularly those that take a while to eat and will thus keep your child occupied, these are the toys and games that have served us well.  

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Mo Willems Pigeon Artwork

Common North American Dreaming Depot Pigeon (limited edition poster published by Beinecke Library)

Common North American Dreaming Depot Pigeon (limited edition poster published by Beinecke Library)

We talk a lot about whether we should let the pigeon drive the bus in our family so I was thrilled to see Mo Willems artwork featured in a recent alumni news story from my college (I don't often read these closely so I feel lucky to have stumbled upon this).  Yale's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library requested Willems to create a whimsical rendering of Pigeon in the style of John J. Audubon's "Birds of America".  Copies of the limited-edition poster are for sale, with net profits supporting New Haven Reads, a community resource center and literacy program in New Haven, Connecticut.