Books I Read in December

Hi Friends, it’s been quiet here the past few weeks, because I was travelling in China for the holidays! I’ll be sharing some photos soon, but all of the time on planes, trains, and boats made for some quality reading time! I read 13 books in December, bringing the final 2015 number of books read to: 74. I’ll be posting soon with some reflections on 2015, but for now, in no particular order, the books I read in December were:

the-age-of-innocenceEdith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence – I read this as part of my quest to read all of the Pulitzer winners. This was my second attempt at reading Edith Wharton, and I found it much more enjoyable than Ethan Frome. Did you know this book was adapted into a film directed by Martin Scorsese, who said that this was the most violent film he’s ever made? Of course, he’s referring to an emotional-violence instead of physical brutality. I’m currently sick with a cold, so I will be watching this movie under a layer of blankets this weekend. Have you seen it?

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straightjamesJames Franco’s Straight James / Gay James – While I’ve already reviewed this book, I just want to add that it’s stuck with me a little more than I expected it to. I have never taken James Franco very seriously as a writer, but I think there is something very brave about putting your poetry out there, especially for people who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves a poet. While I’d still rather see him in a movie than on paper, I will have to think twice before rolling my eyes at his next publication.

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missoula

Jon Krakauer’s Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town – this book was a well-written and provocative look into such a grim and violent subject – acquaintance rape, date rape, whatever you want to call it. Jon Krakauer follows the personal stories of a few rape cases that occurred within a few weeks of each other in Missoula, Montana. I think the most terrifying thing is that Missoula is not an anomaly, and these stories are happening much more frequently than we’d like to think. This should be required reading on every college campus.

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fox 8.jpgGeorge Saunders’ Fox 8 – This novella is exclusively available as an eBook (it’s only 99 cents! Go buy it!) and I borrowed it from the New York Public Library. In true Saunders’ form, this story is hilarious, violent, and depressing all at once. The story is told by a Fox who learns how to Yuman – “So came bak nite upon nite, seeted upon that window, trying to lern. And in time, so many werds came threw my ears and into my brane, that, if I thought upon them, cud understand Yuman pretty gud, if I heer it!”

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gap of timeJeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time – I don’t think my admittedly rushed-before-going-to-China review did this book justice, so I might revisit and rework my post later this year. This is Winterson’s “cover” of William Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale, of which Winterson says, “All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years.”  For some reason, this book reminded me of Station Eleven, maybe because of the post-crisis emphasis on Shakespeare?

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alice adamsBooth Tarkington’s Alice Adams – This was the 1922 Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, notably Tarkington’s second Pulitzer (and in a span of four years!) I found it much more enjoyable than his previous winner, The Magnificent Ambersons. I’m not sure if I would have awarded this book any sort of award, but then again, maybe there were slimmer pickings in the 1920s, what do you think? This was made into a movie starring Katharine Hepburn in the 1930s, so we know the book was popular for quite a while! I’ll have to add this to the list of movie adaptations to watch (and write about!)

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one of oursWilla Cather’s One of Ours – This was the 1923 Recipient of the Pulitzer Prize. I was really on a Pulitzer roll this month! It is a sprawling epic story that follows Claude Wheeler from a child in Nebraska to a soldier in France during World War II. Claude is a shy dreamer with big ideas about what he wants from life and love. I found him sweetly relatable. I’ve read online that this was one of Willa Cather’s weaker works, but as I’ve never read anything else of hers, I can’t make that call (yet). I’ll be writing more about this later, and would definitely consider reading more by Willa.

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rashomon

Ryunosuke Akutagawa’s Rashomon – I picked this book up at the Strand’s Central Park location on  a whim, because I’ve seen Akira Kurasawa’s 1950 film Rashomon. This book is a collection of 6 short stories, between 8 – 15 pages long each. I really loved the writing style (but can never tell how much is attributable to the translator versus the writer) and the stories were all incredibly human, magical, and touching. Fun fact: the film was actually based on a combination of two of the short stories in this collection: In a Grove and Rashomon.

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the winter's taleWilliam Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale

My favorite passage:

Is whispering nothing?
Is leaning cheek to cheek? is meeting noses?
Kissing with inside lip? stopping the career
Of laughing with a sigh?–a note infallible
Of breaking honesty–horsing foot on foot?
Skulking in corners? wishing clocks more swift?
Hours, minutes? noon, midnight? and all eyes
Blind with the pin and web but theirs, theirs only,
That would unseen be wicked? is this nothing?

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the reason i jumpNaoki Higashida’s The Reason I Jump – This book is incredible – it was written by a thirteen year old Japanese autistic boy who often has trouble with verbal communication. I first heard about the book when I saw Jon Stewart interview Naoki on The Daily Show a few years ago. When I was in high school, I volunteered as an art teacher to autistic students, but I must admit that I still had no idea about their capacity for emotional depth and understanding. Reading this book really challenged a lot of my biases and made me feel ashamed (in the best possible positive way.)

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we should all be feministsChimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s We Should All be Feminists – This book is based on a Ted talk that Chimamanda gave (online here), which you will most likely recognize from Beyonce’s Flawless. While I didn’t need convincing from Chimamanda to be a feminist, it is always refreshing to hear the arguments from such an articulate and compassionate person. While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend buying the book, you should definitely watch the video if you haven’t yet.

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teen spiritFrancesca Lia Block’s Teen Spirit – I do not think I’ll ever be too old to read Francesca Lia Block. This book is perfect to read around Halloween! Spoiler Alert – this is the story of a girl who is trying to communicate with her dead grandmother and a boy who is possibly possessed by his angry dead twin. Although the ending is a little cliched, I don’t think anyone reads Block for the plot, but more for her rich language and imagery, the smell of the flowers leap off the page.

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the chronology of water.jpgLidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water – I read this book because Cheryl Strayed said it was her favorite book. This memoir is not for the faint-hearted. Lidia Yuknavitch has lived so many lives and tackles everything head-on, from losing a child to being molested by her father, struggling to write to S&M parties and her fascination with being whipped. Her writing style is self-described as “weird” and it’s no wonder that Chuck Palahniuk introduced her to his writing group. This book pushed me out of my comfort zone and was an emotional and gripping read from start to finish.

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I can’t believe that concludes 2015! Of these books, I would most highly recommend Fox 8 and Missoula. What did you read in December? What’s on your list for 2016? How many books did you read in 2015, and does that number even matter or mean anything to you? I’m a believer in quality over quantity, but it’s definitely satisfying to tackle a long to-read list.

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Books I Read in September

September was a very crazy whirlwind kind of month. I took a trip to Alabama, threw a party, got sick, recovered & got sick again, and have been scrambling to be prepared for my classes in my free time. I was genuinely expecting not to have time to read at all, so looking back I was pleasantly surprised to have read 7 books this month. There were a lot of hits, and a few misses. I present to you, in chronological order:

wind-up birdHaruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle – The book starts with the search for a missing cat and quickly derails into something else entirely. The characters in this book are some of the more magical and intense ones that I have encountered in his books, and I loved how he interspersed the novel with memories and other people’s stories. I loved the story of the zoo keeper, which seems to be a recurring motif in this month’s books. Murakami is able to turn the most gruesome and horrific things into a surreal and dreamlike kind of horror. When the book is over, you feel like you are coming out of a long trance – which to me, is such a specific feeling and experience that comes from reading a Murakami.

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Between the World and MeTa-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me – This book is constructed as a letter to Coates’ fifteen-year-old son about the realities of living as a Black man in America. I have had a hard time processing this book, which I think is precisely Coates’ objective.The book forces you to confront a lot of difficult issues; it will outrage you and make you want to cry. It will make you feel like there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but I think by doing that, it forces you to try to come up with solutions and start a conversation with other people.

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mad about the boyHelen Fielding’s Bridget Jones Mad About the Boy – Over fifteen years since we last saw Bridget Jones, Helen Fielding’s third book picks up with a middle-aged Bridget. A lot has changed, she is in her fifties, has two children, and has been widowed. However, Bridget has not changed much otherwise, she may have even regressed – she just has more on her plate. Now she counts both calories eaten and nits found in her childrens’ hair, Twitter followers gained and number of parents enraged. I’d say skip the book and hope Renee Zellweger signs on for a third movie.

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life of pi

Yann Martel’s Life of Pi – It only took me a few years, but I finally got around to reading Life of Pi. I have even been putting off the movie until I’ve read the book. One problem with reading a book so many years after its critical acclaimed debut is that your expectations are too high. I was definitely a little underwhelmed by the book, although I would still want to watch the movie. There were a few parts that I really loved, and I loved the ending of the book as well. Interestingly, this is the second book I read this month with a main character whose father was a zookeeper. Isn’t that a funny coincidence?

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Room (1)Emma Donoghue’s Room – I already wrote about Room earlier this week. I am really looking forward to the movie this fall. The book was loosely inspired by the true facts of the Fritzl case, which emerged in Austria in 2008. It’s an absolutely horrifying story of a woman named Elisabeth who was hidden and held by her father for 24 years. I have kind of struggled over whether it is wrong for me (and others) to find pleasure in some of these horrific stories, whether it’s a book like this or watching a violent crime show. What do you think? I think on the one hand it can either show the beauty and resilience of human nature, on the other, is it making us less sensitive to the real-life crimes occurring around us?

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Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance

Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance – I also wrote about this earlier this week (I am getting better about writing timely reviews!) so I will leave you with a quote.

“Spend more time with people, less time in front of a screen, and—since we’re all in it together—be nice to people.”

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go set a watchman Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman – The much anticipated and controversial follow up to To Kill a Mockingbird has left me struggling to reconcile it with the characters that I grew up with and loved. I have been reading a lot of reviews and think pieces about this book now that I’ve read it for myself. I will say that I found the flashbacks to be absolutely perfect: Jem, Scout & Dill playing in their backyard in the summertime, Scout’s first school dance. Harper Lee shows us that she has always possessed a really wonderful way with language and vocabulary. Her wit is as sharp as ever, and I found myself barking with laughter at parts, but cringing through other parts.

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If you only read one book from this list, read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me. What did you read in September? What should I read in October?

Book Review: Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari

Aziz Ansari's Modern Romance

Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance was the book club pick for our October meeting. In it, Aziz teams up with a sociologist named Eric Klinenberg to research how people today navigate the “minefield called dating.” In case you didn’t know (are you living under a rock?), Aziz Ansari is a comedian best known for his Netflix comedy specials and his role in Parks & Recreation (see below):

treat yo self

I have loved Aziz for quite some time now, because he is a Southern minority in New York City, just like me. However, I had a long standing bone to pick with him. A lot of his previous stand up revolved around how hard it was to get a date in New York, which is fine, except I would see him walking around the East Village on dates with beautiful women all the time. It was hard for me to reconcile the celebrity-comedian with the awkward-lonely man he wanted us to think he is through his stand up.

Modern Romance seemed like a nice answer to this. Aziz is now in a loving relationship and is giving the rest of us advice on how to get what he has. He talks about the trials and tribulations of online-dating while admitting he’s never tried it because of his fame. While the book is definitely written in his voice, it doesn’t offer many new insights nor does it serve as a self-help book. The highlights are when Aziz offers personal anecdotes and the lowlights are when he turns to Reddit and study groups to prove that Argentinian men are aggressive and always on the prowl. There are some nice moments though, and I found Aziz to be a thoughtful and insightful writer.

“With so many romantic options, instead of trying to explore them all, make sure you properly invest in people and give them a fair chance before moving on to the next one.”

However I still expected more from you, Aziz. I didn’t really need to read your book to learn that having too many options on Tinder can lead to a fear of commitment. I wanted more humor and less statistics from you!

If you are curious, I would recommend the audiobook over the book. Aziz reads for the audiobook, and I think it’s a nice treat to hear his voice reading his own words. Otherwise, I would suggest just watching the two-hour Netflix special or the below video from their book release at the Strand instead of reading the book. You’ll get all the same facts and jokes in half the time.

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I would recommend this book to hardcore fans of Aziz & people who can borrow the audiobook from the library or have never read anything about dating in today’s society.

Additional Resources:

Have you read this book? What did you think?