Saturday, January 20, 2018

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic

It's that time again - time for me to clean up my saved Facebook posts!

* You've probably noticed in my Sunday posts that I'm a big fan of The Mindy Project, Mindy Kaling's show in Hulu. Love Mindy on that show but love her even more for her very visible book fandom. Book Riot has a list of 20 Books Recommended by Mindy Paling on Twitter and Instagram. There are a couple of Jane Austen books on there so I know Kaling is cool!

* Barack Obama, also an avid reader, posted this list of his favorite books (and songs, but I'm only sharing the books) of 2017. Pretty stoked to find out that three books I read and loved are on this list: Grant, Anything Is Possible, and A Gentleman In Moscow.

During my presidency, I started a tradition of sharing my reading lists and playlists. It was a nice way to reflect on the works that resonated with me and lift up authors and artists from around the world. With some extra time on my hands this year to catch up, I wanted to share the books and music that I enjoyed most. From songs that got me moving to stories that inspired me, here's my 2017 list — I hope you enjoy it and have a happy and healthy New Year. The best books I read in 2017:

The Power by Naomi Alderman
Grant by Ron Chernow
Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
Janesville: An American Story by Amy Goldstein
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
Five-Carat Soul by James McBride
Anything Is Possible by Elizabeth Strout
Dying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward
*Bonus for hoops fans: Coach Wooden and Me by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Basketball (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

Author Umberto Eco's library contains some 30,000 books

* As if we needed another excuse to buy more books, this article from Inc. teaches us "Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You'll Ever Have Time To Read."  Yet another way, it turns out, that books make us smarter. 

* Jamie Ford's Love And Other Consolation Prizes was one of my favorite books of 2017. Ford sets much of his story in an early 20th-century Seattle brothel. Messy Messy has an article about the real madame on who Ford based Madame Flor, The Brothel Boss Lady Who Helped Build Seattle. I always love to dig deeper into the historical fiction I read.

* Finally, from Time, KonMari to Hygge: Inside The Lifestyle Guide Boom or Death Cleaning to Hygge: These Books Want to Be The Next Marie Kondo (I have no idea why the link has one name but the actual article another). I never could make myself by Kondo's books but I very much enjoyed Meik Wiking's The Little Book of Hygge and I've been working to bring a little hygge into my home this winter to keep my spirits up. With Forty Bags In Forty Days coming up, maybe I need to get my hands on The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning? I wonder if Margareta Magnusson has tips on how to get your husband on board with the cleaning?

Monday, January 15, 2018

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
Published February 2017 by Grand Central Publishing
Source: purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

"There could only be a few winners, and a lot of losers. And yet we played on, because we had hope that we might be the lucky ones."

In the early 1900s, teenaged Sunja, the adored daughter of a crippled fisherman, falls for a wealthy stranger at the seashore near her home in Korea. He promises her the world, but when she discovers she is pregnant—and that her lover is married—she refuses to be bought. Instead, she accepts an offer of marriage from a gentle, sickly minister passing through on his way to Japan. But her decision to abandon her home, and to reject her son's powerful father, sets off a dramatic saga that will echo down through the generations.

Pachinko is a story of love, sacrifice, ambition, and loyalty. From bustling street markets to the halls of Japan's finest universities to the pachinko parlors of the criminal underworld, Lee's complex and passionate characters—strong, stubborn women, devoted sisters and sons, fathers shaken by moral crisis—survive and thrive against the indifferent arc of history.

My Thoughts:
This was the last book I finished in 2017 and what a great finale for the year.
"Pachinko is about outsiders, minorities and the politically disenfranchised. But it is so much more besides. Each time the novel seems to find its locus—Japan's colonization of Korea, World War II as experienced in East Asia, Christianity, family, love, the changing role of women—it becomes something else. It becomes even more than it was." - New York Times, Krys Lee
I've struggled trying to describe why this book is so wonderful. This piece of Krys Lee's review for The New York Times explains why. Min Jin Lee has incorporated so much of a history I was unaware of but this is primarily a book about the members of a Korean family forced to build a life for themselves in a country that doesn't really want them and unable to return to their home. Pachinko is an unpredictable game of chance, much like the lives of Lee's characters.

Pachinko is beautifully written but difficult to read. Min Jin Lee's characters are nuanced and complex people who struggle to survive both physically and emotionally. It is both a sprawling sage, spanning seventy years, and an intimate tale. These are characters I will not soon forget: Sunja, who fights for the survival of her family and suffers terribly in so many ways; Koh Hansu, who is both a morally corrupt man and a man who loves deeply; the farmer who saves the family during WWII but who also wishes for the war to continue until he can make enough money to fulfill his grandfather's wish; Noa, Sunja's eldest son who struggles with his personal and ethnic history.

One day, I will start rereading the books that have stuck with me the longest. I have a feeling Pachinko will be one of them.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Life: It Goes On - January 14

Hmmm, well, I suppose it's officially winter now when there are more days in single digits than not and schools are closed for the day. Ick. I just want to make soups. And desserts. The Big Guy keeps reminding me that we don't need either. But I'm making rice pudding today anyway.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I've been having a lot of fun building playlists on Spotify. Which means I've been listening to parts of a lot of different songs before I decide if they go on a playlist of not. It also means I'm getting a bit concerned about my inability to even focus on three minutes.

Watching: Football (so said that the season is almost over, although, let's be honest, all of the teams I care about have long since been done), Longmire with BG and The Mindy Project with Miss H.

Reading: Kitchens Of The Great Midwest for book club this week.

Making: Chocolate cookie bars. I have no idea what we've eaten this week if that's all I've made.

Planning: After that initial flush of "it's a new year!" planning, I've got nothing. It's a January thing. You'd think that would make me want to plan ahead, wouldn't you?

Pretty much what I've been doing this week, too!
Thinking About: Spending the day with a heating pad on my face. Ugh, I know it's a little thing in the scheme of life, but I'm feeling whiny today.

Enjoying: Got my hair cut and colored yesterday. If I ever win the lottery (although I'm sure you need to play to win), I'm putting my stylist on my staff. Why does someone else blowdrying and styling your hair feel so much better than when you do it yourself?

Feeling: Like spending the next two months inside until winter is almost over. Except for...

Looking forward to: Book club on Tuesday and the Women's March on Saturday. Lordy, I hope it warms up some by then!

Question of the week: For those of you who actually experience winter, what things do you do to make it better?

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Lit: Uniquely Portable Magic - The Best of Lists

I don't know how December got away from me so badly, where books are concerned. I'm only just now getting around to check out all of the "best of" lists for 2017. It's really one of the ways my book nerd flag flies high - I like to make a spread sheet so I can track the books that showed up the most often and make sure I've got those books at the top of my TBR list. Not that that ends up meaning much but I always mean well when I put the lists together. I'm always excited to find books that I thought were great on the lists (like Lincoln In The Bardo which is showing up every where) or books I've downloaded but just haven't gotten to yet (like Andrew Sean Greer's Less).

Here are some of my go-to lists:

The Washington Post's top ten list includes five fiction and five nonfiction.

Book Browse named four award winners but also included a list of 20 top books. Looks like a good source for book club choices.

Of course, the New York Times' 10 Best Books is always a list to consider and I'm excited to find two books I've already read and a couple more I'm planning on reading soon. My uncle's currently reading another; perhaps I can talk him into doing a review!

Harper's Bazaar has a list of the 20 Best Books of 2017 which is decidedly female and fiction oriented.

The folks at Esquire either got lazy and couldn't be bothered to narrow down their list or read a record number of great books in 2017. They have a list of the 50 Best Books of 2017.

If books appear on both American lists and the BBC list of the 10 Best Books of 2017, does that mean they really are great?

My fave of 2017 appears
on almost every list
The Guardian gives us all kinds of "best of" lists, including a the best photography books and favorite reads as chosen by scientists.

The Entertainment Weekly Best Books of 2017 is the only list I've found that includes a graphic novel, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, except for...

The Boston Globe has an entire list of favorite graphic novels for 2017, as well as lists specifically devoted to fiction, nonfiction, mystery, and sports.

Oh, never mind, Book Riot's list of the Best Books of 2017 also includes My Favorite Thing is Monsters. Hmm, perhaps I need to read another graphic novel one of these days.

The Huffington Post's Best Fiction Books of 2017 includes several books I haven't seen on any other lists (let's be honest, it includes some books I've never even heard of!).

How about you? Do you like to check out these lists? Do they influence your reading choices at all? I'm off now to tally up my spread sheet and see what I need to read first off of it!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The Wife, The Maid, and The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon

The Wife, The Maid, And The Mistress by Ariel Lawhon
Published June 2014 by Gale Group
Source: my copy purchased for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:

One summer night in 1930, Judge Joseph Crater steps into a New York City cab and is never heard from again. Behind this great man are three women, each with her own tale to tell: Stella, his fashionable wife, the picture of propriety; Maria, their steadfast maid, indebted to the judge; and Ritzi, his showgirl mistress, willing to seize any chance to break out of the chorus line.

My Thoughts:
"What is it with you and graveyards?"
 "They fascinate me."
 "Dead people fascinate you?"
 "No. The stories they leave behind." She peered up at him. "Don't you wonder who they
  were? What kind of lives they lived?"
Lawhon is clearly fascinated by dead people and the kind of lives they lived. In The Wife, The Maid, And The Mistress, Lawhon takes a known details of a disappearance that made big headlines almost ninety years ago and crafts her own version of what might have happened and who might have been involved.

Filled with crooked politicians and cops, bootleggers,  society women and showgirls, Lawhon creates a cast of colorful characters to tell her story. Nearly all of them are liars. Most of them are hiding secrets. Some of them are real. Like Billie Holiday.
"Smoke hung love in the air, and smooth jazz rhythms vibrated through the dance floor, up her feet and thighs, and into her rib cage. It lured her with a serpentine motion, and she leaned into the music. For one brief second, Ritzi forgot her troubles in the seductive embrace of the singer's voice. Tall and waif like and clearly not out of her teens, the black woman had a voice so full of emotion that Ritzi gaped."
I came away from the book with a vivid picture of 1930 New York City, a city where, just a year after the market collapse, there were 700 new buildings being built, where speakeasies were frequented by the high and mighty, and where Tammany Hall ruled the day.

Lawhon builds her story by alternating the stories of the three women coming to a big surprise that is actually so quiet, it would be easy to miss it. It's a surprise that makes you want to reread the book to see what you missed. In retrospect, I feel like there may have been a bit too much going on in the book but at the time I was reading, I was all in for the ride and enjoyed the book a lot. Perhaps my very favorite part, though, was coming to this point:

 Shelby, Iowa. A very small town, about an hour east of Omaha, a speck on most maps and a town that, until a recent surge due to a manufacturing plant locating nearby, was slowing dying. It wouldn't mean anything to most readers. But it's the town that my mom grew up in, the town we went to visit my grandparents in for more than twenty years. What a surprise to find it in a book! It made me like Lawhon's book even more.