January: 14 Books & Counting
My 2018 goal to read 100 books is off to a productive start. I spent a good chunk of the month lawyering like crazy so that I could take some time off to care for my youngest daughter. She has a rare condition called Legg Calve Perthes disease. On January 22, she had surgery to lengthen her tendons and was placed in a “broomstick cast.” She’s a little on the hyperactive side, so the first few days post-surgery were hard for her in a wheelchair. Now just ten days later she’s spinning and twirling around our house, the library, and the mall. Life is good. I think we have both enjoyed having extra one-on-one time together. I am enjoying the flexibility of self-employment and the ability to balance my life without being subjected to external criticism.
Okay, enough about life. Let's get to the books:
1. Secret Hero Society (#1): Study Hall of Justice (4/5 stars)
I recently met a seriously cool children’s librarian – a former kindergarten teacher who has LEGO superhero minifigs on his keychain. He overheard me and my daughter discussing her preference for DC Comics over Marvel (FYI: she’s 5). After talking to him about both of my girls and books they’ve enjoyed, he recommended this series for me to read with my other daughter (almost 7). In this middle-grade graphic novel series, young Bruce Wayne attends a private school that seems a bit off. He meets two other kids, Diana Prince and Clark Kent, and the three of them form a junior detective club to investigate the mysteriously absent principal and other strange happenings. I immediately loved the premise and checked out the first two books of this series. I found myself laughing out loud at young Bruce Wayne’s brooding narrations, much like the adult portrayals of Batman with a dark, husky voice.
I will be continuing this series and plan to review the first three books together later this year.
2. Nino and Me by Bryan Garner (5/5 stars)
3. Making Your Case by Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner (5/5 stars)
I loved both of these books so much I ordered two more by Bryan Garner. A full review of Nino and Me and Making Your Case are posted here.
4. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (5/5 stars)
This is the second book by Brené Brown that I’ve read and I liked it even more than her more recent book Braving the Wilderness. Like most readers, my life story is checkered with events that have challenged and hardened me over time. I appreciate Brown’s approach to vulnerability as a value, rather than using the term synonymous to “weak.” Daring Greatly is about having the confidence to be your genuine self, free yourself from fears of failure, and put yourself out into the world. The book opens and closes with Brown’s reflections on the following quote from Theodore Roosevelt:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
My current reality is a product of a few bold, crazy decisions I made last year, including a decision to leave public service and become a self-employed attorney. We’ve also moved, added a dog to the family, faced down medical challenges, etc. Whenever we take another risk that pays off, my husband will remark, “we just f*cked life, again!” Even this blog is a byproduct of our new life of less stress and more fun for the sake of fun itself.
Daring Greatly provided me a strong validation to some recent life changes that were pretty out-of-character for me. I spent many years floating on a wave of inertia and giving a strong default preference to the status quo. I am resigned to never settle for minimal satisfaction again. Life is too quick and fleeting for anything less than amazing.
5. It Occurs to Me That I Am America (2/5 stars)
Easily the biggest let-down of the month. So disappointed in this collection of stories. It seemed like many selections were hastily thrown together to meet the publisher's deadline. A full review is posted here.
6. Unplug by Suze Yalof Schwartz (3/5 stars)
This was an "okay" introduction to a variety of different meditation techniques for those just beginning meditation practice. Last year I began meditating after I read 10% Happier by Dan Harris. I was no stranger to mindful thinking and mini-meditation as someone who has practiced yoga off and on for five years, but I had never practiced meditation as a stand-alone activity.
The first half of Unplug was unsatisfying because I found it a little too “bubblegum” for my tastes. Once we actually got into the meat of the book, I was much happier. Still, it is not going to be one that I would likely recommend to someone. There are better books about meditation out there, for sure.
7. Cinder by Marissa Meyer (5/5 stars)
I have been wanting to read this book for over a year after I saw a copy pass from one friend to another in one of my book clubs. Imagine if Cinderella was a teenage cyborg working as a mechanic in dystopian-future-China. Also, there are aliens ("lunars") with the power of mind-control.
I finally borrowed a copy of the audiobook on Overdrive and could not have been more thrilled. I am not generally a fan of fiction via audiobook, but Rebecca Soler's reading is fantastic. I was shocked to find out that she is not a professional actress because her voice seems so dynamic and familiar. The highly original premise of this retelling of Cinderella did not let me down. I am continually impressed with Meyer's writing and am becoming a fast fan of her work.
I’m currently listening to the next book of the series, Scarlet, which adds "Little Red Riding Hood" to the mix of characters.
8. Wonder Woman by Leigh Bardugo (4/5 stars)
Suspenseful, funny, and believable, I thoroughly enjoyed this modern retelling of Wonder Woman. Alia, the main character, is refreshing compared to other portrayals of young women of color, especially a genre that has historically underrepresented women and minorities. I love that Bardugo does not shy away from using race to provoke cultural commentary. This is a brilliant and entertaining read, especially for those already a fan of Wonder Woman.
9. The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (3/5)
I was underwhelmed by “The Bad Beginning.” Lemony Snicket’s writing is very unique and I can see why it might put off many very young readers with its constant explanatory tangents. My oldest daughter (almost 7) didn’t like it at all. My youngest daughter (5 years old) started off very interested, laughing hysterically at baby Sunny Baudelaire’s gibberish and biting. About 70% through the book, though, she told me that she no longer liked it and thought it was too scary. I finished the book on my own because I wanted to fill the pop culture gap from never having read this book as a child, myself. It was okay, but I will not be pushing my girls to give it a second chance later. I am curious how this book became so popular. Is everyone so eager to find the next Roald Dahl that anyone with a moderately unique literary voice is so easily exalted?
10. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (4/5)
I read this based on a friend's recommendation (Hi Kathy!) I am probably in the minority of readers who have never read any prior books from Patchett prior to reading her memoirs. I highly enjoyed her style and perspective. She is an amazing writer and is someone I look forward to reading more from.
11. Tales from Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan (3/5 stars)
This picture book for adults was a good concept, but I feel like it could have been executed even better than it was. Some of the stories seemed to try a little too hard to be different and strange. Reviewed in full here.
12. The Magic Finger by Roald Dahl (3/5 stars)
I read this to my youngest daughter. It was okay, but certainly not one of my favorites by Dahl. This is one of the few I had not read as a child. It’s also the most overtly political with an obvious anti-hunting message as the prey (ducks) switch roles with the predators (humans). My daughter was excited to read a chapter book and did not seem to absorb the more philosophical meaning. However, I could feel in my gut a deep worry that I should have plucked this Dahl book from the children's library until they were... older? I'm not quite sure. I put a lot of thought into what I add to their shelves, and this one felt like it caught me off guard.
While I am liberal, I am a fervent supporter of hunting as an organized sport as long as it is done responsibly, ethically, and as much of the animal is used as is possible. My husband hunts several times a year. This book does not communicate a message that I share, but I think it would be a mistake to skip over a book for that reason. Children are enriched by a diversity of viewpoints in their literature. Also, when children realize a book does not share their perspective, that’s an opportunity for a profound conversation. It can be a bridge to talk about the reasons behind values and the importance of respecting the values of others. If we don’t approach reading that way, we are creating de facto banned books from our homes. Banned through not-so-coincidental exclusion, even if not formally banned.
None of these more profound thoughts actually occurred while reading this book, but it did provoke some deep reflection on my part about children's literature, censorship, and the value of diverse reading perspectives.
13. Middlemarch by George Eliot (4/5 stars)
Middlemarch was my on-again-off-again white whale for over a year. I review the book in full here.
14. Giant Days, Vol. 6 by John Allison (4/5 stars)
If you haven’t read Giant Days, it’s a fresh, feminist-friendly comic series about three British college women. They humorously navigate college life, adulting, and romance. Volume 6 was one of my favorites. The women are in their second year of school and many of the peripheral characters are developing as well. I am looking forward to the next book in the series.
I’m excited for February. My "to read" list is growing out of control pretty quickly, even though I’m reading at a higher pace these days. C’est la vie.