jilliesbookshelf

What are YOU reading?

THE RED TENT by Anita Diamant

This was not for my challenge. I recorded the Lifetime miniseries on DVR and had saved it for months until I read the book. (Turns out I accidentally recorded Part 2, so I still haven’t seen the first half. Glad I read it.)

This book is fantastic! An imagined life of Biblical Jacob’s only daughter, Dinah, who is merely mentioned in passing in Genesis. She is also the sister of Joseph (of Technicolor Dreamcoat fame). As the only girl, she spends her time among Jacobs wives in the red tent, where menstruating women gather every month, as they are considered unclean–and since they all live together, they have that weird moon thing where all their cycles line up. Dinah learns midwifery and other healing skills early by watching the women around her.

Unfortunately, Dinah falls in love at first sight. Thanks to chaos on the part of her jealous brothers (man, no one could be happy in that family) remarkable tragedy ensues. Seriously messed up tragedy. I feel like I can’t say much because everything in the book is important and leads to something else. She ends up in Egypt and relies on the lessons of her mothers in order to forge her own path. 

This story is beautiful, possibly the best novel I’ve read so far this year. I ran the full gamut of emotions reading this one. I can’t recommend it enough!!

The DNF List… So far…

Its kind of funny to me that the reading community has created its own acronymic (yes, I just made that word up, but it works) vernacular. Perhaps the only thing creating more guilt than my TBR (To Be Read) list is my DNF (Did Not Finish). I made valiant efforts, in most cases, but just couldn’t do it. Here’s what I remember so far.

  • Wuthering Heights: I know, I know. I love Charlotte and really wanted give Emily a try, but I lost it around page 37. Maybe I’ll get it back and try again. It’s one of those books that I’ve always wanted to get into, I just haven’t managed it yet. 
  • The Wallcreeper: Everyone is talking about this book. Everyone I think is supercool and smart anyway. I really tried, made it almost halfway. The thing is, around page 85 I realized I really didn’t care what happened to anyone in the book. Nell Zink truly created a new voice and a different start angle and characterization and I am all for innovative storytelling. It just wasn’t for me. By all means, tead it. It deserves a try by all, I just couldn’t do it.
  • Purple Hibiscus: This one by Chimamanda Adichie isn’t all my fault. My digital library loan ended. I have it on hold again. I wasn’t entirely married to the story but I got far enough into it that it seems a shame not to try again next time it becomes available.
  • Heroines: Yhis book is actually fantastic. It follows depressed (mainly unrecognized and/or tragic) women authors while paralleling the author’s depression. The problem with this one was that it was as if Kate  Zambreno had crawled into my head and narrated from there. It was freakishly familiar and I was already kind of down the rabbit hole and this book just felt like I was perpetuating that depression. Still, the book is brilliant and I’m going to try again when I feel I’m in a better headspace to handle the darkness.
  • The Art of Daring: As I’ve been writing this post I’ve realized I’m just not going to finish this one eother. It’s a writing craft book in a series by Graywolf Press. The series is great, I just haven’t found anything to “dare” to do in the first 40% of the book. I don’t feel dared, I feel no extra courage. Maybe it’s because I write honestly as often as possible and so have no problem learning to be naked on paper.

Those are ones I can remember anyway. I’ve still finished 30 books so far this year, so I’m not beating myself up. I’m just so far behind on documenting what I’ve read read so far that it seemed far easier today to write about what I found I couldn’t read.
For more about the DNF, check out this post on Book Riot, one of my absolute favorite bookish sites in the net! Also check out their podcasts, they have an app that’s just fantastic.

LITTLE HOUSE IN THE BIG WOODS by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Task completed: A book published after the author turned 65

This was a reread. I read most of the Little House books when I was nine or so. I figured if this wasas magical a reread as others have described to be, I might just read the whole series in order. 

It was not magical. The magic is gone.

Nothing happened in this book. A year passed, they went to a dance, and Laura got a cornhusk doll for Christmas (or a rag doll, I wasn’t entirely clear on this). I learned a lot about pioneer life.

I live about an hour from Pepin, WI where this book takes place. Every year, they have a Laura Inhalls Wilder Festival-type-thing. I imagine it to be a reenactment of pioneer activities a la civil war battle-type-stuff. It’s no wonder they can do this. LHBW is basically a how-to of pioneer activities. I learned how to make bullets, some weird corn mush thingy, how to string up butchered meat in your barn and use it as a makeshift freezer during the winter months. Hell, I learned how to make a smoker out of a hollow log. I did not realize this stuff when I read it the first time. 

I am not going to read the whole series. The saving grace for this one was that it was only abut 97 pages because I was using an adult-geared printing instead of a children’s version (bigger print, usually some pictures). I mean, I get how good of a read this must be for young girls. Here’s a strong, independent pioneer girl who has a strong family and has adventures without the internet. Awesome. Every little girl, especially Midwestern ones, should read this series at least once while it still holds magic and promise for them. Unfortunately, my time has passed.

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

Task completed: A book recommended to you (me)

Fun fact: Gillian is pronounced with a hard “g” when saying Ms. Flynn’s name

At this point, is it even worth spending time commenting on this book?it seems everyone’s read it or seen it. I have a rule that I can’t watch it before I’ve read it, if I’m interested in it. And of course I wanted to read Sharp Objects and Dark Places first. Both of those were awesome. In fact, I’m still debating if I like those better, but I think they’re all great.

What Flynn has a talent for is the flawed narrator, the protagonist you can’t fully like or identify with. I can’t give away the full plot without giving away the biggest twist, even though most people know what it is at this point. Suffice it to say that I love that the reader is always presented with a dilemma. Do we believe the story we’re being told at any given time? It keeps changing. We are constantly waffling between who we believe, who we’re rooting for.

Yes, I loved this book. I loved the moments where Flynn comments on some of the dichotomies women face in our society (and they’re truly brilliant observations). I had a hard time loving the protagonists but love that they were so unlovable, how they were simultaneously their own antagonists. It did take me about 30% of the way into the book to start loving it though. I DNF’ed it a year ago, about three chapters in. I am thrilled that I picked it back up. The movie wasn’t a terrible adaptation either (Flynn wrote the screenplay as well). Ben Affleck was better than I thought he’d be. Worth a watch, but I highly recommend the book first!

  

More to Come!

Though it’s been a while since I’ve posted a new title, stay tuned! I have a backlog of great reads coming up here on my bookshelf. I haven’t forgotten, but sometimes life prevents living in the spaces you want to be. I’m almost done with my Read Harder challenge and I’ve been branching out on my reads. (I.e. Not so task-focused.) there have been some pretty great books in my life the last month or so. You don’t want to miss what’s coming!

In the meantime, here’s a review/interview I did with Lee Ann Roripaugh on her new poetry collection DANDARIANS. Check it out on Heavy Feather Review.

THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak

Task Completed: A YA novel

This is another task that had many contenders, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to finally force myself o read it, once and for all. I had tried before and only made it to page 50 or so. (Don’t ask why or how, I have no idea.)

You guys. This book. This. BOOK!

This book was so good! I was honestly surprised at all the things it encompassed. Sure, it had some WWII book clichés–the hidden Jew in the basement, the overzealous young Nazi teenager, the rebel, the tragic pseudo-mother figure that experienced loss–but none of those things are central to the story. They seem to be at the time, but this is really a coming-of-age novel that just happens to take place in WWII Germany, just a few miles away from a concentration camp.

It’s hard to talk about this book without giving so much away. While none of those clichéd bits are the center of the story, they’re all integral to Leisel’s story. Her story begins as she arrives to live with the Memingers after the death of her brother on the train they were taking to this new town. Immediately, Zusak has presented us with tragedy and the resilience of children. It’s not even the roughest part. (I highly recommend a full box of tissues at the ready, just the whole time you’re reading, just because you never know what might set you off.)

There is definitely joy in this book. It took a little while to get to it, but in retrospect, there was so much to love and revel in in this story. As I was reading it at a rehearsal for a show I was doing, a teenage girl came up to me and simply stated, “That is my absolute favorite book of all time.” How often does that happen with kids? I mean, besides the crazy bookwormish types like I was as a kid (this girl has an actual social life). In fact, I wish this wasn’t labelled as YA. It is such a universal story. If you liked All the Light We Cannot See (which has won several major awards since I posted about it!) you will LOVE The Book Thief.

THE POISONER’S HANDBOOK by Deborah Blum

Task Completed: A microhistory

Let’s start with the full title: The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York. A long title, but it is a quite succinct description of the book. I really didn’t know what I would think of the book. I had seen the PBS special based upon it and loved it. I even wrote a poem inspired by one of the stories in it, which got accepted by the first journal I sent it to. It seemed only fitting that I would like this book. I figured, if nothing else, that it might at least inspire another poem or two.

I loved this book! I devoured it in less than 48 hours. It’s an incredibly easy read for involving so much chemistry and science (not my thing). It follows Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler as they revolutionize the study of forensic medicine but it follows the arc of popular poisons of the time. In studying these various murder methods, they learn a lot about how different poisons work and how they affect the body. You know those TV autopsies on CSI and Law & Order? Yeah, these are the guys who made it look like that. Did you know that coroners were basically figureheads and had no medical degrees (more often than not) before these guys threw a fit in New York City? The rest of the country followed suit behind the changes these this team made in the field of medical investigation.

I learned a lot by reading this, and while I’m sad that many of my hypothetical murder plots have been thwarted by Jazz Age science, I feel much smarter having read it. I had considered several microhistories before choosing this one (Erik Larsen was high on the list), but I’m glad I chose this one. It was compelling, smart, and didn’t patronize the reader. It has a true crime vibe, using actual cases Norris and Gettler examined, and manages to keep a story arc in a book that definitely could have turned out much more dry and textbook-like. I highly recommend it!

BONUS: The PBS documentary is available online at pbs.org (it takes some digging) and on Amazon Prime Instant Video. If you like documentaries, it should be right up your alley.

TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS by Cheryl Strayed

Task Completed: A self-improvement book

Let me be clear on the title, first of all. It’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Love from Dear Sugar. I just wasn’t willing to make that whole spiel the title of this post. I don’t thing it would’ve fit. Cheryl Strayed held the post of Dear Sugar, advice columnist extraordinaire on The Rumpus and this book is a collection of her favorite and most popular columns. I’m counting it as self-improvement because a) it’s advice on living life better and b) it’s the name of the section where I found the book on the Overdrive app. (Side note: If you have an E-reader, I highly recommend getting familiar with your library’s offerings through this site. You’d be amazed at the things you can get for free from your library.)

Holy highlighter function, Batman, there was so much brilliance in this book! I’m so glad I read this on my Kindle. I hate writing in real books; it feels wrong to me. I find books sacred and, if anything, I’ll use Post-Its to make notes. On Kindle, I can highlight to my heart’s content. Strayed really cares about those who ask her for advice, and it is so obvious in the personal responses she doles out. It’s unflinchingly honest and heartfelt. I had to keep highlighting to remember the brilliant moments that apply so directly to my life. And, really, there is something in this book for everyone. Literally, everyone.

There are chapters on mourning, love, cheating, you know, the usual suspects, but there are humorous moments, parenting anecdotes, and incredible bouts of hilarious bluntness. I had a hard time putting this book down: “I’ll just read one more letter… okay, one more… oh, this one looks short, I’ll stop after this one.” There is such sensitivity, such compassion. Strayed draws on her own life often in order to identify with her advisees. Her lessons come from her history and her heart, you can tell. I think that’s why I loved it so much. You feel like your having a conversation with a friend, not some uppity life expert.

After the popularity of Strayed’s memoir Wild, I was interested and curious to know what her style is like. I’m not usually a nonfiction reader (this challenge is definitely changing that!), so I was wary. After reading Tiny Beautiful Things, I immediately purchased Wild. I cannot sing the praises of TBT enough. I cannot wait to get to her other books.

Verdict: Purchase this book. NOW.

MOTHERLAND FATHERLAND HOMELANDSEXUALS by Patricia Lockwood

I didn’t read this book for the Read Harder challenge. I felt I needed a bit of a break (even though I read this at the same time as Reading Lolita…) and as a poet, I was seriously lacking in the inspiration coffers. This collection is super-fantastic!

If I’m not mistaken, I had originally passed on this book when I found it in the library. It’s somewhat surreal, not quite Dadaist, though. Lockwood personifies everyday objects quite frequently and when I read a piece about Niagara Falls, I just didn’t think I’d be quite into it. How I wish I had known better! Fast forward a couple of months to discovering Lockwood’s poem “Rape Joke” in a Pushcart Anthology and I was 100% sold.

Lockwood is absolutely masterful in her poetry. She treats her topics and the images she uses with a fresh, sometimes dark, sense of humor. It’s a sarcasm that I rarely find in poetry; it speaks to me. She makes a lot of observations about the dichotomies women face in our society, as well as personal (yet removed) obstacles.

I noticed that where some poets would be completely confessional, Lockwood inserts cloudy language and “out there” images/concepts. It reminds me of how one will sometimes use the “I have a friend who” trope in order to make a story about anyone but themselves. In a way, it makes those moments in Lockwood’s poems more personal, more intriguing.

Lockwood deserves all the accolades she got for this collection, though I will admit that I am incredibly jealous of her unique style. I love that there is poetry out there that is strong, different, feminist, and so willing to address the shit that nobody else wants to talk about.

ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT by Jeanette Winterson

Task Completed: A book by an author who identifies as LGBTQ

I really liked this book. I was a huge fan of Written on the Body and Winterson’s memoir Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? so it made total sense to read her first novel, which came out in 1985 and won some major awards. It’s easy to see why it was so popular. It covers some heavy material, namely a girl’s coming to terms with the fact that she’s a lesbian and facing the fall out of such a revelation in a super-religious environment.

This book is a pretty easy read. The language flows beautifully and Winterson has these moments in the narrative that are just begging to be highlighted and quoted over and over again. The only moments that tripped me up were the little digressions into fairy tale-esque stories, including one with Percival searching for the Holy Grail and a magician’s apprentice. I’m still struggling to assign meaning to these parts. I’m sure if I could make a stronger connection it would be profound. Still, I was more than willing to put up with these quirks because the rest of the story was so compelling.

Here’s a caveat: read this book before you read WInterson’s memoir. This story is heavily autobiographical, which the author has never denied. It is her story, fictionalized. Reading her memoir first, I knew what was coming more often than not. And as much as liked this novel, I do prefer her memoir, perhaps because it goes further into depth and feels more emotional. As deep as Oranges is, it’s still lighter than Why Be Happy. It’s also shorter. So while I highly recommend this book, I still recommend her memoir more.

In the event one chooses this book, and totally gets the fairy tale parts, please explain them to me. I have hunches, but I’m still not clear on their metaphoric meanings.

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