the-lost-art-of-browsinghappy-1Yesterday my son and I went to our local library, the one in the county in which we live, not the one in the next county over, where I work.  I like to take him to the library and let him pick out some things himself, as opposed to me bringing home items from my workplace library (which I do regularly.)  He chooses books and dvds rather quickly, almost haphazardly, although occasionally he will plop right down in the floor in front of the stacks and read a book to himself.  (That brings me no end of delight, as you can imagine.)

My husband asked me to choose a book or two for him.  He’s a reader, but not voracious (obsessive?) like I am.  He’ll read a book over a couple of weeks, and when he’s finished he may not pick up another book for a month or more.  (I know, it’s hard for me to fathom!) He doesn’t read fiction (!) but instead enjoys biography, memoir, history, and sports books.  It’s hard to find a book about baseball that the man hasn’t read.

While I was looking for a biography for him, I kept finding things that appealed to me. And I was struck by a feeling of nostalgia for something that I hadn’t even realized that I was missing.  I miss browsing.  I almost never browse anymore.  Between my library holds list, my massive TBR, and the books I own but haven’t yet read, I don’t make time to wander the stacks and choose a book on a whim.

I realize that part of this may stem from the fact that I often have a busy and impatient five year-old with me, but I don’t blame it on him.  It’s my own fault entirely that I’ve let browsing go by the wayside.  Years ago, I didn’t have a massive TBR list.  I didn’t keep 15 items on my library hold list and constantly fiddle with it in order to ensure that they don’t all come in at one time.  I allowed myself the pleasure (and the risk) of selecting books based on the jacket copy and my mood.

I’ve found myself thinking about my reading goals for next year, and chief among them is making room for browsing and random picks.  I have even considered erasing my Goodreads TBR, but I can’t quite do it yet. ( I have this fear that I’ll forget about these great sounding books and then where will I be??  Oh wait, I’ll be browsing.  I’ve got to ponder this further.)  But I was thinking that I could set a goal to read a random whim pick once a month.  Wait – that sounds funny.  Set a goal to be more random!  Clearly, I’ve got control issues, but I didn’t even realize how it extended to my reading life.  You can see why I’ve not yet let myself request ARCs.  I’ve got enough issues already!

Do you browse libraries or bookstores regularly and select items based on mood?  Or have you forgotten that you used to enjoy it, like me?  Can you imagine getting rid of your TBR list, or does the thought make you panic a little bit?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

I finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus today, and I wanted to write about it while it was still fresh in my mind.  I wanted to write about it because the books that I write about manage to stay fresher in my mind than the ones I don’t.  It’s my book group’s pick for this month – our meeting is Sunday.  I really hope that my fellow members read it because I want to talk about it!  It’s one of those books that grew on me as I read it, and by the end, I didn’t want to put it down.

This was Adichie’s first novel, but I found it to be as captivating as the only other one of hers I’ve read thus far, the epic Americanah.  It’s a far more quiet novel, though; it sneaked up on me with an emotional heft that took my breath away.  A coming of age story set in modern Nigeria, it follows fifteen year-old Kambili and her family: her older brother Jaja, her mother and father, and her father’s sister Ifeoma and her family.img_0469

Kambili’s father is wealthy, publishing a progressive newspaper and owning factories, and his children lack for nothing physically.  However, their house is a quiet one, where every day has a schedule and no one speaks out of turn.  Laughter is nonexistent, and the household is strictly religious (Catholic.)  Kambili loves her father, wants to make him proud with her grades at school, but she also fears him.  As the novel progresses we get more of a picture of what’s going on inside the house – it becomes obvious that the father is physically abusive not only to their mother but also to Kambili and Jaja.  One day a girl at school asks Kambili why she always runs to get into the car her father sends to pick her up instead of walking and chatting with the other girls.

“I just like running,” I said, and wondered if I would count that as a lie when I made confession next Saturday, if I would add it to the lie about not having heard Mother Lucy the first time.  Kevin always had the Peugeot 505 parked at the school gates right after the bell rang.  Kevin had many other chores to do for Papa and I was not allowed to keep him waiting, so I always dashed out of my last class.  Dashed, as though I were running the 200-meters race at the interhouse sports competition.  Once, Kevin told Papa I took a few minutes longer, and Papa slapped my left and right cheeks at the same time, so his huge palms left parallel marks on my face and ringing in my ears for days.

Things begin to change when Kambili’s Aunty Ifeoma manages to convince her brother to let the children come stay with her and her family for a week during a school break, under the pretense of going to visit a pilgrimage site.  Ifeoma, a widow and university professor, is a vibrant, strong, colorful woman, and at first Kambili doesn’t know how to behave around her or her opinionated children.  She is painfully shy and afraid to do or say anything that she’ll have to later confess to her father.  This includes even having a relationship with her grandfather, whom her Papa considers a pagan heathen, since he never converted to Catholicism.  As Kambili and Jaja stay with Ifeoma, they start to open up, speak their minds more, laugh, and learn a new way to be a family.  Inevitably, this new consciousness chafes against the ways that their Papa controls them and their mother.

This was one of those books that had potential to be “too heavy” for me, a self-described wimp when it comes to sad things in books.  But Adichie has such a succinct yet beautiful way of writing, with not a word wasted, that even when she describes painful events, it’s not too much to handle.  Ifeoma’s home and community in Nsukka is such a vibrant, loving environment, I longed to be there, embraced and cared for by her and her children. We also meet a kind, strong, attractive young priest named Father Amadi, who is a positive, fatherly figure for Ifeoma’s children and other children in Nsukka.  He and Kambili develop a unique friendship and he helps draw her out of her shell, giving her a glimpse at another way to embody the Catholic faith.  He’s a lovely character.

I’m so glad we chose this novel to read for my book group.  I had it on my TBR, but you know about my TBR, right?  Things might linger there for one, two, three years before I “get around to them,” if I ever do.  Don’t make the same mistake I made – get your hands on a copy of this gorgeous, sad, but ultimately hopeful novel sooner rather than later!

Reading Update

How’s it going, guys?  Today’s my last day at work for a week (woohoo!) since it’s my son’s fall break and I want to spend time with him.  We were supposed to be going to South Carolina on Sunday but had to cancel because of the hurricane.  I feel so badly for all who live in its path.  It’s scary stuff.  My family and I will do some fun things over the next week and we’ll try again for a beach trip in March or May of next year.  Let’s all send out some heavy prayers for the people of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina.

9780385678414I just finished Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley, the eighth book in his Flavia De Luce mystery series.  I have enjoyed these books up until now.  Flavia is a precocious twelve year old heroine in a small British village in the post-war period, who just happens to help solve murders.  Sadly, this one may be my last.  Not only did it unfold at a dreadfully slow pace, but the mystery wasn’t that compelling.  And the ending!  Ugh! A terrible thing happened and I think it was completely unnecessary.  Oh well.  It was a good run.

I just started reading Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus.  Only 29 pages in and it’s beautifully written so far, as I expected it would be.  It’s for my book group meeting on the 16th, which I may not attend due to a conflict.  But I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, so I’m glad to have the prompt.126381

I recently finished Hope Jahren’s excellent memoir Lab Girl. If you’re the least bit interested in nature or science, and you enjoy memoirs, I highly recommend it.  It’s not the least bit dry or overly scholarly, yet I promise you’ll never look at trees the same way again.  She’s so smart and she has such a passion for the natural world.  She really lays it out there about how challenging it is to be a scientist in America and constantly have to scrounge around for funding.  Here’s my favorite passage, where she is reflecting on her love for her only child, a son, who happens to love beating on a palm tree with whatever implement he can find.

Being a daughter was so difficult for both my mother and me; maybe our line needs to skip a generation in order to extinguish the cycle such that it cannot be repeated.  So I’ve set my heart on a granddaughter – as always, my greed for love is unreasonably premature.  Based on my projections, there’s more than a small chance that I’ll die before she’s born, particularly if our line continues to skip or bifurcate.  And perhaps this is the way it was meant to be, for me anyway.

Nevertheless, here on this sunny day, I can’t resist my temptation to put a message in a bottle: Somebody remember.  Somebody someday find my granddaughter and tell her.  Tell her about the day that one of her grandmothers sat looking out of her kitchen window with a pen in her hand.  tell her that her grandmother didn’t see the dirty dishes or the dust on the windowsill because she was busy deciding.  Tell her that in the end, she decided to go ahead and love her granddaughter several decades too early.  Tell her about the day that her grandmother sat in a sunbeam and dreamed of her to the soundtrack of a tree being flogged.

812c5592-fb87-11e5-8b45-86e4300cc57e-780x1163As a mother of an only child, a five year old boy, who also loves to beat on trees, I can share that I bawled when I read this.

I hope you all have a great weekend and that you’re reading some great books!  Have you read any of these?  Tell me what you’re currently reading or what you just finished in the comments.

BRL Quarterly Report #6

Happy October!  I am just thrilled that it’s finally not 90+ degrees anymore in Tennessee like it was for all of this last quarter, it seemed.  The past few days it’s been chilly enough in the mornings for me to wear socks and shoes instead of sandals and to throw on a cardigan or jacket.  I am deeply grateful.

big-reading-lifeSeems like I had another nice reading quarter (July, August, September.) When I do these things I’m always surprised by how much reading I’ve done, because it seems like I’m always complaining about not having enough time to read!  I’m pretty psyched about my continuing exploration of graphic novels/comics.  I’ve read some really terrific books this quarter:

Total Books Read: 26

Fiction: 19

Nonfiction: 7

Audio Book: 1  (The Dorito Effect: The Surprising New Truth About Food and Flavor by Mark Schatzker)

Juvenile/Middle Grade: 2 (Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan and The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place #4: The Interrupted Tale  by Maryrose Wood)

YA/Teen: 4 (All graphic novels/comics.  The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Vol. 1 &2 by Ryan North and Erica Henderson, Aya by Marguerite Abouet, and Lumberjanes: Beware the Kitten Holy  by Noelle Stevenson.)

Graphic Novels/Comics: 6 (The above 4 plus Fables Vol. 9: Sons of Empire by Bill Willingham and March Book Two by John Lewis.)

Authors of Color: 9

Published this year: 6

Favorite Reads This Quarter:

I didn’t have written reading goals for this year, aside from my Goodreads Challenge, which I’m definitely going to make.  (I’ve read 65 of 70 books so far.  I deliberately set my number low!)  My unstated goal for every year is to read more works by authors of color.  In 2014, I read a puny 7 works by authors of color.  In 2015, I read 17.  So far this year, I’ve read 18.  My goal is to get to 25 before the end of the year.

How have your goals for the year been going so far?  Anyone met or exceeded goals already?  What’s your favorite book of the last few months?

Top Ten Fall TBR Books

Y’all should know by now that I can’t resist a TBR list – mine or anybody else’s.  So I had to get in on this week’s Top Ten Tuesday theme, hosted by The Broke and Bookish, which is Top Ten Books on Your Fall TBR.  My Fall TBR is the same as my Winter, Spring, and Summer TBR.  It’s just one massive Goodreads list of 500+ titles that I add to and delete from constantly.  But these are the books that I’m most likely to read before the end of 2016.

  • White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi.  For my first ever R.I.P. Challenge!
  • The Sundial by Shirley Jackson.  Also for the R.I.P. Challenge.  I intend to eventually read everything Shirley Jackson has written.  This will be my fourth.
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.  I am SO READY for this one.
  • The rest of Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.  I started reading this in July, got halfway through, and had to turn in back in to the library because it had holds on it.  It STILL has holds on it, but I’m reading it now and I’m confident I’ll finish it this time.
  • Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d by Alan Bradley.  This just came in for me at the library this week.  This is a fun, light mystery series.
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi.  I own it and I have heard NOTHING but good things about it.img_0325
  • Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler.  This book has a New York City foodie setting, two things I like. Who knows, I may hate this, but I’m going to give it a try.
  • Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.  My book group is reading it for this month!
  • Modern Lovers by Emma Straub.  I really enjoyed her last novel, The Vacationers, and I have high hopes for this one.
  • Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen.  I am one of the biggest Boss fans you’ll ever meet. He and his music are everything to me.  I pre-ordered this the day I heard it was coming out.  My copy is heading to me through the mail as I write!

Have you read any of these?  What’s something you’ll be reading in the next couple of months?

Mini Review – Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde

It seems that my reading speed is far outpacing my blogging speed right now, so I decided to write a mini-review..  I feel like this is a book that I must share.  Based on my Goodreads friends, I know many of you have read it, or read selections from it.  If I borrow a book from the library, and I think it’s one that I’m likely to write a post about, I take notes in a medium-sized magenta  notebook.  While reading Audre Lorde’s collection of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider, I ended up with four pages.  It took me quite a while to get through this, because I did not want to rush it.  I wanted to sit with the essays for a while.  I’d read Lorde in college in my women’s studies classes, but that was almost twenty years ago, and honestly, I can’t remember half of what I did back then (other than make midnight trips to Taco Bell with my friends and pine obsessively for boys who weren’t into me.)

img_0322This is a collection written in the 1970s and early 1980s, but (sadly) so much of what Lorde writes feels relevant and fresh for today’s reader.  Bookended by insightful travel pieces about Russia and Grenada, the bulk of Lorde’s essays are about speaking , writing, and owning her truth, and the power of words, language, and poetry to unite women who may lead different kinds of lives but who are all oppressed by patriarchal structures.  There were so many powerful passages that I noted, so many sentences that spoke to me and that I wanted to share.

I was reminded of Lindy West and her excellent book Shrill when I read this from “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action:”

What are the words you do not have?  What do you need to say?  What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you sicken and die of them, still in silence… And where the words of women are crying to be heard,we must each of us recognize our responsibility, to seek those words out, to read them and share them and examine them in their pertinence to our lives.  That we not hid behind the mockeries of separations that have been imposed upon us and which we so often accept as our own.

This stunning passage is from “Man Child: A Black Lesbian Feminist’s Response:”

I wish to raise a Black man who will not be destroyed by, nor settle for, those corruptions called power by the white fathers who mean his destruction as surely as they mean mine.  I wish to raise a Black man who will recognize that the legitimate objects of his hostility are not women, but the particulars of a structure that programs him to fear and despise women as well as his own Black self.  For me this task begins with teaching my son that I do not exist to do his feeling for him.  Men who are afraid to feel must keep women around to do their feeling for them while dismissing us for the same supposedly “inferior” capacity  to feel deeply.

And finally, this passage on guilt from “The Uses of Anger: Women Responding to Racism;”

Guilt is not a response to anger; it is a response to one’s own action or lack of action.  If it leads to change then it can be useful, since then it is no longer guilt but the beginning of knowledge.  Yet all too often, guilt is just another name for impotence, for defensiveness destructive of communication; it becomes a device to protect ignorance and the continuation of things the way they are, the ultimate protection for changelessness.

Oh man, I felt that.  Did you feel that?

I wish I could be more eloquent in my appreciation of Lorde’s poetically devastating prose. While some of the essays in the book spoke to me more than others, this is a book to be shared, discussed, and pondered.  It is the kind of book that can change lives, that can galvanize action, that can inspire a woman to speak her truth and seek out common ground with others who are speaking theirs.  I am so glad that I read it.

Books With Happy Endings

I’ve been mulling over this post for a few days now, ever since a regular library patron of our branch asked me a seemingly innocuous question.  “Have you read any good, happy-ending books lately?” I was completely stumped.  So many questions swirled in my brain. Had I read any good happy-ending books lately?  Had I ever?  What was wrong with me that I couldn’t think of a single book to recommend to her?  Why do I only read sad books? Would I be a happier person if I read happier books?

I know that I used to read happy-ending books.  I went through a huge “chick-lit” phase in my 20’s.  (Yes, that term is problematic, but I do find it an apt way to categorize a large chunk of my previous reading habits.)  These were books about young women in their 20’s, mostly looking for love, a good job, and their identities in big cities like New York and London.  I was in a medium-sized Southern city, with a job I wasn’t sure about, but I still felt a kinship with these young women.  Most of them eventually found what they were looking for, or at least got started on a path that they liked, and it was comforting to read.

garden-spellsI’ve read and adored authors like Elinor Lipman and Sarah Addison Allen, who both write smart, charming fiction about love, family, and relationships.  They’re mostly happy in the end, usually.  I read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion last year and thought it was adorable and fun.  (Although I don’t feel compelled to read the sequel, The Rosie Effect.)  Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl and Attachments were pretty happy and funny.  So I know that every once in a while I do read on the lighter side.

Looking at my Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge, out of 62 books read thus far, I’d classify only 7, maybe 8, of them as “happy-ending books.”  That equals about 11%.  No wonder I totally blanked when my library patron asked me to recommend something.  I am often attracted to messy, bittersweet, or downright sad books because I read to experience and learn and feel.  I want my reading to teach me something – an emotional truth, the reality of a person’s life on the other side of the world or someone totally different from me in my home region – I want to experience it all, the good and the bad.  I look for connection, for understanding, for enlightenment.  That said, sometimes I just want a thrilling page-turner!

9780007161195-us-300I don’t mean to say that because I seek emotional realism and complexity in my fiction that I am better than someone who reads mostly for escape.  I have already wrestled with book snobbery years ago and I won.  I thankfully left that crap behind.  I know that people read for many reasons, all valid.  These just happen to be my preferences and habits, most of the time.

I know that there is room in my reading life for both the emotional texture I crave and the restorative practice of escape. I saw that patron a couple of days after she asked me my question, and I told her that she’d really gotten me thinking about my reading habits.  I said that I am going to start mixing in more happy books, taking a chance on authors or books I may have previously not given a fair shake to.   Besides, I want to be able to help the next person who comes in looking for that sweet, feel-good story when they’ve had a rough week.

So this is where you come in, dear readers!  Give me your picks for books with happy endings.  I need some inspiration!  My library patrons and I thank you.