A Solution Staring Me In The Face

I read mostly fiction.   For years I’ve been meaning to read more nonfiction, and I add more and more nonfiction titles to my Goodreads TBR, but there they sit, as I continue to devour novels.  However!  I’ve just stumbled upon a pretty obvious solution to my problem. PUT THE NONFICTION ON HOLD AT THE LIBRARY, LAILA.

See, one of the perks of working at a library is everyday access to the library catalog, where I can check and see if new titles have been added before they’re published.  (Patrons can do this too, it’s just that I’m here all the time and think about it more often than the average person, probably.)  So when I know the new Michael Connelly or Kate Atkinson book is coming out soon, I put myself on hold and hopefully will be near the top of the list.  But for some reason, I NEVER THINK to put myself on hold for nonfiction.  I’ve got a hold list full of fiction (and movies and compact discs ) instead.

A few months back I put White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson on hold.  When it came around to me, shockingly, I read it!  So I thought, “This worked so well, why don’t I look at my Goodreads list and put some more nonfiction on hold?”

Here are three nonfiction titles I’ve recently placed on hold (book blurbs from Goodreads:)

the-last-castle-9781476794044_hrThe Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home by Denise Kiernan.  (“The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.”)  At the moment I’m number 81 out of 91 waiting for it. (Knoxville isn’t too far from Asheville, NC, which is one reason I think that there are so many people waiting for this.)

51GLNSdDDqL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The Radium Girls:  The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore.  (“The Curies’ newly discovered element of radium makes gleaming headlines across the nation as the fresh face of beauty, and wonder drug of the medical community. From body lotion to tonic water, the popular new element shines bright in the otherwise dark years of the First World War.

Meanwhile, hundreds of girls toil amidst the glowing dust of the radium-dial factories. The glittering chemical covers their bodies from head to toe; they light up the night like industrious fireflies. With such a coveted job, these “shining girls” are the luckiest alive – until they begin to fall mysteriously ill.”)  I am currently number 12 out of 16 waiting.

9780553447453Evicted:  Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond.  (“Even in the most desolate areas of American cities, evictions used to be rare. But today, most poor renting families are spending more than half of their income on housing, and eviction has become ordinary, especially for single mothers. In vivid, intimate prose, Desmond provides a ground-level view of one of the most urgent issues facing America today.”)  There isn’t a waiting list for this one anymore, but I’ve suspended my hold until January, when I’ve hopefully made a dent in the books I’ve got on my nightstand at the moment.

So now that you’re shaking your head at my obtuseness, tell me:  if you’ve ever wanted to make shake up your reading habits, what are some strategies you’ve used to actually get those books in your hands?  Have you read any of these books, or if not, do they interest you? What is your balance of fiction to nonfiction?  Let’s chat in the comments!

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Long Division by Kiese Laymon

51mAbD8758L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Sometimes I read something and when I’m finished I think, “I don’t know if I really got this.”  Kiese Laymon’s novel Long Division is one of those books.  I know I would benefit from a reread, and from simply sitting with it longer than my appetite for reading allows.  Even after a book group meeting and discussion, I still don’t think I fully grasp this novel.  It’s a mind-bending book-within-a-book.  We go from 2013 to 1985 to 1964 and back again.  Characters show up and disappear, characters experience and witness violence, there is humor and sadness and time travel and I’m not quite sure what I’m supposed to take from all of this except that I was invested and surprisingly moved in the end.

The book starts out in 2013 with our hero, Jackson, Mississippi high-schooler City (Citoyen) Coldson, getting ready to compete with a few classmates and others in the Can You Use That Word in a Sentence Contest, which was “started in 2006 after states in the Deep South, Midwest, and Southwest complained that the Scripps Spelling Bee was geographically biased.”  It’s nearly impossible to set up this novel, so here’s the Goodreads description:

 The book contains two interwoven stories. In the first, it’s 2013: after an on-stage meltdown during a nationally televised quiz contest, 14-year-old Citoyen “City” Coldson becomes an overnight YouTube celebrity. The next day, he’s sent to stay with his grandmother in the small coastal community of Melahatchie, where a young girl named Baize Shephard has recently disappeared.

Before leaving, City is given a strange book without an author called Long Division. He learns that one of the book’s main characters is also named City Coldson–but Long Division is set in 1985. This 1985 City, along with his friend and love-object, Shalaya Crump, discovers a way to travel into the future, and steals a laptop and cellphone from an orphaned teenage rapper called…Baize Shephard. They ultimately take these with them all the way back to 1964, to help another time-traveler they meet protect his family from the Klan.

City’s two stories ultimately converge in the mysterious work shed behind his grandmother’s, where he discovers the key to Baize’s disappearance.

It’s not a long book, despite all the plot elements. There’s different typeface for what’s happening in the present day and what’s happening in the book City’s reading, which helps a bit to keep everything straight.  It tackles serious subjects like race, class, and sexuality, with a sideways dark humor.  It felt alternately playful and serious.  Parts of it, especially at the beginning, reminded me of another book that made me feel dull-witted:  Paul Beatty’s The Sellout.  (Not as outrageous, though.)  I was not prepared for how absorbing this book is – it’s more like a speculative mystery than straight literary fiction. What happened to Baize?  What is City’s grandmother hiding in her shed?  Does everyone make it back to the present day?  I was also not prepared for how emotional I would get reading it.  I know.  I cried, how shocking!  😀 But for most of the book I was kept at a distance by the book-within-a-book format and the dizzying prose, and then – BAM!  The last 30 pages hit me hard.

Make no mistake, this book is using fantasy and humor and meta fiction to talk about race in the Deep South.  A white man in conflict with City’s grandmother says a mouth full with one sentence.

“Y’all mad at something more than me,” he said.  “I ain’t do it.”

There’s a powerful moment where City is in his grandmother’s church, and he’s wondering what the parishioners would think if they knew what his grandmother was doing.  He says,

If they ever found out, maybe two of them would talk smack about my grandma, but I figured that everyone in the church had been treated like a visitor on their own road, in their own town, in their own state, in their own country.  It wasn’t really complicated at all, but I’d never understood it until right then in that church.  When you and everyone like you and everyone who really likes you is treated like a pitiful nigger, or like a disposable nigger, or or like some terrorizing nigger, over and over again, in your own home, in your own state, in your own country, and the folks who treat you like a nigger are pretty much left alone, of course you start having fantasies about doing whatever you can – not just to get back at white folks, and not just to stop the pain, but to do something that I didn’t understand yet, something a million times worse than acting a fool in front of millions at a contest.

As I write this, I’ve decided that I must read this book again.  And I’ve got to slow down next time.

 

WWW Wednesday (December 6, 2017)

WWW Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Sam at Taking On A World of Words.  Give her blog a look and join the discussion!

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

at-mrs-lippincotesCurrently:

At Mrs. Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor.  Where has this book (and this author) been all my life?  This is right up my alley.  She reminds me of Barbara Pym (one of my favorite authors.)  It is funny and sad and witty and I am excited to have her whole catalog to explore after this!518kAM5wEIL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

 

White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide by Carol Anderson.  Oh my goodness.  I can only read 5-10 pages of this at a time because it makes me so damn angry.  I am learning things about Reconstruction, the Great Migration, and the aftermath of Brown V. Board of Education that I should have learned in school.  It’s making me so sad that, even though I had what most would call a “very good education,” I remained so ignorant of the history of race relations in the U.S.  It’s a very short book with lots of well-researched end notes, so I should have finished this already. But the means white people have devised to keep African Americans from achieving equality are mind-boggling and infuriating.

Recently Finished:

51gqBvjRITL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards.  I’ve been wanting to try one of these British Library Crime Classics for a while now.  Uneven, like most short story collections usually are.  But there were a handful of outstanding stories, so I’m glad I read this.  (Ethel Lina White’s “Waxworks” was a story I won’t soon forget!)  I’ll be writing a review in the next week or two (she says hopefully…)

 

 

Up Next:

I’ve got a ton of books checked out right now, so I’m kind of overwhelmed by all the choices!  Here are just a few that I should read soon and get back to the library (waiting lists on a couple of these.)  But you know me – my next read might be something else randomly chosen from my shelf at home!

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons,  The Burning Girl by Claire Messud, and Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout.

 

Read any of these?  Anything look tempting?  What have you just finished reading?

 

 

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

I have NO idea what made me pick up My Name is Lucy Barton.  I didn’t even have it on my “To-Read” shelf on Goodreads!  Or rather, I did have it on my To-Read shelf, but somewhere along the line I had taken it off in one of my periodic purges.  Perhaps I just wanted something short to read (it’s 191 pages in hardcover.)  Behind on my Goodreads Challenge, I probably wanted the feeling of accomplishment that finishing a book can bring.  Once I started reading this, I didn’t want to stop.  I just loved it.

25893709This is a small story, told in snippets, of Lucy’s time in the hospital battling a serious infection, and how her emotionally and physically distant mother came to stay with her there for a short time.  It’s breathtaking in its spareness, with small moments of heartbreaking beauty surfacing from Lucy’s memories of that time.  We also get glimpses of her horrible, impoverished Midwestern childhood – just enough to show us their tragedy but not enough for the reader to become overwhelmed.

There are times now, and my life has changed so completely, that I think back on the early years and I find myself thinking:  It was not that bad.  Perhaps it was not.  But there are times too – unexpected – when walking down a sunny sidewalk, or watching the top of a tree bend in the wind, or seeing a November sky close down over the East River, I am suddenly filled with the knowledge of darkness so deep that a sound might escape from my mouth and I will step into the nearest clothing store and talk with a stranger about the shape of sweaters newly arrived.  This must be the way most of us maneuver through the world, half knowing, half not, visited by memories that can’t possibly be true. 

She escaped her upbringing because a teacher introduced her to reading, and she fell in love with books.  Also, she stayed as long as she could at school each day because it was warm, and her house had no heat.  She earned a full scholarship to a college in Chicago, and when she came home for Thanksgiving, she couldn’t fall asleep at night because she “was afraid I would wake and find myself once more in this house and I would be in this house forever, and it seemed unbearable to me.”  We get a glimpse of a horrific incident between her father and her brother when the brother was caught wearing his mother’s clothes, and we are told of times that Lucy was locked inside the family truck, before she was old enough for school, either as punishment or as a substitute for daycare.  Gilbert expertly portrays a young child’s terror at being left alone and thinking that no one is coming back to save her.

But this book sounds so bleak when I write of these things!  Where is the beauty, you ask?  What made you love this book, Laila?  Well, the beauty is in the small ways in which Lucy and her mother fumble and try to connect while she’s in the hospital, the gentleness of Lucy’s doctor, the way Lucy falls in love with New York City, in the way she writes of her first husband and their early days.  It’s in the way Lucy clawed her way out of a horrible life.  Strout is simply a master as gutting the reader with the simplest of images and the most precise sentences.

What else made this book resonate so strongly for me?  Well, maybe it was the feeling I got while reading it, one of intense longing for my childhood.  My childhood was pretty good overall, no traumas like the ones Lucy faced.  My parents and extended family always loved me, of that I never once doubted.  But my parents are divorced, and I admit that if they told me today that they would get back together I would be overjoyed.  I know that my relationship with my mother has never fully recovered.  This is a story of mothers and daughters, a very specific, troubled mother-daughter relationship, but a reader like me can feel echoes of my own past here.  I also felt the nostalgia for the places of my childhood, like my grandparents’ house, which is no longer in the family, as they have both passed away.  So much of my life was spent there in middle Tennessee, in summers and on holidays, and now it’s just gone.  We have no reason to travel there any more, and it breaks my heart.  Lucy’s past was awful, but there were moments when she seemed like a little girl rather than a grown woman with kids, and she just wanted the security and reassurance of her mother’s love, like any of us want that from time to time.  What was most heartbreaking was the sense that she was worth more than the tiny scraps her mother was able to give her.

This was a book that connected deeply with me, but I’ve read Goodreads reviews and blog reviews where this was not the case.  So I don’t know – maybe it will resonate with you or may not.  I love that it took me by surprise, and that I randomly picked it up after disregarding it for so long.  I devoured it in two days, and still I wanted more, but I also felt like I knew Lucy enough to see her as a fully formed character.  She was doing the best with what she’d been given – she had flaws, but she also has great strength.  (I haven’t even mentioned that she became a writer!  There’s this whole side story line with a New York City author who inspires Lucy, it’s beautifully rendered.)  I immediately checked out Strout’s follow-up that came out this year, Anything is Possible.  I’m trying to not get my hopes up too much, trying to let it have room to surprise me in a good way as well.  My Name is Lucy Barton is going on my upcoming year-end Best Of List.

Have you read this, or any other of Strout’s novels?  What was the last book that surprised you in a good way?

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I *Might* Read This Winter

toptentuesdayHey there!  It’s Top Ten Tuesday time again, hosted by The Broke and Bookish.   I haven’t participated in one for a while.  But I do so love talking about TBRs – my own and yours as well!  It’s so much fun to anticipate the things we *might* read soon.  I am not a book planner, but I know some of you follow a pretty strict schedule. I’m very moody when it comes to reading, so I may get to these this coming winter – or I may not!  I just thought I’d share some of my picks and maybe get you talking about your own.

Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen.  This has been lingering on my Goodreads TBR since 2008!  And I now possess a copy of my own.  2018 is the year I finally read this!13120860

Dead Scared (Lacey Flint #2) by Sharon Bolton.  I read the first in this series recently and loved it.  I’m itching to get to the second, in which DC Flint goes undercover as a university student investigating a rash of apparent suicides.

We Were Eight Years In Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  I think Coates is just brilliant, and I’ve read parts of this essay collection in The Atlantic.  I am hoping that Santa brings me this one for Christmas!2edce15dd0865323d6ec6776d200de48-w204@1x

Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? by Kathleen Collins.  I’ve had this short story collection lingering on my iPad for nearly a year! I’m not a big e-book reader – when I get home from work I don’t really want to read on a screen.  But I bought this and a few other things really cheap last winter, so I really need to read them.

Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong.  My blogger friends who have read this seems to all really like it.  And it’s gotten good critical reviews as well.

Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower #4) by Stephen King.  Back in the summer I was all about the first three of this series.  Then I had to read some other stuff.  But now I’m read to jump back in!

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson.  I bought this intending to read it this year; didn’t happen. It’s massive but I’ve heard and read nothing but good things about it and I will complete it in 2018.

The Body in the Library (Miss Marple #3) by Agatha Christie.  After reading my first Miss Marple mystery this year, I’m ready to try another one!  Agatha Christie makes for good cozy wintry reading.

What We Lose by Zinzi Clemmons.  From Goodreads: Raised in Pennsylvania, Thandi views the world of her mother’s childhood in Johannesburg as both impossibly distant and ever present. She is an outsider wherever she goes, caught between being black and white, American and not. She tries to connect these dislocated pieces of her life, and as her mother succumbs to cancer, Thandi searches for an anchor—someone, or something, to love. 7126

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  Hey, remember when I had that poll on my blog that you all voted on and this ginormous classic novel won?!?  Yes, I was supposed to read this one this year.  Whoops!  🙂

Have you read any of these?  Do any appeal to you?  What are you planning to read this winter?

My Life With Bob by Pamela Paul

717w6Z79NILMy Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues is one of those books that is incredibly quotable.  I put little Post-it notes in the backs of my library books so that I always have paper on hand to make notations (in case my little notepad isn’t handy) and I filled four full Post-its – plus two pages in my notepad.  Pamela Paul is very opinionated, which I suppose makes for a good book about books.  Who’d want to read a book about books with a bunch of milquetoast opinions? Sometimes I really liked her, sometimes I found her insufferable (to be fair, mostly when she was younger.  And who isn’t insufferable when they’re young?)  But the entire time I was reading this, I found her interesting.

I think I expected more whimsy and less substance from this book, but I was pleasantly surprised by the depth of Paul’s tale.  A shy only sister in a large family of brothers, she wanted to impress the librarians of her childhood with her reading taste. (“I was certain I’d lose their respect entirely if they caught me when, following the gateway drug of Judy Blume, I progressed to Paula Danziger and Norma Klein explicit and positively dirty.”)  The reader follows Paul from adolescence and high school through college and world travels thereafter, then onto a first failed marriage and up to the present day, married with children (who are readers themselves.)  All along the way, Paul describes how the books she chose informed her thinking and her life and vice versa.  Her teenage obsession with the Andy Warhol-endorsed Slaves of New York, by Tama Janovitz, served as her “inchoate way of declaring to the rest of my high school classmates where I stood.”  On a summer abroad in France, disgusted by her previous self-indulgent and histrionic diaries, she began “Bob,” her book of books.  It would be a diary of the better part of herself, or the self she wanted to present to the world and become. Later, writing of her first marriage, she credits her intellectual and philosophical arguments with her then husband, also a voracious reader, with enhancing her ability to consider books on a deeper level.  (“I’d gone from escaping into books and searching for answers to locating a considered remove, respecting my perspective on the work, and trusting my own responses.  I hadn’t properly engaged with books before I’d met my husband; I’d never wrestled with a text.  Before we were married, I”d never written a book review; a few months after we split up, I wrote my first.”)

I dare anyone to read the chapter about her father (called “Bad News: Tearjerkers”) and not bawl.

Some favorite lines:

“This is every reader’s catch-22: the more you read, the more you realize you haven’t read; the more you yearn to read more, the more you understand that you have, in fact, read nothing.”

“It was as if our fundamental differences became manifest in how we read, slicing through the fog of infatuation.”

“Books gnaw at me from around the edges of my life, demanding more time and attention.  I am always left hungry.”

“The ability to choose one’s own books becomes slightly less satisfying when you realize your own children have that power, too, and they insist on reading about rainbow fairies or killer cats.”

IMG_1979
My second and current “Bob”

 

I eagerly anticipated reading this because I also keep a “Bob” of my own.  I’m on the second edition, actually, having filled up the first in 2015.  They are nondescript lined journals, and they don’t have names, but they’re dear to my heart as a record of who I was when I was reading things.  I’ve written little notes about who I started dating and when I broke up with them, when I began dating my now husband, when I had my son (precious little reading was done in the months thereafter!)  I like to take these “Bobs” out from time to time and reflect on all the things I’ve read, how my tastes have changed, favorite books I’ve read more than once and ones I still want to reread.  Paul sums up the appeal of a “Bob” nicely near the end of her memoir by saying,

I’d like to think others would get as much out of a Book of Books as I have gotten out of mine.  For each of us, the books we’ve chosen across a lifetime reveal not only our evolving interests and tastes, but also our momentary and insatiable desires, the questions we can’t stop asking, the failings we recognize in ourselves at the time, and the ones we can see clearly only years later.  We pass our lives according to our books – relishing and reacting against them, reliving their stories when we recall where we were when we read them and the reasons we did.  Most people, I’m convinced, are not just searching for cocktail-party fodder when they ask what someone else is reading.  They are trying to figure someone out, to get to the bottom of him.  They are looking for clues.

Thoughts on Rainbow Valley by L.M. Montgomery (#AnneReadalong2017)

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

To sit in Rainbow Valley, steeped in a twilight half gold, half amethyst, rife with the odours of balsam-fir and woodsy growing things in their springtime prime, with the pale stars of wild strawberry blossoms all around you, and with the sough of the wind and tinkle of bells in the shaking treetops, and eat fried trout and dry bread, was something which the mighty of earth would have envied them.

77395Rainbow Valley is not about Anne Blythe; not even really about her kids.  It’s mostly about the new neighbor kids, the Merediths, who are running wild while their father, John Meredith, the new minister, walks around absentmindedly with his head full of theological and philosophical questions.  It’s got the trademark Montgomery musings on the beauty of the natural world, a dash of romance, and just enough of Anne and her family to keep me invested and turning the pages quickly.

After my disappointment with Anne of Ingleside, I was a bit nervous approaching this one.  But many  bloggers reassured me that #7 in the series was a winner – and they were right!  A short novel (my copy was 225 pages,) Rainbow Valley was a fast read for me – something that the previous novel was decidedly not.  The Meredith children – Jerry, Carl, Una, and Faith – are spirited and enterprising, conscious of their father’s parental shortcomings in the eyes of the town gossips.  They often tried to take matters in their own hands and not bother their father, who they clearly loved and who clearly loved them.  I didn’t find them as annoyingly naive as the Blythe children were depicted in Anne of Ingleside.  Mary Vance, an abused orphan girl who runs away and shows up in a neighbor’s barn, is a vexing character and does her best to upset the Meredith kids with her know-it-all ways.  But I couldn’t totally dislike her because Montgomery does show how horribly mistreated she was in her former situation.  I was glad that Miss Cornelia adopted her, even if her improvement in life led her to be even more insufferable.

My favorite aspect of Rainbow Valley was the emerging romance between Rev. Meredith and the spinster Rosemary West.  Rosemary and her sister Ellen lived together and Rosemary had promised her sister years before that she would never marry and leave her alone.  I was irritated initially by Ellen’s stubborn refusal to release Rosemary from her promise.  But then I considered Ellen’s plight and felt sympathy for her as a single woman in a time when single women had it pretty hard.

It is never quite safe to think we have done with life.  When we imagine we have finished our story fate has a trick of turning the page and showing us yet another chapter.  These two people each thought their hearts belonged irrevocably to the past; but they both thought their walk up that hill very pleasant. Rosemary thought the Glen minister was by no means as ashy and tongue-tied as he had been represented.  He seemed to find no difficulty in talking easily and freely.  Glen housewives would have been amazed had they heard him.  But then so many Glen housewives talked only gossip and the price of eggs, and John Meredith was not interested in either.  He talked to Rosemary of books and music and wide-world doings and something of his own history, and found that she could understand and respond.

 I  also loved that John and Ellen got along so well – she even thought at one point “what a great brother-in-law he’d make!  Oh well, Rosemary promised!”  I won’t spoil what happens in the end but, if you’ll note, I do categorize this under “Comfort Reads” so draw your own conclusions!  

So why did I rate this three stars and not more?  It’s pretty simple – not enough Anne!  My favorites of the series – the third, fourth, and fifth books – were Anne-heavy and she was a dynamic character.  Now that she’s middle-aged and a mother of six she has kind of faded into the background, unfortunately.  Overall Rainbow Valley was a comforting  story, with Montgomery’s almost cinematic descriptions of the natural landscape, charming children, and a sweet romance.  Perhaps I’m unfair to compare it to the others in the series (I dare say one could read this as a standalone and enjoy it) but I can’t help but find the lack of Anne a bit disappointing.  If I’d read this as a child I would probably have liked it more, since the Meredith kids are so spunky and appealing.

So, just one more book to go!  I’m excited that I’ve managed to stick with the Readalong! Have you read Rainbow Valley?  What did you think?