Bibliophile Corner

photo-1421338443272-0dde2463976aBibliophiles unite! We’ve got three wonderful bookish friends telling us what books they are grateful for reading. Join me with welcoming Alex (Alex Green),  Alex (Alexandra Vanhorn), and Cathryn (Runs for Cookies)!


“The Humans” By Matt Haig

The book I am glad to have read this year is The Humans by Matt Haig. This was a book recommended to me by a friend in university who told me without a doubt that I would love it.

So I picked it up as well as Haig’s latest release, Reasons to Stay Alive, the author’s autobiography/self help book on mental health. I’d heard such good things about this one that I decided to read that first. After gliding through Reasons, he mentioned The Humans a number of times as his perfect novel in explaining his own life and the many issues he has dealt with, as explained in the book.

It took me all of one and a half days to read the whole thing. For me that is really fast, seeing as how I usually take a week at most to read any book. Sure, the book is small and isn’t overly detailed but I ate it up like I hadn’t read anything for years, and what a wonderful, poetic piece of literature!

On the outside, the book may seem like a fun, sci-fi flick but the sci-fi element to it exists only as a background matter because the real story exists in its message.

Haig puts an unemotional, completely rational, stress free alien into the shoes of an everyday human. Of course, this might sound like a classic sit-com gimmick but instead of your usual japes and eventual clarity for all involved, this alien experiences what it is really like to be normal, everyday human being.

When you read, it’s clear to see Haig has pulled from his own experiences and I know that many reading this book will also see themselves and their struggles with this character. Throughout he is battling away to understand this alien world around him whilst also attempting to navigate it smoothly with all the obstacles of being human getting in his way.

Our alien friend is constantly torn in his guilt between sticking to his rational, peaceful yet unfulfilling life or leaving his people to live like a human, even if that does bring with it the many emotions being human can bring.

That’s the message I received from this story. That being human doesn’t mean everything will be OK but in fact, for a large majority of us, it means a lot of things will be tough and it
is very tempting not to care. However, it is being human that makes us so special.

Our friend realises that through all the pain of it all, there is also good music to dance to,bookish-corner-picture great food to eat, amazing friends to hang out with and an uncountable amount of love to be shared. This is something he learns the hard way but ultimately accepts because he
knows that at the end of the day, it’s all worth it.

Even if we’re only here for a minuscule minute of time in the aeons of space, all that bad
stuff and all that good stuff is worth living for.

Like I said, I am very happy I found this book.

Website: Alex Green
Twitter


“The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaimanocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_cover

Where does anyone begin with capturing and defining the “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” by Neil Gaiman? This is one of those stories that is not read, but experienced. The story follows a nameless narrator reflecting back on a strange occurrence at his childhood home involving a neighbor girl named Lettie Hempstock and the pond that she claims is an ocean. Telling you more details is a betrayal of experiencing the story for yourself. This book is best unwound like a ball of yarn, methodically so not to miss a detail of it’s texture.

As a writer myself, I’m often trying to push the boundaries of traditional storytelling, searching for new ways to shake up my arsenal of words. “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” is permission to authors to explore the bizarre and strange. It pulls it off with grace and chills.  The descriptions are vivid and the ending will leave you thinking long past mewhen the book is closed. I would recommend this to anyone wanting to learn more about how to make creatures go bump in the night without giving them a broom to jam against the ceiling. Open it up and start unraveling.

Links

51nin4uu4qlThread of Grace” by Mary Doria Russell

 This book sat in my pile of to-be-read books from my mother for a while; it was actually one she had not yet read herself, though she read “Doc” (a historical fiction novel about Doc Holliday) by the same author. I picked it up from the pile earlier this fall and spent months making my way through it. (As I’ve gotten older, busier, less focused in my reading, I’ve gotten slower at it.) The book is a thoroughly researched, fictionalized take on the events in Italy following the Italian armistice, the Jews who found their way from other countries to Italy, the Jews who already lived there, and the Italians who helped to save their lives. Most disturbing, there are moments where you find yourself listening to the narrator work its way into the mind of one Nazi or another.
I opened the book one night before bed, my husband and I reading beside one another to wind down, and when I finished the novel’s brief Preludio, I stopped and placed the book against my chest, above my pounding heart. It was a slow, methodical reveal, and the moment the direction became clear, it was like someone had poured ice water down my spine. I immediately read it aloud to my husband so he could feel it too. There were several such moments as I moved through: bearing witness to a Nazi doctor confess his manifold sins to a Catholic priest (is there forgiveness, is there divine mercy for such atrocities? Can one repent, can one really change?); following families split apart by war, by living underground, by helping those stay and survive underground; voices cut short by war. There were several times the week after the election this November that I had to put the book down after only a couple of pages – the parallels were too horrifying.
The characters are plentiful – and there is a character list, which I consulted many times14533597_1842215806021800_2050464786369478656_n due to my very slow movement through this book (unless I had a flight to sit down with it for a more sustained period) – but sharply drawn. Many will pull at all of your empathy; some will draw on your darkest rage and despair. But Jewish or not (and I am), it’s a beautiful, well-plotted, honest, wrenching book that – while not shying from the truth and the horrors of war and the Holocaust – reminds us of how each of us can make a difference.

Goodreads Tag

I was tagged by Renuka to participate in the Goodreads Tag today! Thanks for the fun activity, Renuka! Here is my information below:

What was the last book you marked as ‘read’?

23019294

A Head Full of Ghosts, by Paul Tremblay.

What are you currently reading?

5364

Dragonfly in Amber, by Diana Gabaldon.

What was the last book you marked as ‘to read’?

28491574

The Girl in the Glass Tower, by Elizabeth Fremantle

What book do you plan to read next?

1934

Do you use the star rating system?

Yes, and I wish there was a half star rating.

Are you doing a 2016 reading challenge?

Yes, though grad school got in the way this year.

Do you have a wishlist?

Yes, basically everything TBR on my Goodreads.

What book do you plan to buy next?

I’ve been hungrily waiting for Hannah Kent’s new novel, The Good People, to come out in the US. Seriously, why is it taking so long????

Do you have any favourite quotes, would you like to share a few?

Who are your favourite authors?

Always: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and William Faulkner

Contemporary: Hannah Kent, Joyce Carol Oates,

Have you joined any groups?

Several.

How many shelves do you have on goodreads?

20!

I tag…

Life Is a Book Blog

Alexandra VanHorn

Megan Johnson

 

Signature

 

The Book of Speculation

BOOK OF SPECULATION_MECH_01.indd

As part of my weekend routine, my husband and I went to Target to pick up some things for our house. Something I can never resist while I’m there is perusing the book section. While the selection there is small, it is calming to me to walk through and note newer books. As I rounded the corner, I saw  The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler. I paused at the book, and thumbed through, looking at some of my favorite lines again. My eyes watered a little bit, as I remembered the story, the characters, and the message it left with me.

This book changed my life. It isn’t the next great American novel, but I connected so much with the characters and the interesting world the author built around them. The writing is intimate. There were lines that cracked my heart and some that cradled it. It left a lasting impression on me.

This year has been one of profound change for me. For better or worse, I’ve kept a promise to myself to stop hurting. 2015 drudged up things that had been previously buried. That year took me backwards, dragged me down a path I had already walked and thought I had locked behind me. It seems though, that unresolved things don’t last in the past for long. It is easy to wish them away, but sooner or later, they’ll make you listen. Even when resolutions aren’t readily available, the mind has an interesting way of dwelling.

I sought medical help for the intensity of it all. My counselor was willing to listen to me, something that hadn’t happened in my life before. Their kindness helped me to understand how much of my life wasn’t working for me. Something that became apparent was how much I was hiding myself. The resulting consequences were causing my mind to feel a crisis of self and of my worth. I still struggle with this. There are times when my confidence wains, and I can’t stand for myself. I retreat within myself, and hold on desperately to books to give me worlds to explore. Books grant me time to see a thousand lives lived, and even more stories that take place in my mind. They help me straighten out the wrinkles of my own life, while sending positive vibes that I can get through it.

The power of The Book of Speculation resonated farther than the story. Passages on the water as a force for life and death were felt deep within, as if I was simultaneously cleansing my heart while consuming Swyler’s words. I identified heavily with the main character, a man who was stuck in a life that didn’t feel quite real, and knew little about his parents, who seemed like ghosts even when they were alive. Swyler is delicate but deliberate about how she unfolds the story, and the truth behind the facade around the family. By the end, the characters felt renewed, like an ugly truth had been cleansed. When I closed the book at the end, I felt my own life had been purged of a sadness that had weighed on me.

In life, I continue to seek clarity for myself, and by whatever means I must use, I am thankful for those who write and create what helps me find peace.

Have you read The Book of Speculation or any other book that made you feel refreshed after reading? 

 

It’s Fantastic Friday!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My inaugural positivity post will be small, but hopefully it will bring some happiness while reading.

This week, I am grateful for this little fact:

I finished 4 books in 4 days. Granted, the books were around 200 pages each, but I did it. Even in a week full of distractions, I pushed back with making sure that I had quality “me” time. If you’ve been around my blog, you’ll know that books are what I equate to air. I cannot live without them. They are my healthy obsession, since they help my mind untangle and focus, as well as give me a little adventure before I fall asleep.

Books are what keep me going during low points in life and are a great treat during the highs. When I was little, books taught me lessons on life and growing up through Ramona Quimby, Junie B. Jones, the Boxcar Children, and the Babysitter’s Club. My first introduction to Sci-fi was Animorphs, my first introduction to ghost stories was Goosebumps, and my first historical fiction series was the American Girls. I lived these lives in parallel to my own, as a way to find happiness and relatability to characters while I struggled to find a connection to people in the real world.

Most importantly, books have been my constant in life. While the worlds I read about differ vastly, I know that they are always there. As long as there are authors, I will always have a story to read, characters to feel with, and a perspective that is similar to my personality.

Cheers for books, they are worthy of the name Fantastic.

 

Until next time,

Signature

 

On Rape Culture

“I thought that by twenty-eight I could stop trying to prove myself and relax already. But this fight just gets bloodier with age.”
― Jessica KnollLuckiest Girl Alive

Ani was a girl of 14 when she was gang raped. Three boys forced sexual acts on her, while she was drunk and unconscious. No one believed her when she told her side, even her mother stating she should have known better.

Things like this happen everyday, every hour, every minute, in real life. People are the raped and the rapers, an eternally grey area in the eyes of the law. We’ve all heard the statistic that 1 in 4 women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime, less will come forward to file a report, and even less will be convicted of a crime. The news plays a scary game when they highlight the false reports, showing all women that they better prove the guilty are guilty, unless they want to be charged themselves.

Jessica Knoll played a game too. In Luckiest Girl Alive, she showed a vulnerable young adult, desperate to be liked, hiding her story, and eventually being blamed for sullying the name of the unreachably wealthy students of her class in the prestigious Bradley school in Pennsylvania. Ani is a girl who readers can love to hate, a character who is relentlessly adolescent. She is an infuriating character, a person who could be set in many different motions, but frustratingly chooses the wrong way every time. She lives in a world where status means everything, ultimately a very demented view of what life might have been like if the characters of Gossip Girl were real. People are mean to each other in this novel. Kids are brutal in ways that seem unfathomable.

And yet, this story could be real. Teenagers can be monsters to each other. They can get drunk enough on power to convince another to kill themselves or that they weren’t really raped. It’s a story I can find on any news outlet at any time of the day, and it resonated with me on how this story could easily be true life to a current teen, just trying to fit in at their new school.

I had a hard time rating this book. The content was raw, and Ani’s character was very interesting to read about. Jessica Knoll does a great job showing the naivety of Ani as a teenager. She doesn’t hold Ani to a morally high standard, inciting the hardness of growing up. It was not a fantastical way of looking at a survivor of sexual assault, and things did not magically work in the main character’s favor. It was a real look at a victim, the guilt that’s felt for being a survivor and the backlash that society spits out. It was unapologetic and enticed me to see how the author chose to unravel the plot. It kept me reading until I ran out of pages.

Ani finds a little redemption in the end, when she starts to realize what her life is truly about while sorting her priorities. But…the novel was based heavily on plot. Personally, I felt Ani could have been developed more, her story so fascinatingly disastrous. Every nook and cranny of this book should have been dedicated to giving her a true voice in this novel.

Sexual assault is an incredibly difficult topic to write about. I found Jessica so brave, especially after finding out she had first hand experience of being gang raped in high school. To open up about a topic that society still flinches over is commendable. That part of the story was done well, refusing to allow any grittiness of what rape does to someone slip away. I empathized with Ani. I know her pain, and I know what it feels like to be called a liar. I know what it’s like to be ostracized from everyone you ever knew, for trying to speak your truth, your account of things that had happened to you. I know what it’s like to have anger pushed so hard at you and to be called the culpable one, the one that deserved what was coming to them. I know what it’s like to be bullied into feeling worthless and alone. Ani was a figure what I remember from my past.

But Ani was also a person who needed people to like her, something I cannot relate to much. I knew from a very young age that people my world would be unforgiving, and that people with my personality don’t do well in society. It’s knowledge that is reconfirmed daily. I live my little life of logic and reasoning, emotions kept private. This is my nature, what has shown through even as a toddler. Ani though, she needed to be accepted. She needed to feel like things would be ok, and to feel what solid friendships are like. She needed a mother who didn’t push her to marry a man for his wealth and status. She needed someone to be genuinely be proud of her.

Even at the end, this feeling wasn’t truly resolved. For a reader looking for a resolution, she won’t be liked. She will be exhausting. Some readers may find her whiny, possibly a dweller of misery. My interpretation though, was a terrified girl, trying to find the right path in a deeply traumatizing high school experience.

My Month-Recap for June

It was a busy month for many reasons, but I’m happy to say that it didn’t seem to alter my mood too much. In previous months I was really feeling every day, each one bogging me down and pushing my head under water. June wasn’t without its shitty moments. Large things happened that weren’t exactly fun to go through, but I endured it, and didn’t take it too personally. I’m counting myself the winner over depression for the month. I’m not sure what changed inside me, but I felt a sense of clarity within myself, which has been a rarity for several years.

I finished a total of books in June!! This is a little beyond what my goal was, so I’m feeling pretty good about myself. I had to put down Dragonfly in Amber in preference for some library books that were due back, but all-in-all, I’m happy with the unfaltering voracity I’ve pursued with the books I read.

The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club: True Tales from a Magnificent and Clumsy Life, by Laurie Notaro

This woman is uproariously funny. She was recommended to me by a coworker, because we share a higher education institution in common. Her stories are hard not to love. She tells them as a flawed human, a person unable to pretend to be anything more or less than she has become. I found this quite a difference between Chelsea Handler’s book, which I also read this month.

Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea,  by Chelsea Handler

Maybe it’s because Chelsea is so famous, or maybe it’s the style of her delivery of her funny situations, but I found myself cringing more than laughing with this book. This is not to say that Chelsea isn’t funny. I think I am an anomaly when it comes to my overall impression of her as a comedian. Whether she intended to or not, she helped to shape the climate for women stand-up comics, by showing society that women can be more than an assistant. She openly admits to being a story-teller, with embellished plots, and many drunken endings, which I respect immensely. I think the part I can’t understand is how extroverted she is. This is coming from a person who thinks that reading books is a wild way to spend a whole weekend (I embrace me!). She and I have really different personalities, and when a person’s whole celebrity existence is based on her loud and proud opinions, it can be a challenge for introverts to relate. The stories were good, but I couldn’t relate to the situations much (ie, I’ve never quite been a woman who jumps for her type of fun).

The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah

Halfway through this novel, I was a little surprised that I didn’t feel very connected to any of the characters of this novel. I typically LOVE WWII literature. Half of my bookshelves are set within the time period, and I didn’t suspect that I’d have a hard time loving this story either. By the end of the book, I had warmed up to the book enough to enjoy it. I’ll say that there is something a part of the story that seems detached from the rest of the book. Maybe the author did this on purpose (and this is strictly my opinion), but I didn’t find that person’s story necessary. I think this is because the ties this character had with the others was not developed over time. The rest of the story was gut-wrenching and beautiful at the same time. I definitely had a book hangover after I returned it to the library.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters

This was a standard mystery series book. I’ve been looking for a good “brain-candy” series to help pull me out of living so seriously. It’s a habit of mine to get very focused on aspects of my life that I feel are lacking, and sometimes heavy books can keep me too pensive. I’ll usually try to break that time up with a fun read, one that doesn’t take too much focus to know the characters and the plot. This book took me a while to finish. I picked it up alongside other books, and would pick it up whenever I felt the urge. It was cute. The main character, Amelia, is witty, funny, and brilliant. The author was a little dry at times, but I noticed that the book was written in 1975, which makes the style typical of the period. What I mean is, that there were probably dozens more hilarious parts that I may not have picked up on. Overall though, it wasn’t difficult to finish, and I didn’t hate it. I don’t know if I will continue the series, but I won’t rule it out at this time.

Dear Mr. You, by Mary Louise Parker

I loved this book. It details encounters she’s had with various men in her life. Some were sexual relationships, but the majority were about the people who played roles through her life so far. Some of the stories bruised my heart, as I thought about similar relationships I have had. It was a quick read also. I gobbled up these stories in about two days, and her words felt carefully collected and thought over.

The Passengerby Lisa Lutz

I did not enjoy this book. I almost abandoned this book, but with my compulsion to take it all in before I make an assessment, I struggled through. The premise for the book was interesting. Retrospectively, it was a book that acted as an attempt at a story about a person like Megan in The Girl on the Train. However, the characters were underdeveloped, the plot had several holes, and there were some typos in the text. A nagging feeling kept me thinking that what I was reading was a first draft, not yet fine tuned. The book was a fast read, but one that felt short of my admittedly high expectations.

Coming up Next Month

I’ve already read a few books for July, and I’m currently reading Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. I’ve got a few more that I have in mind, but I’ll have to see if the library has them in stock before I can commit. Stay tuned!

Catch up on last month’s books.

Have you read any of the above books, or have any book suggestions for me? Comment below!

May Reads and What’s Next

I’ve recently found my stride with this year’s reading challenge on Goodreads, and I’ve been really happy with my progress so far. In May, I read three books, which doesn’t seem like a lot (even to me), but with the previous months having been some of the hardest I’ve experienced medically, I’m happy to be steadily coming back into myself.

What I read in May

  1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan: This novel was myThe_Narrow_Road_to_the_Deep_North_(novel) favorite book of the month. It’s a depiction of Australian lives in WWII, and an event that I had not known about before reading the novel.  The content continues on in my thoughts. It is a book deserving of its 2014 Man Booker Prize award. I found the prose both terrible and beautiful all at once, and I found myself feeling so heartbroken for the characters’ stories. The story kept me riveted even after its conclusion, and with its content so raw, I thirstily searched for more novels and articles about the Australian war efforts of WWII. Overall, I’m glad to have read this book. It expanded my idea of what a good military novel can be.
  2. Untitled-3Mothers, Tell Your Daughters, by Bonnie Jo Campbell: This was a collection of short stories about female family members in rural poverty. I’ve made a bigger effort to expand my book selections to more female writers, specifically whom I had not read before. The content was hard to stomach, but the author does well with writing humor in many instances to help the reader overcome some of the grim experiences of the women. Campbell’s stories feel unique; she creates fresh words to explain things that happen in the stories, and ensures that most women can relate to or sympathize with the characters. To me, all of the women in the stories were reminders of people I had known before, in my rural childhood town, a place that wasn’t big enough for a place on a county map as I was growing up. Some of these women I still know, victims of small town ideals, never leaving home.
  3. All the Birds Singing, by Evie Wyld: I wrote a review earlier this month about this novel. My only additional comment is that while I found the story lacking a thriller, I really enjoyed getting becoming acquainted with Wyld’s writing style. As she was another writer I knew little about before May, I am pleased with her talent. She’s a strong writer, and I think she’ll continue to find her voice in years to come.

What’s Next 

I have a few fun reads lined up for June. I’m going to continue reading through the Outlander Series (I finished book 1 in April, and have been caught up with this particular historical fiction/romance ever since). So far this series has not disappointed me. They’re fast-paced brain candy, and a nice little vacation from heavier novels. Currently, I’m reading the second book, Dragonfly in Amber. Additionally, I have started reading the Amelia Peabody Mystery series, a recommendation that came from a coworker. This has been a little slow going, because mysteries are not typical for me to read, but Amelia is a quirky, humorous character, which I’ve enjoyed. I’ve also started reading The Girl on the Train, after my name was finally on the top of the wait list at the library. I’ve heard good things about this book, and I’m hopeful that it won’t disappoint. Other books I plan to read this month include: The Nightingale (The library finally had it in), The Colour of Magic (the Discworld series came HIGHLY recommended by a friend), and Room, a book that became popularized again by the movie adaptation, and has been on my TBR list for years. Hopefully, I’ll make it through all of these in June, because it would mean that I’m continuing the trend of getting back to brighter self.