Friday, December 2, 2011

reading recap: november.

November was, happily, a busy reading month. I seem to be at my best when I have the time to read  many books, which I think may be worth noting as I march through busy days: I should always make time to read. In any case, some of this will look familiar to you; I ran a few of these reviews in a guest post I did for Andrea earlier in the month. Not to worry, though, there are a couple of new titles I've read since then. Just scroll on down for details.


Book: Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Finished: Early November

I'd been reading hype all over the blog world about this one, and a few months ago, when Borders closed (insert obligatory moment of silence here), I grabbed up my own copy. It took me until our recent vacation to pick it up, though, since I was a little daunted by the book's description. It sounded heavy, and it was, but in the best possible ways. As Jordan and I traveled from our home in Tallahassee to a tiny beach town down south, I became completely absorbed in the world Foer created, a world in which a little boy tries to survive post-9/11, post the death of his beloved father. The book is mesmerizing, and I didn't put it down during the entirety of our seven-hour drive. Foer is a talented storyteller -- you'll fall in love with the heartbreaking main character -- and I was happy to be his eager listener. I could not possibly recommend this one enough. (Another bonus? It's honestly unlike any book I've read. I don't know what I could possibly compare it to, and I think that may be part of Foer's magic.)

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Book: Committed
Finished: Early November

I know a lot of women have mixed thoughts about Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love (both the book and the film version; you can read my thoughts here), but I found her to be an honest narrator, so I was more than happy to pick up a paperback copy of her recent release, Committed. Don't go into the book thinking it's another travel memoir; instead, inspired by her own plans to wed, Gilbert tackles the topic of marriage, interviewing and researching the institution from top to bottom. Although this isn't the page turner that Eat Pray Love was, I think that has more to do with the subject matter than the writer herself. I appreciate Gilbert's writing style and the effort she appears to put into her books; I found Committed to be historically fascinating and often would look up from its pages, detailing facts and stories to Jordan out loud. I like a book that challenges me, that makes me question what I've always thought. Committed did that. It made me ask myself tough questions and prompted a couple of really great discussions. In fact, I'd recommend reading this with a group of other women, maybe in a book club-type format. I think the discussion would be valuable.

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Book: Backseat Saints
Finished: Early November

I think Joshilyn Jackson can do no wrong. I love Southern fiction when it's done well, and Jackson always seems to do it justice. I think Backseat Saints is my final Jackson book to read (until her new release comes out in January), and while I'm not sure it's my favorite, it certainly didn't fail to please. Her characters are vibrant and real; you just keep turning page after page because you care that much. I don't like when reviewers give away too many details, so I can't tell you what I found disappointing about the novel. The good news is that the disappointment was, of course, minimal, because Jackson is just an excellent fiction writer. I highly recommend gods in Alabama and The Girl Who Stopped Swimming as well.

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Book: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?
Finished: Early November

Another book the blog world has been buzzing about, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? is reminiscent of Tina Fey's earlier-released Bossypants, but it'd be a shame to compare the two too much. Kaling and Fey are both funny women, but they're also very different storytellers. Fey has had more life experience, so her essays, in my opinion, were more reflective, more well-rounded, more thought-provoking, maybe even just better written. Still, Kaling is likable and a more than competent writer; the book reads like a collection of blog posts or conversations with a friend. I was most impressed, though, with Kaling's thoughts on marriage. Like Fey's reflections about her father, Kaling's chapter on what makes her parents' marriage great -- they're "pals" -- had me in stitches and tears. It made me want my marriage to be great, and since there are so many people out there -- particularly in Hollywood -- who don't seem concerned with that kind of standard, Kaling's take was particularly refreshing. This was my book club's choice for the month, and while I think some were disappointed (some girls thought the book was "too random"), most of us -- all, admittedly, in our mid-20s -- thought it was highly entertaining. I finished my copy in a few hours.

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Finished: Mid-November

My brother recommended this book with the quick disclaimer: "It's not what you think." Sure enough, I got some weird looks from passersby who saw the book in my hand -- I guess they thought I planned on renouncing my faith? -- but Leaving Church was really about just the opposite: It was about finding your place in faith and coming to terms with fellow believers. Taylor, a former Episcopal priest, expounds on why she left the priesthood, on how years of service to God had left her exhausted, burnt-out, and perhaps far too reliant on church, and not reliant enough on the Father. I love fellow believers who are honest and genuine about their journey of faith; Taylor joins a long line of narrators who I have come to love for their willingness to unflinchingly tell their stories. Like so many, I have been hurt and burnt-out by church. In fact, I have a feeling my brother made this recommendation based on some recent experiences of my own. Taylor, though, beautifully reminds us of what there is to love about church and the Creator. I have a feeling this is a book I'll be turning back to time and time again. I read it with pen in hand, knowing that I'll need those words imprinted on my soul more than just once.

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Finished: Late November

I wanted to like Sarah's Key. A co-worker lent a copy to me, and I found the subject intriguing. In fact, the opening pages immediately grabbed my attention and held on, for maybe the first third or first half of the book. I shared the story with Jordan, sucked into the mystery of this little girl and her tiny brother, separated by Nazi-controlled French soldiers in the throes of World War II. But then... The book started to fall flat. I found the present day events much less interesting than the past events De Rosnay described, and the novel's protaganaist, Julia Jarmond, began to wear on my nerves. Her story just didn't pull me in like Sarah's did, and towards the end of the novel, when the historical mysteries begin to reveal themselves, I felt like I'd been left out to dry. I was even more disappointed, I think, by the romantic aspects of the novel; those I could have done entirely without. Sarah's Key was worth reading for the history lessons alone, but the actual plot twists and modern day story left a lot to be desired.

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Finished: Late November

This has been on my "to read" list for ages, and Jordan finally bought it for me as a sort-of anniversary gift. (The way to my heart is books, always.) I love a good memoir, and I found Piper Kerman to be a pleasant narrator. I was worried she might turn her thoughts on prison into some kind of political statement (or, worse, sugar coat the whole experience), but she was wise. Her story is powerful enough all on its own, political opinions and sugar coating not necessary. The book reminded me a great deal of In the Sanctuary of Outcasts, which I read a few years ago and really, really enjoyed. (And, if I'm being honest, I'd probably recommend that memoir a bit more.) Overall, I enjoyed reading Kerman's take on life on the inside. I did sometimes find her descriptions of fellow prisoners a bit confusing -- there are just so many names and nicknames! -- and I would have liked a bit more description about how difficult it was adjusting to life in prison and after prison, but overall, a good book. I'd recommend.

8 comments:

Kari said...

I ordered Leaving Church and am going to start it this weekend!

Vicki said...

I think you are my *perfect* book lover match! I loved "Incredibly Close" and did not like "Sarah's Key" (like everyone else). I haven't read the others, but I will definitely pick up the books you recommended!

Kristin @ The Chronicles of Kristin said...

I haven't had too much reading time in awhile... but now that winter's swiftly approaching, I'm getting a library list going. I'm definitely going to see if I can get my hands on a few of these! :)

jenna said...

I am so glad you read Leaving Church! It was recommended to me a few years ago by a fellow minister/mentor, and I loved it. I adore Barbara Brown Taylor. If you haven't already, check out her newest book, An Altar in the World. Amazing.

There are several here on your list that I need to check into... Love ya Annie!

mary kate said...

I know I say this all the time but I love reading your bookish posts, especially your reviews. I've had extremely loud and incredibly close on my "to read" list for awhile, I'm going to have to check it out. Also my mom got me Under the table to read before I started culinary school and while I thought it was interesting and gave me an idea of what to expect I didnt really think much of the author's writing and was a little underwhelmed with the book overall, but thats just my opinion. I'd love to hear what you think of it.

Ashley said...

i love reading your book reviews - keep them coming!

Annie said...

i think i'm going to add all of these books to my list of ones to read. i read sarah's key over the summer and i liked it a lot, but like you say, the present day story wasn't as fascinating as the history. i found myself far more interested in julia trying to unravel sarah's story, rather than julia herself.

Keri said...

latest comment (ever).
but I loved reading your reviews! I've added a couple of these to my reading list. And, FYI, there's movie version of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close coming out on Christmas! And it actually looks really good :)