Book Review: Calypso

When this book was first released last summer, many of the reviews included the words “different”, “darker”, or “more serious” in describing it in comparison to his other work. I am a huge David Sedaris fan so these words were major turnoffs to me in deciding to pick it up, but finally I threw it on on audio and I’ve been laughing ever since. What words would I use, you ask? Maybe “same old Sedaris humor, with a little less outrageousness, a little more timely political commentary, but definitely DEFINITELY the same amount of laugh out loud jokes.”

Calypso is the latest short story collection from David Sedaris – a true comic genius in my opinion. These stories are primarily autobiographical and range from conversations with family to observations on his travels. But knowing Sedaris, they’re never just straightforward stories. Each one will have you laughing out loud at the hilarity that can ensue when you view every day situations with the mind of David Sedaris.

In his previous works, Sedaris has let it be known that he’s very liberal, but he’s never totally come out right and talked about the present political climate. This book is different in that regard, and instead of using negative words like “dark” or “serious”, I want to highlight that this is one of the parts of the book I enjoyed the most. The chapter on the 2016 election titled “A Number of Reasons I’ve Been Depressed Lately”, and the chapter on the supreme court decision to legalize gay marriage (A Modest Proposal) are easily two of my favorites in this book — along with the nonpolitical US Travel Guide (Your English is So Good) and story of a man pooping on a plane (I’m Still Standing).


While we’re here, now seems as good a time as any to did a quick review of Holidays on Ice, David Sedaris’s Christmas collection. I was given this for Christmas and I quickly tore through it. The stories have all appeared previously in other collections, but luckily I didn’t remember any of them.  The stories aren’t specifically holiday themed, but they all mention Christmas at least once. These stories definitely contrast to the ones mentioned above. The ones in Calypso are kind of “haha” funny, but the ones in this collection struck me more as “holy crap, did you just say that?” funny. They’re hilarious in their outrageousness and inappropriate nature. I highly recommend them – especially “Season’s Greetings to Our Friends and Family!!!”, “Based Upon a True Story”, and “Jesus Shaves”- but please approach this book with your best not-easily-offended sense of humor, or this one may just rub you the wrong way. 🙂


Clearly I’ve been on  a bit of a David Sedaris trend recently, but I have to say I’ve really enjoyed them all. I listened to a lot of the stories in Calypso on audio (which I  highly recommend!), but flipping through the book to find some of the titles, made me want to reread it print sometime soon! I just can’t get enough!

Who I Am as a Reader

I’m writing this post as part of an endless attempt to identify what makes me tick when it comes to books. I wrote in my 2019 goals post, that I want to get back to reading books in the genre of my choosing, ensuring that I’ll like most of the books I read. And while that may cost me points in the realm of diverse readers, I like to think that my tastes are diverse and that reading this way won’t dramatically reduce the diversity of books I read. So without further ado, here are some thoughts.

The #1 kind of book that will make me an emotional wreck and unable to put a book down:

Literary fiction about a strong teenage female, using their own personalities to overcome adversity. I don’t know why but this book is it for me. All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, The Great Alone, My Absolute Darling, Where the Crawdads Sing — these all meet the mark and are on my list of all time favorites.

I asked for suggestions on instagram the other week and was told to check out The Wolf Road by Beth Lewis, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, and The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne.

I strongly prefer books set in America.

I don’t have a problem reading about other countries, but I feel myself more naturally drawn to books set in the US.

I actually realized this as a preference when I was choosing books for my Unread Shelf Challenge selections. The theme was “a book set in a country you’ve never been to,” and I only had one book: Saigon Kids, set in Vietnam. I think it’s just a comfort thing for me – I love books set in New York since I used to live there (I hated them while I was living there though!), I’ve loved books about the West Coast since moving to California in June 2017, and I love books that take in the wild landscapes of our country. Add in all the complex issue we have here to learn about – racial issues, slavery, the criminal justice system.. and you’ve got yourself a book!

Natural Histories are so cool.

Remember when you were little and if you were lucky, you got to choose what museum you could go to? My favorites were by far the science center or the museum of natural history. That kind of history has always been mind blowing to me – it’s just so much bigger than yourself and its so rarely documented, so if you are able to get a glimpse in to what makes the great world spin, it is always worth the read in my opinion.

Not to make it a rule but Historical Fiction, Romance, Fantasy, and Dystopian Novels are not my thing.

Romance. Ugh. I’m just not here for it. Love? Yes, but I don’t need to know what your hands are doing down there.

Historical Fiction is sometimes fine, but generally I feel bored by the fiction aspect and would love to just dive in to the real history.

Dystopian novels/Fantasy in some cases are fine, but again, I just feel like I can’t relate. That or I get scared by how easily the whole world could just collapse at any given moment.

Thrillers are great from time to time

And finally, thrillers. Kind of my intro back in to reading post college hiatus, and always a fun thing to breeze through these days, I’m generally always down for a thriller!

Above all, I want to learn, feel, and think about things in a new way. The above state my natural preferences, but by no means encompass the books that I enjoy. Many of my favorites fall outside of these lines – and I love that. It’s hard to identify exactly what style of books is my favorite, but I think that’s kind of the point. If I could, then maybe I’d be done exploring and learning, and I never want to be done.

I hope you enjoyed hearing a little more about my reading tastes — and I guess a peak as to what you can expect on this page! I hope you’ll read this without judgement, but offer me suggestions for books I may like — or books that will push me slightly out of my comfort zone! 🙂

Book Review: The Friend

Books that win awards are notoriously hit or miss for me. Anyone else? It feels like the people who decide on literary awards and I just may not be on the same page. Best seller lists and I, well that’s another story. I’ve recently ruled out reading anything from the Man Booker Prize list, but The National Book Award is still one I keep my eye on. All that to say, I picked up this book because it was nominated for the National Book Award, didn’t love it, and then had to ask myself, ‘why did you do that again?’

The Friend is a stream of consciousness letter from a grieving friend to the friend who passed away. While the narrator inherits his dog and deals with her and the dog’s emotions, she writes down all of her thoughts in the form of a letter to her lost friend.

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The first page was great. It’s quirky its weird, it sets up some intrigue, and it makes you feel excited about the epistolary novel to come. But to be honest, it goes downhill from  there. The plot never takes off, and neither, in my opinion does the character development. I was almost holding my breath, waiting for the other shoe to drop and twist to occur. I had some theories! I figured this is either a book within a book or at the end you’ll find out there never was a dog or a friend and the person’s actually a mental patient in a psych ward of a hospital. And for a second it looked like I was going to be correct — but then I wasn’t. And there wasn’t anything else to explain this frankly boring stream of consciousness.

Going back to my point of not being super literary in my reviews of Fun Home AND Circe (Man, I’m really on a roll right now), I think this book would have improved for me had I been a student of literature. When the narrator wasn’t talking about the dog, she was typically talking about writing in literally all forms: what it’s like to be an English teacher, to study English, to write a novel, to read famous works of literature. I think if I understood the references, I would have enjoyed it ten fold, but unfortunately I’m not.

So at the end of all this where are we? Still sitting here, scratching my head, and wondering who the heck decides on literary awards? Yes.

Book Review: Circe

Author: Madeline Miller
Published: April 10, 2018
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
FLW Rating: 3/5

I’ve never seen a more polarizing book gain so much popularity. I feel like that’s all I need to say about this book, but of course it’s not. Circe is a Greek mythology retelling, and I’ve gotten the feeling that people who know and like Greek mythology love this book and those who took a risk, hoping they’d be able to learn some things along the way hate it. I didn’t like it. I found glimmers of hope when I would recognize a character from my middle school English class, but overall I felt a little lost.

Circe is a greek mythology retelling from the perspective of the nymph/witch/enchantress, Circe. (I literally had to google that to make sure I got it right.) After Circe is banished from her home city for using her witchly powers, she sets up a home on a deserted island. The story unfolds as she lives there for millenia and recieves several visitors – some who bring her fortune, and some who do not.

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I have some very strong feelings about this book.

  1. Nostalgia is key. I literally only enjoyed the parts where I recognized a character from my middle school Greek Mythology classes. I don’t think  enough context is given for the unfamiliar reader to feel comfortable in reading this book.
  2. Knowing there is a glossary in the back is very important. There should seriously be this disclaimer on page one! It took me until about 2/3 of the way through, when I decided to check how many pages were left, to discover that there’s a glossary in the end. By that point I had gotten by with my google home or context clues, but had felt pretty frustrated.
  3. The first one hundred fifty pages is world building. If you’ve made it this far in keeping up with the characters, I would advise you not to be too discouraged that nothing has really happened, despite centuries passing like seconds. The action is still to come! BUT if by this point you’re not bonding with the characters, I think at this point it’s ok to DNF.

I know this review was a little more straightforward than normal (and really more of advisory), but as I said in the beginning, I’ve never seen such a polarizing book before and I have a lot of strong feelings about it! I think knowing the above would have helped me to enjoy this book more, so I just wanted to make sure you have the best experience possible.

As a final take, I’d say that I don’t think this book did a good enough job with providing me the context I needed to understand the characters or the story. If that was going to be the case, I think either the glossary should be more available (at least mentioned at the beginning) or readers who don’t know a lot about Odysseus should be warned to stay away from this book. The hype for this one was a little too contagious, so I think a lot of people who probably shouldn’t read this book decided to pick it up, and, I being one of them, were a little dissapointed.

P.S. If you feel like you want to dip your toe in the Greek Mythology pool, but this one doesn’t sound like it’s for you, try Silence of the Girls! I found that one a lot more approachable

#unreadshelfproject2019

Alright folks – we are back! When I wrapped up the Unread Shelf Project 2018, I said that I wasn’t sure if I’d do it again, but here we are. I think this is a great challenge for me because it gives me the kick in the butt to read the books on my shelf, whereas some of the other challenges out there would probably motivate me to read different/new that I don’t own yet.

One thing is different about this year’s challenge: she released all the challenges up front! So I’m going to run through what I’m thinking for the challenges for this year.  I’m hoping to read two books from my unread shelf per month so I’ll try to list two books here where that applies. I have my work cut out for me!

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January: Start reading

Starting the year fresh and full of energy by reading two recently purchased books from my indie bookstore. The feeling of reading a book immediately after you buy it always helps to get me out of reading slump!

February: A book gifted to you by a friend

This past year, I met my match reading-wise! My friend Chistine and I have nearly identical reading taste and speed! It’s been great to exchange books with her. Lonesome Dove was a gift from her for my birthday and Sing Unburied Sing is a way overdue loan from her!

March: The book that’s been on your shelf the longest

These are two of the books I purchased when I randomly won a $50 amazon gift card at work! I had been eyeing up these books so I knew exactly what to do when handed free money. Unfortunately, I haven’t read them yet, but March will be their time!

April: The most recent book you purchased (I bought these three at once, so it’ll be a toss up between which ones haven’t been read yet!)

I purchased these three last week with a gift card I recieved for Christmas. If I haven’t read these by April, these will be top priority!

May: A book you bought because of the movie adaptation

I don’t have any of these, so I’ll make this books I bought for the instagram/book review hype!

June: A travel book or a book set in a country you haven’t been to

I love that this category got separated in to travel OR a set in a new to you country. This category really challenged me last year, but this seems more attainable based on my bookshelves. If you’re thinking to yourself why Less? Well I’m counting “running away from your problems” as traveling 😉

After June, let’s just be honest, I have no idea what I’m going to read! The challenges past June are a little more abstract, and also it’s just far away. So I’m going to list the challenges here in case you are playing along, and I’ll probably be back to decide on those later in the year!

  • July: A book from a series on your shelf
  • August: A book voted for by followers on instagram
  • September: A book you can buddy read with someone
  • October: A book that scares you – for length of content
  • November: A book from your favorite genre
  • December: The shortest book on your shelf

Will you be participating? Do we have any overlapping books on our unread shelves? Buddy reads and words of encouragement are happily accepted. Happy Reading!

 

Book Review: The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Author: Stuart Turton
Published: February 8, 2018
Genre: Fantasy
FLW Rating: 3/5

This book will definitely go down as one of the most unique books I’ve ever read. As you may have noted in my 2019 Goals post, I’m trying to steer back towards books in my comfort zone, because unfortunately books like this that were a little too unique for me aren’t totally working for me. (See My Year of Rest and Relaxation.)

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is the story of one man who wakes up in a different body every day, over the course of eight days, while he attempts to solve the question of who killed Evelyn Hardcastle. As he moves through his “hosts” he picks up clues and has to use the skills of his host of the day to his advantage to help him solve the mystery.

I read this book when I was traveling home to visit my parents, and when my mom asked me what I was reading, my first reaction was to say “it’s more of a game than a book.” That’s truly how this book felt. I felt engaged in a way where I felt like I was playing. I was looking out for clues and dangers, and watching my step to a certain degree. In a way it was a page turner, but it was also surprisingly cyclical and I felt like I could only read the book for so long without feeling like I was taking turns with some imaginary other player.

Overall, I must say that I really appreciated the author’s creativity with this book, the world and mystery he created, and the journey he took the reader on – I definitely don’t want to discount that. But unfortunately this book wasn’t for me. The rhythm was hard for me to handle for long periods of time, and the fantasy world was more exotic that I typically enjoy reading about.  While the story pulled me in, it ultimately wasn’t an experience that I enjoyed.

That being said, if you enjoy mystery and fantasy, I think you would like this book! And my best advice would be to not read any more reviews about it, and just get in to it. Discover this crazy world for yourself.

Review: Fun Home

Author: Allison Bechdel
Published: June 8, 2006
Genre: Graphic Memoir
FLW Rating: 4/5

Fun Home was my first graphic novel — and I think I’ve discovered a beautiful new (to me) genre. I’m one of those people other readers hate because I’ve sometimes disliked a memoir for feeling that it was too self involved. I know, I know, I should stop reading memoirs if those are my feelings. But more to the point, I’ve discovered that the genre of graphic novel memoirs can tell the story both so much more thorougly and so much more concisely. As someone who messaged me on instagram said, “all memoirs should be told as graphic novels.”

Fun Home is the autobiographical graphic memoir of Allison Bechdel, a homosexual writer currently living in Brooklyn, New York. Growing up Allison had a complicated relationship with her father and when he suddenly passed away, she is forced to reflect on her life with him in it and how it formed her in to the person she is today.

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As I mentioned above, I really loved how succinct this book was. I don’t think that’s normally a good thing to say about a book (“I loved how short it was”), but I’m viewing this thought as a reflection on the style and efficiency of story telling, more than a relief that it’s over. While the story was short, I felt like I was able to enjoy it more than a written book of similar length because I was discovering the story in so many ways – though art, through words in the photos, and then through the caption. It was engaging and kept me turning the pages until I read the whole thing in one sitting.

Specific to this story, one thing that didn’t work for me was the shear amount of literary references. I understand that they were necessary in telling Allison and her father’s story because of how much they were a part of that relationship, but for me as an engineer/contemporary reader, it was hard for me to understand a lot of the story, since it was deeply ingrained in older literature. I googled a few things, pieced the points together, and ultimately did enjoy the story, but I feel like I should throw that out there for you, and mention that if you have similar reading habits, maybe start with another graphic memoir with less literary references.

Overall, I really enjoyed Fun Home and learning about Allison and her father. I thought the story was beautiful illustrated and beautifully told. If I were better at older literature references or had received more context in the story, this book would have hit a little harder for me.

Anticipated Titles: Spring 2019

In 2018 I worked hard to get out of my usual reading style and experiment with other styles — I read a graphic novel, I read a lot of books recommended to me by others, I tried any book that sounded unique — but the point is, sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. While I want to continue to diversity my reading, I am so excited to get back to some literary fiction titles this year. Luckily there are some amazing ones coming out, so here is a quick list of some at the top of my list.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict
Pub Date: January 8th from Sourcebooks

Marie Benedict is an author I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. I love how she tells the stories of the wives behind some of the famous men in history — such as Albert Einstein and Andrew Carnegie. While I haven’t read either of those, I’m excited to read her latest book this spring!

I’m #2 on the San Diego Library holds list! I’m hoping that by the end of no-borrow January my number will have come up 🙂

Golden Child by Claire Adam
Pub Date: January 29th from SJP for Hogarth

To be quite honest, I don’t know much about this book except that it’s the second title from the new SJP imprint for Hogarth. The first novel was A Place for Us and I loved it so much. As of now this imprint is an auto-buy for me!

I ordered my copy from Book of the Month – If you want to try it out (and get your copy too) feel free to use this referral code for a free first month.

More than Words by Jill Santopolo
Pub Date: February 5th from Putnam

Jill Santopolo is another author I’ve been wanting to read for a while now! You may recognize her name from her debut novel, The Light We Lost, which is high on my 2019 TBR as well. This book looks equally as beautiful and I’m excited to read it!

I’m #2 on the San Diego Library holds listfor this one as well! I’m hoping that by the end of no-borrow January my number will have come up 🙂

The Care and Feeding of Ravenously Hungry Girls by Annisa Gray
Pub Date: February 19th from Berkeley Pub

Compare a book to The Mothers and An American Marriage and I am so in! To boot, this book has a stunning cover and intriguing description. This feels like one I’m going to love!

Berkley Pub has graciously offered to send me a galley of this title. I’m looking forward to reading it and reviewing it for you guys!

 

What I’m Reading January

If you thought I loved the feeling of a new month, every month, then you better believe I love a new year! I’ve already talked about resolutions so right off the bat, let’s get in to the books I want to read this month!

In sticking with my resolution of reading at least two books from my unread shelf, I’m planning to start the new year with two of my most recent purchases:

  1. Hungover by Shaughnessy Bishop Stall
  2. My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

After a disappointing December reading month, I need some freedom in my TBR and one way I discovered in the last month to do this is to read the last book you purchased and let yourself enjoy the excitement of a new book.

Hungover is a book I bought pretty impulsively because after reading the description, I couldn’t put it back on the shelf. It tells the story of one man’s quest around the world to cure the hangover. I love seeing different culture’s health remedies so I thought this sounded so interesting and as a bonus, I think it will make for great conversation starters when I’m done!

My Absolute Darling is a book I’ve had my eye on for years! The bookseller in my hometown advised me not to read it due to graphic content, but the bookseller in my new town of South Park, San Diego told me it’s one of his favorite books ever. Let the battle of the booksellers begin!

Beyond that I’m not sure what I’ll read — with the exception of an overload of David Sedaris! I’m currently listening to his latest collection, Calypso, on audio, and I also want to read his holiday collection, Holidays on Ice, that I received from my boyfriend for Christmas!

Here’s to an excellent year of reading — starting right now!

December Reading Recap

December wasn’t a great reading month of me. To be honest, I didn’t really love any of the books I read this month, which is disappointing but all of them were on my very guilt inducing TBR, so I’m glad I read them. Even though it didn’t totally go to plan, I did get a lot of reading done! I’m proud to say I got through four books — three hard copies and one audiobook. Let’s see em…

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Sci Fi Thriller
Tone: Confusion, Chaos-inducing, Otherworldly
Structure: The narrator embodies eight personalities as he relives the same day eight times to solve the crime
Read if you like: Ready Player One, The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Circe by Madeline Miller
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
Tone: Slow paced, spanning centuries
Structure: The story follows Circe throughout her life beginning from when she discovers her powers
Read if you like: Greek Mythology. Period. This book is for you if you like Greek Mythology and not for you if you don’t.

The Friend by Sigrid Nunez
Rating: 2/5
Genre: General Fiction/Book about books
Tone: Slow paced, grieving, literary
Structure: Written as something between a letter and a stream of consciousness from the narrator to a friend who committed suicide
Read if you like: Autumn by Ali Smith, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Becoming by Michelle Obama
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Memoir
Tone: Inspring, Comforting
Structure: Told first person from Michelle’s point of view, primarily in chronological order
Read if you like: The Obamas. And if you do like the Obamas I so recommend listening on audio.