February Rundown

Hello Readers!

So much of how you respond to a book depends on the context of when you read it. I find I go through phases of loving histories or social commentaries or novels etc. So I thought a monthly recap of adventures in reading would be a fun way to share my context. So here we go!

In the end of January, I was traveling for work on the other side of the country. I always listen to the Book Riot Podcast “All The Books,” and the week I was traveling, I added so many books to my TBR list. I came home anxious to get reading them!

One of them was Perfect Little Word by Kevin Wilson. After hearing the description, I immediately went to Goodreads and added it to my list. I often add books to my list and don’t get around to them because of other books get in the way, but this was one that I thought, OK that’s one I definitely want to read. So fast forward to February 1st (The best day of the month if you’re a Book of the Month Club member! If you’re thinking about joining, and I so suggest you do – use my referral code here!), and imagine my surprise and pleasure when Perfect Little World was one of the choices. I quickly selected my BOTM and confirmed my box. I did check out the other options and Pachinko and The Animators totally struck my fancy! Maybe for an extra book one month 🙂 .

While I was on the same trip, Book of the Month came out the “Bookshelf” feature. It allows you to rate your books using up to three emojis and then add it to one of three shelves: liked it, loved it, disliked it. I’ll be sharing  mine in a post soon! Of course, through the process of doing this, I realized I had never gotten around to my December selection, Whatever Happened to Interracial Love. This was #1 on my to do list when I got home.

Shortly after my trip, I got an email that Moonglow by Chabon was ready for me at the library. I found that because of the time limit to pick up and read Moonglow, I was rushing though Whatever Happened to Interracial Love,  which just wasn’t working. This is the  kind of book that is meant to be enjoyed slowly. The prose is so smooth,  it’s almost poetic. I ended up putting this one down so as not to ruin it, and headed to the library to pick up Moonglow.

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A dense 400 page library book (2 week loan time), is tough for me… but I did it! I was diligent about reading and finished it just in time for its due date and…… MY VACATION! I enjoyed the book, but would only give it a 3.5/5.  (Review here!)

I tried to pack lightly so I only took my kindle with me on my 5 day trip to Southern California. I got The Plot Against America out on loan from the library (NYPL does Kindle Books!) and read most of it on the plane. Our trip was crazy busy and we took the red-eye back, so I ended up putting my book down, for the most part, until getting home. I was able to finish it up this week in time to get my review out yesterday. (Read it here!) This one I liked a bit more than Moonglow, but would still give it a 3.75/5, just shy of a 4 🙂 .

And finally, I’m ending the month with my Book of the Month selection  Perfect Little World. I love to finish my BOTM by the end of the month, before I get excited about my next one. (You can see what happened to Whatever Happened to Interracial Love when I put that one off.) I had a commitment this weekend where I just had to be somewhere, but not be too active. It was an absolutely  beautiful day in New York, so I was able to sit outside and read all day. So far I am LOVING it! Reading a good book is so refreshing. The writing it fluid, the characters are  well developed, the plot is engaging. Kevin Wilson does it again! Will be posting a review soon 🙂 .

Looking Ahead:

I’m so looking forward to March 1st so I can pick my new Book of the Month and Thursday, when I meet with my local book club and will find out what our next book is!

I also want to read Hillbilly ElegyHere We Are: Feminism for the Real World, and Evicted (Out in paperback today! I snagged this one when it was on kindle-sale right after Christmas). I can already tell I’m going on a social commentary kick!

March is shaping up to be a great month for reading 🙂

Your turn!

Did you read anything great in February?

Do you have anything on your TBR List for March?

How do you normally pick your books?

 

Four Takeaways from ‘The Plot Against America’

The book “The Plot Against America” is an alternate history of what could have happened in World War Two.

Alternate Histories and Distopian novels seems to be popping up all over the place in the last few months, so to break the mold I tried one that’s not sold out on amazon. 😉 This book was suggested to me by a friend, and I’m so glad I read it.

Consider for a minute (or however long it takes you to get through this post), that FDR had lost the 1940 election, to continue as president for a third term. Would we have entered WWII sooner? Later? Not at all?

Think about how many pivotal decisions in world history are made by presidents and then consider, what if the “other” candidate had won. It’s certainly an interesting way to look at things.

In The Plot Against America, Charles Lindbergh, claimed by critics to be a Nazi sympathizer, wins the 1940 election. The story of the following years is told through the eyes of a seven year old Jewish boy, growing up in northern New Jersey. Charles Lindbergh was an American celebrity, famous for flying the first solo flight across the Atlantic. In the book, he runs a nontraditional presidential campaign, so unexpected that his tactics mystify the more experienced politicians tasked with managing him. He focuses not on facts during his campaign, but on the fear of voters on going through another world war. He’s able to dominate the media coverage by flying to different cities unannounced – sometimes four to five cities in a day – and surprising viewers with each new destination. Many of these points, are not unlike the presidential campaign of 2016, which gives this novel a new twist, despite its publication date of 2005.

Reading a dystopian novel allows us to step out of the world and reflect on the time. Reading this book gave me some good perspectives and takeaways that I’d like to share with my FLW readers.

  1. Hate fuels violence.

Antisemitism is a huge theme in this book. The president of the USA is said to be a Nazi sympathizer and is making deals with Hitler throughout the book. The narrator is growing up in a jewish community and witnessing hate crimes, both first hand and as told through the media.

This book is an illustration of the danger of hatred and discrimination. It acknowledges that if the goal is productive change – hate speech and acts of violence are not the ways to produce that change. In this book, we see the Jewish citizens who are initially the target, turn to violence after feeling the need to be the aggressor in order to avoid remaining the prey.

  1. In The Plot Against America, the resistance dies quickly.

Immediately following the election and inauguration, there is a strong resistance group formed in the Jewish Community.  Several events occur that weaken the resolve, and soon those left in the resistance are portrayed to be just loose cannons.

One thing that I noticed in this book, is that several technologies that we have today, that are helping the current “resistance” movement, are not present in this book because of the historical context. This meaning primarily social media or other internet websites as a way of obtaining information and organizing events such as the Women’s March or other protests.

Seeing the result of the weak resistance, makes me resolved to  keep accessing information available to me and staying on top  of the movement to defend equal rights. This take away  gives me hope that we will continue to be able to #resist.

  1. It is important to realize that everyone is a role model.

One of the main takeaways for me in this book, is that the narrator is seven years old at the start of the campaign. Throughout the course of the book he only ages to age ten. He takes his parents’, and even his older siblings’, actions as fact of how someone should act.

Everyone he knew except his father had giving up on the resistance, so he logically thought his father was crazy. For me, this illustrated the importance of standing up for what’s right and letting the younger generations know what we believe. Many of his family members did not express their opinions because of their unpopularity.

One of my favorite quotes of the book, copied below, shows the importance of learned opinions. (It also illustrates some the great writing in this book):

Lindbergh was the first famous living American whom I learned to hate—just as President Roosevelt was the first famous living American whom I was taught to love—and so his nomination by the Republicans to run against Roosevelt in 1940 assaulted, as nothing ever had before, that huge endowment of personal security that I had taken for granted as an American child of American parents in an American school in an American city in an America at peace with the world.

  1. Donald Trump winning the presidency may not have been that hard to predict.

It is often cited that Donald Trump fooled all the pollsters. That he was sporadic, no one knew what he would do next, and that he often spoke unscripted. Well you know what? So did Lindberg in The Plot Against America (Published in 2005, and probably thought up and written long before that). It didn’t take a rocket scientist to figure it out, just a writer outside of the typical political spheres.

 

Quick Rundown—

Things I liked:

  • The point of view of the narrator
  • Seldon, the neighbor who lived in a flat below the main family, was such a sweetheart and I had so much sympathy for him. I love when a book can provide this good character development of a seemingly small side-character. BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR (sorry the Oscars were last night…)
  • How accurate Roth got with the description of caring for the leg. I felt like I learned a lot about what it would be like to be or to care for an amputee. It’s not just learn how to use the prosthetic and you’re on your way, but it’s a lifelong battle of care and rest. I was definitely taken aback by the long struggle Alvin had ahead of him.

Things I didn’t like:

  • *SPOILER ALLERT* – How easily President Lindbergh’s compromising actions were resolved. In the end, it all boiled down to the kidnapping of Lindbergh’s son (that happened in real life) being a hoax. The book conspires that the Nazi’s kidnapped the son and that  Lindberg ended up being in Hilter’s pocket through bribery.
  • The speed- This book was a slow one for me. I had to push myself to get through the second half. It  wasn’t very plot driven – more of a study in ideology – so I think it was missing some action or suspense to keep the plot moving.

Final Quote:

This one is said by a Fictional FDR at a rally after Lindbergh is elected president. I thought Roth did a great job capturing FDR’s voice even in this fictional portrayal.

“Let those who would dare in secret to conspire against our freedom understand that Americans will not, under any threat or in the face of any danger, surrender the guarantees of liberty framed for us by our forefathers in the Constitution of the United States.”

Book Review – Moonglow

It’s a genre I didn’t know I’d enjoy so much, but over the past few months I have read two incredible life-spanning fictional memoirs.  The first, A Gentleman in Moscow, featuring the loveable Count Rostov, and the second, Enchanted Islands, a book that sneaks up on you in its beauty.

Between discovering this genre and losing my grandfather last year (born the same year as Chabons!), a semi-fictional-memoir-slash-ode-to-a-great-writer’s-grandfather seemed like a no brainer. And to boot, I was seeing it EVERWHERE over the holidays. My only fear with this pick was being too emotional.

As I finished the book though, I realized that I never really felt connected to Chabon’s grandfather, and so luckily and unluckily I never truly felt. I certainly learned, and I certainly wondered, but that feeling inside was missing. (Did anyone else feel this way?)

At this point, I need to apologize – I really wish I were starting the blog on a more inspired note – maybe a review of Gentleman in Moscow or Enchanted Islands would have been better (seriously go read them). But I’m sticking to my guns that the best way to review a book, is it to review it fresh. So stick around and let me explain! And then let me know if you have other recs!

Synopsis:

Moonglow is a semi-fictional memoir about author, Michael Chabon’s, grandfather. “Semi-fictional” meaning most of the book is based on truth, told from Chabon’s grandfather to him during his last week of life, but artistic license is admittedly liberally taken. Chabon writes in the Author’s Note,

“In preparing this memoir, I have stuck to facts except when  facts refused to conform with memory, narrative purpose, or the truth as I prefer to understand it. Wherever liberties have been taken with names, dates, places, events, and conversations, or with the identities, motivations, and interrelationships of family members and historical personages, the reader is assured that they have been taken with due abandon.”

Chabon then proceeds to tell his grandfather’s story from love to war to crime and back again.

What I liked:

THE GRANDFATHER AS AN OLD MAN. When the story featured this stage of his life, I often found myself cracking up at this version of the grandfather. One of my favorite lines in the whole book is from the point of view of the Grandfather as he’s living in the retirement community.

“And when some lady’s dead husband’s cat got eaten by an alligator, a man looked into the matter. Even an old man who wore socks with his sandals and needed to see a specialist because something was off in the numbers that told the story of his blood. A man would see what there was to be done.”

Whether this was ever really said will remain a mystery, but quotes like this made you feel like you knew the man.

THE SPACE RACE! I love a good history and I love when an unexpected aspect of history sneaks in to a book. I expected tales of the bunkers in WWI and WWII and what I got was a man obsessed with getting to the moon. I could’ve used more doting on this, but I did light up any time this bit was sprinkled in.

 

Things I’d Change If Anyone Asked Me:

THE ORDER. The timeframe of this books runs from 1916 to 1989, a timeframe in which a ton of world events occurred. When chapters weren’t stamped with a timeline, I felt confused about what had happened when in relation to each other. Most of the later chapters were timestamped (It was the spring of 1954…), but if I recall correctly the earlier ones were not. I felt some validation to my gripes, when Chabon’s grandfather says in response to hearing that his life is a great story, “After I’m gone, write it down. Explain everything. Make it mean something. Use a lot of those fancy metaphors of yours. Put the whole thing in proper chronological order, not like this mishmash I’m making you.” Chabon certainly used his signature metaphors, and made this story mean something, but it was not in proper chronological order. I’m not sure why the timeline threw me so much, but it really did and I think that caused me to have a hard time connecting.

THE CHOICE OF NARRATOR. I know this is tricky to criticize in super a personal narrative, but I just didn’t love the story being told through the eyes of the main characters grandson, and I think this is a main contributor to my lack of emotional connection. The bottom line is that I felt two generations removed from what I was reading about. I believe the choice of narrator was meant to be personal  and show the closeness of the story to the author, but somehow for me it felt removed.

And finally I want to leave you with a passage I really loved, maybe just because I’m a forensic engineer, but I think the monologues like this were really strong in this book —

“All he wanted was to find the answer to the question ‘Why did the Challenger explode?’ Right? And that answer was never going to be ‘Because it was all  part of God’s plan’ or, I don’t know, ‘Challenger exploded so that some little kid somewhere would get inspired to grow up and become and engineer and invent a safer, more durable propulsion system for spacecraft.’ Or even, like ‘Because humans and the things they make are prone to failure’ or ‘Shit happens.’ The explanation was always going to be something like ‘Because the weather was too cold, so the O-rings became brittle and failed, and fuel leaked from the fuel tank and ignited, which caused the shuttle to accelerate beyond its intended structural tolerance so that it broke apart’. The answer was always going to be dates, and names and numbers. And that was good enough for Feynman, because the point was to find out. The meaning was in the inquiry.”

 

Title: Moonglow | Author: Michael Chabon | Published Nov. 2016| FLWBlog Rating: 3.5

What’s Up Next – Book Club

I love following the “book scene” and hearing about new books – and as you can tell by my blog, I love books that I find worth talking about. Mentally provocative, if you will.

Today I was asked for Book Club suggestions by a friend. Here are my tips!

Disclaimer: I haven’t read any of these books, so I’m just going on what I’ve heard, but this is what I would suggest for my book club if we met today. (See you guys in two weeks!)

If your book club loves a thriller:

  • Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

If your book club loves books about relationships:

  • A Separation by Katie Kitamura

If you want to discuss current events without reading about current events:

  • 1984 by George Orwell
  • It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis
  • Plot Against America by Phillip Roth
  • American Street by Ibi Zoboi (BRAND NEW 2/14/2017)

If you want to discuss social policy (I know this is up my book club’s alley):

  • Dreamland by Sam Quinones
  • Evicted by Matthew Desmond
  • Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

I have about three of these ready to go as soon as I finish Moonglow! If you read any of them, let me know! And Happy Reading!

Welcome to Feel Learn Wonder!

Welcome to my little corner of the literary and internet world! I’m a 27 year old engineer, with a very long TBR list.

In an ideal world, I would read all day, with a flat white or a craft beer by my side, soaking up the words of the pages. Instead, that’s only a small facet of my life, albeit one I’m trying to grow. This blog will feature books I’ve read and so badly want to discuss with the internet – and all things book related in my life.

I’ve absolutely loved to read since I was a little girl – I was a regular at the local public library, my favorite store in town was the locally owned bookstore, and my favorite part of family vacations was hands down the long car rides, airplane rides, or beach days for reading the latest young adult novel. Somewhere in my teen years, I lost the drive to read and spent most nights texting friends and boys until it was time for lights out. But in the past two years, as a full fledged adult, I have rediscovered my love of reading.

At this point,  you must be wondering about the name of the blog. Well, it’s really quite simple. As I think about books I’d love to read and books I’ve already loved, I’ve come to the realization that I read for three reasons…

1. I read to feel – I will adore a book that hurts my heart to its core – and best case, puts it back together

2. I read to learn – and I feel strongly about learning through both fiction and non fiction, and

3. I read to wonder – wonder about the world we live in and what an interesting place it can be.

So what will you find in terms of books on this blog? Well I tend to stick to things I like, so here’s a quick rundown of that.

Likes:

Lots of Contemporary Fiction

Love, but not Romance

History and Historical Fiction

Specifically: World War II, American History, or a captivating Microhistory

Things that are topical

i.e. Books about the prison system, the heroine epidemic, feminism, and more

Dislikes:

Romance

Science Fiction

Bad Character Development

History Books That Read Like Text Books

So thanks for coming along! I’ll be back with my first review soon, but for now, I’m off to finish my current book on loan from the library.

Currently Reading: Moonglow by Michael Chabon