March Rundown

March was… a month. I had a ton going on with work, so I felt crazy busy all month! Somehow I managed to finish five books – I’ll consider that a win. 🙂

I started the month by finishing February’s Book of the Month pick – Perfect Little World. I loved it! I’ve posted on Instagram multiple time about this, but it seriously was a great read. Review here!

Early  in the month,  I headed up to Boston for a work conference. I downloaded Hillbilly Elegy on to my kindle from the library, and dove right in to it. I read it on the train up to Boston, while drinking Coffee at Barrington Coffee Roasters (highly recommend!), and even while at the gym in the hotel. And then.. it was March 8th, International Women’s Day, and obviously I went back to my kindle library to take a picture  of We Should All be Feminists…. and by exiting out of Hillbilly Elegy, I lost my library digital loan! I guess it had run out, but while I had it open it was still letting my finish. I’ll never know what happens in the last twenty pages of Hillbilly Elegy (unless I borrow it again).

To be honest, that was OK with me. The first section was definitely the most interesting. The book discusses the mentality and history of the Hill People in Appalachia, and that was really fascinating to me. In the aftermath of the 2016 election, I’ve been left stumped about who these voters are and why they vote the way they do. Without being a starkly political book, it gives a lot of insight in to the mindset of rural voters.

The second section goes in to Vance, the author’s, time in the military, which was definitely interesting in a different way. The third (and I believe final) section goes in to what is like to be at an elite law school. This part kind of lost me – it just wasn’t the kind of people I was trying to understand. So in leau of a formal review (because I can’t get my kindle notes back from the library), these are my thoughts! Overall I’d give it a 3 stars. 5 starts for the first third, and not a whole lot after that.

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Starting The Nest!

With no more access to the book I was ‘currently reading’ and a four hour train ride ahead of me, I flipped through my kindle for something new. I tend to boomerang with books, so after a serious book like Hillbilly Elegy, I went for a light family drama – The Nest. New Rule: If there is a sex scene in the first five pages, and you think to yourself ‘I should put this down’, put the book down. I wasn’t impressed by the start, but I had nothing else to do, so I kept reading and had finished almost half the book by the time I got off the train. Then 100 pages a couple days later. And eventually I was kind of in to it. In the end I’d give it three stars. The plot was really weak, but in the end I didn’t hate it.

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Trying to get through the end of The Nest before work one day 🙂 I’ve been so in to homemade lattes recently!

When I got home from Boston, midway through The Nest, what was on my doorstep but my Book of the Month box!! I was so excited for this month’s selection – Exit West by Mohsin Hamid. I actually took a break from reading The Nest and read this one in two days. I wrote a full review and I gave it 4.5 stars. I would recommend it to someone looking for a well crafted, well written parable – or interested in expanding their reading genres. It wasn’t an easy read but it was quick and a story that will stay with you. If you’re intrigued check out my review!

By the time I finished those three, I was cutting it close to my book club deadline.  We actually met twice in the month of March – albeit 25 days apart – so I think we all felt a little short on time. Our pick for this  month was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks! It’s the story of an investigative journalist looking into the immortal cells of a Maryland lady who died of ovarian cancer in the 1950s, and her descendants journey to find answers. The cells have been used for an incredible amount of medical research, but no consent was given to take the cells or to use them – and the family didn’t even know about the cells until about 25 years later! It’s a good balance of science writing and story telling. For a nonfiction book, it was an easy read. I’ll be writing a recap of our discussions soon!

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I got a ridiculous library haul this month – of the six I picked up, I only read two (oops!)

And now, as the month winds down, I’m trying to finish The Unmade Bed by Stephen Marche. It just came out this month, but it think got a little swept under the rug with all the other new releases. It’s full title is “The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about Men and Women in the 21st Century.” I don’t often read books like this but it’s meant to be well researched AND full of personality. We’ll see if it lives up to the hype!

Looking ahead –

April is set to be a VERY busy month – full of trips, visitors, birthdays, holidays, and my big test (that I’ve been studying for since January). I’m not sure how much reading I’ll get done with all of that, but I have a lot on my TBR list..

1, 2, and 3. I have TWO free book credits for Book of the Month Club, so I’ll get three books from them this month. I’m thinking one from this month’s selections, Veins in the Ocean by Patricia Engel, and one more impulse buy!

4. I finally ordered my first Muse Monthly box (so excited!). This month is featuring a book called No One Is Coming to Save Us, said to be a modern reselling of The Great Gatsby set in the American South.

5. My book club book is Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich, so be reading that soon! I love when other people pick out books for me to read – I always learn to much 🙂

So little time, so many books to read. Happy End of March and here’s to hoping April is warm and full of good books!

jersey

Xx
Erin

Let’s Break This Down – Perfect Little World Book Review

Perfect Little World restored my faith in books.

I was going through a rough patch with books, particularly my Book of the Month books. I didn’t love my picks from November – January, but Perfect Little World was the perfect remedy to that, and I am re-in love with Book of the Month Club (post coming soon I swear).

Reading Perfect Little World made me feel like I was on a beach. Which was really bizarre, because for the most part, I was on a construction site in the middle of winter when I was reading this book. But, and I don’t mean to say that this book was at all in the YA category, the words flowed off the page like a Judy Blume I used to read on the beach on spring break in middle school –  some of my favorite reading memories. It was easy reading, it was a little bit juicy, the characters were well developed without being heavy, and the plot moved quickly. All the makings of a perfect weekend read.

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I picked  Perfect Little World because of its author, Kevin Wilson.  I read The Family  Fang in college and while that wasn’t a five star read in my opinion, I liked where he was going with this one.

Quick Synopsis:

Dr.  Preston Grind is raised by two psychologists who experiment on him with their child psychology theories. Dr. Grind grows up to be a psychologist himself and decides to  create a utopian society where eight couples and one single mom jointly raise nine children. The book follows one participant, Izzy, and Dr. Grind from the formation of the study, through the disbanding of the society.

The Experiment:

The engineer in me was of course scrutinizing the entire process, and here are my takeaways:

Set Up: The experiment was well intentioned and honestly, pretty well thought through. I know  I can be easily convinced in books – I’m one of few out there who approves of Wavy and Kellen in All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – but I didn’t feel the urge to warn Izzy of impending doom. I thought “Well, this is a good option for her and what else really would be better?” (Oh my  gosh – I am hearing myself talking about Wavy and Kellen and it’s way too similar.) I’m currently reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which is all about informed consent, and this passed that test too. Set up of the study is approved by me.

Set Controls/Variables: The experiment must be controlled. Only when things are controlled can you vary one factor. This is where things went wrong. Dr. Grind spent so much time selecting his subjects, he assumed the variables would be the children. What he didn’t account for is how much the parents could be out of his control. In reading this book, the most interesting part was really in what was assumed about the parents but turned out to be wrong. So many things about then were unknown – from unstable marriages to the unexpected sexual tension. The relationships between adults were definitely an important unknown in the success of the project.

“It’s weird. I understand how our relationship works with the kids. We are all their parents. Each one of them is our child. It takes some getting used to, but I get it now. But it’s never been super clear on how it works with all of us, the adults. What are we to eachother.”

And the eternal question – was the experiment successful? I would say, yes. We all learned a lot. I think more was learned about the parents than the children, but all of the test conducted on the children show that they benefited from the arrangement. I wouldn’t recommend the study to be done in real life, but I think in the end of the fictional study, a lot was learned and most people were better off for it.

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Some External Observations:

My parents were both journalism majors and they are very very specific with word choice. I tend to overanalyze when a word is repeated throughout a book and try to understand why they repeatedly selected that word. Here are my few words from this book:

  • Dr Grind always says “That’s understandable, Izzy” Replace Izzy with the name of the person he’s talking to and you have the beginning of 90% of Dr. Grind’s conversations. I think this is to illustrate the lack of emotions from Dr. Grind because of his upbringing, but I definitely picked up on this refrain. I wanted him to react!
  • The word “special” is used repeatedly throughout the book, almost as a soothing tactic for Izzy. Izzy had a doll from her mom that she made tell her she was “special”. When Dr. Grind was trying to convince Izzy to join, he told her she was special. When Izzy was preparing the meat for the group, and being told how delicious it was, Izzy said she felt “special”. A reporter who was covering the society for an article called the society “special”. It’s a very interesting adjective to repeat so many times – no doubt this word choice was intentional.

    “It just sounds so strange in practice. But it was really wonderful to witness. You’re part of something special here.”

  • The word “cult” is not mentioned until Page 170! This society could easily be thought of as a cult, but I thought it was very interesting that for half the book, the word cult was not mentioned, and after that it was very selectively used.

    “No drugs […] This is a scientific endeavor. It’s not some hippie commune.”

  • Not a word, but a theme – self harm was a huge part of this book. Right off the bat we find out that Dr. Grind’s parents killed themselves. Then Hal kills himself. Dr. Grind cuts himself. And Izzy finds the pain of digging her fingers in to her arm soothing enough to fall asleep to. Obviously there are various levels of self harm mentioned here but the casual tone of it was surprising to me.

Final Quote (OK maybe three…):

“Everything hit at once. I need things to hit in a sequence and things just hit all at once. I don’t know how to handle myself sometimes” – Hal, but how often to we all feel like that?

“When the world fell apart around you, when the walls of your home cracked and crumbled, Izzy now had some idea of how to keep living. You held on to the person you loved, the one who would be there int he aftermath,  and you built a new home.”

“It wasn’t fate that she felt in to this moment, no sense that any of this has been ordained. […] She was, which she rarely admitted because of her own discomfort with emotion, so fucking strong. She had made this happen through sheer force of will, and she would never, ever, let it go.”

You go, Izzy.
We won’t get in to the ending here, but let me just say I loved it.

 

Book Club – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

The Club

I’m sure most of you out there would say the same, but I love my book club!

We’ve been meeting for about 14 months now, so I’d say we’re in a pretty serious relationship.

Our book club started at the beginning of 2016 when my now-friend, Lianna, came up with the idea and ask a slew of her girlfriends join and invite anyone who they thought may be interested. I was finally coming home from living abroad, and my friend Melissa invited me!

After the first two months of reading best sellers, we quickly took a leap. One member, Brianna, suggested the book Old Souls: Compelling Evidence from Children Who Remember Past Lives. We all read the book separately and headed over to Brianna’s for a boozy-bookish-brunch to discuss.

I’m saying this without hyperbole– the conversation blew me away. Everyone in the group had so much [life experience, personal values, intelligent insights] to share and everyone in the group was so open minded. Between all the girls there, we had a range of religions and spiritualities represented and everyone was given a fair chance to contribute without judgement. I left that day slightly under the influence of mimosas and so happy that I had been invited to join this small group in the big city.

Since then we’ve met as-monthly-as-possible. I’ve loved the topics we’ve gotten in to –from addiction, to solitary confinement prison sentences, to cults (Yes, we read The Girls), to being young in your twenties in New York City.  Here’s a link to my goodreads bookshelf for our picks.

I love the books we pick and the discussions we have, and I certainly think we’re unique in the way we look at books. I hope you enjoy reading some of the recaps!

The Book – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

Do you ever have a book that just grows and grows until you can’t believe what fortune you’ve had to sit down with this masterpiece? This was how I experienced All the Ugly and Wonderful Things.

Quick Synopsis (From Goodreads):

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible “adult” around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father’s thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer

I read most of this book in one sitting and have been raving about this book ever since. At the end of our last book club, I suggested it to the group. Below are some of our Questions and Answers.

Discussion

1. Who was the dad? Was he based on someone real?

First and foremost, we were wondering how personal  the book was. Luckily, I had recently read this answer from Bryn Greenwoods BOTM interview. It turns out Wavy’s dad is a combination of a bunch of people Bryn Greenwood has known in her life.

Liam isn’t my father; he’s an ex-boyfriend, an old drug dealer of mine, a homeless guy who used to mow my lawn, and a professor I hated.

2. Did we see Kellen through rose colored glasses? It was crazy how an outside saw him vs. how wavy saw him. Should we have trusted Wavy’s view of Kellen? Did the meeting with the judge chage your mind? Can you imagine being Wavy’s roommate and going to meet him?

The members of my book club picked up on the contrast between Wavy’s section of the book –  that lets be real, had all of us under her spell – and anyone outside of the relationships. You have to consider that of course Wavy saw what she was doing as right, while all the external people – particularly the Judge who we’re supposed to understand is an impartial outsider- do not. It makes you consider if you’re getting biased information or if you the reader are really the most imformed-impartial-well reasoned participant.

3. Kellen killed people but was he a killer? Did he lack the mental capacity to understand what killing meant?

Continuing in the above discussion of “Was Kellen a good guy?” we touched on the fact that Kellen had previously killed people. None of us thought that made him a crazy killer, but it is something that a normal person wouldn’t do. Then we had to consider ‘OK.. if he doesn’t fully comprehend what he’s doing (our own conclusion), is he lacking some mental capacity? … Does that mean that he and Wavy were similar in maturity/intelligence?’ Would that  make their relationship more acceptable? Interesting questions

I know that I’m answering questions with more questions, but I thought the best part of the discussion were the questions that came up in discussion. I don’t want to post answers because WHO KNOWS? Maybe Bryn Greenwood. All we kept saying was we need Part 2!!

4. Was it pedophillia? Was it wrong? How did you feel about it? How did you feel telling other people about the book you were reading?

This book has gotten a whole bunch of 5 stars on the internet… and whole lot of 1 stars. People are divided on the topic of their relationship. As you read the book, I felt like you started to understand their relationship (see discussions above as to if this is right). By the end of the book , I didn’t feel like it was pedophilia… or wrong, but I know I’m in the minority of the internet.

The other interesting question was how did you feel telling other people about it. REALLY FREAKING WEIRD.

So does that make it a construct of societal expectations that age matters? I think if both participants can understand what they are consenting to, then it makes sense. We pointed out that someone in Wavy’s situation would have grown up so fast, being left to fend for herself so young. So maybe she was mature enough for the relationship? It’s so hard to make that decision though.

5. I had another friend who read the book and she thought the whole thing was sad. My reaction was that yes it is sad that Wavy was in this situation to begin with, but Wavy needed this person. She didn’t have anyone else. So I saw it as a positive.

Book club’s reaction was Wavy would have gotten out anyway. Then the question becomes what does “getting out mean”.  What do we think happened to Wavy? Does she graduate? I brought up the connection to Hillbilly Elegy – Hillbilly Elegy seems like the real life version of this book. The people in the Hill Country are striving for the American Dream – meaning that a generation should always be better off than the one before it. Do you agree? Do  you think Wavy would have broken the cycle with or without Kellen? (We need Part 2!)

6. Pickles!

I hosted this meeting of book club and we always try to have themed food, so this time, I tried to have a Kansas spread.I heard the big foods in Kansas were fried chicken and barbecue ribs….. So i bought chicken nuggets, barbecue chips, spicy pickles, and some standard cheese and crackers. Not to mention wine 🙂 . The spicy pickles were hands down the biggest hit. I posted my spread to instagram (follow me at feel.learn.wonder!) and while we were all talking about how delicious pickles were, I checked my instagram and saw that Bryn Greenwood herself had commented “mmm pickles”. !!!!

Bryn, if you’re reading this, we have so many questions and will have spicy pickles at our next book club so you’re 100% invited if you wanna come. We’re reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and meeting on March 27th, 2017! Hope to see you then 🙂

 

I hope you enjoyed our discussions and feel free to chime in!

Overall I thought All the Ugly and Wonderful Things was a great choice for book club and I had so much fun with my book club!

We Are All Immigrants – Exit West Book Review

Wow. If there was a more timely book out there, I haven’t heard of it.

Exit West, just published last Tuesday, tells the story of two people, Saeed and Nadia,  who begin to fall in love right before their city falls to “the militants”. It is their tale of survival in their home city and beyond.

Exit West for me was split in to two sections, although it was never defined that way. The first being when N & S were in their home city, and the second being their journey across the world. I think each section carried a different but equally important important message.

Part One

When everything else fades away, love remains.  

Imagine living wherever you do now, and one day ‘as if someone had hit a switch’ you lose cell phone service. Weird, alarming, startling, but ok, we probably took that for granted anyway. Then the grocery stores run out of food because people are stocking up. Then the bank runs out of cash because everyone is withdrawing their money. Your classes are cancelled; you’re laid off because your company is shut down; you can’t go outside because you feel unsafe; you can’t give a family member a proper funeral because too many people are being killed; you can’t bury said family member because the cemetary is unsafe and there is no room; you lose power; you lose all municipal services; you lose the ability to feel safe inside your own home.

Mohsin Hamid does a great job of taking us through each loss, making each one hit harder than the last until you realize there is nothing left but family and love.

The writing of the novel was basic, in the most intentional way. I loved the short sentences, the use of commas, and sentences that must have had up to thirty short clauses. It doesn’t make for an easy read, so I’m not sure I’d suggest this as a beach read, but it certainly conveys the setting: The sentences are terse and to the point because only the fundamentals matter and there was no room for floral language in such a tense environment.

“…except that they were furious, and they were staring at her and at her badges with undisguised hostility, and the rancor of perceived betrayal, and they started to shout at her, and push her, that she felt beer, a basic, animal fear, terror, and thought that anything could happen, and then the next station came and she shoved through and off the train, and she worries that they might seize her, and stop her, and hurt her, but they didn’t, and she made it off, and she stood there after the train had departed, and she was trembling, and she thought for a while, and then she gathered he courage, and she began to walk, and not in the direction of her apartment, her lovely apartment with its view of the river, but in the other direction, the direction of the zoo, where she had been intending to go from the outside, and where she would still go, and all this happened as the sun dipped lower….”

 

Part Two

We are all migrants through time

In the second half of the book, the Nadia and Saeed are traveling from destination to destination, seeking peace and comfort – but let’s be clear, they’ll settle for food and shelter.

While they are traveling, Hamin tells short stories from seemingly random people around the globe, who are staying in one place. It took me about 220 of the 230 pages to understand their role. They intrigued me for so long, and when I figured it out, the poignancy of the book skyrocketed, to put it lightly.

I wondered for so long if those characters would come in to play later, would we see them again? There was an old man who had a chair on his balcony for his ex-wife, and years later, while he stayed in one place, the chair became to belong to a friend instead. There was an Australian woman who was sleeping in her bed as an intruder came in to the room. Each story embodied a place changing, while one person remained in one place. The point: “We are all migrants through time.” While N & S are the only people physically moving in this story, we are all migrants through time as we adjust to the changing world around us, and it would do us some good to accept those changes.

My favorite quote from the book is a reflection of that adjustment:

“The apocalypse appeared to have arrived and yet it was not apocalyptic, which is to say that while the changes were jarring they were not the end, and life went on, and people found things to do and ways to be and people to be with, and plausible desirable futures began to emerge, unimaginable previously, not unimaginable now, and the result was something not unlike relief.”

There is certainly a feeling of poignancy at the end of the novel when you watch N & S go through so much to not end up anywhere they thought they would. They began the story as normal people together in a classroom and end up far far away, both emotionally and physically.

Final Thoughts!

Even though Nadia and Saeed’s life in their home city, is stripped of all normality and comfort when they choose to leave, Hamid is clear on the struggles involved in that decision. The language is harsh and the implications are not left out of the story.

Nadia and Saeed travel through the world using “doors”. These doors reminded me of The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, the same way that his “railroad” was a physical rendering of a system that was not so straight forward. In another book, I’d like to learn about the transit of the refugees in today’s world, but I appreciated Hamids choice to leave that part out.

I’d give Exit West a 4.5/5. It was not a page turner, not an easy read, but it was a very very well done parable that should be required reading.

Let me know what you thought!