A Look Back on 12 Months of Nonfiction

Last week I shared with you some of my all time favorite non-fiction books, but I for the first “challenge” of Nonfiction November I’m going to take a closer look back on the nonfiction reads I’ve read over the past year.

When I look through my list of non-fiction reads since last November, the things that jump out to me are a) a lot of them are backlist titles with pub dates backing back 1999, and b) these are some of the best books I’ve read in the last twelve months!

In total, I’ve read fifteen nonfiction books, which I’m stoked about! I’ve talked about them a lot recently so I’m just going to organize them by mood here. I’ll link to another blog post if I’ve raved about it recently!

If you’re looking for….

A peek in to military culture, coming from a place of love: Ranger Games by Ben Blum

A book that will change your views on rape culture forever: Missoula by Jon Krakauer

A way to understand what goes on behind closed doors in North Korea: Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick

Nightmares for days (seriously though), but via an incredibly compelling tale: I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara

A way to indulge your inner whale lover: Spying on Whales by Nick Pyenson

A story about a city, that’s really about a team, and will warm your heart forever: Boomtown by Sam Anderson

A cautionary tale that teaches you to respect the danger of backpacking: Into Thin Air by John Krakauer

A way to understand the side of America who’s voting for Trump: Janesville by Amy Goldstein

An escape in to the middle of the ocean: Love with a Chance of Drowning by Toree DeRoche

A front seat to the 2016 election: Unbelieveable by Katy Tur

A coming-of-age slash fundamentalist mormon memoir: Educated by Tara Westover

History with a side of comedy along the Apalachian Trail: A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

A calm and collected version of the 2016 craziness: What Happened by Hillary Clinton

An irreverant memoir of the military and christianity all at once: A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper

An often untold history of the largest city in America: The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist

Let me know if you’ve read and enjoyed any of these titles! I truly recommend them all!

October Reading Recap

You guys, I have totally failed you! (If you want to know why, check out Monday’s post!) I read five books last month and reviewed ONE. But anyway, here we are. I still think it’s worth summarizing the books from last month — and believe me, reviews are coming soon! Gimme a couple weeks to write them, but they’re all scheduled so in theory they will be written very soon.

Here’s what I read!

The Silence of the Girls
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Greek Mythology Retelling
Tone: Optimistic through trying times
Structure: Told mostly through the perspective of Achilles slave, with some other scenes thrown in there
Read if you like: Greek mythology, Circe, strong women

Where the Crawdads Sing
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Dramatic, hopeful
Structure: Told primarily through the eyes of Kya, the protagonist
Read if you like: All the Ugly and Wonderful Things, Beartown, The Great Alone

Our Homesick Songs
Rating: 2/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: 
Structure: Told from two points of view in two timelines – when the parents met and in present day
Read if you like: Little Fires Everywhere, Unique writing styles, Station Eleven

Come with Me
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Tone: Sexually charged, sardonic
Structure: Told through the perspective of each family member
Read if you like: Books set in Silicon Valley, The Circle, Sourdough, Startup

The Nightingale
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Historical Fiction
Tone: Adventurous, loving, emotional
Structure: Told through the perspective of two sisters in different parts of France during WWII. They sometimes overlap, but are often separate
Read if you like: The Alice Network, All The Light You Cannot See, WWII historical fiction in general

Where I’ve Been

Hello my lovely readers,

I have been pretty absent on the blog for a while now. While I was keeping up with some posts and reviews in September/October, they were getting shorter, less heartfelt, and less consistent as the days went on. I finally decided to take a break until I wanted to write again, because producing bad content was worse than producing no content, in my mind.

I’ve spent the last six weeks or so working on myself, and I wanted to share a bit of that with you by way of a catch up. I have a ton of bookish posts in my mind for you, so keep an eye out for that as I work back towards a more regular posting schedule.

So here’s what I’ve been up to:

I doubled down on my job.

20181101_164456-01I’ve had a rocky year with work. For the first three months, I was absolutely miserable at my job, and luckily was able to find a new one. As this was only my second job out of school, no surprise here, that transition was hard. To make things worse, less than two months in to my new job, I found out I had to take two licensing exams within, effectively, two months. I studied for them, but honestly, I didn’t give my all to the test or my job during that time. I ended up failing the first test, and decided not to take the second because I wasn’t prepared for it. By the time all of that was over, I realized I hadn’t given my work my full attention in a very long time.

I want to succeed in my professional life, so I decided to commit to that. One of the best things I did was buy an Erin Condren Life Planner JUST for work. It makes so much sense to me now that I would need this, but so often we use planners for school work or personal life things and not for work. Buying a planner for work, setting daily goals, and achieving them has been huge for me. I’m working hard, feeling successful, and if I do say so myself, impressing myself for the first time in a long time.

I started Meal Prepping.

If you’re like me, you want to eat healthy. I’ve always struggled with eating healthy — I find it so weird that feeding ourselves is one of our biggest struggles as humans, but I’ve decided it’s relatively universal because think about how many services there are out there to help people feed themselves. I’ve been super anti formal “meal plans” for a long time, but somehow fate brought the Workweek Lunch Meal Prep Program and I together. (To be clear WWL is not a diet program and is sooo customizable/flexible so that’s a huge reason I decided to go for it!)

By fate, I mean the instagram algorithm. I was following WWL hoping it would inspire me to start eating the way she did, and a couple weeks in to following Talia, she started her Meal Prep Program. It’s only $8 per month so I put it on my personal card (aka I didn’t ask my boyfriend to pay for it) and got started. It’s an investment at first (I spent about $60 on meal prep containers from costco) and a learning curve (my first prep took me over 3 hours and most things tasted bad), but four (?) months later, I couldn’t be happier.

I’ve become more comfortable in the kitchen, I look forward to cooking every week, I save so much time and so much money, and I finally am able to eat the way I’ve always wanted to eat – healthy meals that make me feel full without feeling bloated. If you’re at all interested, feel free to ask me any questions, or just try Workweek Lunch for yourself

I participated in the Transformation Challenge at my Orangetheory Fitness Studio.

The basic rules are work out 3x per week for six weeks (I  did this!), weigh in at the beginning, middle, and end (I  missed the middle weigh-in), and then do some other challenges (I didn’t do any of these). As you can tell I’m not going to win. I violated 2 of the 3 rules, but the one that I did stick to is, in my opinion, the one that matters.

Three times a week may not seem like that much, but trust me it was surprisingly challenging. There was a time when I was going away for the weekend and went to a 6:50 – 7:50 pm class on Thursday night and was back at the studio for my third class of the week at 6:10 am the following morning. To that end, I attended my first (ever?) 6:10 am gym class. And not only that I attended MANY of them throughout the challenge. I got back in a routine and it felt really good. It may not sound like much but I’m extremely proud of myself for doing 3 classes per week for 6 weeks, and as an added bonus and I can totally feel the difference in my strength levels and the way my clothes fit. Horray!

I got braces.

This is the big one in terms of my mental health over the past month or so. Braces are something I’ve been thinking about for a long time — probably since I moved back from New Zealand, so 3 years ago! I never felt secure enough in my life to take the plunge until recently. I now know that I will be staying in San Diego for long enough to have the treatment, I’m at a new job where people know me, have friendships that I feel secure enough in, and am in a relationship I feel comfortable in (I should hope so haha It’s been 4 years!).

These things may sound vain, but getting braces has really rocked my confidence and I don’t think I’d be able to do it if I knew I had to make new friends or interview for a new job in the near future. I felt like I was at a comfortable place in my life to take the plunge and change my appearance for a year and a half for the greater good of the rest of my life. (I’ll be 30 1/2 when I get them off!) All that being said, it’s been incredibly difficult – physically and mentally – over the past week, but I think I’m starting to come around on the other side of it now.

So that’s it. That’s where I’ve been for the last six weeks – exercising, eating well, getting braces, and working hard at work. And all of that hasn’t allowed for a lot of time or energy to write passionately, consistently, and meaningfully about books on this page. But that’s something I want to change. And as I’m settling in to these new routines, I’d like to start again with this blog. So I hope you’ll keep reading! Thank you for being here!

Required Reading Regarding Brett Kavanaugh

Alright, internet. We’re getting political. A couple weeks ago I wrote a post on “diverse books” and mentioned that I don’t like to talk about political or serious things if I feel like I may not know exactly what I’m talking about. But here’s the thing — over the past year, I’ve read two of the best books I’ve ever read that have taught me the importance of spreading knowledge of the prevalence and effects of sexual assault in our society.

I agree that it’s obvious – men shouldn’t rape women, and men who rape women shouldn’t be appointed to the Supreme Court (and yes, I know it was an attempted rape). But beyond the obvious there is so much that can be learned from reading about this topic. So I have two recommendations for you:

IMG_20180501_182446_668 (1)

Missoula by Jon Krakauer

This book is a nonfiction account of a town in Montana that had way too many rapes of high school and college students. Be prepared for a brutal read – this book takes you through trials where no details are spared, but if you want to know the facts about rape, read this book. I mean, let’s be honest, you don’t want to hear the facts necessarily (because they’re hard to hear), but they’re so important.

This book will teach you that a rape between friends is a rape, that someone who commits one rape is extremely likely to commit rape again, that being raped can ruin your life, that rape victims feel a disproportionate amount of guilt, and that trying to get a rape case prosecuted is so much harder than it sounds. Seriously though, I learned so much and my life has never been the same. I’ve never been so blown away by a book, and I cannot. stop. thinking. about. this. book.

So read it — here’s the amazon link, because trust me it’s worth it. AMAZON LINK.

Beartown by Fredrik Backman

Does this blog really need to talk about Beartown again? (For real, if I need to I will.) This book is one of the most informative and moving pieces of fiction of I’ve ever read. Central to this story is a rape – ok sorry I ruined the plot twist, but you probably saw that coming. The response from the community – her family, her friends, and her enemies rings so true after reading Missoula and this book moved me beyond words. If you think you want to be understand what a rape victim goes through after the event, this book will illustrate that for you, and you’ll be better for it.

So again – please read this book. It’s one of my absolute favorites and I think it’s so important. Some of my best friends and book club pals have read it and not one has disliked it, so if you don’t trust me, trust them. And here’s the AMAZON LINK. Just do it.

Other Feel Learn Wonder content on Beartown: Beartown Review, Us Against You Review, Meeting Fredrik Backman, Should You Read Beartown?

And finally I just have to point out that both of these books are written by men, so the proof is in the pudding that not all men are bad, but also.. some of them are. Read these books. Be educated. Be passionate. Fight back.

September Reading Recap

September was… busy! Although, for all the right reasons – I traveled to the East Coast for my grandmothers 99th birthday and to meet my newest (and only) nephew! Then continued on to Portugal for my very first solo international trip. It went really well, and as you can see below, I got a lot of quality time with my kindle and a glass of wine 🙂 When in Portugal, right!?

I read six books which is a ton for me considering none of them were audiobooks! Some great, some not as great, but overall a pretty good reading month — here’s what I read:

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Tone: Slow, Thoughtful, Tragic
Structure: Non-linear but with a relatively chronological timeline, before turning to a first person reaction
Read if you like: Beautiful writing, Family Sagas, Pachinko, An American Marriage

The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
Rating: 4/5
Genre: General Fiction
Tone: Bingeworthy, Dramatic, Youthful
Structure: Two points of view in two timelines
Read if you like: Greys Anatomy, Gossip Girl, The It Girl

The Witch Elm by Tana French
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Mystery
Tone: Dark, Gothic
Structure: Chronological first person from a single point of view
Read if you like: Tana French, Robert Galbraith, The Death of Mrs. Westaway

A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Memoir
Tone: Quirky, Sarcastic, Long
Structure: First person chronological, although the voice changes as Piper grows up
Read if you like: Priestdaddy, Educated, Memoirs in general

Autumn by Ali Smith
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Literary Fiction
Tone: Contemplative, Hopeful, Sweet
Structure: Many stories blended together, no quotations around dialogue
Read if you like: Man Booker Prize Winners, Prose, Slow reads with a little humor

My Year of Rest and Relaxation
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Fiction
Tone: Repetitive, Sarcastic, Quirky, Repetitive (get it?)
Structure: First person with a linear timeline during periods of being awake over the year
Read if you like: Millenials – otherwise this book is totally unique.

Thoughts on Diverse Books

I’ve learned so much about diverse books since joining #bookstagram – it’s a very hot topic in the world of people sharing book recommendations. I’m always trying to include “diverse books” in my reading, but I’ve realized that there can be many different motivations and definitions of “diverse”, so I wanted to discuss a bit of that here. I don’t normally like to talk about serious topics like this on here, since I don’t think I’m coming from a place of authority, but I have truly seen a new side of diversity recently, and wanted to share that journey with all of you.

 

Awareness

When I first joined #bookstagam, my opinion was that the purpose of diverse books simple – awareness. It’s important to read books about people from other cultures to understand what their world is life. It may be as simple as reading Ginny Moon and seeing the world from the perspective of a foster child on the autism spectrum and understanding that not everyone’s brain works the same way; or reading Left Neglected by Lisa Genova and understanding the impacts of a chronic illness on the victim and their family, both in the immediate and long term. These were great examples of “diverse” books for me, because they taught me things that I wouldn’t otherwise know and raised issues to a wider audience, so that we can know go forward with more understanding and empathy.

Since I thought I was doing the right thing, I didn’t expect to hear that I was thinking about this topic with a heavy side of white privilege. Which takes me to point two.

Representation

I believe it was during Black History Month that I started to see a lot of comments around #bookstagram, about how messed up it is that white people think “diverse reads” are about awareness when it’s clearly about representation, and giving the reader of the minority the opportunity to see herself in popular culture and feel represented and included.

My initial thought was, admittedly, “back off – I’m doing the best I can”, but recently with the production of Crazy Rich Asians among others, I’ve started to see how much it matters to the groups of people who feel under represented. I want to share that I think Elissa and Simone and Her Books, do amazing jobs covering how books featuring an Asian or Asian American protagonist make them feel. I really enjoy reading their reviews about books featuring an Asian character as the main character instead of the “token Asian friend”, and I feel like I’m finally starting to understand why this is such an important topic in literature today.

And now on to my third category –

Own Voices

This one is very new to me, but I think it’s both a combination of the two and an  important subcategory of both. Own voices means books about African Americans written by African Americans, and books about Asians written by Asians, etc. This is truly the best way to achieve diversity because it portrays the truth based on an internal understanding as well as supports minority authors of a minority. Kate Olsen (of @kate.olsen.reads) has been promoting this topic a lot recently, and it has been amazing to me to see the responses of her readers, and how much this topic means to them. I think that’s really cool!

Recommendations

And of course, I want to suggest a few of my favorite diverse reads to you to get you started!

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Stay With Me Ayobami Adabayo

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

Let me know what you think of this and if you have any books I should add to my list? Have your opinions on diverse books changed at all recently?

 

SDFOB: Women Writing Fiction

And Finally – Women Writing Fiction

This seminar was by far the one I was most looking forward to! I read a lot of fiction written by women and I love it. Going in to the seminar, my anticipated “headliner” was Brit Bennet, author of The Mothers, that I read a few years ago when it was chosen as a Book of the Month Choice. It turns out she grew up right here in Oceanside!

However, I was definitely quick to judge when I predicted she would be the most impressive woman on this panel – the other two women blew me away and I want to share the author love for each of them!

T. Greenwood

Most Recent Novel: Rust & Stardust

Tammy (what T stands for — I had the hardest time finding her on Goodreads after the festival because she doesn’t go by Tammy!) was such a beautiful, artistic, creative, and passionate soul. I was so impressed by so many things about her, but first and foremost that she has published TWELVE novels!

I really just enjoyed her energy and her ability to give the uncomfortable answer. On the topic of “women’s fiction” where others didn’t like the title but didn’t want to start a war, she was so ready to say “I have a serious problem with it!” I loved that because I totally agree and never classify a novel as women’s fiction.

I also enjoyed hearing how she funded her work – she has had every job in the book from waitress, to retail, to coffee barista! Now she’s able to write her novels, teach writing at a local university, and mentor/ freelance edit for other authors.

It was such a pleasure to “meet” Tammy, and I’m looking forward to reading some of her twelve novels!

Michelle Gable

Most Recent Novel: The Summer I Met Jack

Michelle Gable was another author I am surprised I hadn’t heard of – her energy was contagious and I found myself wanting to be her best friend.

Some of the highlights of her answers include that she always sets her books in beautiful places so she can visit — her first book is titled A Paris Apartment — and she didn’t publish her first book until she was 40 years old (this blew me away because Michelle is so gorgeous and full of young energy. Not that there’s anything wrong with being over 40, but I never would have guessed her age!)

To fund her writing process (and life in general) Michelle worked for almost 20 years in finance. Her advice is that the best way to be a writer is to be busy — she said she’s actually finding is equally as hard to find time to write when she’s doing it full time as when she only had an hour a day but she was committed to that hour a day. As an engineer, I totally feel this sentiment!

The most passionate answer Michelle gave is that it’s easy to write strong women because she is one and she is surrounded by many. Just be listening to her speak you knew this was true – she spoke with so much passion, excitement, and confidence and I loved it!

And in terms of supporting others and giving back,  Michelle shared that she is an avid readers and reviews all the books she reads on Goodreads. She also pre-orders hardcover versions of debut authors. These are some excellent peeks in to how the industry works and some of the best ways to support authors, so I think we should all take a page out of Michelle’s book – figuratively of course.

Brit Bennet

Most Recent Novel: The Mothers

Brit was truly unique on this panel — she was by far the youngest, the only one to not have a children (yet), the only one to only have one book published so far, the only one to be able to write full time since publishing her first book, and the only one to have an absolute sensation of a debut.

Despite all of those comparisons, Brit showed wisdom beyond her years with each of her answers. In each round of questions, she would answer last and start by saying, “Yeah, what they said,” but then continue to blow me away with some of her answers. As I’m writing this in Portugal without my notebook, I can’t remember her exact words, but it’s important to know that Brit is wise, elequent, and so impressive in her modest confidence.

What I didn’t know when I read the Mothers was that she wrote that novel in graduate school!!! She had it picked up by a publisher (not to mention Book of the Month!) and therefore was able to go in her career as a full time author — a rarity in this industry!

While she only has one book out right now, I can’t wait to read what she writes next.

Final Thoughts

This panel did a few things for me — first and foremost, it inspired me to write a book (TBD if I’ll ever do it, but I would love to! More on that in a later post, probably)

Some of the common themes were that it’s hard to be a writer. Each of the author’s who have published more than one book shared that they’ve written way more books than they’ve had published. Brit Bennett is truly the exception here! They also shared that book tours are hard on the mind and the body (BB included here). Brit said even touring in her twenties was hard – she was so excited to visit friends in cities that she’d visit on her tour, but soon realized how exhausted she was and how much she just wanted to sleep when she arrived in a new city. I’ve heard others (Backman) speak about this, and even insist that his family join him on his most recent book tour, but he presented it more in the context of anxiety. Hearing from these women showed me that it’s really just hard to be an author and be on tour — it’s not the glamorous life we (well at least I) dream of.

Speaking of glamorous lives, each woman on the panel said that they watch and love Younger (my latest Hulu binge-watching show!) Their comments were that they’ve never seen publishers who are so attractive, so wealthy, or have such nice offices, but that they absolutely love watching it. Me too!!

Overall, this panel was my favorite of the day (clearly), and was both so inspiring and so informative.  I love knowing that each of the authors live (or grew up) in San Diego and intend to read their books and continue to support my local authors.

Have you read books by these three? Do you know which authors live in your city?

SDFOB: LGBTQ Fiction and Nonfiction

On August 25th, I attended the San Diego Festival of Books. It was my first ever Book Festival and I loved it! My favorite part, unexpectedly, was getting the chance to learn about so many local authors! So often in the book blog/bookstagram scene we hear about big presses and bestsellers, but it was great to hear about smaller indie authors and publishing houses, but also bestsellers living in our very own city! I loved that my first book festival was in a small city, and I definitely plan to attend again next year.

Over the coming days I’ll share a bit about each of the three seminars I attended – each were so unique!


Next Up – LGBTQ in Fiction and Nonfiction

LGBTQ literature has been such a growing genre over the past few years. It was celebrated in full this year in the book community — if you’re interested, NYC Book Girl did a great Pride Reads list.

Personally, I’ve been luke warm on the topic recently – not for any change of heart on the topic itself, but I’ve found that the “pride reads” I’ve been reading recently have been extremely over sexualized. I’m not a romance reader of any orientation (meaning I don’t really enjoy romance scenes of straight couples), but I do love a good rom-com story regardless of sexual orientation. My issue comes from the fact that I often find writers feel the need to create romance scenes in LGBTQ books more so than they would for straight couples. I find that weird and unnecessary. My main recent examples of this are Ohio and The Immortalists.

Anyway, all this is to say that I was really looking forward to an LGBTQ panel to discuss LBGTQ literature and maybe get an answer to my question of am I unconsicously being biased or is it weird that many LGBTQ books have very intense sex scenes. (If you have feelings on this please share in the comments!)

Ultimately, I didn’t get my question answered, nor was there really any stimulating conversation on the topic, but the two books presented were interesting and contained some food for thought. One small pet peeve (and maybe this is too intrusive of me) but I had hoped for a little more personal information from the authors on this very personal topic – were they gay? Either way, did that impact the way they approached their writing? What do they think of other pride books out there in the world? I just had so many questions, and expected a bit more from this panel.

Book 1: Harvey Milk – His Lives and Death by Lillian Faderman

Lillian was a joy to hear speak – she’s most well known for her book The Gay Revolution and has written twelve books, this being her latest.

In talking about this book, Lillian focused on the impact of Harvey Milk. His story (being the first out gay man elected to public office and soon thereafter being assassinated) is so well known, so, when she was approached about writing the book, she questioned whether there was anything new to add to the story. She ultimately decided that yes, there is more to be added, because so much of his impact has been felt between the publishing of previous biographies and now.

The personal San Diego tie in this seminar was that the first out lesbian elected official in San Diego was in the audience. Since that time, there has always been at least one out LGBTQ person elected to an office in San Diego and today there are many. It was interesting and personal to see these stories in real life, that may not have been possibly without the advancement of LGBTQ rights fought for by Harvey Milk.

One other interesting thing mentioned was that Lillian admitted that at first she fell in love with her subject. But as she got in to her writing process, she realized that she needed to write all of Harvey Milk, “warts” and all, to use her words.

If you’re looking for a well rounded biography of Harvey Milk – his best assets, worse qualities, and a thorough study of his impacts on today – I would definitely suggest you look in to this one!

Book 2: Scissors, Paper, Stone by Martha K. Davis

The next speaker, Martha, had a bit of a harder time getting her book through publication. She wrote this novel back in 1998 – that’s twenty years ago! At the time the LGBTQ movement wasn’t as active as it is now, nor was it as popular in mass market literature, so the book didn’t sell. She abandoned the book enough to write another novel, but never really let it go.

Martha stated that she didn’t want to go to a “lesbian” publishing house, and so she didn’t, but she also didn’t have much luck at the more main stream publishing houses. Ultimately, she got this book published by submitting it to a queer lit award from Red Hen Press and winning the contest! It took a lot of work, but this piece is finally published and Martha said, somewhat abashed, that she’s happy with it!

As a reader of diverse literature, I was surprised this book didn’t receive more attention – although I haven’t read it, so I can’t make any sweeping generalizations. The story is about a couple who adopt a Korean-American baby, and raise her lovingly through adulthood. The plot twist arises when the child grows up to discover that she is gay and wonders what this will mean for her. One of the artistic qualities that Martha displayed in the excerpt she read was about how being Korean-American is a difference that is celebrated and that maybe if being a lesbian were as openly accepted as being Korean-American, she wouldn’t feel so lonely.

I thought that was a great sentiment to frame a book around and I hope I get a chance to read this book in the future.

Final  Thoughts

Both of the authors had thoughts on lesbian publishing houses, and also LGBTQ/Women’s bookstores. They said that in terms of advancing LGBTQ writing, it’s harmful that women’s bookstores are disapearing across the US. As a borderline millenial, I had to admit I had never heard of a Women’s Bookstore and was kind of surprised at there being such a thing (and also a nostalgia for them). I think the key is to promote diverse books like these and get them in to the common bookstores that so many people are visiting!

Do you like the sound of these books? Do you often read LGBTQ literature?

 

SDFOB: Military Nonfiction

On August 25th, I attended the San Diego Festival of Books. It was my first ever Book Festival and I loved it! My favorite part, unexpectedly, was getting the chance to learn about so many local authors! So often in the book blog/bookstagram scene we hear about big presses and bestsellers, but it was great to hear about smaller indie authors and publishing houses, but also bestsellers living in our very own city! I loved that my first book festival was in a small city, and I definitely plan to attend again next year.

There were so many seminars I wanted to attend, but I ended up choosing three as to not max myself out. I was also aware of the fact that this was a weekend and I never want book blogging to feel like a job or an obligation, so I wanted to make sure I had fun the whole time. I definitely did and I wanted to share a little bit of information on the seminars with you!

Over the coming days I’ll share a bit about each of the three seminars I attended – each were so unique!


First up — Military Non Fiction

I’ve been really interested in Military nonfiction in the past year. It’s partially a result of living in San Diego, so close to a huge navy and marines base, but also just through reading different stories of different time periods. I’ve found that war has been such a backdrop for our life in the last century, and I’m so curious to learn more about it.

The books shared in this seminar were both remarkable — I ended up not buying them at the festival because this was the first lecture we attended and I felt like I was just being trigger happy, but then bought them both online because this seminar was so good.

BOOK 1: Saigon Kids by Les Arbuckle

You may know this story from another medium — the movie Good Morning, Vietnam? I’m not a movie buff, but everyone I’ve talked to since has told me they’ve seen the movie and that it does indeed feature a radio station in Saigon, Vietnam. The story here is that Les Arbuckle’s father was the guy who set up the Armed Forces Radio in Vietnam. (If you’ve seen the movie, Les let us in on the secret that the way Robin Williams said “Good Morning, Vietnam” was pretty different from how his dad said it, but both were equally entertaining!)

Les was 13 when his family moved in Saigon in 1963. There wasn’t a military base, but there was a large military presence. Les tells the story of his life there – hailing a cab for no money at all, attending the American Community School, and getting in to more trouble than his parents would ever like to hear about! (unfortunately they passed away quite young, so they weren’t around for the publishing of this book.)

It was forty years after his time in Saigon, that Les decided to write this books, but as he explained, he wrote from memory — to start he wrote down everything he remembered in no order at all, just let the memories flow. And then he put them in chronological order, and as he worked through that, other memories came to the surface. At first, Les wanted to write a screenplay, but he joked, he didn’t know how to write a screenplay! He didn’t know much about writing books either, but he made do. 🙂

I’m really excited to read Les’s book. I think it will be filled with humor, adventure, and also perspective.

BOOK 2: No Forgotten Fronts by Lisa Shapiro

This story is truly so unique and so San Diego. It is a compilation (with some helpful commentary) of letters that students who attended SDSU, and went on to fight in World War II, sent to a professor who asked them to keep in touch.

Beyond asking the students to keep in touch, Dr. Post, sent out a monthly newsletter. We all know military personel rarely stay in one place, but the miltary postal service is allegedly very good at forwarding mail, and Dr. Post was able to get in contact with her students very regularly and share news and updates!

Lisa read a few sections of her book, and described a few more, and each time she spoke, I had chills at the messages in her story and the realness that they projected. She told one story about the men who were sent to D-Day who didn’t know they were being sent there, and one student wrote “tough men had tears in their eyes” at seeing the statue at Normandy Beach, and as Lisa said, “they knew what they were fighting for.” Man, it still gets me. Just the courage and tenacity of these men who went willingly to war on the front lines.

What made this experience extra special was when the woman in front of me stood up and said, she wasn’t finished reading the book, but she had been friends with one of the students writing the letters for FORTY years. It meant the world to her to have this book published. As soon as Lisa had finished reacting and letting the reader know how much that meant to her, the woman across the aisle stood up and said that one of the students was her dad. She smiled while saying THANK YOU FOR WRITING THIS BOOK and that she had purchased ten copies. I loved experiencing this moment and it definitely pushed me over the edge to buying this book.

Final Thoughts

One point made during the panel to really differentiate between the two books was that “letters are written in the moment” versus a memoir that has more time to reflect. While this was said to increase the value of No Forgotten Fronts, I think it has equal value for Saigon Kids. A memoir of the early days of the American occupation of Vietnam with forty years of perspective is definitely something I’m here for!

Next Week – In Portugal!

First of all, I’m sorry my blog content has been a little sporadic recently. I’ve been feeling extremely stressed and writing book reviews, or finding time to write book reviews, has not been the easiest thing to do. But in the interest of keeping in touch, I thought I’d let you know that next week I’ll be writing to you from Portugal! (Side note: I have some posts planned, so I will be posting!) Aside from a very quick trip to Iceland and England in 2016, I haven’t been to Europe since I was 15! That’s almost 15 years ago! I planned an itinerary I’m excited about, so I wanted to share what I’ll be doing in Portugal.

Some background: The reason for this trip is that I am presenting at a conference in Lisbon — but the rest of the conference isn’t totally up my alley, so I’ll only be attending some parts of it outside of my presentation. Because I’m only in Portugal for a short time, I’m planning to stay just in and around Lisbon. Based on my research, there will be plenty to do!

Lisbon

There are three main neighborhoods in Lisbon that I definitely plan to check out: Barrio Alto, Alfama, and Belem.

Barrio Alto
Photo Credit

Barrio Alto is known for it’s night life but is also full of wonderful cafes. I’m planning to take the bus down to Barrio Alto in the morning for some café time at Hello Kristof, The Mill, or Pharmacia. If I have time in the evening I’m definitely planning to hit up Park Bar or Noobai! The views and décor look to die for.

alfama
Photo Credit

Alfama is the touristy/historic neighborhood – although hey, I’m a tourist so I’m going to check it out. Two things high on my list: Ginja de Alfama and Clube de Alfama. The first Ginja – is a local Portuguese liquer. I’m very interested in trying this! The second, Clube de Amalfa is known for live music to celebrate Fado, which is the historic music culture in Lisbon. Aside from those two spots, I plan to wander the streets, check out the National Tile Museum, the Time Out Market, and grab a glass of wine at the Riberia Das Naus!

belem

Belem is probably the neighborhood I’m most looking forward to! This seems to be a major culture center for Lisbon. The Belem Tower is one of the biggest tourist attractions, and while I don’t plan to go inside, I am definitely looking forward to seeing it from the outside! Besides that there’s the Berardo Collection, the LX Factor, the Mosteiro dos Jeronimos and the MAAT (museum of architecture and technology!) For food, I’m most excited to visit Darwin’s Café. And of course – I can’t miss Pasteis de Belem.

Excursions

I booked a few excursions/tours that I’m excited about! It’s a little bit of a splurge but I’m traveling alone and not a fan of driving alone in a foreign country so this seemed like a good idea!

paddle boarding
Photo Credit

First up: a paddle boarding tour! This came highly recommended by a friend and will be a great way to get out to the coast. After that I’m planning to relax on a beach for some of the day and then head back in to the city to explore some vistas and probably end the night with some wine in a park.

sintra
Photo Credit

And a trip to Lisbon would not be complete without a trip to Sintra and Cassais! I booked a tour with a company called We Hate Tourism. A friend of mine said this was one of the best parts of her recent trip to Lisbon!

Books!

Since this is a book blog… 🙂

I’m planning to take four books! It’s only 10 days, so this may be ambitious but I’ll be alone for most of it and have some good train/plane time.. plus solo meal time and hotel time! If I run out of books, I have some extras on my kindle.. but I don’t anticipate that happening. Here’s what I have packed:

  • The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
  • The Witch Elm by Tana French (Kindle)
  • A Girl’s Guide to Missiles by Karen Piper (Kindle)
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer

In terms of bookish excursions — the oldest bookstore in the world is in Lisbon! It’s not in one of the areas listed above, but I’ll try to go at some point!

And then I’ll come home! Did I miss anything? Let me know!