Book Review: Beartown

Author: Fredrik Backman
Published: April 25, 2017
Genre: Fiction
FLW Rating: 5/5

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. This post reflects on the May Challenge, but you can look back at all the posts here

The challenge for May was to pick the book that you most recently acquired and read it before the end of the month or get rid of it! I bought Beartown in the end of April after renting it and not finishing it from the library TWICE. I knew it was a book I wanted to read and would want to keep, I just couldn’t seem to get through it in the time allotted by the library. Ironically, once I started it this time, I couldn’t put it down and finished all 415 pages of it in four days.

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My COMPLETED Unread Shelf Challenges

Beartown tells the story of a small hockey town on the edge of a forest. As the book frequently says, “Bears shit in the forest. Everyone else shits on Beartown.” The only thing that keeps Beartown going is the hockey club. And when all the work that was put in to the club by each member of the community is about to come to fruition, something happens to put everything they’ve worked so hard for in jeopardy. The community response is, understandably, very strong. And as the drama unfolds, the few who choose to risk it all for what’s right face losing their entire support system.

The character development in this book is strong. In my opinion, this is both its strength and its weakness. The first time I picked it up, I found the narration to be a little heavy handed. The tone was almost prophetic in its third person omniscient style. There was a lot of foreshadowing of how a character would act based on their pure and unchangeable personal definition — which irked me since I tend to favor more dynamic characters. At first I found this to be on the telling-not-showing side of things, and was a little frustrated by the style. Honestly, that is why, after only reading forty pages, I returned it to the library without a second thought.

However, all the character development in the exposition, comes full circle after the main event, because faced with such strong personal dilemmas, each person is forced to look inside themselves to pick a side. As the reader, you’re already inside of each character’s head, and are able to dive even deeper in to the conflict with that knowledge in tow.

Without getting in to any of the details, I thought the ending was really well done —  for a trilogy. I have SO many questions, but got enough closure to wait a month for the next installment to be released! (Us Against You comes out on June 5th!)

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The Unread Shelf: What’s Working

Part of the challenge for May is to read the most recently acquired book on your unread shelf — and I’m so excited for that part! The other part of the challenge is to talk about what has been helping you push on with this challenge for the last four months, and for the next eight!

For the most part – participating in this challenge has been the biggest factor! Finding out about the challenge each month and picking the book off my shelf that I’m going to read for the month makes reading my unread shelf exciting again!

 

But of course there are other factors too.

  • I’ve been limiting my Book of the Month subscription! When the selections are released each month, I try not order a book unless something looks really good. I have a changed perspective that receiving a book I won’t read in a timely manner just becomes a burden. I often check if the Book of the Month selections are available at my library and ask myself “does this book look good enough to want to own it after I read it?” Since the beginning of the year I’ve ordered boxes three out of the five months, but still I consider that to be two steps in the right direction!
  • As an add on to that that last point, the two months I skipped happend to be in a row, and I found myself really craving bookmail. I ended up caving and buying a few books from the bookstore instead. So, even though I’m trying to be more intentional with my BOTM subscription, I think keeping the subscription active keeps my other book buying in line!
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I love opening this box when it arrives on my doorstep!
  • I’ve been loving the library! What a great resource! My boyfriend – a video game and movie buff – is so jealous of how much of a resource the library can be for a book lover like me, since there isn’t really an equivalent for his hobbies. That really gave me perspective on how lucky we are to have this institution! I’ve been placing books on hold that I want to read – particularly new releases. If I’m sitting on the holds list and lose interest, that’s so much better than losing interest once it arrives in the mail from amazon! And I’ve also been letting myself browse and choose books when I make it in to the library. It’s been satisfying my craving for wanting to have the books I see on the shelves!
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I got these books from the library – read one, half read/half listened to another, and didn’t read the third! And that was totally ok!
  • I made the top shelf of my bookshelf a TBR shelf! My bookshelves are about 4 feet tall, so the top shelf puts those books at perfect browsing height. The shelf has every book on my shelves that I haven’t read yet + plus library books that should never get a permanent spot on my shelf and books I’ve read but need to return to friends. It’s been a great system because I find myself browsing them when I’m bored and getting more and more excited to read them!

Overall, this has been a great challenge, and I’m glad Whitney asked us to look back at some of our top keys to success! And now on to Beartown — my most recently acquired book on my shelf 🙂

Have you been participating? Let me know what’s been helping you?

The Unread Shelf Project 2018: April Update!

First things first: I’m currently participating in the Unread Shelf Project 2018, hosted by Whitney at @theunreadshelf. You can look back at all the posts here!

Squeaking this one in under the wire! The challenge for April was to pick the book that had been on your unread shelf for the longest and read it before the end of the month or get rid of it! I finished my April selection yesterday and am here to talk about it before we head in to May!

For this challenge, some of the other participants read books they’ve had on their shelves for ELEVEN years! Given the fact that I moved across the country last year, I haven’t had any on my books for a crazy long time, but Circling the Sun by Paula McLain had been weighing on my mind for the longest. I considered getting it for my Book of the Month selection in May 2016, and have considered adding it to my box most months after that! I finally borrowed a copy from my mom, who borrowed it from her mom, so combining all of that, it felt right to read it during this month.

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Overall, I’d give the book four out of five stars – the plot didn’t blow me away, but I will say that Beryl was one of the most compelling characters I’ve read about recently.

Circling the Sun follows Beryl through her life as she becomes and independent from her family and tries her hardest to forge a path to success – or at least happiness. Without giving too much away, Beryl didn’t live an easy life. There were physical struggles – such as a few unfortunate incidents with African wildlife, but there was also so much grief, turbulence, and necessity to make risky decisions, with very little support from friends or family. It would have been an immense struggle just to continue, and I enjoyed watching Beryl power onward from each individual setback.

The strongest theme I noticed in the book was the conflict between the idea of freedom and the reality of independence.

“I have fought for independence here, and freedom too. More and more I find they are not at all the same thing.” – Paula McLain, Circling the Sun

The first time I read that quote, I had to do a double take because I didn’t really understand it. But that quote remained a theme throughout the rest of the novel and made the book even more profound to me.

Being an Unread Shelf post, it’s only appropriate to address the question, “Why did this book become the oldest book on my shelf?” I think the answer goes hand in hand with why I chose to read it when giving it away became the only other option – Once a book has been on your shelf long enough, it looses the urgency and excitement of those new ones! The person you borrowed it from isn’t expecting it back anytime soon, you’ve talked yourself over it so many times that it’s become second nature to look past it on your shelf again, and you lost the guilt of not reading that book you bought a couple years ago, that you’re still harboring over the book you bought six months ago.

So I think this was a great exercise and I encourage you to try it too! This book never felt “old” or anything like that, and I’m really glad I read it!

On to May! — I’m going to wait to hear about the challenge from Whitney before I decide on a book, but we’re getting closer to finishing the hardcopies I have! My final three are What Happened by Hillary Clinton, Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price, and Modern Lovers by Emma Straub! But these posts will continue, as I make progress on my kindle and netgalley TBR! Stay tuned 🙂

The Unread Shelf Project: March Update!

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You guys, we are THREE months in to this challenge. I challenged myself to read these seven books this year so that I can go in to 2019 with a blank slate of unread books on my shelf! So far I’ve been keeping up with the Unread Shelf Challenge 2018 and each of their monthly prompts — See my posts here and here for my January and February updates!

I should declare up front that I did have a slight digression in March and I bought ONE book. However, it was a book about civil engineering which I want to own and keep on my shelf (and plan to read in April) so I’m not feeling too upset about it.

So now on to the March update!

March Challenge: Choose a book to read from your unread shelf. If you don’t finish it by the end of the month, you have to get rid of it.

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WOAH. This was exactly what I needed to get me to read The Confusion of Languages. I had been telling myself I’d read it one day for almost nine months, and simultaneously feeling guilty about my impulsive purchase of this book just because it was Amazon Prime day and books were 20% off.

I bought The Confusion of Languages because I loved the cover design and I hardly ever read books about the Middle East, so this seemed like a good one to start with. And as a former ex-pat the idea of reading about two women who were living the ex-pat life drew me in.

The Confusion of Languages ended up being more mystery than literary fiction, so it turns out all my preconceptions were completely wrong. I ended up enjoying the mystery aspect, being entertained throughout the plot, and found myself needing to know how it ended!

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The Unread Shelf Project definitely helped me get through this one – I considered putting it down a couple times (mostly in the first 50 pages), but pushed through because I didn’t want to give it away without finishing it!

As Whitney at The Unread Shelf pointed out, books lent from friends have this sort of urgency, and the same applies to library books.

What if we applied this logic to all of our unread shelf books? Would it push us to pick them up more quickly? It definitely did for me!

Let me know if you’re participating in this challenge and what you read in March!

The Unread Shelf Project: January/February Update!

Hi All!

I want to jump on and talk about my progress with my Unread Shelf. I set a goal in my first post to read AT LEAST the seven books I photographed, but also hopefully one per month because I have 16 unread books! Here’s a quick recap of the challenges I’ve participated in so far.

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January Challenge: Count up your books and GET READING!

In January, I read Pachinko! (Review here) I absolutely fell in love with it, and my sparked interest in East Asian history lead me to pick up Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick and The Leavers by Lisa Ko. I highly recommend all three!

February Challenge: Consider if you have any/many books on your unread shelf by a person of color and why you’ve let those books stay on your shelf. If you do, read one of those this month!

In February, I read Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo. I received this book through a Christmas book exchange from Chelsey at @hereadsshereads. I really wanted to love it, but honestly, it was a 3 star read for me.

The challenge was explicitly and intentionally not “read a book by a person of color” because that is a short term experience, and not a lesson. Instead the challenge was “consider why that book in particular has been sitting on your shelf”. If you understand your resistance to pick it up, you can try to change that and diversify your reading. After reading Stay with Me and considering this, I would say that I definitely subconsciously stay away (no pun intended) from books written by authors of color, particularly females of color.

In the past few years I’ve read Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, and now, Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo. My issue with the books, and this is not an insult to the author, but an observation of my own habits, is that a lot of foreign words and expressions are used and the assumption seems to be that the reader either understands them or can pick them up in context. I struggle with this and more often than not end up feeling guilty that I don’t understand the context and that it must be due to my own ignorance. It turns the book in to a less enjoyable experience for me than other books.

To counter this, I think I’ll change my tone/selections. I want to read more authors like Roxanne Gay and memoir/social justice styles than historical fictions. On my list:

Have you been participating? Let me know how you’re meeting your goals!

Review: Pachinko

Author: Min Jin Lee
Published: January 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction
New York Times 10 Best Books 2017
FLW Rating: 4/5

Pachinko is a book that I will always remember, maybe not for the story, but for the history lessons I learned from it. This may just be me, but I feel like when it comes to history I tend to stick to similar cultures – American, European, maybe Russian or African at times, but very rarely do I study Asian history. Almost two years ago, I went to the Chinese American museum in New York City, and was blown away at how that population suffered upon immigrating to the US. It’s with this self awareness, that I’m so happy that I read Pachinko and that it is a New York Times Top 10 Notable Book for 2017. But I digress, Pachinko is a wonderful story set in Korea and Japan that spans almost the entire 20th century.

The story begins with a teenage girl, Sunja, who is living in the Bansu peninsula of Korea. The country has been largely oppressed by Japan who is beginning its quest to take over the region, using Korea as a stepping stone to China. Sunja lives with her mother, who, as a recent widow, provides for her family by running an inn full of interesting characters. But as Sunja grows up and moves away from the inn, she is forced to persevere – through hunger and poverty and segregation of many types. Sunja is an inspiring protagonist and as her family grows and moves, you feel yourself growing with them.

My favorite thing about this book, is of course the history, but beyond that I loved the writing. When I finished reading, I felt like I was going to mourn the loss of a dear friend (not a spoiler of the ending, just a reflection of my connection to this book), and so I kept turning the pages to the authors note. What I learned is that Min Jin Lee moved to Japan when her husband accepted a job, and she spent a lot of her time interviewing locals to prepare for this book. She had been working on the story for so many years, and wanted to make sure that it was exactly right. I think this anecdote is the purest example of what makes this book so moving and personal – the time and attention and care for the people it portrays just reflects how genuine Lee’s writing was.

While the plot may come in second to the characters and the history, it moves at the just the right pace, with just enough action to keep you turning the page. I would recommend it to someone looking for a heavier-novel or a lighter-nonfiction.

#theUnreadShelfProject2018

Yes.. I know that a week ago I was pretty anti-bookstagram trends and cliques and giveaways (still kinda against those things…) but can’t deny that I said it here first – I will read books from my own shelf this year!

So when I allowed myself to go back on Bookstagram after a holiday break, I was so happy to see The Unread Shelf Project of 2018. If you haven’t heard of it, head over to @theunreadshelf and check out her highlighted stories! I’ll highlight the challenges so far below

Challenge 1: Count and make a list of all your unread books!

My total is 16! That’s a lot for me to read in a year since I’m sure I’ll also want to read a whole bunch of new books, but I think I can aim for one per month.

Challenge 2: Feature one unread book every day!
Where you got it? Why you got it? Do you still want to read it?

I shared three on my stories, but then thought a post would be even better! So here we go!

My top seven unread books are… drum role please!

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1. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Where I got it
Book of the Month!

Why I got it
I wanted it as soon as it came out as a BOTM (January 2017) but was intimidated by the length, but then, the desire to read it never went away so I added it to my box in December 2017.

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! In fact, as I’m writing this I’m 250 pages in. Can’t wait to get back to it after I finish this post!

2. Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Where I got it
My mom!

Why I got it
This one was also a BOTM that I never hit “Add to my box” on. I saw it from one of my first months in 2016. I saw that my Granny was reading it and she got it from my cousin Patty, who often shares book recs with my mom. I reccomended to my mom that she ask my Granny to borrow the book and she did and loved it — so when she visited me in San Diego she gave it to me to read!

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! It was my idea in the first place right 😉 . Only joking – it actually sounds like a great book and I know a lot of people who loved her other book The Paris Wife.

3. The Confusion of Languages by Siobhan Fallon

Where I got it
Amazon Prime

Why I got it
I saw this on Bookstagram once and thought the plot sounded amazing – and the cover was beautiful! Then it was Amazon Prime Day and books were on sale and I had no self control

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I was nervous because I didn’t like The Alice Network at all and thought I was not a historical person anymore. But reading Pachinko is restoring my faith in historical fiction. I also read Behold The Dreamers in November 2017 and loved it! I think I’m ready to dive back in to the historical fiction pool

4. What Happened by Hillary Clinton

Where I got it
Amazon Prime

Why I got it
Honestly, Bethany at @bethanyslibrary posted excerpts in her instagram story and I loved the writing she was showing! Also my birthday was coming up so….

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I love owning this book and I don’t think I should continuing owning it without reading it – plus I already have a strong indication that I’ll love the writing!

5. Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

How I got it
The @ardentbiblio holiday book exhchange!

Why I got it
Well this one wasn’t my choice, but Chelsey at @hereadsshereads stalked my instagram feed and mailed me a book she thought I’d like! (I think she nailed it!)

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I’m not sure if Chelsey saw on my instagram story, but I actually got Stay with Me from the library but didn’t have time to read it and had to return it! I saw Rachael at @booksforbrunch raving about it no more than a week later and was kicking myself for returning it.

6. Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price

How I got it
This one was a Christmas gift from my sister and brother-in-law. They are the biggest non-fiction readers I know!

Why I got it
Playing through the Whistle is set in Alliquippa, Pennsylvania — on the other side of the river from where I grew up, and a huge football school. A lot of the students who go through Alliquippa High School play for Pitt or even the Pittsburgh Stelers. I am a Pittsburgh football lover so after my sister and brother in law loved it they got it for me (and my dad)!

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! I do love football and Pittsburgh, so this is sounds like a perfect pick for me. It’s not screaming my name at this EXACT minute, but I think I’ll get in to it as the year moves on — maybe once the steelers win the superbowl and I’m missing football in my life!

7. Modern Lovers by Emma Straub

Where I got it
The Denver Airport! 

Why I got it
I finished my book on the way to Denver and still had a train ride and flight back to worry about, so I grabbed a couple books in the airport to read on my trip! 

Do I still want to read it?
Yes! Picking it up and feeling it in my hands still brings me joy – I love the weight of it, and the colors on the cover, and the memory of the weekend before I left New York City going to Books are Magic, which is owned and curated by Emma Straub. I’m waiting for a warm month and a nice vacation to read it! In my mind, I think I’ll read it on my June trip to Savannah, GA for a bachelorette party!

So there we have it — My goal is to read these 7 [and review them all] and post an #unreadshelfproject2018 recap post in the end of the year! Here’s to a great year of reading!