Meeting Fredrik Backman

SPECIAL NOTE: Beartown and Us Against You made such a big impression on me that I’m dedicating a week to them. Check out the other posts here:


I attended my very first author event last weekend (I’ll admit that I have seen David Sedaris live in the past, but I consider that to be more of a show than an author event.) Meeting Backman was an absolute joy. I loved the way he spoke and how authentically himself he was – it lets you know that the amazing voice that you hear in his books is him. Nothing about him was “put on” and although I know speaking in front of large groups of people is his absolute worst nightmare, I am beyond thankful that he does it for us – his readers. Hearing him speak for an hour was incredible and I wanted to highlight some of his thoughts for you.

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Where does he start a book?

The common places, of course, are the story or the characters. Backman’s answer to this was, both but really “the feeling he wants you to leave with as you’re closing the book”. For Beartown and Us Against You the feelings were: Punched in the gut, sad, scared, but also full of hope. He also said he wants you to close the book and think to yourself “I need to talk to someone about this.” I cannot express how strongly I felt each of those emotions. His writing is good.

How does he feel about sports?

This may come as a surprise to some, as it did to me, but Backman actually loves sports. Growing up he played “everything. Except hockey.” What he wanted to do in the Beartown trilogy was many-fold but I want to highlight two in particular.

1 – He wanted to write a book to highlight how important sports are. His wife and his father, he mentioned in particular, don’t enjoy sports and he wanted to write a book to show his wife how important sports are.

2 – He wanted to tackle the issue of damaging sports culture. The way he talked about it was so incredible. He started to describe how the ideal hockey player is tough, and violent, and wins, and doesn’t take no for an answer, and goes out there to fight every day, etc etc. And then he slowly transitioned to “what happens when a girl says no to him? Did we ever have a conversation with him about that? At 17 years old.” The way he ended with “at 17 year old” gave me chills the way his most powerful passages in the book did. It was at that moment that I realized edited or not, this man is the real deal. It also let me know that he doesn’t hate Kevin (from Beartown). It gave me the impression that instead of viewing Kevin as inherently evil, he genuinely felt that sports’ culture had failed him. “Had we ever had a conversation with him about that?” Wow.

Humor

As we all know and love about Backman’s books, particularly the early ones, he uses humor to offset sadness. I particularly loved this in his first book, A Man Called Ove, where every sad moment was brought back to being humorous relatively quickly. While I didn’t notice it as much in Beartown or Us Against You, this was the opening topic of the discussion last weekend. Backman said that as an awkward kid, humor was a way in. “You like people who make you laugh. That’s just normal social behavior.”

But Backman pointed out that it can also be a weapon, and that joking in the locker room as middle school boys and making homophobic jokes is “just a joke” to the people making them, but is destroying the person who’s affected by it.

Also on the topic of humor – Ove is apparently the most common middle aged man’s name in Sweden. It would be like calling the book “A Man Called Mike” in America. Apparently Backman thought it was a funny joke that didn’t translate in to any other language.

Self Doubt

This was a total curveball in the conversation – it was the final question of the night and a woman from the back row asked how he’s overcome any issues with self doubt. I naiively thought that it was a silly question, but then was humbled by Backman’s honestly.

At first he said “I haven’t” and the audience laughed.

Then Backman said he struggles with serious anxiety, and there’s nothing funny about not overcoming self doubt. After events like we had today – which were full of respect and openness – he feels the way he does the morning after a party when he drank too much. “Why did I say that? Did I have to …? I wish I hadn’t… .”

He shared that on his last book tour he called his wife crying in the middle of the night (Swedish time) because he had so much anxiety that he has panic attacks – so this time his wife is traveling with him.

One thing that I found truly remarkable and I have so much respect for him sharing is that he’s in therapy because he doesn’t know how to deal with success. His exact words were “I’m in therapy for not being a failure.” It was amazing to hear someone open up about the topic of mental health and answer the question with so much honesty.

 

There is so much more of this conversation I would LOVE to share with you, but neither you, nor I, have the time to share it all here! I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing a little more from Backman – I know I sure did!

July: What I’m Reading

In June I read SEVEN books! Horray! In order of ranking (reviews linked where available!)

Looking in to July, I have a basic TBR but still a little scattered. (I also just found out I have to study for an engineering licensing test this month so, if I read 3 books I’ll be happy!)

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New Heartbreaking Literary Fiction

If you’re new around here: heartbreaking literary fiction is my jam. I’m not totally sure why I do this to myself but I love a good book that gives me all the feels.

Top Priority: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai. Sarah from Viking Books kindly sent me a copy of The Great Believers so I’m excited to read and review this book. It came highly recommended by Liberty Hardy of Book Riot who said readers of The Hearts Invisble Furies would love it. (Me!) The plot also includes the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and a cult, so ….  sign me up!

On My Radar: A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza. This book has been all over the place recently with many of my favorite bloggers claiming it as their favorite of 2018 so far! I’m dying to read it but hesitating to pick it up until the exact right time!

Books from Favorite Authors

I’m trying to read more books by favorite authors! It’s a great way to explore older titles that I missed in earlier years.

Top Priority: The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah.loved The Great Alone so much that I knew I had to add this to my TBR. My neighbor lent it to me recently and nothing bumps a book to the top of my TBR than having it lent to me by a friend!

On My Radar: Calypso by David Sedaris. David Sedaris is definitely a favorite author of mine. I recently sung his praise on my post about my Top 4 Favorite Authors, so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say that expectations are high for this collection!

ARC’s!

I’m so grateful to the publishers who sent me ARCs and I’m trying to get through each of them by their pub date. I currently have three that come out August 21st, so luckily I have some time!

Top Priority: Boomtown by Sam Anderson. This book sounds downright fantastic — who’s ever heard of a nonfiction about the history of a midwestern city being described as “a fantastical saga”. I cannot wait to learn more! Bonus points: This was listed as a top Galley for August in the NetGalley newsletter and the neighbor mentioned above is from OKC, so I can’t wait to discuss with them!

On My Radar: The Distance Home by Paula Saunders. Since moving out west last year, I’ve been trying to read more books set in the American West — and not just LA or San Francisco. This novel sounded amazing by description, and since recieving it from Random House, it’s been nominated for the Center for Fiction First Novel Award. I’m excited to read this one!

A Book from my Unread Shelf!

I’m waiting for Whitney to announce the challenge for July, but top contenders are Modern Lovers by Emma Straub, Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price, and What Happened by Hillary Clinton! If you want more on the Unread Shelf Challenge, check out my page for that here.

Book of the Month

I skipped this month! None of the choices stuck out to me except for Ghosted which I had already read! You can read my review here if you’re interested 🙂

Let me know what you’re excited to read next month!

Road Trip Across America with These Great Books

Last summer my boyfriend and I road tripped across the US as we moved ourselves and our stuff from New York City to San Diego. Going in to the trip, I wanted to read books about places we were traveling to, but, unfortunately, life got in the way. Over the past year I’ve discovered several books about places we traveled through and I wanted to share them! Since the 4th of July is all about Sea to Shining Sea (and is shockingly coming up next week), I thought now would be a great time to share this list with you.

Road Trip

New York City

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

As someone who lived in New York in their early twenties, I absolutely loved this book! When people ask me if they should read it, my response is always “Do you love New York?” because if you don’t this book is not right for you. Sweetbitter is very New York-y but also a great coming of age novel full of amazing passages. I read this one on my kindle and highlighted so many paragraphs full of beautiful prose. This is the only fiction on this list – I thought it would be best to start with something light!

Synopsis from Goodreads: Newly arrived in New York City, twenty-two-year-old Tess lands a job as a “backwaiter” at a celebrated downtown Manhattan restaurant. What follows is the story of her education: in champagne and cocaine, love and lust, dive bars and fine dining rooms, as she learns to navigate the chaotic, enchanting, punishing life she has chosen. As her appetites awaken—for food and wine, but also for knowledge, experience, and belonging—Tess finds herself helplessly drawn into a darkly alluring love triangle. In Sweetbitter, Stephanie Danler deftly conjures with heart-stopping accuracy the nonstop and high-adrenaline world of the restaurant industry and evokes the infinite possibilities, the unbearable beauty, and the fragility and brutality of being young in New York.

Pittsburgh, PA

Playing Through the Whistle by S.L. Price

If there’s one thing I want you to know about Pittsburgh, as a native Pittsburgher, it’s how much we love our football team. While the Steelers are the life of the city, our football culture actually starts much younger — particularly in the neighborhood of Aliquippa. Playing Through the Whistle is a book about that team and sheds light on a lot of Pittsburgh history!

Synopsis from Goodreads: In the early twentieth century, down the Ohio River from Pittsburgh, the Jones & Laughlin Steel Company built one of the largest mills in the world and a town to go with it. Aliquippa was a beacon and a melting pot, pulling in thousands of families from Europe and the Jim Crow south. The J&L mill, though dirty and dangerous, offered a chance at a better life. It produced the steel that built American cities and won World War II and even became something of a workers’ paradise. But then, in the 1980’s, the steel industry cratered. The mill closed. Crime rose and crack hit big.

But another industry grew in Aliquippa. The town didn’t just make steel; it made elite football players, from Mike Ditka to Ty Law to Darrelle Revis. Pro football was born in Western Pennsylvania, and few places churned out talent like Aliquippa. Despite its troubles—maybe even because of them—Aliquippa became legendary for producing football greatness. A masterpiece of narrative journalism, Playing Through the Whistletells the remarkable story of Aliquippa and through it, the larger history of American industry, sports, and life. Like football, it will make you marvel, wince, cry, and cheer.

Oklahoma City

Boomtown by Sam Anderson

OK, I admit it, Oklahoma City is not directly on the route. When we drove this route, we cut through Kansas City, but I don’t have any books on Kansas City, so I’m going to ask you to take a slight detour on this trip!

Boomtown is the FANTASTICAL SAGA of Oklahoma City. The subtitle highlights “its chaotic founding, its purloined basketball team, and the dream of becoming a world-class metropolis. What more do you need? (This one is out 8/21 from Crown Publishing)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Anderson reports on the amazing revitalization that has occurred over the course of the last 20 years, starting with Oklahoma City’s adoption of the MAPS program; he’ll show how the city’s colorful leaders–its mayor, police chief, and  a few local celebrities–have built up an unassuming city into a thriving urban center, full of artists, musicians, and, of course, sports fans. Anderson will track the dramatic story of how a consortium of business leaders purchased the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics, brought it to Oklahoma City, and renamed the team the Thunder. Sam Presti, the charismatic young GM of the Thunder, has turned the team–which includes Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook–from scrappy underdogs to elite champions in less than five years.

Boulder, Colorado

Where the Water Goes by David Owen

Little known (or maybe this is just me) fact: The Colorado River starts in Boulder, CO. On our trip we spent a day in Boulder, a couple days in Denver, and then continued through western Colorado where the I-70 took us across the Colorado river multiple times.

Where the Water Goes was hands down one of my favorite books of 2017 and a book I reference frequently in daily life in Southern California. There is so much to learn about the way the Colorado River’s water is utilized and how it affects so many facets of society. Owen does a great job highlighting the politics – between the farmers and the city dwellers, between Arizona and California, and between the US and Canada – and also the natural side of taming the waters. I enjoyed this book from start to finish and have such a better understanding of the environment from Colorado to California!

Synopsis from Goodreads: The Colorado River is a crucial resource for a surprisingly large part of the United States, and every gallon that flows down it is owned or claimed by someone. David Owen traces all that water from the Colorado’s headwaters to its parched terminus, once a verdant wetland but now a million-acre desert. He takes readers on an adventure downriver, along a labyrinth of waterways, reservoirs, power plants, farms, fracking sites, ghost towns, and RV parks, to the spot near the U.S.–Mexico border where the river runs dry. 

Water problems in the western United States can seem tantalizingly easy to solve: just turn off the fountains at the Bellagio, stop selling hay to China, ban golf, cut down the almond trees, and kill all the lawyers. But a closer look reveals a vast man-made ecosystem that is far more complex and more interesting than the headlines let on.

The Hoover Dam

The Profiteers by Sally Denton

While we’re on the topic of the Colorado River, why not make a stop at the Hoover Dam? The Hoover Dam is still one of the largest infrastructure projects in US History and while I may have picked this book up for the engineering aspect, I ended up learning so much about international relations. In my humble opinion, this book is a must read for all Americans.

Synopsis from Goodreads: The tale of the Bechtel family dynasty is a classic American business story. It begins with Warren A. “Dad” Bechtel, who led a consortium that constructed the Hoover Dam. From that auspicious start, the family and its eponymous company would go on to “build the world,” from the construction of airports in Hong Kong and Doha, to pipelines and tunnels in Alaska and Europe, to mining and energy operations around the globe.

Today Bechtel is one of the largest privately held corporations in the world, enriched and empowered by a long history of government contracts and the privatization of public works, made possible by an unprecedented revolving door between its San Francisco headquarters and Washington. Bechtel executives John McCone, Caspar Weinberger, and George P. Shultz segued from leadership at the company to positions as Director of the CIA, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State, respectively.

 Los Angeles

The Mirage Factory by Gary Krist

YOU MADE IT! The Pacific Ocean! Your sentiment is not unlike that of the early pioneers reaching Los Angeles for the first time 🙂 … which leads us to our last book, The Mirage Factory. This book tells the history of LA, predominantly from 1900 – 1920, by following the three pioneers who shaped LA in to what is today. Mulholland brought water to LA through a series of viaducts, Griffith brought the movie industry, and Aimee Semple McPherson brought the missionaries and created the identity of LA as a “spiritual” city. There is so much to learn here and amazing that it all happened in the same few decades! This book is a must if you’ve ever spent some time in LA — or even just dreamed of it!

Synopsis from Goodreads: Little more than a century ago, the southern coast of California was sleepy desert farmland. Then from it, nearly overnight, emerged one of the world’s largest and most iconic cities. The birth and evolution of Los Angeles–its seemingly impossible, meteoric rise–can be attributed largely to three ingenious but deeply flawed people. D.W. Griffith, the early film pioneer who first conceived of feature-length movies, gave Hollywood its industry. Aimee Semple McPherson, a young evangelist and radio preacher, infused the city with its spiritual identity as a hub for reinvention. And William Mulholland, an Irish immigrant turned ditch-digger turned autodidactic engineer, would design the massive aqueduct that made survival in the harsh climate feasible.

But while Mulholland, Griffith, and Semple McPherson were all masters of their craft, each would self-destruct in spectacular fashion. D.W. Griffith, led by his ballooning ego, would go on to produce a string of commercial failures; Semple McPherson would be crucified in the tabloids for fabricating an account of her own kidnapping; and a dam designed by Mulholland would fail just hours after he gave it a safety inspection.

Spanning from 1904 to 1930, The Mirage Factory is the enthralling tale of an improbable city and the people who willed it into existence by pushing the limits of human engineering and peddling fantasies.

 I hope you liked this trip across the US! And for my US readers, enjoy the holiday next week!

Book Blogger Tag

I was tagged by Elissa at Elissa Reads to participate in this challenge! I’m due for a meet-the-book-blogger post, so I thought this could be a good introduction to me and my blog writing process!

Note: This form was created by Jamie @ ALittleSliceofJamie

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1. Where do you typically write your blog posts?

At my desk! One of the reason’s I’ve been able to post more recently, is because I finally set up a desk in my house, which has been great for sitting down and pulling my thoughts together.

2. How long does it take you to write a book review?

A long time. I never time it because that would stress me out but it’s not very quick. I can normally get my first round of thoughts down in 10-15 minutes but then its going back, refining my word choices, and checking for typos that takes a long time. I care a lot about the reader getting the information and emotional understanding they need, so I try to make sure I’m choosing words with the right connotations.

3. When did you start your book blog?

February 2017! I was feeling unsatisfied with my engineering life – not enough creativity! – and also felt like I was just reading books and forgetting them. Having a place to write creatively and process the books I was reading felt like a good idea.

4. What’s the worst thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

I don’t think there is one. Maybe overcommiting to reading as a hobby, but is that really such a bad thing? I don’t put too much pressure on myself to write, so it’s just enjoyable so far.

5. What is the best thing about having a book blog in your opinion?

First and foremost – the interaction with all of you! If it wasn’t the interaction, I’d have a reading journal 😉

I also enjoy the creative process of writing reviews. I typically ask myself “What was the best part of this book? Why would I read it? What would I want to know before? How did this book make me feel?” I often find that some book reviews don’t set up the intrigue for the future reader and I try to to do that. The best compliment I can receive is that someone started reading a book because of my review!

6. What blog post have you had the most fun writing so far?

I’ve been enjoying writing reviews recently! Emma in the Night and Beartown were really fun for me to write about.

7. What is your favorite type of blog post to write?

Review posts are great! I enjoy discussion posts, but often worry I don’t have the authority to make generalizations and give advice – if you’re reading my blog you probably already have some bookish opinions of your own!

8. When do you typically write?

When I have free time! Sometimes a Tuesday, sometimes a Saturday. There’s no real rhyme or reason. Mostly when I’m between books and deciding what to read next.

9. How do you write your book reviews? With a cup of coffee or tea? With Netflix? Cuddled up with your fur baby?

Typically with a can of La Croix at my desk. No music. I can’t think about words while music is on. If TV is on it needs to be something I’m not really watching, like overly long reality TV shows – Hello The Bachelor and The Voice.

10. When do you write your book reviews? Right after finishing the book? Two weeks after finishing the book?

I try to keep it within a week or two but definitely less than three weeks. If it goes past three weeks, it’s not getting written. However, I really like having time to process my thoughts before I sit down and write. That way it’s more helpful and less reactionary.

11. How often do you post?

Aiming for twice a week! I’ve been doing well over the last month – we’ll see how that translates in to a busy summer!

I tag anyone who’s interested in participating! I don’t like tags because they feel cliquey, but in the interest of sharing the love, check out a couple people I’ve been interacting with recently:  Anne from I’ve Read This, Laila from Big Reading Life

I like big books..

.. and I cannot lie. 🙂

Yesterday on my instagram feed, my friend Sonja @readblend had a really interesting post about how she struggles with long books and was asking for any advice. I gave her my two cents, and it made me think about how much I actually love long books.

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Some of my favorite long books of the past few years!

My favorite style of reading – a genre I defined myself so may or may not be real – is immersive. Whether its a literary fiction, non fiction, or even a mystery/thriller I just love to feel like I traveled to another place in the world and met a whole group of new people and had the chance to get to know them. A good book will do that and I’ve noticed that typically longer books get the chance to because of the amount of time they have to build the world and develop the characters.

I’m current working through The Great Alone and I am so obsessed. While I may not have left my apartment for a substantial period this weekend, I’m so tempted to tell anyone I talk to tomorrow that I traveled to the Alaskan wilderness, survived my first Alaskan winter (which trust me, I know, is brutal), and fought to save a family from an abusive and alcoholic father (I’m not sure if I succeeded yet — TBD). When you get a good book like that, I love to go all in and not worry about the length – and actually savor that it doesn’t have to be over yet.

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So good! This is pretty much what my weekend looked like.

And in case you’re struggling with long books, and my inspirational speech wasn’t enough, here are a few of the strategies that have helped me read more long books:

  • Don’t plan your TBRs. You won’t be so worried about the exact date that you finish a book if you don’t have another 7 you need to get to before June 1st.
  • Read for long periods of time when you do read. I like to look 50 pages ahead and see if there’s a chapter ending around roughly page 250. Then I’ll say “ok I’ll read until Chapter 18.” It makes the page numbers less relevant and also lets me have a finite stopping point. And if you read a 500 pages book in 50 page increments its pretty much the same as reading a 300 pages book in 30 page increments.
  • Read it quickly! Part of the “dragging” of long books is that sometimes you’re intimidated to sit down with it so you only pick it up every few days and then it drags because you’re missing the urgency and excitement. I tend to fly through long books because I read them when I know I’ll have time to dedicate to it and feel fully immersed — and once I’m in to it, there’s no putting it down!

And finally – I commented a few of my thoughts on Sonja’s thoughts and THE AUTHOR OF MY NEXT ANTICIPATED LONG BOOK liked my comment and commented too! So here’s one more piece of advice from Cherise Wolas, the author or The Ressurection of Joan Ashby:

I just fall into the world of the novel and immerse myself in the journey. And for me it’s always about the journey, never about getting to the end in a rush

So there you have it! Let me know how you feel about long books, and if you have any favorites ❤

Discussion Post: Divorce Diaries

Last night, I was driving home, listening to NPR on the radio, and I heard an oddly familiar story – It was a story about the social status of men and women when a Nigerian couple gets a divorce.  In most cases, the man maintains his social status, while the woman has to start her entire adult life over again and typically moves back to living with her parents.

This reminded me of two recent books I read about marriages in Africa – both share the similar trend but are entirely different stories as well.

Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo

In Stay with Me, Yejide and Akin live in Nigeria and their community practices polygamy, where men can take multiple wives. Akin and Yejide decide to remain monogamous, until they experience fertility problems and Akin succumbs to social pressure to take another wife. The book shows the aftermath of the decision and becomes a portait of marriage in Nigeria. At the time of my review, I gave the book 3.5 out of 5 stars, but am now reconsidering based on how long the story has remained with me.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Circling the Sun takes place in Kenya and tells the story of British immigrants/settlers in the Colony. When Beryl, the protagonist, is 16 years olds, she gets married, not because she wants to, but because she has an opportunity to marry a man with status who wants to marry her. Her father encourages her to take the opportunity rather than become an old, unmarried woman in their town. The relationship doesn’t work out for Beryl, and the divorce becomes an obstacle that is hard for Beryl to overcome. She has to consider that there aren’t jobs available for females, and that even if she had a job it would be unlikely that she could support herself on her salary. For a while, it feels like the only option is for her to move back in with her father, but of course that is not ideal. I will say that in this case, the man is worried about what the divorce will do to his social standing, however he is never concerned for his livelihood or his financial independence.

I won’t tell anymore because I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it struck me that each of these stories occurs in a similar setting, and handle similar issues. If you’re interested in the culture of marriage in other societies, I would definitely check these two out. (Also funny to note, these are both books I read for The Unread Shelf Project!)

In summary:

What has this taught me? That I have so much more to learn! I don’t mean to generalize anything and recognize that Africa is a huge continent with so many diverse cultures, but I couldn’t help but notice that this was a theme in recent African literature and will be looking out for this theme in future articles and stories. Have anything to teach me or similar book recommendations? PLEASE DO!

Anticipated May Releases!

I’ll be honest, despite having this book blog and checking #bookstagram every day, I don’t always know about upcoming releases before the month starts — and then thanks to Book of The Month, I have five new books to look up and obsess over. This applies particularly to debut novels – for better or worse, I never really know about those. However next month THREE of my favorite authors have new books coming out and I’m excited to read all of them!

Calypso by David Sedaris
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Genre: Humor/Satire

David Sedaris is one of my favorite writers. He’s hilarious and inappropriate without being over the top. I love hearing his pieces on This American Life and reading all of his collections – Naked, Me Talk Pretty One Day, and Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. This new book is his first essay collection in five years and if it’s not a Book of the Month selection, I will definitely be purchasing this collection!

Synopsis from Goodreads: “If you’ve ever laughed your way through David Sedaris’s cheerfully misanthropic stories, you might think you know what you’re getting with Calypso. You’d be wrong.

When he buys a beach house on the Carolina coast, Sedaris envisions long, relaxing vacations spent playing board games and lounging in the sun with those he loves most. And life at the Sea Section, as he names the vacation home, is exactly as idyllic as he imagined, except for one tiny, vexing realization: it’s impossible to take a vacation from yourself.

With Calypso, Sedaris sets his formidable powers of observation toward middle age and mortality. Make no mistake: these stories are very, very funny-it’s a book that can make you laugh ’til you snort, the way only family can. Sedaris’s powers of observation have never been sharper, and his ability to shock readers into laughter unparalleled. But much of the comedy here is born out of that vertiginous moment when your own body betrays you and you realize that the story of your life is made up of more past than future.

This is beach reading for people who detest beaches, required reading for those who loathe small talk and love a good tumor joke. Calypso is simultaneously Sedaris’s darkest and warmest book yet-and it just might be his very best.”

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain
Release Date: May 1, 2018
Genre: Historical Fiction

Paula McLain’s first two books are some of those books, that get a reaction every time they are mentioned. “Oh I loved that one!” “One of my favorites ever!” are just a couple of the comments left anyime I post a photo of Circling the Sun on my instagram feed, and The Paris Wife, McLain’s first novel, gets the same reaction when I mention it too. When an author has two hits, you definitely want to pick up their third novel, and I can’t wait to get my hands on a copy of Love and Ruin!

Synopsis from  Goodreads: “In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in devastating conflict. She also finds herself unexpectedly—and uncontrollably—falling in love with Hemingway, a man already on his way to becoming a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the tumultuous backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China, Key West, and especially Cuba, where Martha and Ernest make their home, their relationship and professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that will force her to break his heart, and her own.”

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware
Release Date: May 29, 2018
Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Ruth Ware is a magician. Each of her books creates so much suspense. The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark Dark Wood blew me away with how they made me feel. Her latest, The Lying Game made me feel in suspense, but in an entirely different way! I can’t wait to read her fourth (!!) book and see where she takes us this time!

Synopsis on Goodreads: “On a day that begins like any other, Hal receives a mysterious letter bequeathing her a substantial inheritance. She realizes very quickly that the letter was sent to the wrong person—but also that the cold-reading skills she’s honed as a tarot card reader might help her claim the money.

Soon, Hal finds herself at the funeral of the deceased…where it dawns on her that there is something very, very wrong about this strange situation and the inheritance at the center of it.

Full of spellbinding menace and told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, this is an unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.”

 

12 Days of Bookstagram! (Recap)

I recently participated in the 12 Days of Bookstagram hosted by Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy, and it was a really fun challenge to join in on! I thought 12 days was long enough to feel challenged without getting bored, and the variety of prompts pushed me out of my comfort zone, which is fun to do sometimes as a budding bookstagrammer!

The results are in and I wanted to share my photos by style and how I feel about them going forward on my feed!

1. The Single Book

Posting a photo of a single book is my favorite style! I like to set up the backgrounds to help tell my story, but let the cover steal the show. I find it important to show my followers the whole cover, including the author so they could look up the book if my caption piques their interest. For five of the twelve days I was able to use my personal style, which I was happy about!

2. Multiple Books!

I always love a good book stack photo – and so do the people on bookstagram. I used these photos for the days Shelfie and Book Stack and got a positive response to both photos! I think bookstacks give the viewer extra chances to connect with one of the books in the photo – especially in the case of the thriller stack, a lot of bookstagrammers were excitedly commenting about which book they loved and asking about others they hadn’t read yet.  I love when posts get a lot of interaction so book stack day was one of my favorites!

3. House photos!

I had so much fun taking photos of my apartment during this challenge! I don’t usually share photos of my house, mostly for the reason that this is a book account and not an interior design blog! I love following blogs like Apartment Therapy, and as much as I love my space, it doesn’t totally feel instaworthy. That being said, I loved the excuse to post pictures of my home because my space does interact with my reading life and it makes me so happy. I posted these photos for Bibliophile Life, My Reading Spot, and On My Nightstand day. These photos got less likes than my typical style, but it was fun to put them out there and have people say that they enjoyed seeing my space!

4. Busy Busy

My two least favorite days of this challenge were Bookstore and Flat Lay. These aren’t styles that I typically share on my account, because to me they end up looking busy. There are people on #bookstagram who totally nail this style, but they just don’t work for me – and that’s ok! At the end of the day this is my account and I can do what I want 🙂 .

 

I hope you enjoyed reviewing the 12 days of bookstagram with me! Let me know if you have a favorite style of book photo!

Let’s Talk Secret History and Still Life

If there are two books that I read exclusively because I saw them over and over again on #bookstagram, Secret History and Still Life are them.

Secret History by Donna Tartt is a murder novel (not a murder mystery because there isn’t really a big reveal in the end) about a group of students who commit a murder and have to live the rest of their lives with that fact. The book gave me huge existential vibes because the students are part of a small select group who are studying greek mythology and the beginning of the book focuses strongly on their work. I really enjoyed this aspect and thought it brought so much depth to the book. Months after reading it, I still find myself repeating ONE quote to myself and thinking how interesting it is that I can’t clearly remember the ending, but this quote won’t seem to leave my mind.

“We think we have many desires, but in fact we have only one. What is it?”

“To live,” said Camilla.

“To live forever,” said Bunny, chin cupped in palm.

I don’t know why, but of every line in the 550 page novel, I cannot shake that line. It just rings true.

Months later I picked up Still Life by Louise Penny and was shocked at how much it brought me back to The Secret History. I expected Louise Penny’s writing to remind me of Tana French, because they are both so beloved and as a result often compared. However, Still Life gave me major existential vibes with passages like this,

“Something drove them to ask for help and to look deep inside themselves. And the catalyst was often change and loss.”

“Are they the same thing?”

“For someone not well skilled at adapting they can be”

“Loss of control?”

“That’s a huge one, of course. Most of us are great with change, as long as it was our idea. But change imposed from the outside can send some people in to a tailspin. I think Brother Albert hit it on the head. Life is loss. But out of that, as the book stresses, comes freedom. If we can accept that nothing is permanent, and change is inevitable, if we can adapt, then we’re going to be happier people.”

Overall, I found that the Still Life had more character development, longer chapters, and more existentialism than a typical thriller, and I was really pleasantly surprised with the way the book ran.

If you’ve read either of these, let me know if you agree with me!

How to Read About Conflict in Foreign Countries

This year (and it’s only been 2.5 months!) I read two books that completely blew my mind. I relearned the fundamental fact that “I don’t know what I don’t know.”

The first of those books was Pachinko by Min Jin Lee, a fictional memoir about the Japanese occupation of Korea throughout the 20th century. The second was Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick, a non-fiction account of “ordinary lives” in North Korea. I learned SO much.

I found out about Nothing to Envy on an Instagram post, suggesting that someone participating in the #harpiesreadtheworld reading challenge may use this for the category of Read a Book About A Country the US is in Conflict With. Which got me thinking, What do I look for in a book, if I want to learn about another country and their history?

I’ve learned through past reading experiences that when I’m reading about a place I don’t know too much about, I really love feeling like 1) the book is well researched, 2) the book is fully set in reality, and 3) I need significant context to feel like I understand the entire story.

Pachinko and Nothing to Envy squarely worked for me and while they covered both genres of fiction, and non-fiction, I learned so much from both of them.

To illustrate, some recent books that have been popular but hasn’t worked for me are Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Both books had moments of magical realism in them, that lost me, made me feel like I wasn’t learning because the story wasn’t real. And speaking of context, Stay with Me by Ayobami Adebayo and The Alice Network didn’t dive quite deep enough for me or provide me with enough information that I can feel like I really learned a lot.

So, getting back to the positives, here are books that I would recommend to get serious context in to conflict in other countries.

Happy reading – and happy learning!