Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Top Reads for 2009

I read 57 books for fun this year (two of which I have not yet reviewed here), down from the 67 I read in 2008. That's quite a drop, but I will try not to be too hard on myself. =D

Here's a list of my top reads of the year:

Book that made me the most thoughtful: Seeking Peace by Mary Pipher

Book that touched my heart: The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

Most spiritually encouraging: Home Tonight by Henri Nouwen

Most fun reading experience: The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

Most practical and grounding: Miss Manners of Painfully Proper Weddings by Judith Martin

Happy new year! I hope that 2010 brings you much joy, good health, and plenty of excellent books to read!

PS: If you don't mind sharing, I'd love to hear which books were your favorites in 2009.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Spiced by Dalia Jurgensen

The full title of this book is - Spiced: A pastry chef's true stories of trials by fire, after-hours exploits, and what really goes on in the kitchen.

This is a memoir of the author's experience making a career change from an office job into the culinary world. She goes to culinary school and rises through the ranks of several prestigious restaurants as a pastry chef.

This was a fun, easy read, but it seemed like there was something missing. Culinary school seemed way easier than I'm thinking it is, unless the author was extremely capable and talented as a beginner. She chronicles some challenges, mostly being surrounded by a lot of males in the restaurant industry. But still, her whole journey seemed pretty easy so that makes me wonder if there's stuff that's missing. Overall though, it was an enjoyable read.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Waiting for Normal by Leslie Connor

" when you know what's gonna happen next. Not exactly what, because probably nobody gets that. But normal is being able to count on certain things." --Addie

This book is a young adult book about Addie, a junior higher who lives with her mom in a trailer. Addie's half-sisters live with her step-dad (who is no longer married to Addie's mom). Addie's mom is gone for days at a time and Addie has to take care of herself.

This story is about resilience and family. It's sweet and heartfelt - I enjoyed it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

A Book List for a Friend

I received this comment from my friend, David. I grew up with David. He has an amazing memory for song lyrics. I remember us as young kids in his backyard going down the slide while he sang "Surfin' USA" by the Beach Boys.

This is what he wrote:
Hey E!

Three years ago, I gave up soda for a year.
Two years ago, I gave up ice cream for a year.
Last year, I gave up chocolate and chips for a year.
This coming year, I decided to give up giving up stuff and add something.

I have decided to read one book a month for 2010 (I don't read unless absolutely necessary like for a class or something...and even then I don't read the whole thing.) Out of the books you've read, which do you think I'd like?


Yay! I love it when people decide to read more. And now he can drink soda AND eat ice cream, chocolate, and chips while reading.

My response:

Hi David,

Here are my recommendations. I kept a couple of things in mind while choosing the books - since you're not a big fan of reading, I chose books that are pretty easy, accessible, and fun. Also, to keep you on track for one book per month, I chose books that aren't that long. Click on each title for my review and a description of the book. Let me know how it goes.

My Favorite Young Adult/Kid Books:
-Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo
-Kimchi and Calamari by Rose Kent
-Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli

Books About Food:
-The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Finn
-Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver (this one is a bit longer)
-How Starbucks Saved My Life by Michael Gates Gill

-The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith
-The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
-Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

-Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Seeking Peace by Mary Pipher

I've mentioned this before on this blog: When a book I read is either really good or really bad, I use very few words and just tell you that directly.

When a book is bad, it's not worth my time to describe it all to you. It's enough to tell you to: Don't read this book.

When a book is really good, sometimes there are no words to even describe how good it really is, you just need to find out for yourself. So I write: Read this book.

This is a READ THIS BOOK post.

This book will most likely make it onto my Top Ten Good Reads of 2009.

A quote:

"...adults who have never suffered are shallow and well, insufferable.
Because they haven't experienced much pain, they haven't felt motivated to truly explore themselves and their relationships to the world." --Mary Pipher

Three books by Richard Paul Evans

Some days it's nice to curl up with a blanket (or cat) and read a book all the way through. Let me show you what happened.

I picked this one up from the library and boom! I was hooked. I read the whole book in a 24-hour period.

It's not literature. It's just easy reading.

I went to the library and picked up some more by the same author.

Boom, I read through this one.

I read this one, too.

But then I got to this one. I read 1/4 of it and closed it. I placed it in my "To return to Library" bag.
I had had enough. Enough of the predictable characters and predictable storyline. Enough of Richard Paul Evans' books.
But for the time that it lasted, it was fun.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Please Excuse My Daughter by Julie Klam

This is a memoir about the author's privileged life growing up in New York as the daughter of a mom who cared more about shopping and gossip than her daughter's education.

Once she reaches adulthood, she is faced with the real problems that come along with...well, adulthood.

I had little, ah, make that NO sympathy for the author - she complains about her three week honeymoon to Italy, comparing it to a POW's experience in Vietnam. Really?

The ending and what the author learns about herself is mildly redeeming, but just mildly so.

She's a good writer, but the complaining became rather tiresome.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Leaving Church by Barbara Brown Taylor

This is a re-read. You can read my review from 2007 here.

I just had a feeling that I needed to read this book again.

A quote I jotted down:

"What made any of us think that the place we are trying to reach is far, far ahead of us somewhere and that the only way to get there is to run until we drop?"

--Barbara Brown Taylor

Thank you!

Thank you to Kjersti for giving my blog a "Super Cute" award! I am honored!
And thanks to you all who read my blog. I hope I've recommended some good books and saved you from some bad ones.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

I only blog about books that I've completed. But you should know that for every four or five books that I review here, there is at least one book that I tried to read and decided not to finish. It's a good thing I borrow books from the library instead of buying them.

How do I decide if I'm going to finish a book? As a general rule, I read the first 50 pages before I decide. And at any point, I stop reading if any of the following are true:

-I don't look forward to reading the book.
-I keep checking to see how many pages are left.
-The author doesn't use quotation marks when people are speaking.

This is a book that I didn't finish. I was so looking forward to reading it because I'm a Barbara Kingsolver fan. It was flat and not at all up to what I expect from Kingsolver. It really didn't even seem like it was Kingsolver's writing.

So after reading 250 of the 500 pages (I was really waiting for it to get better!), I put it down and returned it to the library. I pre-ordered it to give to my sister as a birthday present, but the book was so terrible that I unwrapped it, and returned it to Amazon.

All I can say about this book is: What happened, Barbara???

Friday, November 6, 2009

Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

I've already read and reviewed four of Sarah Dessen books including The Truth About Forever, Lock and Key, Just Listen, That Summer. And three of these four reviews started out with: "Sarah Dessen is one of my favorite authors." So it is with mixed feelings that I write this review of her latest, Along for the Ride.

Dessen still is one of my favorite authors and I was very eager to read her newest book. However, about fifty pages into it, I felt disappointed because it seems like Dessen has fallen into a rut. The plots are so formulaic and predictable now (although it worked for me in the first several books of hers that I read): teenage girl has troubles with her family, moves to a new location, meets an unlikely friend in oddball boy, boy and girl become romantically involved while at the same time girl understands something more about herself and her situation.

So I enjoyed reading this book (I read it in two days), but I'm hoping that in Dessen's next book, she'll hop out of this mold and give us something new.

From her book:
"It was terrible and awful when someone left you. You could move on, do the best you could, ending was an ending. No matter how many pages of sentences and paragraphs of great stories led up to it, it would always have the last word."

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Maples Stories by John Updike

In 1956, John Updike published a short story featuring the Maples, a married couple. In the 20 years following, Updike returned to the couple time and time again, writing short stories that traced the Maples' marriage, parenting, and eventual divorce.

The Maples Stories is the collection of all of these stories. These stories definitely held my attention, but there were some painful moments, especially toward the end.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

A re-read. Because sometimes you just gotta read Harry Potter again.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout

This is a collection of short stories. I usually don't read short stories.

What made me pick this one up? The title character, Olive, is the common thread throughout all of the stories. I like it when a character from one story shows up in another. It lets me see a different side of the character.

There are 13 short stories that all take place in a small town in Maine. In each story, Olive is either the main character or makes an appearance.

I thought the concept of having Olive in all of the stories would be neat. But the problem was that I never really took a liking to Olive. So this book was just okay for me.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hungry: A Mother and Daughter Fight Anorexia by Sheila and Lisa Himmel

Sheila Himmel was the restaurant reviewer for the local paper while I was growing up, so I am familiar with seeing her name and reading her writing.

She wrote this book with her daughter, who struggled with anorexia and bulimia and is now in recovery. They talk about how Sheila's job required her to eat out often in order to write reviews, and how Lisa was starving herself at home. Sheila and Lisa take turns writing and it actually flows quite well. They give us a picture of what an eating disorder looks like, how much it affects the family, and how difficult recovery is.

This would be a great book for daughters and their parents to read and talk about, and also a good resource for families dealing with a daughter/son/sibling with an eating disorder.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides

Five sisters commit suicide and in this book, a group of neighborhood boys try to understand exactly what led all of the girls to the decision to kill themselves.

A page-turner, but kinda weird. I liked Middlesex (by the same author) better.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa

This is the story of a housekeeper who works for a math professor who, due to a brain injury, has only 80 minutes of memory.

I've only read a handful of books in my life that have made me cry at the end, and this is one of them. A tender, sweet story. Highly recommended.

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See

This book is about two sisters living the high life in Shanghai until they discover that their father has lost all of the family's money. The father sells his daughters as brides to two brothers living in the US.

This book was just okay - not great, but not really bad either. The story was predictable and a lot of details seemed to be missing. It just seemed flat and lacking something.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Sometimes my reviews are really simple: either "Read this book" or "Don't read this book."

This one is gonna be a simple review: Read this book.

It has some sketchy parts near the end and the title is definitely not gonna get this Content Warning off of my blog, but this book provided one of the most satisfying reading experiences of 2009 for me so far.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Saving Zoe by Alyson Noel

Family Reunion was last weekend. We had our first annual Book Swap. It was a lot of fun! Relatives of all ages brought books that they wanted to trade and we put them all out on a table. People browsed and picked up any books that looked interesting to them.

This is one of the books I picked up. One of my teenage cousins must have brought it since it's in that young adult genre. It's about freshman, Echo, and the year after her sister, Zoe, is brutally murdered. Echo reads through her sister's diary and gains a more complete picture of what led up to Zoe's death. This is a book for all teenage girls to read who think it's cool to meet people online and who post sketchy pictures of themselves. It's not cool. It can actually be quite dangerous.

I read this book in a couple of days. It reads like a mystery since you don't really know what happened to Zoe until the very end.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo

When I found out that Richard Russo had a new book out, I immediately went online to reserve it at the library. I had to wait a couple of weeks and when I received an email notification saying that it was ready for pick-up, I went to the library that morning to check it out.

I finished reading the book about 36 hours later.

It was almost excellent. Rich in detail, believable characters, and a very good story, but the ending was a bit weak. However, it was still a very enjoyable reading experience, one that ended too soon.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Shooting Star by Wallace Stegner

Back in September 2007, I was on a Wallace Stegner kick and read a bunch of his books. A couple of weeks ago, I re-visited Stegner and found one that I hadn't read yet.

I wished I hadn't read it. But no, I read every single of the 433 pages...alas, not one of my best decisions as of late.

With good books, I don't want it to end. With this book, I could not wait for it to end. It was bad. I disliked the main character throughout the whole book.

Don't read this book.

If you want to read some Wallace Stegner, here are some that I've already reviewed and would recommend (read Angle of Repose!).

Finding the Love of Your Life: Ten Principles For Choosing the Right Marriage Partner by Neil Clark Warren

The author of this book, Neil Clark Warren, might sound familiar to you because he's the founder of the popular website. But before he did that, he wrote lots of books. His book, Finding Contentment, greatly influenced my own life and I try to read it once a year.

I first came across this book, Finding the Love of Your Life, back in the 90s when I was visiting a friend and stayed in the guest bedroom. I flipped through the book and found it to be pretty interesting, especially since dating seemed like a mystery to me. Well, I think dating still does kinda seem like a mystery. I didn't have time to read the whole book that night, so I skimmed some sections.

When I saw the book a couple of months ago at a booksale, I picked it up so I could finally read it cover to cover.

Warren describes choosing a spouse as "life's single most important challenge." This is what he writes: "Your choice of whom to marry is more crucial than everything else combined that you will ever do to make your marriage succeed...Most of the failed marriages I have encountered were in trouble the day they began. The two people involved simply chose the wrong person to marry."

He goes through ten principles for choosing a spouse, most notably: Get yourself healthy before you get married. And Master the art of intimacy in which Warren writes: "Most individuals don't have time to figure out what's really going on inside of themselves - let alone take time to share it with others."

This is a great book, full of good things to think about in terms of emotional health and the dating process. I'm gonna keep it in my library so that I can pass it on to any of my single friends who want to read about dating. Or, if you're one of those single friends and would like to read it, let me know and I'll send it to you.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Dispatches from the Edge: A Memoir of War, Disasters, and Survival by Anderson Cooper

This is by Anderson Cooper of CNN fame. He recalls his experiences covering various disasters such as the 2005 tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, and Somalia. He interweaves some, but not much, of his own personal life and the losses and grief he deals with himself. He shows his compassion and humanity through his descriptions and seems pretty honest and aware of his own reactions to what he sees and hears.

I enjoyed this book, especially the section on Hurricane Katrina. The writing was easy to read, but some of what Cooper writes about was not so easy to read. I probably wouldn't buy this book, but I recommend reading it if you can check it out from the library. Or you can borrow my copy.

What Cooper writes about Katrina:
"Here [in the United States], you grow up believing there's a safety net, that things can never completely fall apart. Katrina showed us all that's not true."

Monday, August 24, 2009

Standing in the Rainbow by Fannie Flagg

I finished reading this book by flashlight inside a tent while camping in Yosemite. It's a nice way to finish a book.

I've reviewed a couple of other Fannie Flagg books already, including Can't Wait to Get to Heaven and A Redbird Christmas. This book is like the others - enjoyable, funny, and sweet. The characters are quirky but real with their own wounds and challenges. I became quite fond of some of them. Overall, an entertaining read.

Monday, August 17, 2009

A Neat Bookshelf

Thanks to faithful reader, Emily, for sending in this picture of a wonderful bookshelf!

Friday, August 14, 2009

I have not been reading.

I have not posted any new books for awhile for one very good reason: I haven't finished any lately! This is a source of frustration to me. I started a new internship about 2 months ago and man, that has really cut into my reading time. So I am determined to be more intentional about Self-Care and making more time to read. So hopefully, I'll have some more reviews up here shortly.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Life at Work: The Joy of Discovering What You Were Born to Do by Thomas Moore

Eh. You can skip this one. Do/read something else to figure out what you were born to do.

Home Tonight by Henri Nouwen

The subtitle is: "Further Reflections on The Parable of the Prodigal Son - A Guide to Finding Your Spiritual Home."

So if you haven't read Nouwen's Return of the Prodigal Son, read that book first. That book is one that I will always keep in my library. I even loan it out hesistantly because it is that precious (and it's expensive). I let my mom borrow it and she still has it after a year or so. Not because she hasn't read it or has forgotten about it, but because she is continually reading it.

This book is about finding our true home in God. This is a book that I will add to my own library and I've already given it as a gift.

Some quotes:

"We are not what we do. We are not what we have. We are not what others think of us. Coming home is claiming the truth. I am the beloved child of a loving creator. We no longer have to beg permission from the world to exist." --Henri Nouwen

"There's nothing as painful as being rejected, but if it is lived against the background of the first love, it becomes possible to survive." --Henri Nouwen

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bleachers by John Grisham

I just went to a Friends of the Library book sale, the bag sale part where you buy a brown bag for $4 and fill it with as many books as you want. Boomer and I bought two bags and got about 40 books, including one HUGE dictionary that is now sitting on my dictionary stand. It looks so official.

This is another book that made it into one of the brown bags. A fast, feel-good read by John Grisham about former high school football players gathering to pay their last respects to a beloved/hated coach. Nothing too fancy or super great. It's more like a short story.

I think I enjoyed it because I've been watching Season One of Friday Night Lights (also recommended!), so I have high school football on the brain.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Empress of One by Faith Sullivan

In my recent review of The Cape Ann, I wrote that "this is my most favorite book so far in 2009." Which is why I was so excited to get my hands on this book which is the sequel.

What a disappointment. The story and characters were both flat. This book did not live up to the first at all. I actually wish that I hadn't read it and could keep the story in my head as it ended in the first book.

Monday, July 6, 2009

An Altar in the World by Barbara Brown Taylor

During my last library visit, I felt so lucky. Or blessed. I found a handful of new books by my favorite writers. As I've sat on my bed reading during the last week, I've been surrounded by these great books. It is a really happy feeling for me.

This was one of those books. It's about how we find the sacred in the ordinary things of life. I savored each chapter of this book and only let myself read one chapter a day.

What Taylor says about the Sabbath:

"Test the premise that you are worth more than what you can produce - that even if you spent one whole day being good for nothing you would still be precious in God's sight...Your worth has already been established, even when you are not working. The purpose of the commandment is to woo you to the same truth."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Cape Ann by Faith Sullivan

The narrator of this book is six-year-old Lark. She describes a year of her life living during the Depression in Harvester, Minnesota. The title, The Cape Ann, refers to the name of the house that Lark and her mother plan on building once they've saved up enough money. This book is sweet, funny, and beautiful. The characters come to life, and Lark's friend, Beverly, is especially funny.

This is my most favorite book so far in 2009. It was satisfying, I savored reading it, and the ending did not disappoint.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jesus Wept: When Faith and Depression Meet by Barbara C. Crafton

In my church experience, it seems like feeling depressed is viewed as "unChristian." If one is feeling sad, if it is even expressed at all, people respond with cheery comments like, "Look on the bright side of things" or "Why don't you pray and read your Bible more?" or the most awful "Let go, let God!"

Personally, I think these comments should be responded to with something I cannot write here since this blog already has a Content Warning. Or I guess I could write it, since the Content Warning is already there, but I think you know what I'm talking about.

This book explores what it means for followers of Jesus to experience depression. And what I like about this book is that she takes the stigma away from using antidepressants and talk therapy: "There is no reason one must choose between God and therapeutic intervention." This is a little book, but I could see how reading it would make someone suffering from depression (and those around them) feel less alone and to know that there are resources to help them without leaving out their faith.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Girl Meets God: A Memoir by Lauren Winner

This book follows the author's conversion from Judaism to Christianity. It's fairly easy to read and there's no question that the author is an excellent writer. The one unattractive element of this book is the author's pretension. It's as if she is saying, "Look at me, how smart and cute and emotional I am." It gets tiring after awhile. Still, there is some heart to the book which makes it worth reading, and this is actually the second time that I've read it.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan

This book is about what happens to a family when their 18-year old daughter goes missing.

Tedious is the best word I can use to describe this book. I finished it, but it was not easy.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Shelter for the Spirit by Victoria Moran

This book is about how to transform your home into a sanctuary. It's about caring for the physical space as well as creating a safe emotional place for you and your family as well.

I have mixed feelings about this book. There were some good tips about organizing, simplifying, and celebrating. But there was something too saccharine about it all as well which made it a bit weird to read.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Miss Manners on Painfully Proper Weddings by Judith Martin

This isn't the typical wedding planning book. Miss Manners focuses on the importance of relationships and hospitality instead of how to create the "perfect" day. She also suggests that the bride and groom should be practicing qualities like patience, respect, kindness, humility toward each other as well as their guests since these qualities will also come in handy in a marriage.

This book is very funny as well. Miss Manners is blunt and addresses issues in a no-nonsense kind of way. Boomer and I took turns reading different letters out loud because they were so funny, yet informative.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Late Bloomer's Revolution: A Memoir by Amy Cohen

This is about the author's experience of life, love, and dating in her 30s.

It is funny, honest, and fairly enjoyable to read, but I'm not raving about it.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

It seems like when a loved one commits suicide, the family and friends are left wondering why and what they could have done to prevent it.

In this book, Hannah Baker is a high schooler who commits suicide. But before she does, she makes an audio recording on seven cassette tapes describing the circumstances and 13 people that made her decide to finally end her life. Each of the 13 people will receive the package of tapes and are instructed to send it to the next person on the list after they are finished listening.

The story is written from the perspective of Clay Jensen, one of the last people to receive the package of tapes. As he listens to Hannah's story, all of the pieces and people click together and he is left understanding that Hannah just wanted to know that she was cared about. So many people had the chance to demonstrate this, including Clay who, out of fear, was not courageous enough to tell Hannah how he felt about her.

Wow. This book was really good, but heavy. It made me think about how I treat other people. And it reminded me that I never know the whole story behind people's choices.

A quote:
"I guess that's the point of it all. No one know for certain how much impact they have on the lives of other people. Oftentimes, we have no clue."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry by Kathleen Flinn

When the author, Kathleen Flinn, is fired from her management job in London, she moves to Paris to pursue her dream of attending Le Cordon Bleu, the famous culinary school. This book follows her schooling through the Basic, Intermediate, and Superior courses. She weaves in other experiences of living in Paris, getting married, and hosting friends from back home (some gracious, others not). At the end of each chapter, the recipe featured in that chapter is included.

I savored this book. Each chapter was fun to read and I tried to read only one or two chapters at a time in order to prolong the reading experience. I even found Boomer reading over my shoulder several times, so I think he found it interesting as well.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates

Frank and April Wheeler seem like they have it all - a nice house in the suburbs and two kids. He works at an office job and she stays home with the kids. And yet, they are discontent. He's bored at his job and she never achieved her dream of becoming an actor.

They decide to leave it all behind and move to France with their kids to start over again. April will work and Frank will spend time figuring out who he is and what he wants. And then their plan unravels.

I enjoyed this one. The story, even though it takes place in the 1950s, seems like it could describe a couple living in today's world - the desperation, the lack of communication, the unspoken discontents. Which is why it is a tad uncomfortable.

I haven't seen the movie. I'm not sure if I will since the book was complete enough in itself and I have it all pictured in my mind.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Factory Girls: From Village to City in a Changing China by Leslie T. Chang

130 million of Chinese citizens have moved from rural villages to urban cities searching for work and a better life. This book follows a couple of young women who move to a big city looking for factory work. We learn about the job market, dating, housing, friendships, and hardships. We also learn about their families back home and how different the girls' lives become from how they grew up.

There were some fascinating chapters in this book. But I found it difficult to follow who was who since the stories jumped all over the place. The author also included several chapters about her own family history which did not fit in with the book at all. I actually skipped those chapters.

This book was okay, but if you want to read a book on China, I recommend Peter Hessler's books (Rivertown and Oracle Bones). They are much more cohesive.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Learning from the Heart: Lessons on Living, Loving, and Listening by Daniel Gottlieb

This is a collection of essays about slowing down and listening to ourselves and others. The author is a therapist and is also a quadriplegic.

Each essay was rich and relevant. One essay was enough for me to chew on for one day, so I read one essay a day. The essays made me step back a little and think about life, always a useful thing to do.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I read this in high school and re-read it last week in my effort to read more literature. I understood it much better this time around.

This book is Required Reading and that's all I have to say.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

A young lady, Willie Upton, returns to her hometown of Templeton, fearing that she is pregnant after a disastrous affair with her PhD advisor. She stays the summer in Templeton and embarks on a journey of finding out who her own biological father is.

This book is part mystery, part historical fiction, and part just plain old fiction. Overall, I found it quite solid, engaging, and well-written. However, the whole premise of the character's research into who her father is seemed a bit weak. Her mom knows who the father is, but wants her daughter to find out for herself. I don't really understand why the mom didn't just tell her.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O'Nan

A short little book about the last day at a Red Lobster restaurant that is closing its doors. The weather is pretty bad out and the manager is trying to keep his staff contained and working even though most of them will be out of a job the next day.

This book isn't too exciting or fancy, but I think this is actually what makes it neat. The descriptions in this book are so real and true that they really capture a day in the life of the characters and the restaurant.

Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

I enjoyed reading Malcolm Gladwell's other books, The Tipping Point and Blink. His newest book looks at what makes people outliers and stand-outs. Gladwell argues that it is a lucky combination of being born at the right time and having the right opportunities.

There are some really interesting stories in here which makes it a very easy book to read.

Some of his assertions and connections are, however, a bit over-generalized and simple. For example, I didn't agree with his argument that Chinese people (especially those from southern China) are excellent at math because they come from a rice-farming background that requires skill, persistence, and accuracy.

I think it's unwise and pretty dangerous to label an entire ethnic group as good or bad at something. So it's quite a claim that 1.3+ billion people are good at math because they have rice-farming in their background. Because if that's true, as a Chinese gal with good Guangdong province rice growing ancestors, I gotta say that maybe my ancestors were really bad at the rice thing, because I didn't get a knack for numbers. But I got one for words! Ah, maybe they played Scrabble in their spare time when they weren't tending to their failing rice seedlings.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy

I know the title sounds depressing. And yes, this novella is about the death of the title character. Ivan lives his life exactly how he is supposed to with the right jobs and connections, marrying a lady and having children. But at the end of his life, he wonders, "What if my entire life, my entire conscious life, simply was not the real thing?" It is this question that makes Ivan's story timeless.

How many decisions have we made based on what we were supposed to do? Or because it was the safe and easy thing to do? Or because our parents thought it was the right thing to do. How many times have we quietly dismissed our dreams because it was going to be too hard?

Maybe we don't even know the answers to these questions because how often do we even sit in silence and solitude and consider our lives, hearts, hurts, and desires?

Anyway, I know that life is complicated and it isn't always a matter of just always choosing to follow your heart. But how conscious are we of life, our decisions, and the direction of our lives? Or does life just happen to us?

The main character, Ivan, faces death and realizes, What did I just do with my life?

I highly recommend this book because I don't want this to happen to us. Yes, you might say, "I don't want to read about death. It's so depressing." And I would say that we can't really consciously and fully live until we do think about our own death because it's coming sooner or later. And being conscous of that will probably change how we decide to live today, tomorrow, and in this moment.

This is one book that I checked out of the library, but I will buy it because I want it in my personal library.

A quote about how Ivan chose to marry his wife:
"Praskovya Fyodorovna came from a good family and was quite attractive; she also had a little money. Ivan Ilyich could have counted on a more illustrious match, but even this one was quite acquiring such a wife he did something that gave him pleasure and, at the same time, did what people of the highest standing considered correct. And so Ivan Ilyich got married."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Old School by Tobias Wolff

I read this book in an effort to put more literature into my reading diet. It's from the Big Read list.

The story takes place in the 1960s at an all-boy boarding school where creative writing is the cool thing to do. Every so often, famous writers (Robert Frost, Ernest Hemingway, Ayn Rand) visit the school and there is a contest to win a private meeting with the author. The boys write like crazy and submit stories to try and win this coveted prize. The visiting writer determines which boy wins.

This book is beautifully written and it looks at honesty, deception, and consequences. I whizzed through it even though I probably should have been studying for my final exams. I guess I took a break from school by reading about school.