Summer might finally be upon us and with humid, sticky weather and cold beverages come my desire to compile another reading list. Beach reads, patio reads, sitting-on-my-couch-in-the-air-conditioning-reads… They’re all fabulous and I’m here for all of it.

Since I don’t really follow the rules or the seasons when I read, this list is pretty damn random. I kind of just feel like reading these books, so why not read them this summer? (Note: a couple of these may look kind of familiar because I’m repeating them from my unemployment reading list. I am now marginally more employed {but still looking for a full-time gig if you’re in the market for an archivist!} and didn’t get all the way through it, but I still want to read the books!)

All the Single Ladies. I need my feminist non-fiction. It’s like a glass of restorative water for me. And we all know hydration is important in these scorching summer months. Also, Beyoncé reference.

A Darker Shade of Magic. If summer isn’t for magic and whimsy, what, pray tell, is it for?

The Complete Stories of Clarice Lispector. Awesome short stories by awesome lady writer. Here for it. I might read this in dribs and drabs throughout the summer. There are a lot of them.

The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street. I lusted after this a couple of BEAs ago and finally got my hands on it and haven’t read it yet. It’s historical fiction and has “ice cream” in the title. I feel like it might actually be my perfect summer book.

What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. Helen Oyeyemi. Need I say more?

I Capture the Castle. Somehow I haven’t read this. I got a copy from the Apparating Library at Book Riot Live in November, so I have no excuse. Clearly it is time to fix this problem.

Do What You Love and Other Lies About Success and Happiness. Sort of self-help-y, but also humor and sociology and such. Might help me with life, but also make me feel better about life? That’s good for summer, right?

So that’s my list. You can see I’ve really thought these through [insert all the sarcasm marks]. Apparently summer is time for my lazy, meandering reading. I’m OK with that.

What are you reading? Do you follow conventions and read certain kinds of books during the summer? Are there other things you think I should read this summer? What’s the rationale?

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First there was Samuel L. Jackson reading Go the Fuck to Sleep and that was good. Now we have Christopher Walken reading Where the Wild Things Are (I say “now” because I just saw it, but youtube tells me it’s been on the interwebz since at least 2011).

This is great not only because of the way Walken reads the story, but because he describes what’s happening in all of the illustrations. It is hilarious and magical and so much more.

Just take a moment to watch/listen and enjoy.

I have consulted numerous electronic and paper calendars and all of them have told me the same thing: it’s springtime! But here in Philadelphia, the weather doesn’t seem so sure of that fact. It seems like for every nice day we have, we get a week of cold temperatures, rain, and overall gloom. I shouldn’t complain too much since that is prime reading-with-a-cup-of-tea weather, but I’m ready for reading-on-a-picnic-blanket-in-the-park weather (I’m not saying I do this, but I want the option).

I don’t generally tailor my reading to the season because I’m just not that organized, but this super prolonged winter has me yearning for sunnier books.

So here’s my list for what to read when nature has betrayed you and continues with the cold, grey weather.

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. It’s a big, epic book filled with love and war and magic. It will draw you in and completely transport you to the mythical Macondo, which is in Latin America and therefore is a warm and sunny place at least most of the time.
  2. Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson. I’m cheating with this one because it isn’t actually sunnier, but we’ll get to why I picked it. This is a dual narrative combining the fascinating story of the build up to the Chicago World’s Fair and the chilling tale of a string of murders committed by H. H. Holmes in the city around the same time. It is utterly enthralling and after reading about the creepy murders and how Holmes pulled it all off, you might not mind being cooped up inside.
  3. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by is bloggess Jenny Lawson’s sidesplittingly funny (mostly true) memoir. There are some serious bits interspersed with a whole lot of hilarity. I challenge you to read it and not be in a good mood afterward. I’m pretty sure it can’t be done.
  4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan. This book is enchanting and whimsical. There’s mystery and adventure and it takes place in bright, sunny California (though often at night…).
  5. Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell. I’m looking out of my living room window and it’s all grey and I think it’s spitting rain and I can’t help thinking of that titular story with the wizened old vampire drinking lemonade under a Tuscan sun…
  6. iwanttogotothere

 

 

 

 

 

 

These are just a few of the books that might numb the sting of being betrayed by ole’ Mother Nature. What would you add?

 

I’ve been trying to read more short story collections and I heard such a great things about Julia Elliott’s The Wilds.

So first things first, I enjoyed the book. Elliot is a talented writer and she knows how to tell a story. My problem is that The Wilds had been described to me as “weird.” And when I think “weird short stories,” I think of Karen Russell and how much I loved Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Every time I pick up “weird” short story collections, I think I’m hoping it will be that book. I know that isn’t fair at all and I think it’s coloring my reading of the other collections.

Because The Wilds is good. It is weird. It’s also funny and sinister and a bit… off.

I think the thing that Vampires in the Lemon Grove had that I’m still looking for is that touch of whimsy sprinkled in with the sharp edges and dark humor. Without it I’m just left with a slightly bad taste in my mouth.

So now I know what I’m looking for in my short stories: whimsy.

Now accepting recommendations.

I don’t read many short story collections. I don’t know why and I suspect that it’s just because I forget about them. After reading Vampires in the Lemon Grove I suspect I’m missing out. I believe my first sentence must be amended to “I don’t read enough short story collections.”

This book is phenomenal. It’s the perfect combination of funny and whimsy and creepy and unnameable/unidentifiable awesome.

Karen Russell appears to have completely mastered writing a story just to the point where it’s allowed to end, but where readers want it to continue. This collection is compulsively readable and the characters stay with you. I still want to know more about those titular vampires and their time before and after Russell captured them on the page.

That’s all I’m saying. You have a short story collection to get. Go forth and read my friends!

My Birthday Weekend

September 11, 2013

This past weekend my mother came up to celebrate my birthday with me. It was a jam-packed weekend and I had a great time.

Saturday we walked all over the city (my fitbit put us at well over 8 miles by the end of the day). We had a leisurely, delicious brunch in this tiny place downtown and then wandered around South Street Seaport for a while. The weather was fabulous and it was so nice looking out across the water.

We eventually headed over to the 9/11 Memorial. It was kind of ridiculous going through the various entrances, but once inside the memorial grounds it’s very peaceful and lovely. It’s also such a huge space, which, for me, had been hard to conceive of at first.

It’s interesting how they’ve used technology to enhance the experience of the memorial — there is an app and a mobile site, as well as strategically placed machines that all exist to help visitors locate names or groups of people (i.e. first responders, passengers from a specific flight, etc.) within the memorial. The app and site showed you where names were located and if there were memorial bricks and provided donor information. It’s interesting because these tools add these extra layers of metadata that were probably at one point purely used for logistics, but are now helping to enhance the visitor experience at the memorial. Leave it to me to start thinking about user experience and information science wherever I go…

After we left the memorial we pretty much walked half the island, grabbed a (very) quick dinner, and then saw Pippin on Broadway.

Pippin was fantastic. I may be forfeiting my theatre dork card by admitting this, but I didn’t really know the story before I saw it. I is so cool and fun and dark and twisty. It is, in a word, awesome. And spectacular. It made me want to go to circus camp or something. I want to watch it a million times and unpack all the various theories swimming in my head about motivation and perspective and reality. Yeah, basically it’s super cool and you can tell because it’s making me super nerdy.

Sunday we (read: I) slept in a bit and then went to tea at Alice’s Tea Cup. The place is really cute and they have lots of delicious varieties of tea (as they should) and great scones and sandwiches and tarts and the like. I actually plan on going back to buy some of the blend that I had because it was absolutely fabulous (green tea with bergamot and some other deliciousness).

After tea, off to another show! We saw the matinee of Soul Doctor, which was also great. It was really fun and interesting seeing the history of the Jewish Reconstructionist movement since I didn’t know that much about it and how it developed in great part through the actions of one man (the “Soul Doctor”).

After the show, we did a bit of shopping (because what’s a birthday in New York without a bit of shopping?) and then headed downtown for dinner.

We went to the Risotteria, which is my new favorite place in New York. The food is fantastic (they’re also really accommodating — great for vegetarians, gluten free diets, and allergies) and the staff is really chill. What more could you possibly want?

It turns out the answer is “jammie dodgers.” There’s a British candy shop across the street from the restaurant and so after dinner we popped in quickly to have a look around. They only had mini jammie dodgers in the original flavor (which is best), so that’s what I got. They might already be gone…

All in all, it was a fantastic birthday weekend. I might be getting crotchety in my old age (really, I maintain that teenagers/”youth” are just annoying), but I think it’s probably worth it for birthdays like this.

I just finished reading The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker.

With a title like that, how could I possibly resist?!

This book was certainly not what I expected (though in hindsight, I don’t really know what my expectations were). It was by turns fantastic, bizarre, and exhilarating.

I do think that “bizarre” might be the best word to describe The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic. The story takes a number of quite unexpected turns and after a while it’s just easier to sit back and enjoy the ride.

And what a ride it is. Nora, a PhD student, feels every aspect of her life stalling. When a rambling walk drops her into another world, a world with magic, she gets a glimpse of a glamorous life. But not everything with these new friends is as it appears and when the veil is lifted Nora will have to depend on a decidedly less glamorous friend and some new skills in order to survive.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic is enormously fun and well-written. You’ll breeze through reading it in no time.

Many readers will enjoy this book, but I believe that it will particularly appeal to certain, well, “thinking women,” who have a taste for the fantastic.

Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips has been on my to-be-read list for ages and I finally got around to reading it recently. I was wandering the shelves at my NYPL branch and there it was, waiting for me. Clearly it was a sign that it was time for me to read this one!

Allow me to set the scene:

It’s present day (or near enough) and the Greek gods are drained of power and living in a dilapidated house in London. Driving each other crazy and doing their best to conserve their remaining power, the gods try to fit into the twenty-first century world, but old habits die hard and what starts out as a small disagreement between Aphrodite and Apollo could lead to the end of the world. Now, the fate of everyone — gods and mortals alike — rests on the shoulders of two exceedingly ordinary (and mortal) humans).

The entire story is entertaining, but I really like the last quarter or so, when it becomes clear just how entwined everything really is and how gods and mortals need one another to thrive.

Gods Behaving Badly was a super quick and fun read for me. I read it in a day or two and probably made a number of people a bit uncomfortable as I giggled while reading it on the subway (which, I think, is usually a good indication that a book is good). If you’re like me and have a special spot in your literary heart for mythology, then you’ve got to read this one.

Matilda on Broadway

July 13, 2013

Last night I got to see Matilda on Broadway.

I’ve been so excited about this show. It started out in England (beginning in Stratford, then moving to the West End) and got great reviews. Matilda has finally come to New York where it has continued its streak of critical acclaim, winning a number of Tony’s, as well as additional awards in the theatre community.

But to be honest, even if the reviews were bad and the award committees indifferent, I would still have wanted to see Matilda. I love Roald Dahl’s books, and Matilda, with its emphasis on being true to yourself and the power of books, stories, and imagination has always had a special place in my heart. I own the movie adaptation of the book and watch it fairly often. Seeing the Tony performance just confirmed my burning need to see the show — it’s an adaptation of an awesome book and it looks spectacular!

So anyway, (due to circumstances I won’t go into here) a family friend was unable to use her tickets for the show and generously offered them to me.

And so, a dream came true.

Matilda was everything I could have hoped for and more. It was hilarious and heartbreaking, sweet and inspiring. The cast was superb. I can’t even begin to express my awe at the talent, especially considering the average age is so young.

My favorite line has to be when Matilda asks Ms. Honey, “am I strange?” I desperately wanted that to be on one of the t-shirts, but, alas, I remain unsatisfied. That is a missed merchandising opportunity if ever there was one!

But seriously, the show made Dahl’s story come alive. It’s magical and inspiring and I have to go read the book again. If you get a chance to see this show, I highly recommend it. I’d see it again in a heartbeat.

Note: I received a free e-galley of Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa  by Benjamin Constable via NetGalley.

It seems unfair, insubstantial, to call this book a “page turner.” In fact it grabs you with its elaborate story, suggesting you back out now while there’s still a chance, while simultaneously beckoning with its siren song of intrigue and adventure.

Our narrator and protagonist (and author), Ben Constable, is an English would-be writer and bank employee living in Paris. His enigmatic American friend Tomomi Ishikawa, better known as Butterfly, is just that really — an enigma. She is fun and adventurous and dark and twisty, while our boy Ben — though perhaps a tad peculiar and a little bit of a cynic — is mostly innocent and purer of heart than he should be as an aspiring writer living the Parisian life.

But I digress.

This book is first and foremost about imagination. Ben’s and Butterfly’s and how they imagine the world and their places in it.

It is at times touching, hysterical, horrific, and heart-rending. It leaves you with unanswered questions and confusion that somehow only bring you closer to the characters.

I hesitate to call this book a “page turner,” but I fear that I have no choice. The fact of the matter is that while reading this there is no desire, no thought, to disengage. Pages keep turning and you keep reading, but even when it’s over it doesn’t feel quite like it’s finished. That inability to disengage remains even though the story is done.

And that’s generally the mark of a good book. The characters, the story, the interplay between reality and the imagined — all of these combine to make a superb read that you won’t want to put down.