What I Read in April

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It’s another two book month because I’ve been traveling like crazy for the good ol’ day job. And you would think I’d get a lot of reading on done on the plane but lately I’ve just been trying to squeeze in a little bit more sleep or just rest because it has been non-stop. I also picked a real difficult book this month that was not for speeding through. Read on to find out what it was!

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I was really excited to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s latest non-fiction book. Categorized as “self-help” this book is all about letting go of fear and worry to unlock your creative potential. While there were definite moments of “Oh!” and “Love it!” I mostly plodded along feeling like I had read a lot of it before. While I appreciated that she is a little less woo-woo thank other self-help books, I didn’t walk away feeling unchanged or different about my creative outlook. I did appreciate her recognition that we need to take breaks creatively once and awhile that it’s all part of the game. Especially because this month has not been creatively fueled. I’d pick it up if you’ve never done a self-help book before.
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Now this was the tricky book I picked up. I could only read it in sections of 20-30 pages at a time before I feel like my brain had been roasted like a cauliflower. I didn’t notice that the quote on the front was from STEPHEN HAWKING until much later but I probably should have known better. This book is about how randomness rules our lives (so cool) but handle it through mathematical theory and probability theory. Whew. I found most of it interesting, even when I was struggling and in the end it was a super rewarding read and I am glad I stuck with it. It supports a lot of self-book theories actually, just in an extremely different way. If you’re looking for a challenge (like a class in college you’d want to drop after the first week)… this is for you.

Hopefully in May we will see the return of a book a week. But until then, I hope you try these very distinct books out and tell me what you think!

 

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What I Read in February (Hint: Just Westerns)

Before I get to the books I read this month (all of them are Westerns if you can believe it), I’m taking a moment to answer a question I get a lot: How do you read so many books? 

I read about a book a week depending on their length and difficulty. Really intricate, heady pieces take me more time because I  need longer breaks in between sessions to digest all the information. I get through a lot of books because…

1) It is important to me. I make time of reading before bed and I use my commute to read instead of listening to music. I actually get about 80% of my reading done on the subway. Start calculating how much time you spend in front of a TV, phone, or computer and shave some of it off and reserve it for reading. It’s a lot… I assure you.

2) If I don’t like a book I stop reading it. It’s rare, but if I am struggling with a book or I just don’t like it, I stop reading it. I lose my momentum and joy for reading when I force myself through something I do not enjoy. Life is too short to be miserable with a book.

3) I am naturally a fast reader but I promise you, the more you do it, the easier it becomes.

Also, I am happy to discuss reading anytime so drop me a note and let’s chat! I’m super passionate about libraries and books so never hesitate to share your published works, pleas for $ to your local library, or book donations. These are causes I want to support.

Ok, on to THE BOOKS! I was so excited for this post this month. I cannot believe I didn’t share the books I read on here until recently. It’s such a huge part of my life and seems now so strange in retrospect.

This month I read 3 westerns. I started writing a western for fun (probably to never see the light of day) but I wanted to get more context for the world I was building so I grabbed a few “classics.”
purpleRiders of the Purple Sage – This book came up on multiple lists as THE book responsible for starting the western trend and being perhaps the most popular western of all time. So you see why I had to read it. First, let me say, I had so many issues with the female characters in this book, it’s hard to give it a high rating. I feel like I can’t publicly say “I loved it!” But, since it was written in 1912, I’m giving it a pretty big pass and admitting the women of this novel are much more complex than I could have ever expected. (But I still have a lot of issues.)

The world that Grey builds is vibrant and moving and we’re introduced, for the first time, to what will become western tropes for years to come (Gunslinger, The Rustler, Determined Homesteader, The Missionary). Which is super fun to see. What I found so interesting about this book is its depiction and story of Mormons in the Old West. I had never even considered the relationship of outlaws, settlers, and gunmen to the formation of the Mormon capital in Utah. Unexpected, but incredibly enjoyable to read about.

my-antonia-willa-cather-paperback-cover-artMy Antonia – Not your traditional Western (there are no Gunslingers or Rustlers here) but an important book to the American West all the same. I have a lot of Midwestern friends who are obsessed with this book and now that I’ve finally read it I see why. Nebraska’s landscape and harsh climate are a main character and how the settlers (mostly immigrants) interact with that land is a huge part, if not all, of the book. I learned a great deal about the early Midwest, but I was also deeply invested in the outcomes of Jim’s (our narrator) and Antonia’s (it’s really her story) lives. Beautifully written and engaging. I wanted more when the book was done!

 

gunslingerThe Gunslinger – This Stephen King book is on the opposite end of the Western spectrum. If My Antonia is about settling the land and creating the Midwest as we know it today, then the Gunslinger is about what happens when we destroy all of that. Set in a post-apocalyptic alternate universe (uh, yeah), we follow Gunslinger on his quest for ultimate truth from The Man in Black. As you can see, we’re working with traditional Western tropes in a completely non-traditional setting (there are mutants and super natural powers at hand). Despite how King lends you no assistance into introducing you to this world (you just dive in and learn along the way) I was really taken with the Gunslinger character, his own darkness, and the hunt for truth… because I never really knew whose “truth” I should trust. There is apparently 5 more books in this series and I will probably get to them in due time.

Do you have any favorite Westerns? Send ’em my way. I am on a kick for sure.

January Book Round-Up

Hey everyone! I have always wanted to share book reviews on here but I never really felt like I had place or voice to do so. Then I realized that’s all bullshit and any of us can do whatever we want as long as what we’re putting out in the world is honest, coming from a place of love, and the best work we can possibly do.

Yes! I am finally starting to embrace what this blog is all about. Only took me like 3 years.

So starting now I’ll be sharing brief reviews and synopses from the books I read every month. I am warning you now– I never stick to one genre, author, or theme. I read all over the place, all the time. There MAY be an uptick of Western stuff in the coming months as I research a project of mine, but that’s about it.

BNBlue Nights – Joan Didion

Blue Nights picks up where The Year of Magical Thinking left off. Both are memoirs of grief that Didion captures with heartfelt honesty and clarity. In Blue Nights Didion floods light into every dark memory and turns over each happy memory again and again like a stone. We are very much in her mind, rattling through her thoughts with her, no matter how repetitive or meditative. Personally, I love The Year of Magical Thinking more because of its depth and narrative, but it is easy to do that. To enjoy Blue Nights you must be willing to do the work alongside her. It’s tough but rewarding.

 

bedWomen in Bed: Nine Stories – Jessica Keener

Lately I’ve been giving short stories a whirl. After buying Roxanne Gay’s recent collection, I remembered the things I loved about the form and have decided to return. (I left because they reminded me of poorly structured school assignments…) Jessica Keener’s collection of stories follows women of all walks facing changes both in their control and not. The first of my favorite stories, “Boarders”, tells the story of a college-aged woman living in a boarding house with elderly men while sorting out her dating life. It highlights how we often seek shelter in the wrong places. My other favorite, “Recovery”, is the heartbreaking tale of sudden death and survival and how we don’t always have the answers we need. The depth of pain in this story is contrasted against the stark hospital surroundings and left me deeply moved. Some of the characters lose depth from time to time, but overall it was an engaging read.

 

Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmithstrangers

How I missed this one until now is it’s own mystery. (See what I did there?) Many of you will know this story from Alfred Hitchcock’s film of the same name. I also haven’t seen the movie so being able to read the book prior to doing so (I am definitely going to now) was a real treat. At first I felt like the story started out slow and I was getting a tiny bit frustrated with the sedate and steady unfolding. How wrong I was! Highsmith builds a wild, important world and all that slow sharing really pays off in the end. This is a crime novel like nothing I’ve read and really focuses on how ordinary people can be driven to commit crimes they never imagined they could. I am obsessed with how Highsmith weaves this story and keeps you on board until the end. Incredible book to pick up ASAP.

 

elephant-vanishesThe Elephant Vanishes – Haruki Murakami (Translated by Jay Rubin & Alfred Birnbaum)

Before this collection of short stories the only book by Murakami I had read was his memoir What I Talk About When I Talk About Running which I read during my giant memoir phase. At this time, I was also super interested in writer’s working schedules and routines and how they incorporated fitness. I loved the ease with which he wrote that story and was interested to see how it would play into fiction. Fast forward a couple years to now–I’m on my short story kick and the boyfriend owns this one. Win! Murakami’s stories are enticing, and weird, and sexy all at the same time. No two stories are the same, though there are lots of reoccurring themes, and I didn’t have trouble getting on board with the more sci-fi level stuff. However, there are few female characters I identify with, and a couple times questioned how he represents women in his work, but overall the language and storytelling were unique and powerful.

Can’t wait to share new books with you next month. Let me know what you think of this new section and you can keep up with my reading list DAILY by following me on Goodreads! CLICK HERE.

 

In The Stacks // Strand Kiosk, Central Park, NYC

Continuing my domination of Manhattan bookstores, I bring you the Strand Bookstore Kiosk in Central Park. Located on the Southeast corner of Central Park, the Strand Kiosk gives visitors a taste of one of NYC’s most beloved bookstores nearly 50 blocks up from its brick and mortar location. I’ve walked past the kiosk probably a hundred times, but I’ve never stopped to purchase anything.

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As a treat to myself, I went after a painful visit to the dentist to pick up some summer reading material. There is nothing more soothing or enjoyable than perusing books on a beautiful summer day. It was one of those rare days during a city summer– blue skies, a nice breeze, and zero humidity. Despite the pain inflicted on me at the dentist, I found myself falling in love with New York and wasn’t afraid to be a tourist in my own city.

IMG_8585I wasn’t quite sure what to expect in terms of selection, but I was able to find some really great new AND used books. And because of my “I Love New York” state, I wound up wanting to buy everything! Screw the budget! Somehow, I managed to stick with three: The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan, Gentleman Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, and Home by Toni Morrison. In fact, that’s a pretty good selection of my reading tastes.

At check-out, they had a whole slew of New York themed books, obviously for the tourists, and I was tempted! I wanted to buy a couple collections of essays set in New York, but I refrained. My purse was already overflowing and I had to be back at work.

I am so happy I finally gave in to this cute little corner. It was not busy and it felt so, so “New York.” One of my favorite little shops thus far and I highly recommend it whether you are visiting or just a native looking for something fun.FullSizeRender (5)

IN THE STACKS // The Corner Bookstore // New York, New York

One of these days I will get out of New York City and visit some other shops. In fact, I’d love your suggestions for my next day trip. Think New England, Long Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey… anywhere I can get to in a day, and I’m there!

FullSizeRender (3)This week I visited The Corner Bookstore on the corner of Madison and 93rd Street in Manhattan. It wasn’t until I started doing these blogs that I realized there are so many adorable and well-curated bookstores in my own neighborhood. It’s allowed me to explore and spend money in a whole new way. I think New Yorkers tend to think of all the neat stuff being downtown and forget that the Upper East Side can be fun too. (Seriously.)

When I first got there I was the only one in the shop. The sign on the door asked that cellphones be turned off before entering, so I dutifully did as I was told and slipped my phone into my purse. The store is small, a single open room, but being the smart New Yorkers that they are, the team at The Corner have arranged the books and shelving to create more space and aisles that are easy to navigate.

I wasn’t greeted upon entering and didn’t really mind until they greeted everyone who entered after me. I guess my not being a regular didn’t warrant it, but I had read such great things about the staff that I was a little bummed out. That said, it’s always nice to be left alone to browse without feeling like they’re drilling holes into the back of your head. I was able to linger in books about Paris for an embarrassingly long time.

IMG_8356At first I was confused where to find what I was looking for. And then I realized– the hardcovers were in the front and paperbacks were in the back. I do like the idea of putting new releases in the front, but I felt cheap going to the back looking for a non-fiction paperback.

I enjoyed scouring the shelves for the perfect book to take home. The selection is small and specific. Everything was already narrowed down for me. I had just finished a crime novel and I wanted to shake it up with something more poignant. Even though their non-fiction selection skewed a little political, I found a beautiful Joan Didion gem, The Year of Magical Thinking. 

IMG_8357I bought it, having a simple transaction conversation with the clerk and realized that they had been hoarding some seriously cool books at the front. I would recommend starting there if you’re to visit. There are paperbacks and hardcovers there, unsegregated.

Overall, the atmosphere is quiet and soothing. It’s rare that you can find a store in the city that you can browse in near silence. Even though I felt a little lonely, I was appreciative of the fact that the staff just let me do my thing. I was there for the books, not new friends. It was a wonderful way to spend a Friday afternoon and forget about everything else going on.