The Readers’ Workouts meme is hosted at Joy’s Book Blog. This is a place to share exercise successes and challenges.
I have been going back and forth on whether or not to post. I’ve been working out fairly regularly the last month or so (3-4 times a week) and I am ever so slowly seeing physical results. But one of the biggest benefits to me for exercising in the past – the mental and emotional ones – are not coming this time around.
Some of my funk can be weather related; I normally enjoy the winter but this year it has been particularly cold and snowy and long and I want it to be over. Despite the regular exercise my energy level is low and my mood most days is even lower. I have little interest in anything – I didn’t count numbers but I think I read the least amount of books in February than any month in probably 5 years and I only wrote about one of them.
My head knows that there are things I can do to snap out of whatever I’m going through but the rest of me is finding it so.damn.hard.
Hope: A Tragedy by Shalom Auslander is a dark novel. It is at times an offensive novel. Yet I really enjoyed it.
The premise: Solomon Kugel, his wife, and their young son, move into an old farmhouse in what sounds like upstate New York (or somewhere in New England). The home is a bit more than they can afford, so they intend to take in tenants, but one of the rooms is used by Solomon’s mother, a woman who claims to be a victim of the Holocaust despite being born in the US in 1945. The area to which they have moved has been the target of several arson attacks, so when Solomon hears some tapping in the vents one night he investigates, and it takes him up to the attic where he encounters an old woman who says she is Anne Frank, and who has apparently been living in the attic for quite some time and has no intention of leaving until she finishes her book.
See where the dark and the offensive may come in?
Poor Solomon has to fight himself over his conflicting duties — to his wife and son who are his future, to his mother who is his past, and to Anne Frank (how would it look if a Jew threw Anne Frank out of his house?). He is hopeful that he can make everyone happy, but the “wisdom” of his off-camera therapist Professor Jove, makes anyone question if that is ever possible:
… the greatest cause of anguish and hatred and sadness and death, was neither disease nor race nor religion. It was hope.
I definitely don’t think this book is for everyone but with the right group of people (read: VERY open-minded) I think this would be a great book for discussion. It pushes boundaries but it also makes you think, and it is a pretty entertaining story.
I have had this book since not long after it was released but it wasn’t until I saw Jackie from Farm Lane Books and Judith from Leeswammes (reviewed on her Dutch blog) discuss on Twitter how much they enjoyed it that I pulled it to the top of the pile. And I’m glad they gave me the extra push!
Alas, it is still early in the year, but I have yet to read a novel that I just loved. The ones I’ve read I’ve liked well enough, but none of them are making me rush to recommend them. Maybe it’s just the funk I’ve been in recently.
Anyways here’s a few of the novels I’ve read in the last month and you can decide for yourself:
Making History by Stephen Fry. I enjoy reading alternate histories, and this one was a fun premise on a serious topic: How would the world have turned out if Adolf Hitler had never been born? One would think that would be an easy answer, but Fry’s story makes it complicated and definitely something to consider, though in a lighthearted way. I picked up this book at the Waterstone’s in Amsterdam where I was browsing with Judith from Leeswammes and she said she enjoyed this book as well.
The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore. If I had to choose a favorite book of this group, I’d probably choose this one. It is a novel set in the 1970s in rural Tennessee and is about young Emmalee Bullard, a new mother who takes on the task of making the funeral dress for a woman she worked with and who was her mother figure. It is a lovely story about community.
Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda. Another story about community, in a way. This is a novel about 4 unlikely roommates who share a grand Paris apartment. As you all know I have a hankering for all things Paris so that is what drew me to this novel.
A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith. I should have loved this novel. It is about a group of Gold Star Mothers in 1930 who are sent on a pilgrimage to France to see the graves of their sons who died in the battles of World War I. So it theoretically fed my interest for France and for history. Alas, there were too many other stories going on in the novel that took away from the mothers’ journey, and there was one sub-plot – that of the African-American mothers – that, once revealed, would have made the novel a lot more compelling for me had it been fully developed.
Have you read any of these books? What were your thoughts on them?
Before I let things get away from me (again), here are some quick thoughts about some non-fiction books I’ve read in the last month:
Breaking the Chain: How I Banned Chain Restaurants from My Diet and Went from Full to Fulfilled by Allyson Reedy
I enjoy reading “project” memoirs – that is, books chronicling the author’s attempt to do something over a period of time. In this case, Allyson Reedy chose to not eat at chain restaurants for a year. In America, with the large chains (McDonald’s, Taco Bell, etc), this endeavor would be a challenge enough, but Reedy was fairly strict even with local restaurants; if they had more than four locations she considered them to be a chain. I liked the premise of this project but found I did not like the narrator so much. The project would have been much easier if she made meals at home, but she apparently can’t or won’t cook (and didn’t appear to me to want to try) if her husband wasn’t going to do it for her then they went out. But for the most part I found this to be an interesting book and a project that I could probably undertake on my own.
Stranger in My Own Country: A Jewish Family in Modern Germany by Yascha Mounk
Sort of memoir, sort of history, this book is written by a young German-Jewish man who attempts to explain what it is like to be both German and Jewish in the 21st century given the not too recent history of the Holocaust. Are Jews “untouchable” in present-day Germany or should they be treated as everyone else despite the pockets of anti-Semitism that still exist? Yascha Mounk explores these questions as he figures out what being German and Jewish means for his own identity. I really enjoyed this book and it gave me a lot to think about; if anyone else reads this I would love to discuss it. The author talks about his book on the Vox Tablet podcast.
In the City of Bikes: The Story of the Amsterdam Cyclist by Pete Jordan
I was recently in Amsterdam for a few days, and was convinced I was going to be run over on the street by a bicycle before I’d be run over by a car; so when I saw this book not long after I returned I had to read it. Pete Jordan was a student and avid cyclist in the U.S. who moved to Amsterdam to study and learn more about the bicycle culture of Amsterdam. More than being a cheap and effective means of transportation, bicycling has played a huge role in the recent history (late 19th century to present times) of the city and I found these anecdotes and his own experiences of bicycling in the city fascinating. Next time I visit Amsterdam I might just scare up enough courage to cycle around, but even if I don’t I will definitely pay more attention to the bicyclists on the road because they aren’t only just going from place to place.
Thoughts about my recent fiction reads are coming soon.
I really want to talk about The Lost Wife but I feel that I cannot properly do so without revealing spoilers, even though one of them takes place in the first chapter. However I enjoyed it very much, and you will have to trust me on that.
But the broad strokes are that it is a love story that begins in Czechoslovakia before the Second World War begins, and the story moves back and forth between the two characters, Josef and Lenka, until the present day. It is beautiful and heartbreaking.
My only quibble with the book is that I wanted to continue the story after it officially ended. Yes, we never want a great book to end – but there was so much to be told after the final page and I have so many questions.
So read this book and then we can talk about it in more detail.
I received a copy of Lexicon by Max Barry as part of Book Riot’s first Quarterly Box which I received just before Christmas (a gift to myself, shall we say?). It is kind of cool because included with the book was a note from the author and throughout the book are post-it notes with some of his comments.
The novel is about a society of “poets” who begin at an exclusive school near Washington, D.C.. This school teaches the power of words. The story centers on one girl, Emily, whom the society recruited from the streets of San Francisco. She has qualities that the society admires, but these are the same traits that can get her into trouble. Eventually this trouble gets her sent to the Australian Outback as a test.
Meanwhile, the novel opens with a man, Wil, being accosted in an airport bathroom by men who claim that he is the key to solving a major crisis. Wil of course has no idea what they are talking about, but he is still taken along to be the pawn in a potentially deadly game.
So this description may not make much sense, and I probably should have just copied the book jacket description. But it kind of sums up my experience with the novel. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Without revealing anything, I had too many questions about who was who and why were certain things happening? Was that the intent – for me to be confused? (Sadly, the author didn’t make any comment about that). It did hold my interest enough for me to finish, so that is something. I did want to find out how the story was going to unfold, even though my questions were for the most part unanswered.
I could be wrong, but I would describe this as dystopic, and that may be why I didn’t enjoy it as much as other people have, since dystopia is not my cup of tea. However if you do like that kind of story, you might want to give this one a try.
Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2014 brings you everything you wish for and deserve, both in books and in everything else!
Today is the perfect opportunity to re-resurrect my blogging. No looking back on the past, just forward to the future. The past few weeks I have been thinking about how I want to proceed with my reading life and while I have decided that formal review-type posts are not for me I still want to keep up with the blog. This will be a repeat of things I have already said but I do like to put down in words what I like/dislike about books and I also really enjoy the community of friends that I have found thanks to my blog (I had the great pleasure of spending a day in Amsterdam with one of these friends, Judith from Leeswammes, last month and it was a highlight of my year).
So I can’t promise how often I will post, but I will post. My current plan is simply to post each time I have finished a book, with its description, a summary, and my thoughts on it. Some books might prompt me to write more, but I think that is something I can realistically manage.
And I have also made a reading resolution for myself: Read the books that I already have on my shelves or on my e-reader. I thought about counting how many that is, and I may still do so, but I’m a bit afraid of the number - I’m going to guess it is between 250 and 300. That’s unread books. I won’t say that I will not buy any new books this year, but I am going to make a true effort to limit those purchases; I will be attending Booktopia in Boulder, CO, in May (and hopefully in Asheville, NC, in August) so when the author lineup is announced I will likely purchase those featured books, and if Rohinton Mistry should publish a new novel this year (PLEASE PLEASE) I will be all over that. When I see a book that interests me I will simply put it in on my wishlist and be patient (easier said than done).
Now, back to reading!