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detailmuse-ing through 2016

Club Read 2016

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Edited: Jan 1, 1:34pm Top

Currently reading:
(see my profile page)


Welcome! My reading tends toward contemporary fiction, memoir and science-y nonfiction. I especially like debut novels, workplace settings, lush illustrated works and originality of any kind.

This year I’ll continue with Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History, which covers 1) the origin of time, space and the universe; 2) life on earth; 3) human evolution; 4) agriculture and civilization; 5) modernity; and 6) the future. I read section 1 last year and segued to several cosmology books from my TBRs. I’m looking forward to doing that with subsequent sections this year.

I also have a goal again of reading at least 30 books (about half of my total) that are from my pre-2016 TBRs (they’ll be marked in my list below with “#”).

For more about my recent reading, see my Club Read 2015 thread.


Books Read in 2016:

64. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (dnf)
56. Multiple Choice by Alejandro Zambra (4.5)
54. The Rosie Project# by Graeme Simsion (4)
52. The Final Diagnosis# by Arthur Hailey (3.5)
50. The Boat Rocker by Ha Jin (3) (See review)
46. The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood (4)
42. Ordinary Grace# by William Kent Krueger (4.5)
33. Marrow Island by Alexis Smith (3.5) (See review)
32. Anna and the Swallow Man# by Gavriel Savit (3) (See review)
30. The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson (3) (See review)
28. Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson (4) (See review)
22. All the Light We Cannot See# by Anthony Doerr (2)
14. Booked by Kwame Alexander (3.5) (See review)
13. A Man Called Ove# by Fredrik Backman (4)
9. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency# by Alexander McCall Smith (3)
5. The Leisure Seeker# by Michael Zadoorian (3.5) (See review)

61. A Life in Parts by Bryan Cranston (4)
48. Textbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (4)
39. M Train# by Patti Smith (3.5)
37. Housebroken: Admissions of an Untidy Life by Laurie Notaro (3.5) (See review)
34. A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold (4)
29. One Writer's Beginnings# by Eudora Welty (3.5) (See review)
25. Gratitude by Oliver Sacks (2.5)
24. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (3.5)
23. 32 Yolks by Eric Ripert with Veronica Chambers (3.5) (See review)
21. The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner (3.5) (See review)
20. Old Age: A Beginner's Guide by Michael Kinsley (3.5) (See review)
12. When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (4) (See review)
11. Wild by Cheryl Strayed (4)
4. I Must Say# by Martin Short (4) (See review)
2. Brown Girl Dreaming# by Jacqueline Woodson (5) (See review)

65. The Story of Design by Charlotte and Peter Fiell (3.5) (See review)
63. The Boys in the Boat# by Daniel James Brown (4.5)
60. How to Read Literature Like a Professor by Thomas Foster (3.5)
58. How to Win Friends and Influence People# by Dale Carnegie (3.5)
55. Meet Me at the Bamboo Table by A. V. Crofts (3.5) (See review)
53. Best State Ever by Dave Barry (3)
51. How Not to Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg (4)
47. The China Study# by T. Colin Campbell/Thomas M. Campbell (3)
45. Suze Orman's 2009 Action Plan# by Suze Orman (3.5)
44. Encore Provence# by Peter Mayle (3)
40. Women & Money# by Suze Orman (4.5)
35. Thing Explainer# by Randall Munroe (3.5) (See review)
31. Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli (3.5) (See review)
27. Beyond Biocentrism by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman (3.5) (See review)
26. Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon (4) (See review)
7. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway# by Susan Jeffers (3)
6. The Trauma Myth# by Susan Clancy (3.5) (See review)
3. The Violinist's Thumb# by Sam Kean (4.5) (See review)

62. Birchfield Close by Jon McNaught (4) (See review)
59. The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak (3)
57. Essential Landscaping# by the editors of This Old House (5)
49. Damn Delicious by Chungah Rhee (5) (See review)
43. Daily Painting by Carol Marine (5) (See review)
41. Day Trips from Chicago# by Elisa Drake (4)
38. Dream Decor by Will Taylor (4) (See review)
36. Slow Cooker Revolution Volume 2# by America’s Test Kitchen (3.5) (See review)
19. True Friends Always Remain in Each Other's Heart# (2.5)
18. To the Left of Time by Thomas Lux (3.5)
17. Do You Talk Funny? by David Nihill (2) (See review)
16. Images of America: Park Ridge# by David Barnes (3.5)
15. The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook# by Deb Perelman (5) (See review)
10. A Visual Guide to Drink by Ben Gibson and Patrick Mulligan (4.5) (See review)
8. Long Story Short# by Margot Leitman (4) (See review)
1. What We See When We Read# by Peter Mendelsund (3) (See review)

Edited: Oct 11, 2016, 10:57am Top

2016 Non-book Reading
I’ve taken to going through my magazines and, instead of stopping to read longer articles, I tear them out and save them for later. I look forward to getting to some dozens of them this year.

2. “To the Moon and Back” by Etgar Keret, from the October 3, 2016 New Yorker (read or listen to it online)
1. “Thresholds of Violence: How School Shootings Catch On” by Malcolm Gladwell, from the October 19, 2015 The New Yorker (read it online)


2016 Non-reading
I always intend to memorialize links to interesting a/v, TEDTalks, etc. Here’s a space for them.

Edited: Jan 2, 2016, 4:22pm Top

About my 2015 Reading
Last year’s stats were very similar to the previous couple of years’ -- except author nationality, where non-USA is increasing.

Total books read: 65
• Fiction: 21/32%
• Nonfiction: 35/54%
• Other/mixed: 9/14%
• I rated 55% of the books 4 stars or above (i.e. “good” to “great”)
• I set a goal of reading at least 30 books from my TBRs; I read 30, yay.

Original publication date:
• Pre-20th century: 2%
• 20th century: 17%
• 21st century: 81%

Date acquired:
• Pre-2000: 5%
• 2000s: 11%
• 2010s: 84%

• Female authors: 37%
• Male authors: 55%
• Mix of genders: 8%
• Author nationality: 35% were non-USA
• Authors new-to-me: 37 plus more in the anthologies
• Authors with more than one book in my 2015 reads: 2 (Stephen Hawking, Mary Karr)
• “Favorited” authors with books in this year’s mix: 3 (Rowan Jacobsen, Etgar Keret, David Macaulay)

Edited: Jan 2, 2016, 4:25pm Top

Favorites of 2015
(hmm all nonfiction, though four are memoir)

Apples of Uncommon Character by Rowan Jacobsen (BEST!)
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! by Richard Feynman
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
What If? by Randall Munroe
The Liars' Club by Mary Karr
Heat by Bill Buford

Jan 3, 2016, 10:45am Top

Hi MJ. Looking forward to following along. Hoping you post a bit about Maps of Time as you work your way through.

Jan 3, 2016, 5:03pm Top

>5 dchaikin: Hi Dan, I'll do that.

Jan 3, 2016, 5:13pm Top

I too look forward to your ongoing comments in 2016! Maps of Time looks to be a daunting project.

Jan 3, 2016, 5:30pm Top

>7 Poquette: haha the daunting aspect is being awestruck and trying to pick my chin up off my chest and move on. Welcome!

Jan 3, 2016, 6:16pm Top

>8 detailmuse: Maps of Time is one of those books with sticking power.

Jan 3, 2016, 8:53pm Top

Hi there, MJ. Nice to see you here.

Jan 4, 2016, 6:10pm Top

Just looking around and noticed your mention of What If?. Monroe is one of our daughter's favorite cartoonists/science writers. I haven't read his books yet, but enjoy his XKCD comic strip. Have you read his new one, Thing Explainer?

Jan 4, 2016, 6:55pm Top

>11 theaelizabet: I have been desperately hoping for a copy of Thing Explainer for Christmas! I saw it in the bookshop and it looks great. There is one remaining person I haven't seen yet who might conceivably have it for me... otherwise I'll be purchasing it soon.

Jan 4, 2016, 8:40pm Top

Thing Explainer looks like a book I could use too! Already this year I'm adding books to the wishlist!

Jan 4, 2016, 11:10pm Top

Welcome all!

I do have Thing Explainer but haven't read it. One to dip in and out of I think, but not lightly -- seems intricately detailed, fascinating and useful! I have Macaulay's The Way Things Work somewhere too, am curious how they compare.

Jan 5, 2016, 9:47pm Top

>12 wandering_star: funny, Thing Explainer was a Hanukkah gift for me. (But then, not sure I want to read it...is it really that good?)

Jan 7, 2016, 9:30pm Top

Looking forward to following your reading, MJ.

The Emperor of All Maladies was one of my favorite books the year I read it too.

Edited: Jan 8, 2016, 3:08am Top

>15 dchaikin: I guess it depends how much you like the premise. I'm a big xkcd fan and really liked the original Upgoer Five comic, so I am delighted by all its spinoffs (for example, here is a video of Space Oddity, redone Upgoer Five style.)

I think for me a big part of the enjoyment would be appreciating the creativity the limitations put on the writer, the demonstration that it really is possible to express complicated ideas in simple language, and the chance to learn a bit more about how things work in a way that I have to think about, and so am more likely to remember. That's what I'm looking forward to anyway! (I didn't get a copy in the end, so I will be buying my own).

Jan 8, 2016, 9:37am Top

>17 wandering_star: yeah, the idea of it is interesting. I'll look forward to see what you think. I like xkcd. I also own What If and I do hope to read that.

Jan 8, 2016, 4:36pm Top

>16 arubabookwoman: Happy new year, Deborah!

>17 wandering_star:, >18 dchaikin: the demonstration that it really is possible to express complicated ideas in simple language

heh that's the aspect that worries me... I love precise language; I hope he doesn't go overboard in simplicity. I've glanced at a few pages and couldn't immediately tell what object/aspect was being explained. And someone new to a "thing" won't go away knowing its actual name -- I remember reading about a car's "slide fixer" and nowhere is it called "anti-lock brakes."

Edited: Jan 9, 2016, 4:54pm Top

What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund, ©2014, acquired 2015

A renowned book-cover artist explores how our senses (mostly sight) are evoked while reading. I was underwhelmed. With its composition of 90% images/white space and 10% text, I was expecting originality and aha moments, but really there’s not much here. It seems like a book from the ‘70s or ‘80s (©2014), and the examples mostly come from a few classic works of literature (old classics).

If I summarize my takeaways, they’re that: 1) what we see when we read is that which we’ve experienced ourselves and the writer tapped it (thus writer and reader are co-creators); and 2) what we remember is not necessarily that which was well-described but that which has significance either to the story or to our own lives.

Jan 9, 2016, 8:14pm Top

I was all ready to go for What We See When We Read, but am disappointed that it fell short. Sounds like a great topic in the right hands.

Jan 9, 2016, 10:16pm Top

Too bad MJ. Such a promising title.

Jan 10, 2016, 9:56am Top

>20 detailmuse: Seems to have been a remarkably pointless book.

Jan 10, 2016, 11:32am Top

>20 detailmuse: Well duh, I could have told him that! Though personally I don't see anything when I read. I have a good visual memory but no imagination. I remember a similar conversation from last year.

Jan 10, 2016, 12:20pm Top

I bought What We See When We Read but it hasn't called to me yet. Now maybe it won't.

Jan 10, 2016, 12:53pm Top

>20 detailmuse: in my world the answer is "not a lot". I have a good visual memory for words and diagrams (I learn visually), but no memory for pictures, places or people and have no imagination at all. Maybe I'll give it a miss as, from all the reviews I've seen on LT, it seems to be talking about someone else.

Jan 10, 2016, 2:01pm Top

>21 Poquette:, >22 dchaikin:, >25 rebeccanyc: It might be time for me to pull Proust and the Squid from the TBRs to see if it's a similar topic. Its rating aren't much different, though.

>23 Oandthegang: yes pointless, except now I do notice myself noticing what I "see."

>24 FlorenceArt:, >26 Helenliz: Though I too learn visually, I would also have said I don't visualize much, especially characters. But now that I've been "noticing," I think I do. I'm interested to keep watching.

Jan 11, 2016, 10:30am Top

Proust and the Squid is on my wishlist. But I failed to document why. If you pick it up, I look forward to you response.

Jan 11, 2016, 3:02pm Top

>20 detailmuse: Oh, that's too bad. My library had this featured on their display rack today, and I was tempted to read it.

Jan 11, 2016, 8:00pm Top

I found Proust and the Squid fascinating - do give it a try!

Jan 12, 2016, 2:40pm Top

>28 dchaikin:, >30 wandering_star: thank you -- "fascinating" restores my desire to get to it soon.

>29 reva8: It's certainly a book that calls to readers. And it's a very quick read. I was just puzzled to find so little in it and would love to hear from readers who found more.

Jan 12, 2016, 11:41pm Top

>24 FlorenceArt: As I recall, there was a longish conversation on the topic on my thread after I read it last year.

And, yeah, I was underwhelmed, too. Not sorry I read it, especially given how short it was, but... definitely underwhelmed. And, being one of those non-visual types, I kept muttering, "What do you mean we?" pretty much the entire time I was reading it.

>27 detailmuse: Proust and the Squid didn't wow me -- I think I was hoping it would be a different book than it turned out to be -- but it wasn't bad. (Or so the review I wrote that I just looked at to jog my memory about it says, anyway.)

Jan 13, 2016, 5:10pm Top

>32 bragan: I just went back and reread the lively conversation :) Reminded me that I was peeved about the lack of science/research.

Jan 13, 2016, 8:09pm Top

>33 detailmuse: Oh, yeah! I forgot I was annoyed about that, too.

Jan 14, 2016, 10:57am Top

2. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, ©2014, acquired 2015; discovered on RidgewayGirl’s thread

A memoir of childhood -- family; civil rights in 1960s Ohio, South Carolina and New York; the dream to be a writer -- written in free-verse vignettes. Presented through a child’s observant eye, it’s sweet and poignant and I loved it. Coming on the heels of What We See When We Read, I started to notice what I “saw,” and there was quite a bit, I wonder if the poetry format had an effect?
When Daddy’s garden is ready
it is filled with words that make me laugh
when I say them--
pole beans and tomatoes, okra and corn
sweet peas and sugar snaps,
lettuce and squash.

Who could have imagined

so much color that the ground disappears
and we are left
walking through an autumn’s worth
of crazy words
that beneath the magic
of my grandmother’s hands


side dishes.

Jan 14, 2016, 1:39pm Top

Jan 14, 2016, 5:28pm Top

So did I.

Jan 14, 2016, 6:04pm Top

>35 detailmuse: I don't like poetry too much (usually) but that's beautiful. On the list!

Jan 14, 2016, 6:07pm Top

>35 detailmuse: This sounds great, adding it to my list, too!

Jan 16, 2016, 2:59pm Top

>36 kidzdoc:, >37 janeajones: it's only mid-January but I bet it'll be on my best-of list this year.

>38 avidmom:, >39 reva8: I hope you get to it and enjoy it as much.

Jan 24, 2016, 4:43pm Top

I Must Say by Martin Short, audio read by the author, ©2014, acquired 2015

I’d been hesitant about this as possibly too silly until I saw it on avidmom’s thread -- I enjoyed it. It’s a recap of his comedy career (including stage troupes in Canada and then SCTV, SNL, Broadway, film and TV), plus childhood and marriage/family too, much of it tragic. His performance of so many of his characters and impersonations makes the audio version very entertaining.

Jan 24, 2016, 4:50pm Top

The Leisure Seeker by Michael Zadoorian, ©2009, acquired 2013

An older woman with cancer and her husband with dementia take a road trip from Detroit to Disneyland, along Route 66, in their RV named the Leisure Seeker. It was okay -- the workmanlike writing and cranky narrator drew me in more as it went along. I didn't find the humor that other readers have, this was a darker novel throughout than I’d expected.

Jan 24, 2016, 4:55pm Top

The Violinist's Thumb by Sam Kean, ©2012, acquired 2012

Paraphrasing Tolstoy:
Perhaps all healthy bodies resemble each other, while each unhealthy body is unhealthy in its own way.
Another light history of science and scientists by Sam Kean, this one on genetics and DNA and inspired by his own genes -- haha! his parents, Gene and Jean.

It gives the fundamentals of DNA (its discovery, structure (including sequencing) and function) and touches on so many topics that have become known (or better understood) in the decades since my coursework -- of most interest to me are the incorporation of bacteria and viruses into our cells and DNA, and the environmental activation and suppression of genes that is the field of epigenetics. It’s awe-inspiring ... and as we look at lower animals and attribute so much of their behavior to instinct, I wonder how long until we’ll understand our own species enough to see how much of what we attribute to free will is actually biology?

As an aside, I liked this comparison of scientific fields:
A physicist stationed in Hiroshima might have pointed out that the gamma rays finished working over {the} DNA in a millionth of a billionth of a second. To a chemist, the most interesting part -- how the free radicals gnawed through DNA -- would have ceased after a millisecond. A cell biologist would have needed to wait maybe a few hours to study how cells patch up torn DNA. A doctor could have diagnosed radiation sickness {...} within a week. Geneticists needed the most patience. The genetic damage to the survivors didn’t surface for years, even decades.

Jan 25, 2016, 7:04am Top

I see that your 2015 stats show more non-fiction than fiction, MJ, and January definitely follows suit. You've a nice bunch of reading this month. Is this the first time you are reading The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency? I've listened to all but the last couple, and find them just what I need to lighten up after some heavy reading.

Jan 25, 2016, 11:46am Top

>44 NanaCC: true, long-term predominance of nonfiction. A significant portion of it is memoir, which feels so much more like fiction than nonfiction that I've been thinking of separating it into its own category.

My first time with Precious! You're encouraging -- it would be nice to find a "comfort" series.

Jan 25, 2016, 11:44pm Top

Nice review of The Violinist's Thumb, MJ.

Jan 26, 2016, 9:49pm Top

I just put The Violinist's Thumb on my wishlist. (I'm thinking for audio).

Jan 27, 2016, 5:58am Top

I'm glad, but unsurprised, that you loved Brown Girl Dreaming, too. It really is an extraordinary work.

Jan 29, 2016, 10:38am Top

>43 detailmuse: The Violinist's Thumb is one I keep coming across, and, for some reason, keep ignoring even though the topic interests me. Possibly it is time to stop that, and at least add it to the wishlist

Jan 30, 2016, 5:30pm Top

>46 kidzdoc:, >47 dchaikin:, >49 bragan: thanks and I’m glad to see the interest in Sam Kean. Audio would work -- I might try that for his latest, The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons.

>48 RidgewayGirl: I'd like to read more by Woodson. She’s prolific and I’m interested if any of her others are like this one -- the verse aspect or that it’s about a young person rather than necessarily for a young reader.

Edited: Jan 30, 2016, 5:39pm Top

Long Story Short by Margot Leitman, ARC ©2015, acquired 2015

This is a fast and fun beginner's guide, written with positivity and such high energy that it practically reads itself. And it’s informative: how to find the stories in your life that you’re passionate about (including prompts); how to develop the aspects of those stories that will be interesting to other people; and how to construct and tell the stories aloud in a way that moves the audience.

It’s inspirational for writers in general (especially of personal essays), but it’s really focused on stories intended to be listened to, not read. That said, only one chapter strictly addresses performing the story. The rest is about creating/constructing the story, although some of that does deal with making it more conversational and less formal than a written story.

It’s not just for people interested in participating on the popular storytelling stages; it’s also to learn how to present your most interesting and memorable self in a job interview or business presentation, a date or wedding toast. And it's succinct enough that some sections can be re-read with each new story project, until the process becomes instinctive.

Jan 31, 2016, 9:56pm Top

>51 detailmuse: well, I could use all that advice. I'm a terrible story teller. But, seriously, it sounds fun.

Feb 1, 2016, 9:50am Top

>51 detailmuse: Sounds like fun!

Feb 1, 2016, 2:34pm Top

>52 dchaikin:, >53 rebeccanyc: I'm not drawn to the storytelling-slam craze but I do like to write/read personal essays. What stayed with me most from the book is all the hour-to-hour, day-to-day opportunities for better storytelling in regular life.

Feb 19, 2016, 1:58pm Top

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith, ©1998, acquired 2004

I liked this short book about the life and private-detective business of a thirtysomething woman in Botswana well enough, especially its glimpse of the culture and landscape of late-20th-century southern Africa. But I probably won’t pursue more by the author -- it’s charming and sometimes funny, but too contrived and coincidental for me.

Feb 19, 2016, 2:06pm Top

A Visual Guide to Drink by Ben Gibson and Patrick Mulligan, ©2015, acquired 2016, discovered on dchaikin’s thread
All alcoholic beverages are fermented {...} but fermented beverages can then be distilled...
What a fun book! And surprisingly substantive, with almost 200 pages of info-graphics about beer, wine and spirits -- their history, how/where they’re produced, how they’re served. The design style and color palette aren’t totally to my taste, but the information-dense content is -- lots to unpack and analyze. (And some so detailed they’re nearly impossible to decipher, e.g. Whiskey Mixology.)

For fun, take a look at Fantastical Fictive Beers and The Cocktail Chart of Film and Literature. And see lots more info-graphics (including on other topics) at the authors’ site, Pop Chart Lab.

Feb 19, 2016, 2:30pm Top

Wild by Cheryl Strayed, audio read by Bernadette Dunne, ©2012, acquired 2016

A woman’s memoir of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail as a means of coming to terms with the self-destructive lifestyle she'd descended into following her mother’s early death. I’d avoided it due to the hype but liked it more than I’d expected to, especially the hiking aspects. I may even watch the film.

About the audio narration: the reader (Bernadette Dunne) is the same as for the audio of Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter, which I listened to in December. There, it seemed a northeastern-uppercrust voice; here I don't recall an accent but thought Dunne's voice was decades too old for the character. I googled Dunne and she is fairly young. Interesting to wonder if audio readers adapt their voices to each particular work but here it did not fit.

Feb 19, 2016, 3:04pm Top

I once read an essay by Cheryl Strayed in one of the Best Essays series that formed the basis for Wild and it was so perceptive and moving that I stayed away from the book because I feared she would lose the feeling she conveyed in the essay by enlarging it to a book.

Feb 19, 2016, 3:19pm Top

>58 rebeccanyc: Wow I may try to find that essay. Having Reese Witherspoon in my mind hurt my expectations for the book more than the hype did.

Feb 19, 2016, 3:34pm Top

>58 rebeccanyc: Sadly I forget which Best American Essays it was in, but it was probably at least 10 years ago.

Feb 19, 2016, 9:43pm Top

>56 detailmuse: Nice to see that book here. I didn't know about the Pop Chart Lab website, good find and thanks for linking to it.

>57 detailmuse: I had thought about trying Wild one audio. Hmmm. You make it sound better that I had expected.

Feb 20, 2016, 3:29pm Top

>60 rebeccanyc: probably at least 10 years ago
That helped -- might be "Heroin/e" from the 2000 edition (not sure about the only place I found it online or whether it's there legally so won't link) or "The Love of My Life" from 2003. Audio always leaves me a little distant so it'll be good to read these.

>61 dchaikin: I think that's the bottom line for me: "better than expected" :)

Feb 21, 2016, 8:27am Top

>62 detailmuse: It was definitely "The Love of My Life" -- good work on finding it!

Mar 2, 2016, 5:35pm Top

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, ©2016, acquired 2016
You that seek what life is in death
Now find it air that once was breath...
In this memoir of morbidity and mortality, Kalanithi, who originally earned degrees in literature and philosophy (he characterizes books as “finely ground lenses providing new views of the world”), turns to medicine and recounts experiences from the cadaver of his first year through training in neurosurgery ... and then his own lung cancer, which takes his life in his thirties. It’s poignant and lovely.

Two passages literally stopped me. The first (at top, from the book’s epigraph and its title), shocked with its fine line between life and not-life. The second, from the last paragraph of the last page of the author’s text (there’s an epilogue written by his widow), reminded me how powerfully, and unknowingly, we can affect other people and finally brought the tears mentioned by so many other readers. It’s addressed to his infant daughter, “who is all future, overlapping briefly with me, whose life, barring the improbable, is all but past”:
When you come to one of the many moments in life where you must give an account of yourself, provide a ledger of what you have been, and done, and meant to the world, do not, I pray, discount that you filled a dying man’s days with a sated joy, a joy unknown to me in all my prior years, a joy that does not hunger for more and more but rests, satisfied. In this time, right now, that is an enormous thing.

Mar 2, 2016, 8:24pm Top

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman, translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch, ©2012, acquired 2015
“Ove has a heart problem,” {the doctor} begins {...} “His heart is too big.”
HA! Who’d believe that of Ove -- a 59-year-old Swedish uber-curmudgeon who's lost his wife, lost his long-term job, and just wants to call it a day and commit suicide? Well, it turns out, just about everyone believes it, including a stray cat :)

It's heartwarming and the quirky characters are fun.

Mar 2, 2016, 8:29pm Top

Booked by Kwame Alexander, ©2016, ARC acquired 2016

I was still in the afterglow of loving Brown Girl Dreaming and hoping lightning would strike twice in the form of two terrific middle-grade books written in free verse. While Booked isn’t lightning, it is good.

Twelve-year-old Nick Hall’s life revolves around playing soccer; hanging with his best friend Coby; getting to know a girl named April; resisting his linguistics-professor dad’s urging that he read more; and reeling from his mom’s decision to go back to work training horses ... in far-away Kentucky.
It does not take
a math genius
to understand that
when you subtract
a mother
from the equation
what remains
is negative.
It’s fairly realistic in content and playful in structure, both the free-verse aspect (which takes just two pages to become comfortable with) and that some of the narrative work is done via changes in fonts. It veers close to feeling “teach-y” with its footnotes that define fun, odd words (Nick’s resistance to his dad’s influence is futile!), and yet doesn't feel teach-y at all as it actually guides readers in learning how to read -- to navigate unattributed dialogue, to jump without transitions from scene to scene. The fast-paced vignettes and copious white-space on the page make it appealing to reluctant readers. And its mention of numerous other real middle-grade/YA books (many of them also free verse) is both an homage and a terrific what-to-read-next list.

Mar 2, 2016, 8:34pm Top

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman, ©2012, acquired 2015

I love to read lushly illustrated cookbooks -- the background about foods and techniques, the feeling of preparing (and nearly tasting!) it from my armchair. This is a terrific book in the genre, created by a woman who blogged about cooking well in her tiny Manhattan kitchen. Of the 100+ recipes, I marked 14 that have a solid chance of getting prepared in my own tiny kitchen.

Mar 4, 2016, 9:37pm Top

When Breath Becomes Air looks really good. I've heard of it, but didn't know what it was about. Now that I know, I'll keep an eye out for it.

Mar 8, 2016, 12:12pm Top

Looks like you've been reading some excellent books!

When Breath Becomes Air has a holds list a mile long at the library, and I may put it on my list after finishing Being Mortal for book group. I may read Booked sometime, as I really enjoyed his The Crossover which I read when it won the Newbery. I've been meaning to read Brown Girl Dreaming for a long time now too... Must. Read. Faster!

Mar 10, 2016, 7:16am Top

Hi Rachel and Mary! When Breath Becomes Air is lovely and light. Mary, I think Being Mortal is more substantive, and in it and The Crossover you've possibly read the better books. But Brown Girl Dreaming -- wow you've got something terrific ahead of you!

Mar 25, 2016, 4:22pm Top

To the Left of Time by Thomas Lux, ©2016, ARC acquired 2016

This is the second collection of Lux's poetry I've read and I'll read more. Here, the 55 entries are a mix of recollections from his life; appreciations for objects and people and situations; and things he’s noticed or imagined. Some have narratives that drew me in and through, and Lux continues to delight with sudden illumination, for example in these passages snipped from different poems:
... {Lichen} helps stone turn back to soil
so slowly the stone doesn’t notice, ...


Grade schools’ large windows
weren’t built to let the sunlight in.
They were large to let the germs out. ...


... I loved to touch my child’s forehead
for fever and the feeling of finding none.


... Praise all scars, which, by definition, reveal
that something, one thing, one
minimum, is healed.

Edited: Mar 29, 2016, 5:11pm Top

Old Age: A Beginner's Guide by Michael Kinsley, EarlyReviewers ARC ©2016, acquired 2016
{Parkinson’s Disease}, at the level I have it, is an interesting foretaste of our shared future -- a beginner’s guide to old age.
Baby boomers are so competitive! In this collection of previously published essays, journalist Michael Kinsley explores that competition as it relates to aging and notes boomers have updated the maxim, “Whoever dies with the most toys wins,” to “Whoever dies last wins” (with bonus points for going quickly at the end, vs. lingering in debility), and then to “Whoever dies with the best cognition wins,” and finally to “Whoever dies with the best reputation wins.”

Kinsley acknowledges that he won’t “win”: diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease at age 43, he likely won’t hit the trifecta of old-old age, a quick decline/death, and lucidity. Maybe he's trying the reputation angle, with this book :) Some of the essays explore how Parkinson’s affects aging, but there’s also information (interesting, and worrying) about what’s ahead for the rest of us. And there’s some of Kinsley’s political musings, particularly as he describes potential legacy projects for boomers to enhance their immortal reputations.

It’s a short book, incredibly readable. I’d enjoyed at least two of the essays when they were published in The New Yorker and I enjoyed them again here. My only caution is that they were published as long ago as 2001, and so their inclusion of references to “last year” and “now” is problematic. I wish they’d been updated for this book.

Mar 31, 2016, 5:19pm Top

The Bridge Ladies by Betsy Lerner, ARC ©2016, acquired 2016

Writer/editor/agent Betsy Lerner’s relationship with her mother, Roz, has been strained since childhood, and when a job move brings her back to Roz’s town of New Haven, Connecticut, Lerner hopes to improve their relationship. Through getting to know the women of Roz’s decades-long bridge club, and getting to know the game itself, Lerner finds another, metaphoric, bridge.

What’s that joke about restaurant food? -- “it wasn’t good and there was too little of it.” That was my reaction during the first half or so of this memoir -- there was too little of the author and I didn’t much like her. But through biographies of Roz and her friends, interesting portraits eventually emerge of mid-century women’s marriages, families, friends, losses ... and respect and empathy emerge too, in Lerner's authorial voice, which won me over.

May 9, 2016, 3:43pm Top

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, audiobook read by Zach Appelman, ©2014, acquired 2014

I don’t know what to say. I didn’t connect once with this novel that is loved and admired by readers and critics. It has lovely descriptive sentences but otherwise so little content and so much repetition that if I had lost my place in the audio there’s not a chance I would have been able to find it again.

I didn’t hate it; I was bored and disinterested, no other emotion attached to it. Where emotion comes in, though, is that I just discovered I have another book by Doerr -- Memory Wall, a collection of short stories that I’ve been saving because I have such high expectations for it. Yikes.

May 9, 2016, 3:47pm Top

32 Yolks by Eric Ripert with Veronica Chambers, ©2016, ARC acquired 2016

I love that the first chapter of this memoir is titled, in part, “First, Dessert,” and it’s apt -- a sweet chapter where 11-year-old Ripert is befriended by a professional chef who welcomes him into the restaurant kitchen. The chef is reputed to be a lunatic, which he is not; but other people important to Ripert are (including an abusive stepfather and a later chef-mentor). So, after having enjoyed the chapter of literary dessert, Ripert circles back to recount the less-enjoyable vegetable (so to speak) phases he endured on his way toward dessert.

The writing is incredibly visual, always looking through Ripert’s perspective, which is pleasant though with hints of anger. It reminded me a bit of Gabrielle Hamilton’s Blood Bones and Butter (which I loved), in terms of a utopic family falling apart and a lost child persevering toward creativity and a home in the kitchen.

I have three quibbles. First is that Ripert devotes so many words (in a short book) to complaining (which is what it felt like, vs. something more powerful and effective) about the abuses by renown chef Joel Robuchon. Second, he shows us the operations of restaurant kitchens but doesn’t show much about cooking -- for example, he repeats and repeats that it takes years (not weeks, which I might understand) to master making a sauce but never explores why. And third, he seems to cut the memoir short and set up a part two by ending this book just as he departs his native France to work in New York City, where he’ll open the fabulous Le Bernardin and become a media personality.

I enjoyed reading 32 Yolks but think Ripert wrote it too early -- his life needed more composting and his career more substance.

May 9, 2016, 3:57pm Top

Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris, audiobook read by the author, ©2013, acquired 2016

I'd avoided this collection because reviewers seemed to like it less than the usual Sedaris. I agree with them as regards the group of short stories at the end (they are NOT good). But in the essays, I smiled and laughed out loud.

May 9, 2016, 4:02pm Top

Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, audiobook read by Dan Woren, ©2015, acquired 2016

A very short collection (just 35 minutes on audio) of four short personal essays written by Sacks at the end of his life. I’d previously read and enjoyed “My Periodic Table,” but here the material flew by so fast and unremarkably that I listened to it a second time (and had the same lack of much reaction).

May 10, 2016, 2:37am Top

>76 detailmuse: That essay on the colonoscopy; I brought that book with me when I accompanied my husband to his own colonoscopy and I felt terrible laughing and laughing in that waiting room full of anxious people. It's not like I stopped reading, though.

May 10, 2016, 9:25am Top

>78 RidgewayGirl: It was so funny! Also the one with flight attendants walking down the aisle, calling to passengers, "Your trash?" aka: "You're trash!"

May 11, 2016, 1:51am Top

>79 detailmuse: I've got to remember to listen to that on my next flight!

May 15, 2016, 10:32pm Top

Happy new week!

May 18, 2016, 4:50pm Top

>81 The_Hibernator: your well-wish made my week :))

Jun 6, 2016, 5:14pm Top

Beyond Biocentrism by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman, ©2016, ARC acquired 2016

When my mind wandered as a kid, it would occasionally go to a near-glimpse of eternity, of infinity, and that glimpse would fill me with wonder and take away my breath for the micro-moment that it lasted. Reading this book let me get near those glimpses again, and for intervals that weren’t as fleeting.

It’s a review of classical physics, an update on quantum physics, and a hypothesis on quantum theory that suggests space and time -- indeed, everything we consider to be reality -- is never physically real at all, but rather exists solely in the observations and meanings made by our mind’s consciousness. For example, those flowers aren't there except as light and energy -- which is interpreted in our brain as color, aroma and texture.

A provocative book. I liked it, but it seems a little loose and with a “look at me!” feeling from the author. It does make me want to finish Gary Zukav’s The Dancing Wu-Li Masters, which I put aside at least 10 years ago when its new-age-y take on quantum physics was slammed.

Jun 6, 2016, 5:26pm Top

Seven Brief Lessons on Physics by Carlo Rovelli, translated from the Italian by Simon Carnell and Erica Segre, ©2014, acquired 2016
In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don’t get anywhere by not “wasting” time...
More mind-wandering awe in this tiny book of seven accessible essays, collected from a series published in the Sunday supplement of an Italian newspaper.

In them, Rovelli summarizes general relativity, quantum mechanics, cosmology, and atomic physics, and then explores a unified theory of physics, the connection of thermodynamics to the passage of time, and how humanity fits within all of this*. (*Not well, he says: “All of our cousins are already extinct. What’s more, we do damage. The brutal climate and environmental changes that we have triggered are unlikely to spare us.”)

I liked it. The material was interesting but not revelatory, not even the final essay. This book is better written, but the book in the post above gave me more to think about. Both are relevant to Stephen Hawking’s six-part “Genius” series on PBS that I’m catching up on.

Jun 7, 2016, 9:45am Top

>84 detailmuse: A friend gave me Seven Brief Lessons on Physics but I have yet to read it, despite its small size. Thanks for reminding me about it.

Jun 7, 2016, 4:00pm Top

>85 rebeccanyc: When the time is right, hope you enjoy!

Jun 7, 2016, 4:05pm Top

One Writer's Beginnings by Eudora Welty, ©1983, acquired ~1985
It had been startling and disappointing to me to find out that story books had been written by people, that books were not natural wonders, coming up of themselves like grass.
This short, gentle memoir hints at how the writer-Welty was formed. Its three sections (“Listening,” “Learning to See,” and “Finding a Voice”) were adapted from three lectures she gave at Harvard University in 1983, and capture her sweet childhood; her extended family and life in the South; and her education, early writing and reflections on writing.
As you have seen, I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.

Jun 7, 2016, 4:16pm Top

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon, audiobook read by Andi Arndt, ©2015, acquired 2016

I’ve wanted to know more about RBG and this book’s title (and the Notorious B.I.G. crown on the cover) was too fun to resist. I’d loved her admission after a State of the Union where she dozed off (“I was not 100% sober”), and I’d been surprised she had concerns with Roe v. Wade (she felt the Court ruled too soon; she’d prefer support to build within the states). It’s a very straightforward, light biography of her family life and career (including Court friendships), with a focus on her feminism (for equal rights, not world dominion). Fun on audio, but there is enhanced content (illustrations) that may make the printed copy even better.

Jun 7, 2016, 6:22pm Top

>88 detailmuse: this one sounds like one for my wishlist, MJ. I think you've convinced me. :)

Jun 8, 2016, 1:14pm Top

>89 NanaCC: I think you'd enjoy it.

Jun 8, 2016, 1:17pm Top

Anna and the Swallow Man by Gavriel Savit, audio read by Allan Corduner, ©2016, ARC acquired 2015
{The thin man asked,} “You know about rivers?”

Anna nodded.

“A river goes wherever the riverbank does. It never has to ask which way, but only flows along. Yes?”

Anna nodded again.

“Just so,” said the thin man. “What I mean, then, is I’ll be the riverbank and you be the river. In all things. Can you promise me that?

Anna nodded a third time. “Yes,” she said.

“Very well,” said the tall man. “Then you will come with me.”

Anna’s heart flooded with happiness.

“And someday,” said the tall man, “when you are much, much older, you must ask me what erosion is.”
I love that passage: the man’s respect for the child and the acknowledgement that children will eventually forge paths different from their adults’. Sadly, it’s the only thing I loved in this book about a seven-year-old girl whose father disappears in the 1939 German roundup of Polish scholars, and who then finds protection by roaming the forests for years in the company of the tall stranger.

I’d had an ARC of the book for six months before I made my third attempt at it, this time on audio. Fairly boring and without the quality of writing to make up for it. Seems a fable with allegorical characters, which I’m not fond of, personally. Plus, the audio reader created a lilting narration, which may make the serious/thoughtful topic palatable to middle-grade/YA readers, but which seemed weirdly carefree to me.

Jun 8, 2016, 1:25pm Top

The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson, translated from the Swedish by ?? (“to come”*), original ©2011, ARC acquired 2016

I’d anticipated a light and quirky novel along the lines of A Man Called Ove (which I enjoyed), but The Invoice seems more a light, dystopian satire (which I enjoy less). The plot is not much larger than the title: an uninteresting man who lives an uninteresting life receives an enormous tax invoice (its amount based on an algorithm’s calculated high level of his satisfaction with life), and he pursues an appeal to the amount. Though short, much of the novel feels tedious; the protagonist is bland and the reveal is slow and repetitive.

That said, the themes feel larger: it does call Kafka to mind, and some philosophical questions are interesting, particularly regarding how a person’s low expectations, squandered opportunities, or gratitude and appreciation affect happiness.

* This frustrates me: the name of the person who translated the USA version of the book -- i.e. who is second only to the writer in having written it -- isn't available for the ARC (or readily on the Internet) ?!

Jun 8, 2016, 1:34pm Top

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, ©2016, ARC acquired 2016

The death of her father brings thirtysomething August, an anthropologist, back home to Brooklyn physically, and the contact there with her younger brother and an estranged girlhood friend bring her back emotionally in this short novel-in-vignettes exploration of that girlhood. I thought the story was going to be about four adolescent girlfriends, but I found it more about one specific girl’s coming-of-age within a broken family in 1970s impoverished Brooklyn.
Mine could have been a more tragic story. My father could have given in to the bottle or the needle or a woman and left my brother and me to care for ourselves...
I loved Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming and this is the second book I’ve read by her. It seems suited to YA or adult readers -- the coming-of-age is more mature than in Brown Girl Dreaming, the story and style more opaque, the tone more melancholy than optimistic. While neither book portrays a childhood full of happiness, both develop a wonderful feeling of family care and safety. I so look forward to more by Woodson.

Jun 9, 2016, 5:07am Top

>74 detailmuse: That's the second negative reaction to All the Light We Cannot See I've seen in CR in just a few minutes (having a big catch-up this morning). A friend whose tastes often coincide with mine raved about it, but I just don't fancy it. Thanks for confirming that I probably don't need to bother!

>76 detailmuse: I do like David Sedaris. Too bad about the short stories, but now I want to download this just for the essay on the colonoscopy... I might just do that right now.

Jun 9, 2016, 10:34am Top

>94 rachbxl: There's a lot to like in that Sedaris collection! As for all the raves about All the Light... I did think some of the writing was lovely and am so interested to know what I "missed" about the book, but can't seem to find specifics about what readers so loved.

Jun 20, 2016, 2:55pm Top

Marrow Island by Alexis Smith, ©2016, ARC from publisher acquired 2016

I loved Smith’s debut novel, Glaciers, and I liked this follow-up about a woman, traumatized by death and the devastation of one of Washington’s San Juan islands by earthquake and refinery fire, who returns to it as a journalist 20 years later when a childhood friend there claims to be part of a colony that has restored the island’s ecology.

It’s characterized as a page-turner, and indeed Smith creates intrigue by assembling prickly, withholding characters and then revealing their story very slowly. But more than the narrative, what kept me turning the pages is the atmospheric writing, particularly about nature and so evocative of sense that it’s nearly super-nature-al. The style and sense of nature and secrets made me think of Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder; readers who liked it will like this too, and vice versa.

Jun 20, 2016, 2:59pm Top

Thing Explainer by Randall Munroe, ©2015, acquired 2015

I respect Munroe’s premise here: explore complicated things (from science to machines) using only drawings and a thousand (“ten hundred”) common words. He doesn’t explain much, he mostly labels the parts (i.e. it’s more anatomy than physiology). And via the premise, the labels are never the actual names, so with topics I wasn’t familiar with I mostly 1) wondered what he was talking about and 2) wished I knew the thing’s actual name so I could google it and learn about it on my own. (For example: “{room of} water that keeps the {sky toucher} from falling over”; from his illustration, I conceived some appropriate nouns and when I googled “skyscraper ballast,” I got some relevant hits.) The periodic table of the elements is a hot mess.

I appreciated Munroe’s positivity and playfulness and tried to play along. A few times, I noticed my brain twisting to unlearn something and to grasp the simplicity of a thing, and I thought that might be good for it. I rated the book 3.5 stars but I liked it a lot less.

Jun 20, 2016, 3:06pm Top

A Mother's Reckoning by Sue Klebold, audiobook read by Sue Klebold, ©2016, acquired 2016

Klebold’s memoir of her son Dylan and the aftermath of his participation in the 1999 Columbine massacre. I’m not sure why I read (listened to) it -- perhaps because Dave Cullen’s Columbine had been so powerful. And I’m not sure what I got from it -- not much stays in my mind other than her continuing pervasive grief and her focus (while acknowledging Dylan’s responsibility) on issues of mental health and suicide more so than murder. Interesting and very listen-able, but not illuminating.

Edited: Jun 28, 2016, 1:20pm Top

1. “Thresholds of Violence: How School Shootings Catch On” by Malcolm Gladwell, from the October 19, 2015 The New Yorker (read it online)
Social processes are driven by our thresholds {...} defined as the number of people who need to be doing some activity before we agree to join them.
Instead of saving whole magazine issues, I’ve taken to tearing out articles of interest and collecting them to read later. So when this article was mentioned after last week’s Orlando killings, and since I was reading about Columbine again, I pulled it out to read.

Gladwell’s thesis is that everyone has a threshold to theoretically any activity, even activities against their beliefs. And because social status is involved, “You can’t just look at an individual’s norms and motives. You need to look at the group.” He quotes sociologists who’ve studied the “cultural script” left by Columbine’s Harris and Klebold (website; manifestos; the “basement tapes”) and found evidence of it in large numbers of subsequent (both successful and thwarted) school shootings. But it’s not exactly a matter of copycat; it’s a matter of lowering social thresholds.

eta: Not the best I've read by Gladwell, and I'm not sure how well he proved his thesis.

Group: Club Read 2016

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