Better Nate than Ever (CBR8 #32 – there’s one every year that gets missed)

Nate’s just this kid, you know?

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He’s out on an adventure, and he’s exploring who he is and what interests him, and what life is like outside of his hometown of Janksburg, PA and his typical, but pretty unhappy, family. He’s exploring New York and the audition process, and himself.

I loved Nate. How could you not love someone so honest as a protagonist? Federle puts just the right amount of 13-year-old into Nate’s voice. He’s just the smallest bit standoffish, while also baring his soul. He has things about himself that he knows, but he isn’t comfortable deciding yet, or certainly telling us about. He’s gone off on an adventure theoretically for someone else, but really he’s doing it for himself. This is a kid who dreams big (Broadway!) but his big dreams can also feel a little small (Applebee’s in Times Square!).

I find it difficult to sum up the plot of this book (boy runs away to NYC to audition for a play, hijinks ensue), because it’s pretty sparse. But the texture of the narrative offers so much more. You could just give it a cursory read, what you imagine its intended middle grades audience would do, or you can let yourself go back to that time in your life and really sink in to all that is and isn’t being said.

I listened to this one, and Federle narrates himself. It was VERY good. I am even more excited to pick up more of Federle’s writing. (Thanks to ModernLove for highlighting this author, and the Read Harder Challenge for making me read a Middle Grades book).

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

All the Single Ladies (CBR8 #77)

Cannonball Read is the best for getting good books in front of your eyeballs.

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I read expandingbookshelf’s review of All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation this summer and added the book to my to read list on Goodreads. Then I read Lollygagger’s review early this fall and I put in my library hold. I hope some of you will do the same.

I am a single lady in my 30s. I have never been married. I am one of many data points that make up a new demographic in American society. For the first time since data has been kept on the subject (and possibly EVER), single women outnumber their married counterparts. A cursory view of my friend group supports this. In fact, my friend group supports most of the points that author Rebecca Traister makes throughout All the Single Ladies. We are educated, often career minded, and for a variety of reasons not with partners, except the quarter of us who are. We come from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Some of us want kids, some of us do not, some of us want partners, some of us do not.

From Goodreads: Today, only twenty percent of Americans are wed by age twenty-nine, compared to nearly sixty percent in 1960. The Population Reference Bureau calls it a “dramatic reversal.” All the Single Ladies is a remarkable portrait of contemporary American life and how we got here, through the lens of the single American woman. Covering class, race, sexual orientation, and filled with vivid anecdotes from fascinating contemporary and historical figures.

Rebecca Traister does a really interesting job of speaking to a variety of viewpoints in this book through ten chapters that explore different facets of being an unmarried woman in the U.S. My favorite sections were probably where Traister explores the role of single women throughout modern history – but that’s because I’m a history nerd. But the stories of women who didn’t marry, or married late so that they could be activists, leaders, and artists really interested me.

Moving into the contemporary era, Traister also interviewed 100 women of various education, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to provide anecdotal evidence to go along with the studies she references as she examine the reasons for the increasing number of single women, as well as how the trend affects not just women – economically, socially, psychologically – but also men and society as a whole. It’s fascinating, well-researched, and broad. And that may be where the second half of the book suffers, just a bit.

But, there is one very important reason that I rounded this book back up to a 4 and not down to a three: Traister gets intersectional feminism and discusses the ways that different stimuli in different groups are creating the same overall effect. Is it perfect? No. Traister covers a variety of different viewpoints, but not always thoroughly. Specifically, those that would consider themselves Conservatives.

This book is a good introductory tome, but it is a bit overstuffed and a slow read. I took a break while reading The Count of Monte Cristo, but this was still at times a well-written slog.

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The Count of Monte Cristo (CBR8 #76)

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I have already said many words about The Count of Monte Cristo, since it entered our lives as the final of the four #CannonBookClub choices for 2016. It was a great idea I had, pick 6 books, three male authors and three female, all predating 1920 which had film adaptations, so we could honor our Pajiban roots, and I could easily check a Read Harder Task off the list (I needed to compare and contrast a book with its movie, you see).

Thank you, my fellow book clubbers, because I don’t think I would ever have willingly picked this one up. As it was, knowing my work schedule and family obligations (my sister got married!) I went abridged since I knew I wasn’t going to have as much time as this book probably really needed and deserved. I also had the back pocket win of my friend and yours, crystalclear having voted for this one and deciding to do her INTENSE and awe inspiring review as a backup.  

Here’s a secret for you: I really love the story that Dumas is trying to tell with Edmond Dantes. While the revenge plots are fun, interesting, and intricate they really aren’t why I continued reading past the Paris purgatory. While I was watching the 1975 Richard Chamberlin version, Abbe Faria says in a voice over “vengeance belongs to the Lord”, and that he hopes Edmond will turn away from his Arya-like list before it destroys him. This to me was the true heart of this work: what is the cost of forsaking that which matters in the world? The great emotional removal of the Count, his single focus on vengeance, is the destruction of Edmond. Villefort, in his decision to put his own position before the life of another dooms himself. Everyone is made to pay for their turning away from the moral right. Was the Count ethical in his actions, yes. Was he moral? I still don’t know.

This book is dense, and lush, and there is something for everyone. You can take a twirl through the discussion post, or visit other people’s reviews. I hope if you decided to tackle this one you review it, even if you don’t finish. I wasn’t kidding when I said there was plenty to unpack.

I have to say, that I have now read the book (abridged), and watched three movie versions of this story. I am convinced that the story in the book is the best, and that the closest version, which was truest to the overarching narrative, was the 1975 version. You know, in case you were wondering. 🙂

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Hobbit, or There and Back Again (CBR8 #73)

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I have, in my life, attempted to read The Hobbit on three separate occasions. The fourth try was the charm because I gave in to the power of the BBC Radio Drama. As many of you know Ale is working on her thesis about the origins of fantasy, and she is my roommate. What you may not know, is that I retrieve all our library needs, since I’m there every week. My latest pick up for her was the audio version of The Hobbit, and I decided she should listen to the BBC Radio version, so that I could try it too. I figured if it was another failure on my part, no harm, she needed it anyway.

Here’s my honest take: I found The Hobbit to be merely okay. Here’s perhaps another highly unpopular opinion: I think Peter Jackson’s greatly expanded movies fill in plot points quite admirably, most of the time (I still hate the dues ex goats in the final battle in the third movie and think all the invented characters along the way are unnecessary). I do love the complexity of Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth, but I will never know for sure if I could love it just from the written word, since I was constantly referring to what I already knew of the world from Jackson’s version (and the earlier animated one) because what I was listening to felt lacking.

As befits the original intended audience, Tolkien uses an informal narrator to open his world. The reader is provided glimpses into the various realms which populate the world, and the great battles yet to come. Since Tolkien is working in these glimpses, and the lyrical devices of songs and poems, I as a reader saw the gaps and here is where the genre of high fantasy seems to leave me behind. I as a reader am looking for more explicit information.  But I will say that this version has the benefit of bringing those poems and songs to life for the reader.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Singapore Noir (CBR8 #71)

Read Harder wanted me to read a book by an author from Southeast Asia. A little google sleuthing turned up the book Singapore Noir edited by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, a native of Singapore, who in her introduction to the collection lays out the Singapore the world is familiar with as well as the Singapore explored in this work. What better way to complete the task than to read a collection of stories by authors hailing from, or simply familiar with, the area in question? And some are in Singlish (well, partly) which is another boon for me since I like works in dialect.

First, if you like noir, then this book is right up your alley. It’s actually the fortieth or so collection put out by Akashic Books which has apparently, unbeknownst to me, been putting out a series of original noir anthologies since 2004. In case you are wondering the noir anthologies are all geographically organize
d, thus Singapore Noir.singapore

What did I learn about myself as a reader during this adventure? That I will consume noir quickly if given the opportunity, but that I should probably limit myself to one or two stories at a time since the genre has very specific rhythms which get very repetitive, very quickly since in all the works the protagonist is either a victim, a suspect, or a perpetrator. Add in the fact that that protagonist is usually self-destructive and is dealing with the legal, political or other system that is corrupt is, leading to lose-lose situation.

Highlights for me:

Last Time by Colin Goh, which follows a lawyer attempting to free the arm candy of a mobster. But is that really what’s happening?

Smile, Singapore by Colin Cheong, we spend the night in an interrogation room with a man who has committed a crime, but feels little remorse for the position he was put in.

Kena Sai by S.J. Rozan follows the life of an expatriate couple from beginning to end.

Honestly, this book is probably a 3.5 overall, since there were one or two I couldn’t get myself to care about enough to finish them, I have rounded down.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Gulp! Adventures on the Alimentary Canal (CBR8 #69)

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I love Mary Roach. I will read whatever she writes, regardless of whether or not the subject area really sounds interesting to me. I was admittedly indifferent to this one, generally speaking, before I picked it up. The Read Harder challenge said to read a non-fiction book about science, and I knew Mary Roach was my gal for this.

I enjoy Mary Roach’s smorgasbord approach to non-fiction writing. Each idea is linked to the next, but if you look at them from the macro you wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict how. Roach’s tone is respectful while simultaneously playful, and brightens up some perhaps less than pleasant topics.

In her fifth book Roach tackles something we all share: the alimentary canal. Gulp takes us inside the body, a tour from mouth to rectum with Roach answering the random questions this passageway provides. The questions inspired by our insides may be taboo, (as were the cadavers in Stiff) and a bit surreal (zero gravity pooping anyone? See Packing for Mars), but Roach has found her niche as the purveyor of answers for the taboo and surreal. Thank goodness.

Read this book if you want to know why is crunchy food so appealing, or why is it so hard to find names for flavors and smells. What about the stomach digesting itself? How much can you eat before your stomach bursts? Can constipation kill you? Did it kill Elvis?  (You know you want the answers to all of these questions.)

Why the three-star rating if I obviously enjoy Roach so much? This book, believe it or not, suffers from a lack of images. We can’t see our alimentary canal, and a lot of the procedures that come up in Roach’s research were a bit difficult for me to follow along. I was also suffering through a bout of the stomach bug and some small food poisoning, so this may not have been a timely book for me. But it actually made me feel better to burp along with Roach’s narrative.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Beyond Magenta (CBR8 #66)

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Over the past few years I have begun to pay attention to reading books by or about members of the LGBTQ community. In general, I’ve tried to be more aware of my reading habits and expand them generally. It was a boon to me then that one of the tasks for Read Harder challenge was read a book by or about a person who identifies as transgender. I shortlisted three, but decided to go with Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin as it is also on the ALA’s top ten most challenged books of 2015 list.

When scanning the list of frequently challenged books several themes present themselves, and boil down to several ideas for me. One of them is that people are afraid of exposing children to values that they deem to be sinful or wrong, so of course many of the books that are challenged are focused around offensive language, sexuality, homosexuality, and the like. The list of reasons submitted for Beyond Magenta’s challenges include: being anti-family, offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political viewpoint, religious viewpoint, unsuited for age group, and other (“wants to remove from collection to ward off complaints”). I wish I could say I was surprised.

If I may pull out my soap box for just a minute, by refusing to consider conversations about any of the items above you are only going to Other the group, and that never ends well. I digress.

On its merits Beyond Magenta is a three-star book for me. Kuklin made the choice when working with the teens featured in this book to record conversations and then working with each teen to craft them into essays told from their point of view, with some insights from Kuklin presented in a different text within each essay. While I applaud the decision to place the story into the hands of its owners, and not try to translate it through her own cisgender and heterosexual view of the world it unfortunately left the book a little unpolished. It also hurt the book to pretend that these responses weren’t crafted from interview questions when the author tells us as much in the afterword.

But the biggest problem I had with the book was simply this: it was a book written for other cisgendered readers which focuses heavily on the bodies, hormones, and battles for acceptance (which is a teenage obstacle no matter the gender identity). It does not however focus on the emotional growth of coming to terms with their trans identity, or any of the many other facets of the lives of the interviewees. Perhaps Kuklin’s scope, focusing on teens (although at least a few of her interviewees were by the end in their early 20s) hampered her in this regard, but unfortunately there were many times when I felt that the soap opera people assume transgender teens are having was spotlighted a bit too much.

Still, there are also positives: perhaps most importantly this book shows a diversity of transgender teens. Of the six There is an equal representation of two transgender women, two transgender men, and two gender non-conforming teens. Likewise, at least half of the interviewees are people of color, and all six come from a variety of socioeconomic and familial backgrounds.

I would suggest this book perhaps as a very introductory book, but I think Transparent which I read and reviewed last year is a better place to start.