This month my days have fallen into the lazy rhythm of summer, and life is good. Lately I’ve been focusing on reading deeply, if not widely, and I find that I enjoy one book much more than jumping back and forth between several at a time. There’s a season for that too, but not right now. August is shaping up to be a very busy month, which makes me appreciate the slow dog days of July even more.
July 2017 Thoughts
I’ve often lamented how hard it is to make friends as an adult, so one woman’s yearlong search to find her new BFF seemed like a relatable tale. I have to admit, I didn’t love this book while I was reading it… some of the writing felt clunky, it was curiously dated for being written only five years ago, and I couldn’t get a good sense of the author’s personality; but after I was done, several nuggets of advice stayed with me and affected my own attitude toward friendship, so that points to a good nonfiction book. I’m a fan of immersive journalism a la A.J. Jacobs and Gretchen Rubin, so I don’t hold it against Bertsche that she “turned her blog into a book deal” or whatever complaints other reviewers have about this type of nonfiction. But it does seem a little suspect that she started her search for a new BFF in a city where she also went to college, lives around the corner from her mother and other family, can already “pack the house” when she throws a party, and casually mentions a couple chapters in that she wants to quit her day job to be a full-time writer. All that aside, here are my main takeaways: if you want to make new friends, you have to put forth the effort, follow up consistently, and focus on storytelling instead of interviewing. I also like the Friendship Formula: 2x/month x 3 months = Friend. This book inspired me to do a better job of keeping in touch with old friends and initiating get-togethers with new friends, which is always a good thing!
When’s Starr’s best friend is killed by a cop, she has to handle the aftermath of becoming a national headline. For once, the reviews are spot on instead of hyperbolic: Stunning. Pitch perfect. An instant classic. I loved Starr’s story for making me feel her frustration, anger, and hope. A novel that takes on such a sensitive topic as Black Lives Matter that also manages to be sweet, funny, and nuanced deserves all the accolades. Definitely the best contemporary YA that I’ve read in a long, long time.
Alyssa Mastromonaco rose to the position of Deputy Chief of Staff for President Obama before she was 40, and she has a lot to say about working in politics, especially as a woman. Mastromonaco seems like a really cool and capable person, and I enjoyed her POV, but it was almost… too relatable? I don’t know what word I’m looking for, and I have a sneaking suspicion that some of my own double standard prejudices are at work here. Maybe I expect more of her simply because there aren’t many women in high-level political positions. Or maybe I expect her memoir to gloss over the practicalities and drudgery of life as a woman in politics because that’s hardly ever mentioned in memoirs written by men (who often have wives at home to handle the childcare and household)? I don’t know, honestly.
I think the organization threw me off. It made no sense at all until she spelled it out late in the book: instead of chronological order, the chapters are organized by personality traits that you need to make it in politics. Unfortunately the traits are easily interchangeable and there was so much jumping around (not to mention name dropping and acronyms out the wazoo) that it was really hard to keep up. I started listening to the audiobook but had to switch to the eBook because I couldn’t keep the dates/places/people straight.
I know that this list of criticisms make it seem like I didn’t like this book, but I did! It was funny and there was some good advice for young women entering the work force, whether in politics or not. But the flaws really affected my reading experience, unfortunately. I think a major takeaway, though, is that the people working in the White House are just ordinary people, for better or worse.
I remember this book from my childhood, so it was a delight to revisit the story when my parents brought it back from their Alaska trip for Amelia. Such a sweet, timeless tale of unconditional love. I love the illustrations, especially.
Start date: 7/16/2017
Finish date: 7/17/2017
Source: Blogging for Books
Stereotypes may have us believe that dogs are man’s best friend and women are “crazy cat ladies,” but Sam Kalda bucks the cliches in this charming gift book by bringing forth examples of Cat Men: forward-thinking artists, writers, and thinkers throughout history who gravitate toward the company of felines. This collection of thirty brief profiles range from the obvious (Ernest Hemingway) to the ancient (King Hywel the Good), but each essay is clever and compelling.
I love Lois Ehlert (especially after reading The Scraps Book, her colorful memoir), so I picked up a couple of her books from the library after story time. This book is like an old-fashioned toy: the simple concept of animals made out of colorful shapes might not have a lot of bells and whistles, but it can be a jumping-off point for endless creativity. Give a kid this book and a set of tangrams (or let them cut out their own shapes) and they could populate an entire zoo with new animals. Amelia enjoyed the cutouts and animal sounds I added, but I’d say this would be even better for a preschool-aged child.
Start date: 7/28/2017
Finish date: 7/28/2017
Genre: Children’s Lit
Format: Library book
I liked the Color Zoo better, maybe because the farm animals were more complex and less of an inspiration for a child to imagine their own creations. But still, this is a fun way of introducing shapes and colors.
Cute, but generic. I’ve been looking for some crafty decor ideas for Amelia’s nursery, and this book seemed promising; I earmarked the Diaper Change Mat Clutch, the Scalloped Felt Storage Boxes, and the Elegant Footprint Plaque, but in the end, I returned it to the library without attempting any of the projects. When a publisher churns out craft books with contributions by multiple designers, it seems like the content gets sloppy. The instructions didn’t seem consistent from project to project, there were no step-by-step photos, and there was such a wide range of crafts that I doubt anyone could actually make them all (especially with a couple pages of explanation for each craft). I recognized Mollie Johanson’s signature kawaii smiles on the cover, which is honestly what made me bring the book home, but ultimately I was disappointed.
Start date: 7/13/2017
Finish date: 7/29/2017
Source: MMD blog
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: Library book
My thoughts are all over the place on this one. March is a good story well told and beautifully written, but the fact that it’s historical fiction based on both a real person that I have complicated feelings about AND a beloved book from my childhood makes it… well, complicated! I spent way too long trying to write out how I feel about it, but I deleted almost all of it and I’ll try to keep it simple and straightforward.
First of all, whether you’ve read Little Women a million times or not, here’s my advice: read the Afterword first! Geraldine Brooks writes the untold story of Mr. March, the patriarch of the fictional March family of Little Women, during the year he serves as Union troop chaplain during the Civil War. Just as Louisa May Alcott based her fictional March family on her own family, March is based on the author’s father Bronson Alcott. The conceit hooked me from the very beginning, even though I probably have more baggage than most when it comes to Bronson Alcott.
My main complaint about Bronson Alcott is probably true of most philosophers: his ideals often took the place of common sense, and while he was busy philosophizing, the women in his life were left to do all the work. A couple books contributed to these feelings: Invincible Louisa by Cornelia Meigs set my teeth on edge by sanctifying Bronson Alcott against all odds and Eden’s Outcasts by John Matteson, a deeper look at the Alcotts’ thorny father-daughter relationships, further cemented my annoyance.
Historical fiction based on a real person can be hard for me to wrap my head around, and this was no exception. Even before the story starts, I have certain expectations: I want it to be historically accurate and well researched, but since it’s still a fictionalized version of a real person, I know I have to let go of the “facts” in order to enjoy the story. I think the fictional Mr. March rings true to the real-life Alcott, which is the whole point, but I couldn’t quite get over the implausibility of the love triangle. I’ll leave it at that so I don’t get into spoiler territory.
Aside from all my baggage, this was a compelling story that I couldn’t wait to keep reading. The horrors of war are well documented (I think this is the 3rd war book I’ve read this summer alone) but Brooks does a good job of taking a nuanced stance and making the well-trod events fresh and empathetic. Most of the book is told from Mr. March’s point of view, but Marmee steps in during the last third and saves the day. I loved the ending when the familiar territory of Little Women collides with the new perspective of March’s tale. After finishing this book, I’m hankering to watch the 1994 movie again, to see how the father matches up with this version. I don’t remember much about him at all, which is the whole reason this story came about, I suppose. Obviously it gave me a lot to think about!
My library finally, finally got the third book in the series! I wish I had a day to myself and a hammock so I could read the whole thing in one sitting, but I’m making do with bits of time here and there.
Modern-day adaptations of Jane Austen novels can be hit or miss, but this one is charming so far. It helps that this take on Sense and Sensibility is told from the POV of “Marianne,” because, let’s face it: she’s much more fun than Elinor.
Books read in July: 9
Books read in 2017: 48
Still reading: 2
So that’s what I’ve been reading during the month of July, the seventh month of 2017. I’m always looking for more book recommendations – are you reading any good books?
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