Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Books I Read in August

Well, according to Goodreads, I only read 10 books in August. Which is still a lot of books, just down quite a bit from my record high of 17 books in July. I would like to say that my on-fire reading pace hasn't actually slowed down, I'm just choosing not to include in this list the 10 or 11 early modern plays I read this month, as I feel weird counting plays as books (that's a whole discussion), and because I'm technically reading them in preparation for my exams, so they don't really count as pleasure reading. Although, I must say it's been fascinating to read all of Shakespeare's best plays at once (I'm not through them all yet, but should be by mid-September) and feel like I'm sort of just standing in a fire-hose, drenching myself in the beauty of the Bard's words. Maybe I'll write about it some time, but probably not until after my exams are over.

For now, let's jump into my August reading recap.

Dawn at Emberwilde by Sarah E. Ladd

I feel like someone somewhere recommended this to me as being similar to Edenbrooke, which is a really fantastic (if entirely fluffy) historical romance. This book is not fantastic. Not even close. It was a historical romance, it was clean, it was fine, but I've absolutely forgotten almost everything about it. Don't bother.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

Five stars. Just, so, so much good writing here. Okay, this is one of those slow character-driven books with not much plot, definitely more literary. But here's what I love so much about Berry's writing: he takes the ordinary life of a farmer's wife, a woman who lives a mostly happy life with only the small regular tragedies of anybody, a woman who lives a small, insignificant life by the world's standards, and he makes that life epic and important and incredibly beautiful. I just loved it so much, and I found myself sobbing at one point, and I just love when beautiful writing makes me feel like that. This book made me want to write my own life story, if only I could find the words like this to make it feel this beautiful. Strong recommend.

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller

This was so much fun. Historical fiction with a magic/fantasy rewrite, and a gender-flip plot. Here's the premise: it's World War I in a world where women have developed remarkable "philosophical" abilities to manipulate energy and matter using "sigils" that allow them to fly, summon smoke, heal the human body, and any number of other interesting super-powers. Men can do this "philosophy" too, but generally not nearly as well as women. Enter Robert Weeks, raised by a mother and sisters who have taught him everything they know about philosophical flight. His only dream is to be accepted to the elite all female Rescue and Evacuation Service Corps serving in the war, but his he good enough to hang with the girls? I enjoyed this world immensely, and look forward to reading the next in the series. Also, I immediately recommended this to my husband, as I suspect he'll enjoy it quite a bit as well.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss

Okay, this one was completely fascinating and a definite high recommend, but I have some quibbles with it. Voss is a former FBI hostage and crisis negotiator, and he is clearly good at his job. He now works as a consultant for businesses, so most of his advice works really, really well in a business negotiation situation (I immediately recommended this book to my husband as well, because he's a contract attorney in the middle of business negotiations all the time, I feel like this will be super helpful for him). Voss's stories, both from his time in the FBI and from his time in the corporate world were fascinating, and his insight into how negotiating works made me feel like even I could be a good negotiator (this from a girl who avoids conflict at all costs). However, Voss makes big claims about how his communication strategies can work in every negotiation situation in life, including with personal relationships. I can see where some of that makes sense, but he doesn't really delve into that much, and I really wish he would have, because I don't know that I actually agree. I don't think you can apply some of these negotiating principles in a marriage (like, you really should never compromise with your spouse, really? And faking empathy with a terrorist is one thing, but in a marriage, shouldn't it be real empathy, and doesn't that change things?) or with young kids. Those are the people I negotiate with daily, and that's the book I would like to read. Anyway, lots to think about with this one, I certainly don't want to forget what I've learned.

The Girl He Used To Know by Tracy Garvis Graves

I can't remember who recommended this to me, but I was intrigued by the premise. Romance stories with people on the autism spectrum seem to be a thing right now, and I was interested to see how this relationship worked, and what life was like for Annika. However, where this book lost me was when it used 9/11 as a plot device to show us all just what this character is made of. I don't know why that irked me so much, but it felt like too much. Anyway, not a strong recommend from me.

Essentialism by Greg McKeown

A re-read for me, to gear up for another stressful and busy school year. Just as good as the first time. Look, if you haven't read this one yet, then you really just need to go get it right now and fix that. It is such good stuff here about actually living an intentional life.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

You guys! What a revelation this book was to me! How have I not heard of it before!? My friend Sarah sent me a link to a podcast she thought I would appreciate, all about this book. As soon as I finished listening to the podcast, I put this book on hold at my library, read it in one day, then altered all my lesson plans to include this book in my first unit for English 101. Here's the basic premise: Donald Miller wrote a memoir called Blue Like Jazz that apparently did fairly well (I've never heard of it, not read it), so two filmmakers contact him and ask him if they can turn that book into a movie. They sit down to write the screen play together, and Miller discovers that despite being able to write a very reflective memoir, his life doesn't actually make a good story. They basically have to make things up to turn his life into a movie. This prompts Miller to learn everything he can about what makes a good story, and then he goes on a journey to live a better story, to make his life a better story. I mean, you can probably see why I loved that. Live a better story! So powerful! Also, I've sat in classes before where people have argued that literature is "post-story" and we no longer have need for narratives or meaning. This book articulates every reason why that is absolute rubbish.

The Gray Wolf Throne by Cinda Williams Chima

Continuing on with my reread of this series. This is Book 3, and probably my least favorite. But it's still very good.

The Crimson Crown by Cinda Williams Chima

And moved right on to book 4, which is such a stellar ending to a stellar series. Also, while reading this, I realized that while the writing may not actually be that fantastic (I mean, it's fine as far as YA fantasy goes), what I love most about this series is how well it does world-building and politics. I've never seen another more politically intricate YA plot ever, and it's all sorts of fun.

Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

I wasn't super in-love with Hollis' first book (Girl, Wash Your Face) which I read in July, but I kind of got interested in her life again after reading somewhere that her husband left his high-level job at Disney to run her company. She's a bit of an over-sharer, so you learn a lot about her life in these books (like her chapter on sex in her first book, or her chapter on her boob-job in this one). Anyway, my opinion still stands: some of the advice she gives worked for her but should not be taken as a universal truth (oh man, she needs to stop with the diet advice!), but I can see how she's quite motivational. I actually think I appreciated this one a tiny bit more since I found some of her goal-setting advice to be useful (I'm not sure I found anything in the first book useful). Anyway, not a must a read, but it was a good pump-me-up for starting the semester off strong.

Okay guys, there you go. All in all, a pretty good month of reading. Now that I'm back in school, things will probably slow down a bit on the pleasure reading front, but I'll still have my commute to squeeze some good stuff in (though, I'm also listening to all my Shakespeare plays, so my school work is cutting into that time). Anyway, I shouldn't be back here until next month with another round of mini-reviews. But I'll be missing you guys in the meantime!