Tag Archives: book

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

letthegreatworldspinThis book is a difficult one to review because it took me more than a year to read in spurts, so my memory is faded about the first half of it. A friend gave me this book to read right before I started my graduate program in 2016.

The book follows a string of characters that interact and interweave with each other in different ways (think: Love Actually, but not Christmas and not so love-y) and involves a fictionalized account of Philippe Petit’s walk between the World Trade Center buildings. I remember thinking the first 100 pages, focused on the first character we’re introduced to (Corrigan) were an absolute slog, but I pushed through nevertheless and the book picked up when the story’s perspective shifted to different characters.

Then because graduate school is sometimes the worst and I was swimming in a pool of life uncertainty, I quit reading for fun and Let the Great World Spin languished on my night stand for more than a year. I picked it back up during the holiday season of 2017, determined to move this off of “Currently Reading” list on GoodReads. This book is well-written and overall enjoyable, but because it shifts narrators so frequently, I became annoyed when the book shifted away from someone’s perspective/story that I found to be a better read than the other characters.

The book is incredibly well constructed and it is very interesting to learn how the characters are related to each other and how their small actions can lead to very big impacts on the lives of the others. I found the character Gloria to be the most enrapturing and I looked forward to underlining pieces of her sections of the book more than the other characters.

If I had been able to read this book in a reasonable chunk of time or been in a different place mentally, I likely would’ve enjoyed this book much more than I did. But unfortunately, I didn’t and I wasn’t so I’m not really sure if I recommend this book or not. If the premise and writing style sounds exciting to you, go for it! If not, pass. 

Publication Date: 23 June 2009 by Random House. Format: Paperback.

Author: Colum McCann web/facebook

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5 Favorite Reads from 2016

After a seven month hiatus, I am FINALLY back!! My personal life was a bit of a whirlwind last year (i.e. 2016 the year that magically destroyed everyone in little ways) which led me to de-prioritize this blog. I fled to Europe for a month, leaving my home country for the first time ever (!!!), and visited Paris, London, Edinburgh, and Amsterdam. I moved across the country from Brooklyn to Chicago and I became a PhD student! Lots of changes happened and now that I feel more settled in Chicago, I’ve decided to try to pick up some of the things that I allowed myself to drop in 2016.

Instead of trying to add reviews for all of the books I gobbled down in 2016, I’ve compiled a list of my favorite reads from 2016. These are not ranked in any order except for the first book being my absolute 2016 favorite! Of the 32 books I read in 2016, here are my favorite five.


alittlelifeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara.

While I didn’t post a full review of this book on the blog, I did blog about attending a book event with the fantastic author here. I made my book club read and love this book. It was my read during a magical winter trip to Austin, TX where I escaped the winter blues in 2016. This book deserves a longer review than this, but it’s tied to too many emotions for me. I’ll leave you with the bite that I shared with people who messaged me on Tinder in 2016: it’s emotionally brutal, but beautifully written.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coatesbetweentheworldandme

This is the only book in the list that received a full review! My university is doing an event with the author at the end of January and I hope I’m able to secure a ticket to see him speak in person. Here’s a snippet from my longer review: The book is part memoir, part current American history and is written as a letter directly to the author’s son. Coates detailed the lessons that he was forced to learn as a black man growing up in America and contrasted them from the lessons his father had to learn and the lessons his son has already learned or will have to learn in an incredibly moving way.

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayedtinybeautifulthings

I will come back to this book again & again. I will recommend this to friends again & again. When I am hurting, I will return to this again & again. Each piece of this book made me think of different people I know who would benefit from reading each individual excerpt. All of the excerpts are deeply particular, yet universal. I’m not really a “self help” type and haven’t read something like this in ages, but this was perfect and helped me examine all of my jagged shards and choose to hold them with my bare hands anyway.

illgiveyouthesunI’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson.

This was my favorite YA read of 2016 and I love it even more because I procured it from a magical book shop in Paris. I have never read a book quite like this — there are paint splatters on pages that add depth to the stories and emphasize certain points and it’s so DAMN BEAUTIFUL. As is the story which features siblings and first loves and first mistakes and struggling with the love (or lack thereof) of a parent. It’s perfect. I loved it. Read it.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandelstationeleven

I wish someone had made me read this sooner! This is a perfect dystopian novel that feels the most realistic of any I’ve read. Reading this will make you reflect on mortality, morality, and the potential unspooling of civilization. There were quite a few excerpts that were so well worded that I came back to them again and again because of the self reflection they encouraged. This novel could have easily been much longer, but it’s a tight, well constructed story. Read it! But probably not while flying on a plane…


& that’s all, folks! In the future, you can expect slightly more condensed reviews of the books I pursue in 2017. I’m reading and writing for fun less since so much of my daily life is reading and writing for graduate school which will be reflected in the reviews I post here. What were your favorite reads of 2016?

beyond belief: my secret life inside scientology and my harrowing escape by jenna miscavige hill and lisa pulitzer

beyondbeliefEver since I was a little kid, I’ve always been interested in different religious practices and the rituals associated with holding certain beliefs. I grew up (and still continue) going to my friends’ places of worship and observing how everyone chooses to practice. It’s always nice to see how openly people display and explain their religious practices when you tell them that you’re curious about their faith. There was one belief system that I knew absolutely nothing about, partly because I don’t think I have any friends who practice it, but mostly because information about the religion is heavily shielded on the internet. Scientology, ever alluring and mysterious as the “religion of members of Hollywood’s elite,” is the latest religion to intrigue me and thus when I learned of Beyond Belief, I immediately requested it from my library.

This memoir, written by Jenna Miscavige Hill and co-written by Lisa Pulitzer, details Miscavige Hill’s experiences being raised within the Church of Scientology. Miscavige Hill’s parents met while they were teenagers in the Church of Scientology and chose to raise their children within the church. Scientologist children are frequently separated from their families for long periods of time and Miscavige Hill details that she was often required to work grueling hours, frequently perform manual labor when she was very young, and act as doctor to all sick children when she was also a child. Miscavige Hill was prevented from seeing her family on a regular basis, initially because her parents were sent on missions that kept them away from the family home and then eventually because her parents left the Church of Scientology when their daughter was a teenager and Miscavige Hill chose to continue being a member of the church. Because of the strict rules related to excommunication of former members, Miscavige Hill didn’t see her family members who had left the church for years. Miscavige Hill, while still a member of the church, was in contact with her aunt, Michele Miscavige, and uncle, David Miscavige, who is the current leader of the Church of Scientology, and this makes Miscavige Hill’s shared insight even more intriguing.

Overall, Beyond Belief is likely a good representation of what it was like to grow up within the Church of Scientology at the time that Miscavige Hill did so. The church seems to be constantly making changes regarding their treatment of children (at one point, Miscavige Hill says that the church discouraged all church members from reproducing) so I’m not certain how generalizable Miscavige Hill’s experiences are to the experiences of the greater Scientology community. Miscavige Hill also states that her experiences differ dramatically from celebrity members of the church as they are treated like royalty, as most celebrities generally are by the public. If you are interested in learning more about Scientology, this first person account places the rules and beliefs of Scientology into a context that I wasn’t able to find from reading extensive articles about the religion online. However, if you’re not curious, this book likely isn’t for you.

Publication Date: 5 February 2013 by William Morrow. Format: Digital Audiobook from HarperAudio.

Author: Jenna Miscavige Hill blog/@twitter/instagram/web

Narrator: Sandy Rustin web/@twitter

modern romance by aziz ansari and eric klinenberg

modern romanceModern Romance by Aziz Ansari departs from the typical comedian-writes-a-humorous-and-self-deprecating-memoir style that has been dominating the best seller lists as of late. While it’s not as a big of departure from the style as B. J. Novak’s fictional One More Thing: Stories and Other StoriesModern Romance tonally differs from Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling and his Parks and Recreation co-star Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, which are both memoirs.

Ansari’s nonfiction book focuses on the current state of dating within American society. The book documents online dating culture in a way that I haven’t seen done before, which is easily the highlight of the book. He also details how dating culture has radically changed since the 1940s and beyond and made me extremely appreciative of the fact that I am a woman who is able to date in 2015 rather than courting someone who conveniently lived on my block in 1953. The book frequently integrates different sociology relationship studies in accessible ways, which pairs nicely with Ansari’s easily digestible telling of the current state of romance in America.

That said, I was very familiar with most of the studies that Ansari includes in his book. I took a lot of Sociology courses while in college and a course entirely about Interpersonal Relationships, which ranged from discussing roommate to family to romantic relationships. Because of my familiarity with the studies detailed in the book, I felt like new insight on the studies were lacking and left me wanting either more comedic spin from Ansari or for him to talk more about the actual research and limitations of each of the studies detailed. Instead, it seemed like he took the easy road of briefly detailing existing studies, which ultimately made most of the book pretty bland for me. If Eric Klinenberg, a sociologist who is credited as having a huge influence on the book and has been appearing with Ansari on his book tour, had a larger impact on the work and had woven in some of his own sociological critique of the studies, I probably would have enjoyed the book as a whole much more. However, someone who wasn’t already aware of these studies would likely read the book very differently than I did and might not be thirsting for a more polished and academic version of Modern Romance like me.

Before reading this text, I was a pretty big fan of Aziz Ansari (and I still am!)… but I feel like being a fan is actually a disservice to readers of the book. I’ve consumed all of Ansari’s stand up specials and most of his television interviews, which means that I’m pretty familiar with the jokes that he has tucked safely away in his arsenal. Most of the funniest parts of Modern Romance were jokes or quips that I had already heard from him, which left me feeling like the judges who watch Kirsten Dunst’s cheerleading squad perform the exact same routine as the previous team in Bring It On (forgive me, I just watched this movie last night with my roommate and it’s very fresh in my memory) aka not as impressed as I was the first time around.

Overall, this is a decent read if you’re wanting to learn more about the state of online dating in America, but is not for you if you want a more robust, academic read on romance in America or if you’re looking for a funny memoir in a similar vein to many other books recently published by comedians. Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

Author(s): Aziz Ansari web/@twitter/tumblr/facebook/instagram and Eric Klinenberg web/@twitter

Publication Date: 16 June 2015 by Penguin Press

undocumented: a dominican boy’s odyssey from a homeless shelter to the ivy league by dan-el padilla peralta

undocumented by dan-el padilla peraltaUndocumented is a fantastic memoir that depicts one person’s journey as an undocumented person living in America. When Dan-El Padilla Peralta is a young child, he moved to New York from the Dominican Republic with his family. His family didn’t acquire US citizen documentation and soon their travel papers expired and he and his mother were eventually living in America illegally. Dan-El beautifully articulates the struggles that he encounters because he doesn’t have documentation – his mother isn’t able to legally work so they had to move into a shelter when Dan-El is young and move frequently until they are able to find a more stable home thanks to public housing; he isn’t able to “officially” work (on paper at least) when he is offered a mentorship job when he’s in high school; he has no idea how to apply to college and if he will even be allowed to attend; and more struggles that are too numerous to list (and would also spoil some of his life story if I included them here).

It is so, so important that stories like Padilla’s are captured and made available to the public. Moving to the US and overstaying your initial papers and eventually living in America illegally is more common than a lot of people think. You may even have someone in your life who is undocumented and you have no idea. With Padilla’s story of his life, he’s able to share his experience with those who may not be aware of the realities that face being undocumented in the US, and also provide comfort to others who have lived those experiences. I talked about this book with my friend who was undocumented for most of his youth and he said that it would have been incredibly reassuring to know a book like Undocumented existed because for a long time, he didn’t know anyone else outside of his family who was undocumented. He told me that if he had been able to read about someone who shared his experience in some way, he wouldn’t have felt so isolated about his status and his situation.

That said, Padilla is quick to remind readers that he doesn’t have the answers for someone in similar situations to him. He was able to acquire a lot of well-placed connections and a valuable support system based on his specific circumstances, which may not be widely available to everyone. His book isn’t about teaching others specifically how to navigate their own situation, but purely serves to detail his own life experiences.

After the acknowledgments section of the book, there is a glossary of Spanish terms used throughout the text. Since I had an e-galley of this book, I didn’t notice this until I had finished reading. There are hardly ever full sentences in Spanish within the book, and most of the Spanish terms are sprinkled into the text occasionally in a way that isn’t distracting if you don’t know Spanish. Thus, a glossary wasn’t necessary to me, but some could find it helpful.

The only thing I would have changed about the memoir is the epilogue – it felt awkward to read and seemed as if it was hastily strung together. It’s very vague about how many years had lapsed between the epilogue and the last chapter of the book and if there had been any development with one of the major plot lines of the book. I also wish there had been a greater call to action at the end of the book; Padilla speaks extensively about the DREAM Act and I felt like the epilogue could have included a request for readers to contact their local representatives about this bill or listed activism groups that they could either directly be involved with or contribute to if they desired. However, if you couldn’t tell from the rest of this glowing review, I definitely recommend reading this book. It’s well written and represents a perspective that I haven’t read before. If you’ve read books that cover similar territory, please recommend them to me!

If you somehow stumbled across this review because you’re in high school and are wondering how you can ever go to college if you’re undocumented, my friend, who was in a similar situation to you, applied to universities via QuestBridge, which is a service dedicated to helping low-income students apply to college. You do not have to report a Social Security number if you apply to college this way. Good luck as you navigate this very complicated process!

Disclaimer: I was provided with an Advance Reader Copy of this book for free from the Penguin First to Read program. All opinions expressed in the following review are my own and have not been influenced by Penguin.

There’s currently a giveaway for this book for readers residing in the US on GoodReads through June 22, 2015.

Expected Publication Date: 28 July 2015 by Penguin Press.

Author: Dan-El Padilla Peralta Publisher Page

fresh off the boat by eddie huang

Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie HuangThe author, Eddie Huang, narrates his own audiobook, which, at times, is a little frustrating. Most authors who read their own audiobooks and narrate it well are either comedians or Neil Gaiman, so I was little startled to hear Huang reading his own book… but it made a little bit more sense as I got to know him through his narration. I didn’t know much about Huang before I read his novel — I checked the audiobook out from my library a few weeks before Fresh Off the Boat (a television adaptation of his memoir) was set to air because I was curious about his style.

Fresh Off the Boat is Huang’s memoir, which begins by detailing his childhood as the oldest son born to a Taiwanese family that immigrated to America. Most vignettes into Huang’s life includes a comparison to food (either food that he currently creates or the flavors that he grew up tasting). The memoir details Huang’s incredibly interesting life and his many ventures from being a food vlogger, fashion designer (he designed some best-selling, iconic Obama street wear), to a restaurant owner. Huang has worn many hats and seems to excel while wearing each of them. It could be pretty inspiring to someone who feels like they’re stuck in a career rut that they can’t escape.

Tonally, the memoir can be a little brash at times and the audiobook includes some additional tirades by Huang that weren’t included in the print version of the book. Because of this, I found Huang to be a bit grating at times. This makes sense because being direct and outspoken is part of Huang’s identity — he’s used to embracing his thoughts, even if his delivery makes people uncomfortable. He likes to unsettle the status quo and this can be a bit startling if you’re not expecting it.

Overall, this book wasn’t for me — most of the 90s hip hop and basketball references  went completely over my head and caused me to disconnect at points while listening. If you were into both of these things and also love to listen to a food lover talk about food, this will be the book of your dreams! Even though the book wasn’t for me, I can appreciate what it was adding to popular culture and think it’s important that it’s in the book world.

As an aside, I recently went to Huang’s restaurant Baohaus and it was very delicious! I definitely recommend eating there. Huang talks at length about developing his restaurant and his fantastic flavors within Fresh Off the Boat. One of my friends even saw Huang there when he recently popped into the small restaurant! The restaurant is completely accessible and not one of those hoity-toity restaurants that you usually read about in chef’s memoirs: there are no reservations, seating is minimal and first come, first serve, and the turnaround for attaining your food is pretty speedy.

Sorry that this also managed to turn into a restaurant review, in addition to being a book review. I would have also made it a TV review, but I have yet to watch all of the TV series yet.

Author/Narrator: Eddie Huang vice vlog/restaurant/instagram

Publication Date: 29 January 2013 by Spiegel and Grau. Format: Digital Audiobook from Random House Audio.

where’d you go, bernadette? by maria semple

Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria SempleBefore I even delve into the actual contents of Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple, I need to rave about the audiobook narrator who blew me away. The audiobook narrator was FANTASTIC and felt oddly familiar to me, but I wasn’t quite able to place her voice while I was listening. Upon doing some research for this review and realizing the narrator was Kathleen Wilhoite – it instantly clicked for me! She’s the actress who portrays the mother of Jess in Gilmore Girls, a TV show I spent all winter streaming in entirety! While she was great in Gilmore Girls, I really think her talents are able to shine even more brightly in the narration of this novel.

I found this book extremely engaging while I was listening to it, largely due to Wilhoite’s supreme talents, but when I reflected on it a week later, I didn’t find the actual story to be very memorable. That’s not to say that the storyline wasn’t interesting, because it definitely was, but I mostly remember enjoying the novel as a whole, rather than the actual storyline or the writing style… kind of like when you watch a movie and you remember feeling really happy when you watched it, but you can’t quite remember what the film was actually about.

The novel follows the life of a family living in Seattle and surrounded by the upper-crust community that staffs the tech sector in the Pacific Northwest. The point of view of the story switches often from Bernadette, a mother who stays at home, to her 15 year old daughter Bee, to her nosy and annoying neighbor who has nothing better to do (anyone who has lived in a community with a Home Owner’s Association will recognize and despise this character; parts including her garnered the most laugh out loud moments of the book), to Bernadette’s husband’s secretary, to others in their community. Each of their points of view are conveyed via streams of consciousness, emails, faxes, memos, and newsletters, which add a little flavor to the story. The actual plot of the story, which culminates in Bernadette disappearing, hence the title, is far less interesting than the humorously delivered quirks of each of the characters.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette? would be a great selection for a vacation read (even if it’s only a mental vacation that you’re able to take!) because it’ll be plenty entertaining without requiring you to think too much or get stuck mulling over elegantly written passages. It’s a light mystery that will entangle your mind while you’re reading, but isn’t too dark to bring down your mood while you’re enjoying taking a break from your life. I especially recommend the audiobook version if you’re embarking on a road trip! I give this book 5 stars for the narration performance, but only 3 stars for the actual book.

Publication Date: 14 August 2012 by Little, Brown and Company. Format: Digital Audiobook from Hatchette Audio.

Author: Maria Semple web/facebook

Narrator: Kathleen Wilhoite web/@twitter/blog