Tag Archives: random house

Educated by Tara Westover

educatedThis memoir had an effect on me and I want to recommend it to everyone. Educated by Tara Westover is a memoir about family obligations, systems of control, and the power of education. It was a hard, but good read. 

Westover grew up in a strict, Mormon household in rural middle America with parents who had their own interpretation of Mormonism that they proselytized to their children and used to condemn others’ interpretations of divine faith, including other Mormons. The parents did not trust the government, which extended to not birthing most of their children in hospitals because they were part of the evil “medical establishment”,  not legally recording most of their children’s births until many years later, not immunizing their children or permitting them to visit doctors for care in favor of homeopathy, and not enrolling their children in schools for fear the schools would brainwash their children with nonsense. The denial of all of these things to their children, particularly access to an education as the children weren’t really schooled at home either, was a way to indoctrinate the children into the parents’ belief system, bound the children to their parents’ sphere of control so that the children may never leave, and limit the children from access to other ways of thinking that would allow the children to be able to question their family’s way of life. 

Westover’s tale highlights how important access to an education is as she details the life circumstances of her siblings — those who managed to be admitted to college, after secretly studying for standardized testing, went on to receive doctorates, whereas the others never received high school diplomas or GEDs and subsequently had limited job options and continued to be employees of their parents’ businesses as they had been since they were children. The memoir is broken into three parts, beginning with Westover’s childhood, transitioning into Westover’s teen years when she enrolls in an undergraduate program, and the last pieces include her venturing to another part of the world for education purposes and having her worldview expanded even more than her undergraduate experiences initially opened. While education definitely plays a central role in this memoir, a large part of Westover’s story involves controlling family dynamics, the emotional abuse that often rains down from the controlling heads of household, unfettered physical abuse that family members conveniently ignore or outright deny because acknowledgement of its actuality could challenge their pleasant forms of reality, and outright misogyny about a women’s place in the family and in the world that is shielded from question by religious morales. 

While Westover’s education granted her access to many things, it also created many conflicts with her family and led to estrangements from certain members. Becoming “educated” isn’t always cost-free and Westover’s story illuminates some of the challenges that can be associated with advancing oneself, whilst one’s family tries to hold them back. This was a book that I needed to read and I hope that it is enlightening for others. 

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.

 

Publication Date: 20 Feburary 2018 by Random HouseFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Tara Westover web/facebook/@twitter

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We Were Eight Years in Power by Ta-Nehisi Coates

eightyearsinpowerI was thrilled when I received an Advance Reader’s Copy of We Were Eight Years in Power from Random House because I love LOVE loved Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and even included it in my list of 5 favorite reads from 2016! Coates has a wonderful style of writing that will leave you breathless (intentionally so as the author mentions in one part of this collection) and I will continue to gobble down his pieces.

We Were Eight Years in Power is a collection of 9 pieces that Coates has written for The Atlantic in the past 9 years, thus if you’ve been following Coates’s online articles, you’ve likely read some or all of these pieces before (they’re all still available online too). Before each piece begins, Coates ties each of the pieces to where he was personally, blending in some of the memoir style exemplified in Between the World and Me, and where America was socially, culturally, economically, and politically. This means that he often connects his pieces to the Obama administration (pre- and post-) and mentions how it influenced his articles, even if not explicitly stated in the features.  I often found the justifications and positioning of when the pieces were written to be more interesting than the earlier pieces in the collection, probably because I found myself more interested in Coates and his reflections than Bill Cosby’s weird and harmful conservatism regarding the black community (something I hadn’t read about before now). It would have been nice if the dates that the pieces were originally published had been included next to their titles, in order to help the reader position when it occurred; this would also help this book stand 20 years from now if something happened that wasn’t common or accepted knowledge at the time of first publication (such as the widespread depths of Cosby’s transgressions, which Coates does acknowledge in the introduction for that piece, but would be missing for things uncovered in the future).

The collection includes pieces about (1) Bill Cosby, (2) Michelle Obama, (3) The Civil War, (4) Malcolm X, (5) Fear of a Black President, which is commentary on how Obama talked about race during his first presidential term, (6) The Case for Reparations, a viral piece that’s widely assigned on my college campus according to my undergrads, (7) Mass Incarceration, (8) My President was Black, a feature on Obama and reflections on his presidency, and (9) White Supremacy and Trump, a piece that serves as the epilogue and also recently went viral under the title The First White President.

The pieces become progressively longer as the reader progresses through the collection, presumably aligning with the growth of Coates’s readership and The Atlantic assuming that their digital readers would stay along for the ride and full length of the pieces. In my opinion, Coates’s writing strengthens throughout the collection, building upon his years of writing experience. In the introductions, Coates also corrects some errors that were in the previous publications of pieces or properly acknowledges sources that were neglected in the original publications.

At times, We Were Eight Years in Power could feel like reading an accessible textbook, but a textbook nevertheless. The readings are dense and cannot be pored over in one sitting. I really liked the collection, but if someone were completely unfamiliar with Coates, this would not be the first piece of his I recommended. Instead, I would thrust Between the World and Me into their hands and emphatically encourage them to read it immediately. It’s a bit more accessible and shorter and, within this collection, Coates perfectly sums up Between the World and Me with this description of his mindset at the time of writing, “I imagined of crafting a singular essay, in the same fashion (as James Baldwin), meant to be read in a few hours but to haunt for years.”

I recommend We Were Eight Years in Power to people already familiar with Coates and who haven’t read each of these pieces online yet. If you’re not familiar with Coates, make Between the World and Me the next book that you read.

We Were Eight Years in Power will be released at physical and digital U.S. bookstores on October 3, 2017! 
Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Random House Publishing Group – Random House One World via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Random House or NetGalley.

 

Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow

sickintheheadI acquired Sick in the Head by Judd Apatow in an incredible deal from Greenlight Bookstore where I was allowed to buy slightly damaged hardcover books for $5 each! This unprecedented deal caused me to overzealously purchase many books that I normally wouldn’t have and subsequently allowed me to spend some time getting to know comedy extraordinaire Judd Apatow. 

This book isn’t a memoir — I had mistakenly assumed the book would be to match the style of the slew of comedy books that have been published in the past few years. The full title of the book, which, again, I picked up on a whim, reinforced my mistake: Sick in the Head: Conversations About Life and Comedy. Instead of being internal conversations between Judd and himself, this book consists of many interviews with people who dabble or fully embrace comedy. Each chapter consists of a transcript of Apatow interviewing a famous person — the topics vary dramatically from person to person as do the circumstances surrounding the conversations. Apatow first began interviewing comedians for his high school radio show in the 1980s and some of those original transcripts appear within the book, as do more recent interviews Apatow conducted specifically for the book and interviews Apatow either conducted or was the subject of for other publications or projects.

If you’re looking to read a history of stand up comedy, you’ll find that in Sick in the Head. If you enjoy comedians, but are less interested in their actual craft, you can also find that in the book by picking and choosing what interviews to read, as I did. Apatow briefly introduces each of his subjects to the reader to provide context for who they are within the comedy world and his own life which would help me to determine which interviews I should actually digest. That said, I probably only skipped 5 of 30+ interviews.

As with most deep conversations with comedians, interviewees often delved into discussions about their upbringings and childhoods which led me to also be reflective on my own circumstances. At times, the interviews almost felt like a print version of the WTF with Marc Maron podcast (the book has a transcript of Apatow’s appearance on that podcast too!). After the first interview, the subsequent interviews are sorted into alphabetical order by first name. My handpicked favorite interviews featured Amy Schumer, Chris Rock, a Freaks and Geeks Oral History, Jeff Garlin, Louis C. K., Marc Maron, Michal Che, Roseanne Barr, and Steve Martin. I enjoyed the Steve Matin interview which closes out the book so much that I scooped up and quickly devoured his novella Shopgirl, which I’ll be reviewing on the blog soon.

I recommend this book to anyone vaguely interested in comedy + entertainment and especially to those who want to dive into comedy, but don’t have access to the comedy sphere because of their geographic location or available resources.

Publication date: 16 June 2015 by Random House. All profits donated to 826 National, a nonprofit which provides tutoring and writing workshops to under-resourced students.

Author: Judd Apatow @twitter/instagram

ready player one by ernest cline: a conversation

readyplayeroneThis book review for Ready Player One by Ernest Cline follows a different format than all of my other book reviews. When I started listening to the audiobook, I found out that my amazing book blogging friend Amy was reading it at the exact same time so we decided to have a conversation about each of our thoughts and cross-post those thoughts to both of our blogs. We’re going to try to do a few more of these, so please let us know in the comments what you think related to format, content, length, or whatever else your heart desires. Make sure to check out Amy’s book blog The Literature Life when you get a chance!

The Conversation Commences:

Bri: I listened to the audiobook version read by Wil Wheaton and I absolutely LOVED this book! I gotta say, I don’t know a ton about Wil Wheaton, so I didn’t get excited about hearing him read it as other fans would have, but he did a brilliant job. The book heavily includes things from 80s American culture, which I wasn’t as familiar with outside of John Hughes films, but I would say you could be a complete novice and still be thrilled with the pop culture references that proliferate this book. This was the first book I’ve read in a while where I tried to read more slowly because I didn’t want it to be over — definitely the most fun book I’ve read/listened to all year. What are your initial thoughts, Amy? Did you find any of the pop culture references inaccessible as a child of the 90s?

Amy: I’m happy to hear Wil Wheaton did a good job of narrating the audio book, while I know quite a bit about him I wouldn’t really call myself a fan. I’m tempted to grab the audio book myself, as I’ve recently started listening to them, but think my latest Audible credit might be better spent elsewhere as I’ve already read it, any recommendations would be appreciated! I see what you mean about the pop culture references, I understood most of the ones related to films, especially John Hughes films like you, and a couple of games, but not very much. I didn’t find it too alienating though, I enjoyed learning little bits about the ’80s, now have a list of more 80s things to look up, and felt quite excited when I understood the references. I can see why this book is popular and a cult favourite, it does play up the nostalgic feel and that’s surely why it appeals to a lot of its audience who remember when the games and films references were released. Not to mention, there are bound to be readers our age and younger who, like Halliday, Wade and the other gunters (characters in the book who are looking for Halliday’s Easter Eggs, the key to his fortune), engrossed themselves in the culture and love it for the same reason. At times I thought maybe it was a bit overkill when it came to the 80s stuff, but I suppose that’s the point. Did you think it was too much at times, or that the amount of pop culture references was about right?

Bri: I really didn’t think the pop culture references were overwhelming at all, but I did find that I kind of breezed by the references that I wasn’t familiar with and didn’t really hold onto them. The only reference that intrigued me enough to want to follow up on is to watch Matthew Broderick in War Games, which I’ve somehow never seen.

With stories like this, I often find myself getting annoyed with the romance subplots because they often feel weak or over exaggerated to me, but I found that I didn’t mind this romance subplot. That’s likely because it wasn’t a huge part of the storyline, but also was believable and not just thrown in to add another layer of drama/conflict. What did you think of the romance and friendships depicted in the book?

Amy: At least something good has come out the references, hopefully you’ll enjoy War Games. Also, if you’ve not seen Fanboys which is a film written by Ernest Cline, you should definitely take the opportunity to now, it’s one of my favourite films and until recently I didn’t realise that it was the same person.

I agree with you so much on how romance subplots can feel over exaggerated. I find as I grow older that I have less and less time for extraneous romantic melodrama when a narrative is doing just fine without it. However, the romance subplot in Ready Player One was tolerable. There’s a point where the love interest, Artemis, breaks it off for a while because it is distracting (I wouldn’t consider this a major spoiler), and I really appreciated what a reasonable decision that was in the context of how high the stakes are in their quest. It seems to me quite tempting to either write drama into romantic arcs for the sake of drama, or when the climaxes of a book aren’t related to relationship issues to make subplot relationships run effortlessly and unrealistically smooth. Ernest Cline here seemed to really think through what problems two young people might face when romantically involved while also in this ridiculous situation. I don’t know about you, but I really liked Artemis, a lot more than Wade. I don’t think that a main character necessarily has to be like-able, but when there’s a character in the mix that I can really get behind that’s always good, so having Artemis and Aech to like was helpful.

I am always quite skeptical of book-to-film adaptations, with the news a few months ago that Steven Spielberg is directing the film version of Ready Player One, the ball seems to be rolling in the making of it (edit: it now has a date!). What do you think will be the major difficulties when they’re making this film?

Bri: It’s so interesting to see Aech’s name spelled out! Since I listened to the audiobook, I spelled out all of the names in my brain and I thought Aech’s name was actually just the letter H. I kept wondering how someone could have a username consisting of only one letter.

I had no idea that there were actually talks about making this into a movie, let alone that someone like Steven Spielberg was attached to direct. As fun and intriguing as I found this book, I honestly can’t picture it being successfully adapted to the big screen, especially with all of the references to other works that will definitely be difficult to incorporate because of copyright issues. If a lot of the references end up being eliminated for the big screen, I feel like part of the magic of the book will definitely disappear.

Since the book shifts from taking place in the game setting to Wade’s real world and never shows the real worlds of the other characters until much later in the book, I feel like this could affect the film negatively tonally. While this works in the book because you’re only following the mindset of Wade, I feel like this is much harder to convey and accept as a viewer of a film when you’re taking in the characters within their environments instead of specifically following a single character’s thoughts, emotions, and actions.

What’s your biggest takeaway from this book? This can be your parting thoughts, how it changed you as a reader, a single sentence summary of the novel, or whatever your heart desires.

Amy: I rarely think of the little differences that can occur between listening to an audiobook and reading it in print, I suppose new words, names, and general things you’ve never heard of won’t come across the same. Cline’s spelling didn’t occur to you, and it took me far too long when reading to realise it was supposed to be pronounced H.

I do love film adaptations of books, but I feel some stories are meant to be enjoyed as novels and are best left alone. Others feel differently, when they love something so much they need to experience it through as many mediums as possible. I think a film might take something away from the charm of this book. Despite its incredible popularity, it is a cult favourite, and when you’re reading it and nobody around you has heard of it you do feel a bit like you’re part of a special club. Turning it into a blockbuster movie might remove that inkling that you’re onto something great. There’s also something to be said for needing to actively play a part in the world building and having to imagine this insane simulated dimension, I found that a big part of my experience of Ready Player One was that how the OASIS looked was largely down to my interpretation of it.

Hmm… parting thoughts. I found this book to be satisfyingly immersive and really enjoyable, as far as my own reading experience goes it is quite a unique book. I’m looking forward to reading Cline’s second Armada which was published this month, though I’m worried that it will have too many similarities to be as exciting. Despite my enjoyment of Ready Player One I was occasionally drawn out of it to think about how and why it has sold so well, it seems to me that Ernie Cline knows exactly what he is doing and has played on the enthusiasm of fans of old games and films and their need to buy into or collect things. I can’t really talk though, I collect books like nobody’s business… I’m really interested to hear what you’ll be taking away from this!

Bri: While I already want to read Armada, I think I’m going to wait a few months to check it out so that I won’t be constantly comparing it to Ready Player One. Since Wil Wheaton also narrated that audiobook, I’ll probably choose to listen to this book too.

My final takeaways from reading Ready Player One is that I shouldn’t just dismiss a popular book if it takes place in a world that I don’t think I’ll appreciate. Some authors are so skilled that they can make it a fun ride for most readers, even if you don’t have the background knowledge that could ultimately make it more enjoyable.

Having a conversation like this was fun! Let’s do it again! Let us know in the comments if there are any books that you think Amy and Bri should tackle next!

Publication Date: 16 August 2011 by Random House. Format: Digital Audiobook from Books on Tape.

Author: Ernest Cline web/twitter/facebook/blog

Narrator: Wil Wheaton web/twitter/tumblr/instagram

the circle by dave eggers

thecircleThis was my first ever Dave Eggers read and I regret it being the first that dove into. My partner loved A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which is the memoir and debut of Eggers, and I’m not sure why I didn’t choose to read that book first. While I’ve heard great things about the writing style of Eggers, likely stemming from reflections on his memoir, I wasn’t impressed with The Circle

I’ve read quite a few futuristic novels that take place in technology over saturated worlds and I was beginning to think I was simply burned out on reading more renditions of the same story (spoiler alert: I was proved wrong when I recently read and LOVED Ready Player One by Ernest Cline; review coming soon!). The Circle‘s spin features a technology and digital company that is very similar to a blend of  Google and Apple, which allows the reader to envision that the world Eggers has created could actually exist if some things about our current world changed. The reader is introduced to the world through Mae, a young college graduate, who joins The Circle thanks to being recommended for a job by her college best friend. The Circle, as a company and not as the title of the book, is comprised of a leading search engine, a social media platform, and a leading technology innovation team.

During Mae’s time at The Circle, she can be a bit boring boring at times, even as her actions advance herself through the company’s ranks. Mae’s boringness is perhaps intentional so that she can be easily molded and manipulated by other characters in the book to advance the plot, but ultimately left me feeling put off and like Mae was a cog in the machine without any agency. Mae’s trust of The Circle is balanced by her parents and her ex-boyfriend who are very critical of how The Circle is completely overtaking the society that they live in; they seem to represent the views that Eggers himself perhaps holds about society’s relationship with technology. Because of this, the whole novel felt like a condemnation of our reliance on technology. The easy condemnation seemed lazy and more like a writing exercise than a full fledged novel. That said, I’m looking forward to reading some of his nonfiction in the future.

While I was listening to the audiobook of this novel, it was announced that Emma Watson would be starring in the movie version of the book. I can’t really envision how this will be adapted to the big screen, but I look forward to mindlessly watching it on an airplane sometime in the future.

Have you read any Dave Eggers works? Do you think his nonfiction pieces are superior to his fictional novels? Let me know in the comments!

Publication Date: 8 October 2013 by McSweeney’s and Knopf. Format: Digital Audiobook from Random House Audio.

Author: Dave Eggers Publisher Page

Narrator: Dion Graham IMDB

Off the Page Event presented by Random House

I just returned from Random House’s Off the Page Event that took place today in New York’s Hudson Valley. A few weeks ago, I won tickets to the event for me + a friend through an Instagram contest which was very exciting! Enter those digital book contests — one day you might be the lucky winner!

I had never been to upstate New York before so I was very excited to visit the rolling hills of Hudson Valley and to escape the hubbub of the city life for a weekend. Sam, one of my college friends, was game to go with me and I’m so happy she agreed! We made our way up to Hudson on Friday night and stayed with some of her family friends before departing for the event bright and early on Saturday morning.

The morning started off with a conversation between Dana Bowen, the editor of Every Day with Rachel Ray, and Ruth Reichl, the author of many fantastic food memoirs and cookbooks.

Dana Bowen, left, interviews Ruth Reichl, right, at Random House's Off the Page Event

Dana Bowen, left, interviews Ruth Reichl, right, at Random House’s Off the Page Event

The conversation was quite lovely and Ms. Reichl was extremely charming as she discussed the creation of her upcoming cookbook to be released this fall. Reichl moved to Hudson after falling upon some hard times in the city and cooked her way back to happiness, all the while tweeting about her experiences along the way. The book covers the foods that helped her find her happiness again.

After listening to that exciting conversation, Sam and I attended some of the classes they offered as part of the event. We learned different ways to brew coffee from Toby’s Estate and how to make flower arrangements! We also tried savory yogurt, courtesy of Blue Hill Yogurt, which we’d never done before! Fun photos of all of these things are at the end of the post.

We were also given a swag bag that included a summer issue of Every Day with Rachel RayTop Secret Twenty-One by Janet Evanovich, The One that Got Away by Bethany Chase, and Lucky Us by Amy Bloom.

Off the Page Swag

Off the Page Swag

Thanks for the fun event, Random House! Here’s to hoping I can win tickets to more cool events in the future! Click through for more photos from the day!

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june round up

Hi folks! This June Round Up is coming to your computer screen a little late (though I may be starting a trend here…) because a lot of summer traveling has been occupying my attention. In the past few weeks, my high school best friend, my boo, and one of my college best friends all came to stay with me on separate occasions. As I’m writing this, I’ve just returned from a July 4th trip to Washington, D.C., to visit another one of my college best friends and it’s the first time I’ve been in front of a computer in days. In fact, I originally hand wrote this blog note on the train from D. C. because I was taking a break from “screen time” all weekend.

My traveling isn’t going to stop anytime soon because this coming weekend, I’m heading up to Hudson, NY for Random House’s Off the Page event. I won two tickets to the event through an Instagram contest and am very excited about the event and visiting upstate New York! Hudson is allegedly adorable and very picturesque so I’ll be spending an extra day exploring the quaint town. You can expect a post all about the event sometime in the next week… as long as I manage to post it before I depart to Chicago for Pitchfork Music Festival… I’m a busy bee who can’t be in one place for long it seems!

In the meantime, check out the following book reviews published in June and let me know what you think:

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Forgotten Country by Catherine Chung Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang

stardust undocumented by dan-el padilla peralta Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple

My June Book Haul includes:

beyondbelief brightlines thecircle euphoria funhome theinterestings themartian meandearlandthedyinggirl modern romance

  • Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape by Jenna Miscavige Hill with Lisa Pulitzer
  • Bright Lines by Tanwi Nandini Islam (ARC from Penguin’s First to Read program)
  • The Circle by Dave Eggers
  • Euphoria by Lily King
  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  • The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
  • The Martian by Andy Weir
  • Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
  • Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

I also finished a few of the books above in June that I haven’t been able to blog about yet due to the abundance of traveling and friend fun that I’ve been indulging in. You can expect reviews of finished June reads Beyond BeliefThe Circle, and The Interestings coming to the blog soon!

As summer continues to progress, I’ll strive to stay on top of my book reviews, but it’s so difficult when I’m also trying to enjoy the outdoors and spend less time hunched over my many digital screens! As soon as the boringness and limited sunlight of fall settles in, I’m sure I’ll return to being on my book review A-game.

I hope you’re also enjoying your summer as much as I am! Adventure on!