Tag Archives: reading

Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel

lastnightinmontrealI’m slowly making my way through reading other works by the authors who dominated the list of my 5 favorite reads of 2016: I’m currently reading an ARC of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s newest collection, We Were 8 Years in Power; I scooped up Cheryl Strayed’s memoir, Wild, in a bookshop last week; and I finally tackled Last Night in Montreal by Emily St. John Mandel despite snagging it in February.

While I absolutely adore Mandel’s writing style (she has some of the prettiest prose I’ve ever stumbled across), this book was not as breathtaking as Station Eleven. I fell in love with several sentences throughout the novel, but the story as a whole simply didn’t move me in the same way. All of that said, it was still an interesting novel that I pored through incredibly quickly and didn’t find myself bored along the way… but if I was going to recommend one of Mandel’s works to you, I would forcefully push Station Eleven into your lap and leave Last Night in Montreal on the bookshelf for you to pick up on your own when the winds call you that way.

Is this review a little harsh for me actually enjoying the book? Yes! I think I just have a hard time comparing it to Mandel’s other riveting work, but this was still good. In the same way that Station Eleven weaves around narrators and individual lives, Last Night in Montreal largely shifts between four narrators and weaves in and out of the present and when a big event happened in the lives of one of the narrators.

Our main narrator, Eli, is perturbed when his girlfriend Lilia, another one of our narrators, abruptly disappears. But disappearing has been one of the only constants in her life since she was about seven years old and abducted from her home by her father. The private investigator attempting to track Lilia’s whereabouts is one of our other narrators, as is his daughter, Michaela, who is nearly the same age as Lilia. The main portions of the tale revolve around getting us to understand the nature of Lilia’s abduction, why she can’t seem to stay in one place, Eli’s grappling with Lilia being a loose thread, yet more connected to her purpose than the stationary Eli who talks about creating great things, but never seems to actually create anything, and Michaela who is attempting to understand her father’s motivations and the dissolution of her own family system. I was able to predict one of the bigger mysteries and felt like Mandel could’ve used her beautiful words to paint a more colorful picture instead of leaving the reader with a muted, vague, somewhat empty canvas of an explanation for one of the bigger questions in the novel, but I enjoyed the ride anyway. 

Advertisements

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?

2016 Book Goals

I originally started this blog to keep me accountable for reading 52 books in 2015 (aka a book a week). It took me until the very last day of 2015 to accomplish that goal, but I can now say that I did it! Woohoo! Very proud of myself!

In order to tackle that goal, I had to place some of my other media consumption on pause. I’m over a month behind on the podcasts that I subscribe to (check out this post for 10 recommended podcasts) and I have a pile of magazines that I need to catch up on as well.

For 2016, I am halving 2015’s goal to 26 books. I’ve decided to do this because I want to:

  • spend my free time consuming more than just books,
  • be able to dive into *HUGE* books like A Little Life and Infinite Jest instead of being deterred from them because they won’t make a dent in my reading goals despite taking up a hefty chunk of my time,
  • and write reviews for at least 26 books in 2016 (even though I read 52 books in 2015, I didn’t have time to write reviews for all of them).

For a full list of the books I read in 2015, you can check out this page on my blog or this list on Goodreads. In the coming weeks, I’ll likely put together some recommendations for books based on my previous reviews and post extended reviews of the books I finished in December 2015, but haven’t posted about on the blog yet. I’ve already jumped into 2016’s reading pool by finishing We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (thank you for sending it to me, Amy!) and starting the graphic novel Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel which my partner gave me for Christmas.

& That’s a wrap on my bookish 2015 and a peek into my 2016. Thank you for following me on my reading journey.

Tap, Click, Read by Lisa Guernsey and Michael H. Levine

9781119091899.pdfI purchased Tap, Click, Read: Growing Readers in a World of Screens because it was relevant to my work as an educational media researcher. When I know I’m going to have a lot of travel in my future, I always try to scoop up a work-relevant read to indulge in during spurts of travel. This allows me to feel productive for work things when I’m not able to be online and respond to emails quickly.

This book satisfied my itch to productively read for work! Soon, I’ll be beginning a project that examines how educational programming (including television, apps, websites, and digital games) influences literacy skills so this book was a perfect primer for helping me frame my thinking around literacy and digital screens. In fact, I’ve recommend this book to all of my coworkers who will be embarking upon this project with me.

Tap, Click, Read serves as a great overview of many current research studies which examine the intersection of literacy and emerging technologies. Since I wasn’t familiar with many of the existing literacy studies, the book was immensely helpful in furthering my knowledge base. The book would also be a great read for anyone who works with mediating media or books for young children, educators, librarians, caregivers, and family members so that they can learn ways to encourage positive reading habits and intellectual curiosity within the young children in their lives. While I was highlighting portions of the book that I found particularly interesting, I found half of my highlights to be work-related and the other half to be reading tips that I wanted to relay to my brother, who is the new father of a 3 month old. As far as being a book centered around research, I found it to be very accessible and not daunting or full of academic jargon. 

Though as a researcher, I unfortunately had some pet peeves when it came to reading the print version of this book. I make that distinction because I think the digital version had more features (such as the ability to click on notes in the book and watch videos that tied into certain sections). Instead of traditional footnotes or endnotes to link to citations or clarifications, the book features “Notes” at the end of each chapter that are organized by chunks of words that appear in the chapter. As someone who was very interested in seeing any citations and clarifications, I found this extremely annoying because it would have forced me to constantly toggle between the text and Notes to see if anything was included. This made it extremely difficult for me to be able to follow up independently on any specific studies that were mentioned in order to make my own opinion about their findings, which may have been an intentional choice by the authors or the editor.

I also noted a small error in the description of one of the studies included, which mentioned that Ice Age was a film from Disney: it’s not, it’s from Blue Sky Studios, 20th Century Fox, HIT Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox Animation. While this is a very simple mistake, it made me wonder if other bigger and less obvious mistakes existed within the book that would be difficult to find because of the annoying Notes style.

Despite my pet peeves, I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in thinking about how literacy is evolving for young children due to the emergence of new technologies and how we can continue to continue to prioritize literacy in the home, classroom, community, and digital sphere.

Publication Date: 21 September 2015 by Jossey-Bass. Format: Paperback.

Authors: Lisa Guernsey web/twitter and Michael H. Levine 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

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!

Continue reading

the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by mark haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-timeI’ve already blogged about my favorite work of fiction that I’ve read in 2015, but this is the best work of fiction I’ve read this year. By that I mean, while this isn’t the book that I enjoyed the most while I was reading it, it was the most well executed fiction piece that I’ve stumbled across this year.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon is a book that’s “written” by the narrator, a 15-year-old boy named Christopher who, while not explicitly stated, likely has a condition that falls along the autism spectrum. Christopher’s “book” documents a crime that happens in his neighborhood and his attempts to solve the crime, similarly to the mystery novels, such as Sherlock Holmes, that he enjoys. While Christopher documents what’s happening around him, the author brilliantly depicts how Christopher interacts with the world and some of the difficulties that he has as someone who functions differently than those without ASD. One of the most beautifully written parts of the book is when Christopher decides he wants to travel to a different part of town and must take the train and subway to do so, something that he has never done alone before. He, obviously, becomes completely overwhelmed by how crowded and confusing public transportation can be. Haddon captures these complex emotions so brilliantly! You really need to read it to see what I mean.

Since I don’t want to give away any of the plot, I’ll leave you with that very bare bones description of what occurs in the book and hope that you trust that it’s something that you should add to your TBR list immediately! While I recommend reading this in print form because there are visuals that enhance the story experience to be even more enjoyable, my friend also really enjoyed the audiobook version of this book when he was a child. I can’t imagine how it could exist as wonderfully in audiobook format, but my friend swears by it! Apparently The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is one of the few books that manages to truly excel and is extremely memorable across all formats.

I’m considering going to see the play adaptation of this book on Broadway. Has anyone seen it performed before? Is it worth seeing for someone who enjoyed the book? I’m thinking I’ll probably go with my aforementioned friend who loved the audiobook.

Publication Date: May 2003 by Doubleday Publishing.

Author: Mark Haddon web/@twitter/facebook