Passage by Connie Willis has been on my “To Be Read” list since grad school, so I feel quite accomplished being able to scratch it off. Even better I actually liked the book quite a lot. I’m an apprehensive reader of science fiction. I want something I can relate to, something not too far out there, and so I don’t read a lot of it. This is the third book I read by Willis though, and I’ve liked them all. The other two I’ve read deal with time travel, which seems to be the subgenre of science fiction that I consistently enjoy, while this one deals with death and near death experiences. I was worried that it would be depressing or disturbing all the death-related talk, but it didn’t actually both me, so that’s good. I’m encouraged to pick up other books by Connie Willis, even if they don’t deal with time travel. Odds are I will like them!
The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts and How They Get You Through the Day by Ray Oldenburg has been on my to read list since grad school. Sadly it didn’t live up to that long hype – I hated it so much, that I actually had to force myself onto a chapter-a-day schedule to get it read. Mostly I think the book is super dated. It was written in 1989 and so much about society, and planning, and day-to-day life has changed since then that it seemed pretty irrelevant. (The book is now on its Third Edition, published in 1999, which might have annoyed me less – at the very least it would be aware of this thing call “The Internet”, but DCPL of course only had the oldest edition, so that’s what I read). Oldenburg’s main point is that “third places” (places that are not home or work/school, where you can met informally, without prior planning with folks around you) are important, which is true, but I think this is a thing that planners all recognize now – “third-place” and “mixed use development” are all buzz words nowadays. So perhaps Oldenburg is really a victim of his own success – I don’t like him because all of his ideas have been adopted. It’s a positive way to view the book, I suppose. Me, I’m mostly glad it’s over.
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead was the only children’s book I put on my To Be Read list. I had read about it on several blogs last year and it won the 2010 Newbery Medal, which is a good endorsement. It’s science fiction-tinged chapter book that follows a 6th grader in New York City in the 1970s. She receives several mysterious notes from someone that seems to know the future – her future. By the end of the book, I was really enjoying it, but I probably didn’t really get caught up until the last 30 pages, so I can’t give it a ringing endorsement. It was certainly an easy book to get crossed off the list though!
I’m speeding through these To Be Read books though – only 5 left on my list and it’s only March. I think my chances of success are high!
I’m a big history buff (if I did college all over again, I think I would be a history major), but my fondest love is for Social History. I’m not as interested in wars and governments as I am in the history of people (although of course wars and governments have quite an impact on people). When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present by Gail Collins is a great look at the history of the last 50 years and how it has affected the lives of women. And everything has indeed changed – so drastically in my mother’s lifetime – that it’s amazing to be reminded of how different things used to be. Collins writes an interesting and very readable account of this time period and shows just how far we’ve come, and what issues still remain.
In addition to wanting to read this for the TBR challenge, I’m also hosting Book Club this month, so this was my selection for that. I’m looking forward to hearing what other folks have to say about the book.
One thing that is interesting to me about this To Be Read challenge is that I have a ton of books on my To Be Read list – all of which I read about somewhere and for the most part, I have no idea where any more. This is true of The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken by Laura Schenone as well – it’s been on my list for a couple of years and I have no idea where I first heard about it. It was good though – just what I needed to read during my snowiest week of the year – an interesting and engaging book, with loving descriptions of pasta. Mmm, pasta. Part food book, part family history, the Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken traces Schenone’s search for an authentic family recipe to call her own. The book reminded me of two very different books that I have read in the past few years: the learning about Italian food (in Italy) part reminded me of Heat by Bill Buford (subtitled An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave, Line Cook, Pasta-Maker, and Apprentice to a Dante-Quoting Butcher in Tuscany, which should give you some idea of what the book is about), while the family history part reminded me of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million by Daniel Mendelsohn (the subject matter is tougher in The Lost, where the author attempts to trace the lives and deaths of 6 of his relatives who died in the Holocaust, but the idea of (re)discovering your family was similar).
I am just speeding through these To Be Read books! Good stuff.
Stealing Buddha’s Dinner is a memoir by Bich Minh Nguyen about her childhood in Michigan. She and her family (father, sister, grandmother and various uncles) escaped Vietnam during the Fall of Saigon, when she was just 8 months old. The book touches on growing up as an outsider in very White Michigan during the 1980s. This is manifested in many ways, particularly in the disconnect between the food she eats at home (her grandmother’s pho, her stepmother’s sopa) and the food her neighbors and classmates eat (Hamburger Helper, Shake and Bake). I enjoyed the book, but thought it felt a bit scattered (although I suppose that’s true of all of our memories of childhood. It reminded me of The Latehomecomer by Kao Kalia Yang (although if you only read one, I recommend the Latehomecomer before Stealing Buddha’s Dinner). That said, I certainly have enough room in my reading repertoire for a number of memoirs (one of my favorite genres) and Stealing Buddha’s Dinner did not disappoint.
The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah was the first of my fiction picks for the To Be Read Challenge. It’s a contemporary British mystery, with a plot that sounded interesting to me: a mother who needs a break sneaks away for a kid-free, husband-free vacation where she ends up having an affair. Fast forward one year later, and the wife and daughter of the man she met on vacation are found dead and when she sees this on the news, she notices that she looks like the wife. There were lots of twists and turns, which kept me intrigued. Tana French, who wrote two mysteries that I really like (In the Woods and The Likeness), wrote the blurb on the cover and she called it “gripping”, which I think was accurate. Definitely made me want to figure out what happened.