Sunday, January 27, 2013

January 2013

Books Bought:
  • Howard's End (E. M. Forster)
  • Adventures of an American Composer (Michael Colgrass)
  • Out of Oz (Gregory Maguire)
  • Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology (Barz and Cooley, eds.)
  • Fierce Style: How to be Your Most Fabulous Self (Christian Siriano) 

Books Read:
  • The Mapping of Love and Death (Jacqueline Winspear)
  • Suffering Succotash: A Picky Eater's Quest to Understand Why We Hate the Foods We Hate (Stephanie V. Lucianovic)
  • Half a Life (Darin Strauss)
  • The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (R. Murray Schafer)
  • The Uncoupling (Meg Wolitzer)
  • Where'd You Go, Bernadette (Maria Semple)
  • Why We Broke Up (Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman)
  • I've Got Your Number (Sophie Kinsella)
  • The Wings of Merlin (T. A. Barron)

First of all, Stephanie Lucianovic's Suffering Succotash is basically about me. That's what makes this such a good read - picky eaters will be thrilled to read about themselves, and non-picky eaters probably know at least one picky eater, so they'll identify, too. It was really nice to find out that I'm not really strange at all by picky eating standards - in fact, like the author, I'm questioning whether I legitimately am a picky eater after all. The best line from the end of the book - read it and remember it next time you feel tempted to criticize or poke fun at a picky eater:
"The thing of it is, adult picky eaters are more common than I imagined. . . . We get what it's like to dread eating at friends' houses or at strange restaurants. We get why it's simply not possible to 'just try' a bite of this or that and how hard that is to explain to people who don't get it. . . . But most of all, we get that it's not a personality defect that makes us picky; it's just who we are. And whatever the cause, it's not our fault or choice."  (Lucianovic 219)
I definitely recommend this book - it's a quick, highly entertaining read that opens your mind to the way our mouths and brains interact!

Half a Life, a memoir by Darin Strauss, is the other book I wanted to briefly mention before moving on to my two favorite reads of the month. Strauss hit a girl with his car when he was a senior in high school; her death changes the way he lives his life. This memoir seems like it was therapeutical for him, and it's a very worthwhile read. I read this book because Nick Hornby recommended it in More Baths, Less Talking (again, Nick Hornby's writings are what inspired me to write about what I read).

And now...

The best book I read this month: Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple.
Coincidentally, I was checking out Stephanie Lucianovic's blog after finishing Suffering Succotash and discovered her review of this book - she also loved it. This book is so funny, but also incredibly thoughtful. Semple was a writer for Arrested Development, and based on the three or four episodes I've seen, I can totally see that in this book. Bernadette is a people-phobic ex-architect who hates driving, so I kind of identified with her in some ways. Also, they go to Antarctica. I know for a fact I've never read another book where an average (or not-so-average) American family goes on vacation to Antarctica - doesn't that alone pique your interest? This was one of those books that I couldn't put down - I read it in less than 24 hours! I can't say enough how much I recommend this book.

The second best book I read this month: Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illustrated by Maira Kalman. (NB: Daniel Handler is the author of A Series of Unfortunate Events under the name Lemony Snicket)
Ok, I wasn't expecting to read another book that I fell in love with this month, but it turns out that the very next book I read was just perfect. First of all - Maira Kalman's illustrations are BEAUTIFUL. Second of all, I loved the writing style - long, descriptive, stream-of-conscious sentences that if any of my students wrote, I would mark as incorrect, but Handler's are the most beautifully constructed run-ons I've ever seen. An example:
"I never took you to Leopardi's, which is my first-favorite coffee place, the best one, a crumbling Italian palace with bright red walls unpeeling their paint and photographs hung crooked of dark-skinned men with their hair in great slick stylish curves and the kindhearted smirks they give to their mistresses and an espresso machine like a shiny mad-scientist castle, steaming and gleaming and spouts everywhere curving down and out in a writhing metallic next underneath a stern brass eagle perched on top like it's looking for prey." (Handler 177).  
Love it! You can SEE the coffee shop. I checked out some reviews on Amazon after finishing this book and was surprised at amount of the negative reviews. Some hated the writing style, most hated the narrator, Min. I imagine those that couldn't identify with her were more like the average high school student than Min, who is clearly not. Anyway, the point is, this is a wonderful book and illustrates perfectly why it is sometimes still worthwhile to read "young adult" books - you never know what you might be missing.

Whenever I fall in love with a book, I just want to keep it forever. Unfortunately, both this book and Where'd You Go Bernadette belong to the Leon County Libraries, so they are already no longer in my possession. :(

Good month for reading!