Monday, January 30, 2017

My current reading life.

Dear Reader,

Hi! Been a while, eh? Amber & I both needed a break from blogging for various reasons, but we're hoping to revive Shelfnotes and see where things go. Perhaps we'll be working in a different format; we're not sure! But we hope we can breathe some new life into our beloved book site.

So, I suppose an update is in order, first. Since having a baby in March of 2016, my reading life has changed significantly. For a while - during those first few heady months - I was barely reading anything, of course. But eventually I was able to establish some new reading habits - totally different from my old ones. I haven't had a chance to pick up many physical books for several reasons, mostly due to time constraints and baby's interest in putting everything under the sun in her mouth. But I do get a lot of opportunity to read on my phone, and plenty of audiobooking time when I am driving to and from work (another recent change: a commute to go with a new house).

So, a bit unorthodox for me (I do so miss my books, which still haven't been totally unpacked), but I'm happy to be reading. What am I reading, then, you might ask? I'm glad to share! I'm in the middle of a bunch of books and have only finished two so far this year:


TransAtlantic (Colum McCann)
This one was pretty good but not great...I definitely preferred Let the Great World Spin, which I actually just read this past summer (getting my Colum McCann on all at once, apparently!). I picked up TransAtlantic because I've had it on my shelf for a while - we got copies signed by the author at one of the BEAs, and it's languished on my shelf ever since. (Despite that McCann was a charming Irishman in person!) The story was fascinating, and there's no denying McCann is a great writer, but I'd love to see him focus on one storyline for the entirety of a book. While I do love the concept of overlapping lives (and how everything ties together), I think he'd do so great focusing on just one. Some of the vignettes were certainly better than others, too - I was just about snoozing through the senator's story, but I did love the one that focused on Lily building her second family, and then her empire. McCann's characters are memorable and so achingly human.

Into the Beautiful North (Luis Alberto Urrea)
This book was the Big Read selection for the Poughkeepsie Public Library in 2016; I was late getting to it, but still wanted to read it. It was a really well done YA adventure - I'd give it 3.5 stars.  I feel it was definitely an important read for many to encounter especially right now, in such polarizing times. Urrea humanizes the "other" so well: he shows the reader all sides and situations, investigating the many shades of grey anyone's story can be. If everyone would just read about Nayeli and her friends, they might be more empathetic. Urrea created an unforgettable cast of characters who you wanted to cry along with in their frustrations and cheer with in their triumphs. 


City on Fire (Garth Risk Hallberg)
This book is so difficult for me to write about, especially being 600+ pages in. Hallberg is an absolutely amazing writer - I am continually struck by his turns of phrase, and it's so easy to see why this book was the subject of a high-stakes bidding war. However, I also understand why its Goodreads ratings aren't as high as was expected of the book's performance, and why it didn't end up being the bestseller it might have been. I'm going to struggle to really review this book once I'm done with it, but I am really engaged with it, if not wholly enjoying it. It hasn't fully drawn me in, even though it's hooked me - does that make sense? I'm eager to see the resolution of the epic story, though!

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson)
I'm almost done with this one - I've been audiobooking it on my commute. It's fun and hilarious, and I see why BranSan (that's what my husband and I call Sanderson - his favorite author - for short) is so popular! But, this is clearly geared towards kids, and I think I next need to read one of his non-YA books to truly catch the BranSan bug. While Alcatraz's breaking-the-fourth-wall wit is great, the book's self-consciousness can get kind of annoying after a while. I think, though, that for a kid, it would be really fun, and a nice change from the classics one might be forced to read in school. Also - the whole reason I am reading this at all? The evil librarians! So it gets bonus points just for that.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Charles C. Mann)
Slowww going on this one - I think I've been picking through it for over a year! But it's pretty fantastic. I'm learning so much about the pre-Columbian Americas, and how we've interpreted and revisited many of our assumptions about the continents before the arrival of the Europeans. I think this is an important text for any high school U.S. History teacher to read and share with their students.

The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
I read The Secret History a couple of years ago and was severely unimpressed with Tartt, so I kept putting off reading this one because I didn't have much faith in it, despite the rave reviews! However, I'm now unable to put this one down! It's not terribly riveting in terms of a mystery like Secret History was, but it is really well written and you just want to keep reading to find out how Theo's life turns out.

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
I'm about 1/3 of the way through this tome, and reading it piecemeal as it was originally published - about a chapter a day! I am loving doing this, even though it will take me quite a while to complete. But I imagine I am a Russian during Tolstoy's time, eagerly awaiting the next day's installment. As with most thousand-page Russian novels, this one likes to delve quite a bit into the philosophy of the Russian state, but the story still holds up despite the interesting digressions.

The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman)
This one I've been meaning to read for a while, since it's gotten such great reviews. I'm not terribly far into it yet (maybe 1/5 of the way in?), but it's got an engaging setup and a compelling protagonist in Lyra, the orphan who runs amok in the streets of an alternate-universe Oxford, in which everyone has a sort of "spirit animal" and children are disappearing for mysterious reasons.

You'll also note that not a single one of these books is recently published or to-be published: I've decided to take a break for a few months from the, well, breakneck pace of reading we'd been doing to focus more on things I've been wanting to read. So, you may see more classics (or less recently published) books here, but I hope you'll still enjoy hearing about the stories I'm encountering.

I missed you, Shelfnotes! I hope you'll hear more from me this year. xo


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