"I Must Read, Read, and Read. It is my Vocation." - Thomas Merton
This is where I chronicle my reading life. I also blog about writing at Lacey's Late-night Editing.
Ten days ago, I became a mother when my son was lifted out of my abdomen behind a curtain, his cries filling the room and my heart welling up with relief. It was a long labor -- 30 hours by the time he arrived -- fraught with run-of-the-mill complications -- meconium in the amniotic fluid, a labor that failed to progress leading to a multitude of interventions I hadn't really wanted (but that I was grateful for in the end), and a baby that ultimately just wasn't in the right position or of the right size to pass through the birth canal, despite the best efforts of my husband, myself, my doula and my baby to make it happen.
This is my first time writing anything at all since that day, although there has been so much to say -- more to say than I can wrap my head around, and so little time in which to say it. As I write this, my son hangs off of me in a sling, sleeping in a diaper with his little chest puffing up and down. This is my first proof that I can find a way to make writing and motherhood compatible -- I failed fairly miserably at writing throughout my pregnancy, when the best I could do was book reviews and journal entries a few times a week after I soldiered through a NaNoWriMo novel while feeling like I was going to puke at any and every moment in the first trimester.
When my husband and I had our final meeting with our doula before labor, she reminded us that at the end of pregnancy and during early parenthood, we would have to get used to doing things on a "small" scale. Smaller meals to ward off heartburn. Small naps when the discomforts of late pregnancy made it hard to sleep through the night, and when a newborn's nursing schedule caused even more sleep disruption. Small breaks to connect with my husband, relax, watch a TV show or movie, play a game. I've noticed that my reading life has also become "smaller," although these snatches of pages that I find time for here and there somehow seem more nourishing than they ever have before.
Nursing and a reluctance to wake a baby who has fallen asleep on my body often confines me to the same location for hours at a time. This means I read what is within reach, and my inability to be monogamous with books has reached a whole new level.
At the rocking chair where I nurse my son, I have a copy of "The Blue Jay's Dance" by Louis Erdrich that I read a page or two from when I can't bear to look at my phone screen for another moment. My MP3 player is also within reach of that chair, so I listen to "Gregor the Overlander" for my book club, although I'm skeptical about whether I will finish it on time for our meeting on Thursday. Also, I listened to so much of the beginning section while sleep deprived in those first few days that I am playing catch up on who some of the major characters are. I always feel especially incompetent as a reader when I have trouble following a middle-grade novel -- and no, this is not the first time that it's happened, although I arguably have the best excuse now that I've ever had.
In bed, I pull "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" down from the parenting reference bookshelf behind the bed and read it during those long late-night feedings.
In the basement, where I used to do the majority of my "pleasure reading," I read "How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes" while I wait for my husband to be ready to watch TV or play a game together. My time in the basement is limited -- because of the C-section, I can only do one "stair trip" a day, and I stay down there only as long as my bladder holds out. Then the books and TV set and all the baby clothes and baby supplies on that floor are again out of my reach for the rest of the day.
I page through cookbooks at coffee shops while I wait for my husband to finish a political meeting. I listen to Aziz Ansari's "Modern Romance" on the car's CD system as I nurse my baby between any errands that take us away from home for more than two hours. I wonder whether my son recognizes Ansari's voice from the time I spent listening while he was still inside the womb.
My progress through these books is very, very slow. When my son is awake and alert on my lap, I put them all aside so I can read to him from a couple board books that are also beside the rocking chair. There is a very good chance I will not meet my goal of reading 100 books this year, but I will continue to fill my eyes with words at any chance I get -- and perhaps that more than anything keeps me feeling connected to the person I have always been as I make sense of the person I have been in the process of becoming ever since I saw that plus sign on a pregnancy test at the beginning of November.
So, this book took me forever to read and I had to stop a couple times to read other things for book club, etc. And it's mostly because it took me so long to read that I am now TEN books behind on my reading challenge for the year ... but I'm cool, I told myself that I wouldn't let the challenge be an excuse to not tackle longer or meatier works, so ...
I was relieved when I read the afterward in which Estes recommends reading the book slowly over a long period of time -- I guess I was doing it right! And that is one of the reasons that this book took me so long to read -- it's not the type of book you can dip into, reading a page here or there. It takes some focus and some concentration and is best enjoyed with some uninterrupted time to really sink into.
This does not mean it's a difficult book, necessarily. If you enjoy and have some familiarity with the concepts Estes is riffing on -- the collective unconscious, Jungian psychology, the symbolism and importance of storytelling, etc. -- it's pretty accessible. However, if your mind starts to wander you'll have to read sections again, so it does require some focus. And a focused reading also yields the greatest results, because this is a book that I think is meant to evoke connection to and reflection upon your own life and evolution as a woman.
Some of the chapters were longer than I would have liked, while others were too short, probably reflecting Estes' interest in various developmental stages. But every chapter was interesting and relevant in its own way, allowing new ways to look at both well-known and obscure fairy tales and myths as well as, more importantly, your own life path. I have lots of page flags in this one and will be holding onto it because it's clearly a book that will reward future visits.
This book was a disappointment after the first two in the series, both of which were vivid and riveting. Fortunately, I had been forewarned that this one was a bit lackluster, so I didn't go into it with expectations that were too high.
Mostly, it felt like a sequel that didn't really need to be written. I think the author (or publisher) felt compelled to tie the first two books together, but both of them are strong standalones and tying them together in this third volume felt forced. Plus, a lot of what happens in here is not very different from what happened in the earlier books -- the struggle to find enough food, the windfalls and disappointments, the highs and lows of living through an apocalypse, you know, that sort of thing.
And even though it's shorter than the other books in the series (I think), it has a lot more characters, so there was quite a bit to keep track of in the second half. The book started to feel "crowded" since several of the characters were not developed all that well. Also, I noticed some really weird gender things in this book that either were not present in the other two books or that just didn't strike me in the same way. But I think that Pfeffer might have some internalized sexism going on ... Miranda's mother was always very insistent that Miranda stay home while the boys were able to strike out and explore/adventure/etc., and Alex seemed to think that for some reason he got to decide what his sister's fate would be even though she was old enough to have some say in the matter. (Also, I think the decision the author made regarding Julia's storyline was absolutely atrocious). I liked Alex less in this book than in the book that is actually about him -- in this volume he came across as controlling and almost stereotypically pious.
For whatever reason there is yet one more book in this series, which I may or may not read. The first two books are great, but as far as I'm concerned you wouldn't be missing too much if you just stopped there.
This is one of the best memoirs I've read of this type -- regular person (not a writer) goes through something traumatic, interest is generated in her story, she writes a book with the aid of a ghostwriter to satisfy people's curiosity/voyeuristic tendencies/etc.
This book felt less "ghost-written" than most of the others I've read, and Knight's memory for detail is very strong. I think this is partly because she actually wrote about her experience in journals, poetry, etc., as it was happening. I felt like I got a much more vivid picture of the personal hell she lived through than in a lot of these types of memoirs -- I could see the room and house where she was imprisoned, got a sense of the personalities of the other girls and of her kidnapper. This all amounts to an incredibly harrowing story.
Knight's story is also unique because she was not snatched out of a perfect or idyllic life, nor does she romanticize her life pre-captivity. By the time she was kidnapped, she had already run away from home, dealt with neglect, poverty, and sexual abuse in her home, and experienced teenage pregnancy and an ensuing custody battle. The outcome of that particular thread of her story is one of the most heartbreaking of all.
Ariel Castro was truly an evil man, and I am amazed by Knight's ability to survive him.
I found the first book in this series to be a little lackluster, but I'm glad I continued on to the second book, anyway.
Whereas "The Magicians" seemed to spend a lot of time flailing and worldbuilding and finding its way, in this book the world is richly established from the beginning. Although similar to the first book it takes a little while for the main story line to get going, it is incredibly immersive from the start. The balance of literary fiction and fantasy seemed just right, for the most part, and it was easy to sink into this world. As soon as it was finished, I wanted to return by way of the third book -- but I don't have that one readily available so it might be a while.
For those who are unsure about this series after reading the first book, I would recommend continuing. The characters, the writing, and the worldbuilding all do a lot of "growing up" in this installment, and it tackles much bigger themes than the first one as well, feeling less like a riff on fantasy that has come before and more like it has come into its own.
Despite my enjoyment, docked a star mainly because of a few sort of ishy "male narrative" scenes. [Like, why are male writers so obsessed with scenes where unassuming dudes get seduced by women in ship cabins? Seriously, I think every writer thinks he's doing something new and incredibly erotic, when this is the third such time I've encountered this trope. Also, a man attempting to write a rape scene from the female victim's perspective always feels voyeuristic and yucky to me, and there's a pretty explicit one here that didn't sit very well with me.]
I Just Want to Say Good Night by Rachel Isadora
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was so charmed by an illustration from this book in the Hornbook magazine that I just had to see the whole thing.
The storyline is typical -- little girl doesn't want to go to bed, so she delays it by listing all the things she has to say goodnight to before she goes to sleep. The illustrations did not disappoint. Lala is adorable, the African scenery is stunning, and the details had me lingering on each page -- a cat peeking out from behind a hut there, mother cradling a younger baby in her arms as she tries to get Lala in bed, etc. And since I had it in the house, I decided to read it aloud to my baby (still in utero), so it also holds the distinction of being the book for baby's first storytime!
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HypnoBirthing: The Mongan Method by Marie F. Mongan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I might come back and give this book 2 stars after I actually give birth if I decide it's all bunk.
But for now, I like the Mongan method philosophy (on paper, at least!) of birth being a natural process that should be approached as such, with as little anxiety or drama as possible. I definitely agree that we need to move away, as a culture, from ideas of the stress of childbirth as being fodder for humor or hysteria as we so often see portrayed in sitcoms and movies. I also think that if changing your mindset about labor reduces your anxiety leading up to birth, even if the birth process itself is harrowing, you've saved yourself all that unnecessary stress in the preceding months.
This is a comprehensive, holistic book that goes beyond the hypnobirthing relaxation techniques, so that even if you don't practice the techniques (which I have been practicing, but I'm not very good at them) you can find value in the overall philosophy. A couple things that bothered me, though, were more typos than should have been present in a non-self-pubbed book (especially in the "new/updated" chapters, as if they'd rushed those off) and a total lack of acknowledgment about some of the special circumstances that make human childbirth different from childbirth for other mammals who suffer less through it, such as our massive heads/big brains.
Still, I'm glad I read the book and also that I took the class, and I would recommend both together rather than trying to get by with just one or the other.
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I like to live a basically decluttered life, but as someone who is also thrifty and a little sentimental, my downfalls are always cheap books and gifts. I buy very little for myself besides food and the occasional replacement for something essential that has broken, but my shelves and drawers continue to fill in response to the generosity of others. So stuff encroaches, and the occasional purge is always in order.
As much as I want to do a total declutter before Baby arrives, I know that isn't actually going to happen ... but this book did give me some motivation to get rid of things as I can (which is not what Kondo recommends, btw.) I did read it before I did my annual book reorganizing, though, and I was able to purge more books than I've ever purged in an annual reorganizing before (although still not as many as she would have liked me to, I'm sure!). I have to translate her question of, "Does this bring me joy?" to "Do I want to drop everything and start reading this book RIGHT NOW?" when I organize my books, and because my reading appetite is so voracious and my tastes so varied, the answer to that question is "yes," for practically every book in my house. I use the "spark joy" criteria for the books I've already read, but that is a small portion of my collection since I tend to set books free after I have read them.
The question about whether a possession sparks joy or not is the most useful part of this book, the most publicized, and one that you honestly do not need to read the whole book to start applying. It also pretty much ignores practicality, and the many things that you keep even though they don't spark joy necessarily, like your cutting board, your dishwashing detergent, and your toothpaste. She also prioritizes space and simplicity above all else, and if that is not YOUR personal priority you are likely to butt heads with her philosophy. For example, she discourages "stocking up" on items such as toilet paper to cut down on clutter -- but if your priority is time (not having to shop as often) or cost-savings (it's cheaper to buy in bulk), then you have a right to act according to *that* priority rather than to hers. I for one am not going to stop buying non-expirables in bulk because I don't like to shop OR to know I'm spending more than I need to.
She also assumes a certain amount of privilege in assuring readers that they can "buy another one" if they find they've discarded something that they truly do need six months later. My husband points out that this is sound advice if your space is so small that you'd be paying for a bigger house or extra storage space just to keep something around that you only use once in a while, but if those are not issues and you can't afford to buy a new pet taxi every time you take your cat to the vet even though it's just once a year with the occasional emergency, well, just keep that pet taxi tucked away in the basement somewhere.
As the book goes on, the sensible and helpful advice on downsizing devolves into "my way is the only right way" tips on organizing that border on the neurotic. Socks must be folded a certain way, clothes must be hung in a certain order, etc. While I'm all for folding my clothes in a way that makes them easier to fit in my drawers and access easily (although I still have to learn her folding technique and actually try it), there's no way I'm going to empty my purse and repack it every day -- I have a hard enough time getting out the door on time as it is.
All-in-all, this is a good book to motivate you to start decluttering and downsizing, but take it with a grain of salt and don't let Kondo's insistence that her way is the only way stress you out.
I just wasn't as enamored of this book as a lot of other people seem to be.
While I found Bartimaeus' narration more compelling than Nathan's chapters, I didn't really find myself "getting behind" either character. I don't really need characters to be "likeable" in the books I read, but I kept wondering exactly who or what I should be rooting for in this book, what should keep me reading. Was I supposed to want Nathan to succeed in his endeavors, even though he was kind of a jerk to Bartimaeus? I kept thinking the book was probably trying to be something of a "buddy comedy" where Bartimaeus and Nathan were supposed to start out loathing each other but would eventually come to be reluctant comrades, and that perhaps THAT was the outcome we were supposed to be pulling for. But that aspect of the story never really seemed to materialize, either.
So I'm sorry to say that my mind wandered a fair amount during this book. It took me a long time to figure out the era it was taking place in, and I eventually determined it's in a sort of alternate present-day since a laptop was mentioned at some point. And although the magic system and political set-up and hints of a coming revolution were all interesting, it also felt somewhat muddled to me. It did remind me of a children's version of "Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell," and it was well written, but I probably won't be reading further into the series.
It's been over a decade since I read Operating Instructions, so I can't really weigh in on the comparison. I remember OI really blowing me away, which this one did not, but I also think I was somewhat easier to impress with books back then. At any rate, this was a good book to read as I prepare for a new baby in my own life, especially because it gave me some good insight into the "grandmother" and "mother-in-law" perspective. I think Lamott presumed WAY too much control over her son and his girlfriend's choices when it came to their child, and I hope she didn't come across quite so controlling in real life as she does in the "privacy" of her journal (that she knew would be published.) Grandparents in the delivery room, her thinking she had any say over where the baby would be baptized, etc., all went way too far in my opinion. Although her son was young when his child was born, in some ways that might be all the more reason to back off and make sure he and his partner could find their own way.
At the same time, one can hardly hold someone's feelings against them, and I try not to judge memoir by the foibles or personality of the author unless she is super immoral or obnoxious, and Lamott does not rise to that level -- she is just letting her weakness and her humanity show. I love reading published journals, and this one may have been slightly self-conscious because she had a contract for it as she was writing it, but it held my interest nonetheless and also reminded me to try to be a better journaler myself.
This is one of those books that inspires complicated feelings. Is it possible to write a book about teens and suicide that doesn't inspire complicated feelings? I've certainly never read one -- but it's something writers need to keep writing about, and that we need to keep talking about.
My biggest qualm with YA suicide books is that I always fear they run the risk of romanticizing the issue, and that is particularly true when the suicide is contextualized within a romantic relationship as it is here. And so what made me most uncomfortable about this book was that Finch and Violet's suicide attempt in the same place on the same day was essentially reduced to a "meet-cute" (this isn't a spoiler, it's the opening chapter.) And the road-trippy aspects of the story also made the whole thing seem kind of fun and sweet and exciting rather than truly harrowing. The book didn't make me cry, which considering the subject matter seems like a bit of a fail.
At the same time, the things that I can be most critical about in this book can also be interpreted as some of its greatest strengths. Dealing with mental illness does not mean your entire existence is bleak, or that there aren't moments of beauty and adventure and wonder. It doesn't mean that life doesn't continue to unfold around you. I thought that Niven handled Finch's mental illness in a way that was believable and nuanced. I was less impressed by her depiction of Violet. Violet was damaged in her own way, still grieving the loss of her sister, but I kept feeling distracted by the fact that her parents didn't seem to be grieving along with her. In some ways they seemed too "perfect" and "together" for parents who had gone through the tragedy of losing a child, but at the same time it was nice to see some responsible, competent adults in a YA book.
My book club spent a lot of time dissecting how things could have been different if this or that circumstance might have been changed, and although the book loses points for not tugging at my heartstrings the way it maybe should have, it gets those points back again by being the kind of book you keep chewing on for quite a while after the final page has been read.
Goodreads asked Lacey Louwagie: What books are on your summer reading list this year?
Well ... I'm expecting my first child in July, so my summer reading list is basically a crash course in parenting and domesticity. The stack consists of "Hypnobirthing" by Marie Mongan; "How to Raise a Family on Less Than Two Incomes" by Denise M. Topolnicki; "365 Ways to Live Cheap" by Trent Hamm; "The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding" by La Leche League; "The Nursing Mother's Companion" by Kathleen Huggins; etc. A lot of these I'll use for reference and probably not read cover-to-cover. I'm also hoping to finish "Women Who Run With the Wolves" by Clarissa Pinkola Estes (which I've been reading slowly over the last couple months) and hopefully throw in some graphic novels for a break. And the audiobooks I listen to always end up being the "wild card" in my reading life!
Zoe in Wonderland by Brenda Woods
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
A fun, sweet coming-of-age book about a daydreaming loner whose interest in the world beyond her mind is just beginning to be awakened. Well-drawn secondary characters, especially Zoe's next-door neighbor, and deals eloquently with some tough topics (cancer, financial instability, senility) without feeling too heavy.
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Sigh ... Lowry, why did you keep writing sequels to a book that never needed any sequels?
I found Gathering Blue to be somewhat lackluster, Messenger to be pretty awful ... and for a while, I thought this one might actually be different. Maybe not different enough to redeem the whole series, but at least different enough to justify its existence.
That's because the first section of the book takes place in the same community as The Giver, and this society remains equally fascinating through another character's experience of it. It follows the experiences of Gabriel's birthmother, Claire, and shows another side of the community that is still familiar to us. For the most part, the worldbuilding in the original book is one of its strongest, most enduring qualities -- few of us will forget our first exposure to it, which was, for many in my generation, our introduction to dystopia --and the first part of this book brings us back to that well-wrought world. This book would have been stronger if Lowry had published it as a novella or short story and scrapped everything that happens after Claire leaves the community ... but that did not happen.
The other communities are far less developed than the original one, and Claire sort of muddles her way through them for a few years, dragging the reader along for a far less interesting ride than what we thought we were in for in the beginning. Also, the book gets a little bit too "magical" without any explanation. I think that's my major bone of contention with this series, the sort of unevenness between the groundedness of Jonas's community, where almost everything makes sense even if it is horrifying, and the random, unexplained "powers" and magical realism running rampant in the rest of the world. (I did reread "The Giver" recently and realize that there is a touch of this unexplained magical realism there as well, but because it is a less prominent part of the story, it's less irritating.) Also, it wasn't just the random magical-ish things that lacked explanation -- there were also major plot points that didn't seem to make sense. [Like, why was it imperative that Gabriel go after the Trademaster? Why was that designated his "job" all of a sudden? Jonas was so insistent upon it, but it seemed mostly just a convenient way to resolve the story, or to make it seem like the various threads were meant to tie together all along when really it felt like they were still unraveling.]
It also felt like the book "tried too hard" to tie together all the sequels that shouldn't have been written in the first place, and the connections just weren't strong enough to make wading through all the separate stories that got us to that point worth it. I have a lot of respect for Lowry as a writer, and I wish she hadn't wasted so much of her time and mine spinning additional stories that never really needed to be told.
I gave this book four stars just as I did all the other books in the series, but I enjoyed the other three more.
I liked how the earlier books had the luxury of focusing in on their titular characters' story; as each new character was added while previous storylines were also continued, that sense of intimacy was lost. I felt like I didn't get to "know" Winter as well as I got to know the previous characters in their stories, and because there was so much to wrap up, this book just felt like it had a lot going on -- maybe too much sometimes.
In general, things seemed to go a little too smoothly for our protagonists, especially as it related to the revolution. I mean, I get that Levana's subjects had been displeased for years, but everyone seemed to jump on board with Cinder and the gang a little too easily, in too short a time, especially since she showed up without much plan for how she was going to pull everything off. It felt like Meyer knew this was her last book, so she had to wrap it up, whether the timing was right nor not -- the revolution itself could have lasted for a whole book series.
Also, it really annoyed me when Cinder abdicated at the end -- I felt like it was a total cop-out, just because she didn't "want" to be Queen, when all along she knew she was doing it because it was her duty -- not to mention that those who don't want power often make the best leaders. And it just seems way too soon for the subjugated people of Luna to be ready to transition to a whole new style of government.
I also found my mind wandering a lot more often during this book than with the others in the series.
So, with all this criticism, why still four stars? Well, I really do find these books consistently fun to read. I love the characters, especially the female leads and their diversity. I like the way Meyer maintains a "magical" feel to her books within the sci-fi setting, and the way she manages to stay pretty close to the source material of the individual fairy tales despite all the world-building stuff of her own she has going on. I wouldn't say that I found the conclusion of the series disappointing, necessarily, just a little bogged down. I would still totally recommend the series, and I will continue to read ancillary stories set in this world (still need to pick up Stars Above and Wires and Nerve, Volume 1) and explore Meyer's other writing.