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✿Ring Around the Prose✿

Month

April 2016

Home away from home

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My friend Steve invited me to spend Passover with his family in Connecticut, so I’m gonna be away from the Left Coast for a few days. I’m really looking forward to it (it’s my first Passover!), and excited to have another mini-vacation (it’s my third one this year!).

One book I try to have with me whenever I travel is Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin. It’s part of a series that takes place in 1970s San Francisco, and it makes my homesickness more bearable. I’m reading the second installment for my reading challenge, so it’s like I’m feeding two birds with one scone!

What’s a book (or an author or a genre) you have to take with you when you travel?

It arrived!

The Nest

My first Book of the Month subscription box arrived today! I was going to write a post describing the “unboxing”, but got way too excited so went a quick picture instead.

If you’re reading or have read The Nest, what did you think? No spoilers please!

Review: The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas

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Brief synopsis (from the inside cover): One day a fakir leaves his small village in India and lands in Paris. A professional con artist, he is on a pilgrimage to IKEA, where he intends to obtain an object he covets above all others: a brand new bed of nails. Without adequate euros in the pockets of his silk trousers, he is confident, all the same, that his counterfeit €100 note (printed on one side only) and his usual bag of tricks will suffice. But when a swindled cab driver seeks his murderous revenge, the fakir accidentally embarks on a European tour, fatefully beginning in a wardrobe of the iconic Swedish retailer. As his journey progresses in the most unpredictable of ways, the fakir finds unlikely friends in even unlikelier places. To his surprise–and to a Bollywood beat–the stirrings of love well up in the heart of our hero, as his adventures lead to profound and moving questions of the perils of emigration and the universal desire to seek a better life in an often dangerous world.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: I read this book while on my trip back from Seattle and couldn’t have asked for a better travel companion. Not only was Ajatashatru, the protagonist, doing a lot of traveling himself, but the story was easy to get into and difficult to put down because it was so unpredictable.

Despite being a light read, The Extraordinary Journey features an array of different personalities and even some character development. Ajatashatru goes from being a selfish trickster to somebody who starts caring for others, and shares some surprising words of wisdom.

I don’t want to give away too much of the story, because I think it’s best if you go in knowing as little as possible. Do you have a book that makes for good reading when you’re on the go?

Review: Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Brief synopsis: Yes Please is a memoir composed of pivotal moments that shaped the life of comedian and actress Amy Poehler. Born from a need to challenge herself, the book becomes more than just an autobiography as Poehler passes on advice that helped her in times of need. In her essays she talks about divorce and being a mother of two, how her time as an improv actor prepared her for the lead role in Parks and Recreation, and why growing older has never felt better.

Rating🌴 Island collection

Long story short: I’m a fan of Poehler’s comedy so naturally Yes Please was high on my TRL, and I’m happy to report it didn’t disappoint. As it is whenever I have a lot to say or feel overwhelmed about a particular subject, I’m going to write up my thoughts in bullet-points:

  • The book was funny in the right places and at the right times. Poehler is a natural entertainer and I thought the book was well-balanced when it came to humor. Not all of it is ha-ha funny, and it’s not really meant to be. I also liked that while she mentioned the sad or not-so-fun moments in her life, she didn’t dwell on them for too long but used them as learning tools.
  • I was reading the book in her voice. I know I’m fully immersed in a book when I read words and dialogue in the characters’ voices. When it comes to celebrity memoirs/autobiographies I always wonder how much of the book is actually written by the famous person and how much is filled in by a group of hired guns. Yes Please definitely channels the real-life Poehler.
  • She acknowledged her privilege. As a heterosexual Indian-American woman born in a middle-class family and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, I see the world through a particular set of lenses. I try my best to recognize my privilege and be an ally for others when I can, so I appreciated that throughout her book Poehler made efforts to do the same.
  • The book was as much about Poehler as it was about the people who shaped her. She talked a great deal about her coworkers from her time in improv, SNL, and Parks and Recreation. Her praise and love for everyone she connected with both in front of and behind the camera are so genuine that you feel really, really sad that she isn’t your friend too. It was also exciting to read about other celebrities in the context of Poehler’s life, since most of the information we hear about them can be so one-dimensional.
  • It takes hard work to be famous. While this isn’t necessarily true for all famous people, Poehler had a lot of shitty jobs before her SNL break, something I wouldn’t have known had I not read the book. She lived in a rat-infested basement apartment, was living paycheck-to-paycheck (that’s when she had a stable job), and  didn’t get any real recognition for decades. It’s nice to think that meeting the right people is all you need, but you need to have something to show them when the time comes. Louis Pasteur said it best: “Chance favors the prepared mind.”

Whew, that was quite the mini-brain dump. If you’ve read Yes Please, what did you think? If you haven’t, is it on your TRL?

P.S. Shout-out to Sam who let me borrow this book too!

Books and pie (charts): the recipe for a deliciously diverse reading experience

Since the work I do doesn’t involve books or extensive reading of any kind, the 2016 Reading Challenge is my way of making reading a priority. My goal is simply to make time to read for pleasure and in the process learn about a new author, genre, series, or issue in the greater reading community.

This blog was created in part from a need to hold myself accountable for that goal, and so far it’s been great at keeping me on track. Other helpful influences have been podcasts and weekly newsletters, which taught me to pay attention to whose voice I was reading in addition to what I was reading.

One such post was written by Amanda Nelson from Book Riot, who said that tracking books has helped her identify what her reading habits are:

…without paying much attention, I read evenly between men and women. Without paying much attention, I will read almost no people of color (which is why I now pay attention). I read almost exclusively authors from the USA and UK- something I’ll be addressing with more foresight in 2015. I started the year reading almost entirely digitally, and have since evened out among formats, and increased my audiobook usage.

I’m a big fan of data in general because I think the more you study something, the better prepared you are to identify patterns and make educated decisions. Since I’ve been meaning to incorporate more WOC voices in my reading and I’m tracking the books I read anyway, starting a spreadsheet seemed like an efficient solution. So I created one and decided to pay attention to the following categories: the author’s gender, nationality, and ethnicity; and the format, source, and genre of the book.

I began by adding the nine books I’ve read so far for my reading challenge and found that 88% of the authors were either from the UK or USA, 67% were male, and 89% were White/Caucasian. Whoa.

Nine books is by no means a good sample size, but this mini-experiment has already made me want to be more deliberate in my book choices moving forward. I’ll be continuing to update this list throughout the year, and I’m excited to see what patterns will emerge. If you’re curious, here’s what the actual spreadsheet looks like (split in half here to make it easy to read):

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Do any of you keep track of the books you read? How do you make a conscious decision about what to read next?

Life should be like a series of subscription boxes…

…eagerly awaited, filled with happiness and opportunities for growth, and with a few surprises (of the good kind).

I am absolutely in love with subscription boxes. They are like mini Christmas celebrations every month (or two months or however often), and I find the simple ritual of waiting for my box and then tearing it apart both exciting and cathartic.

I’ve been doing a lot of research on various book subscription services, so I was ecstatic to see that Book Riot had a 50% off coupon for Book of the Month’s 3-month membership plan. Even though I’m in the process of cleaning out my shelves, I had to try it out, you know, for science…

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Membership includes one hardcover book of my choice from each month’s selection of five books. If I want I can add up to two more books from the current month’s selection or from past months for $9.99 each. If I don’t like any of the books I can opt to skip that month and my membership is extended one more month. The price came out to about $23 including shipping instead of the usual $45 (or in other words, about $7.50 per book instead of $15).

I wasn’t too familiar with any of April’s candidates, but I heard an interview on NPR with the author for The Nest (Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeny) so I chose that as this month’s selection.

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The book will ship in a couple of days, and my membership lasts until the end of June after which it automatically renews unless I call Book of the Month to cancel (which I might do since I’ll be in the process of moving), so I’ll have more updates for you.

Have any of you experimented with or are devoted fans of a book subscription service? I’d love to hear what your experiences have been!

Review: Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

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Brief synopsis (from Goodreads): Under the streets of London there’s a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

Rating✈  Travel companion

Long story short: For some bizarre reason I had never read anything by Neil Gaiman before Neverwhere (except for the occasional Doctor Who episode I guess). He’s been recommended to me by a number of different people, so naturally his was the first e-book I downloaded onto Archimedes.

I enjoyed the tone and writing style in Neverwhere—it was simple, matter-of-fact, and even the more gloomy parts resonated with hope—and loved the idea of an unknown world coexisting with our own, but for some reason I wasn’t able to completely immerse myself in the story.

One reason I had a hard time following along was because of the protagonist. Richard’s initial disbelief when confronted with the new and weird world that is London Below is understandable, and it’s not that I didn’t want him to question what he saw, only he was still doing it halfway through the story. After a certain point it makes more sense to take things in stride and play along, yet he was constantly tripping over his own feet.

I also expected to learn more about London Below, its society and culture, and its history. Gaiman gave a taste of it, but I felt he could have gone a lot deeper, either in this novel or in a follow-up. The descriptions were too brief, not enough to get me hooked completely. I guess in a way JK Rowling, who constantly churns out more information about Hogwarts and the magical world, has set a high bar and left me expecting and wanting more.

Despite having really high expectations for Neverwhere, which turned out to be a little bit of a let-down, I’m still very much looking forward to reading some of Gaiman’s other works (Good Omens and American Gods have both been recommended to me).

Have you read Neverwhere or anything else by Neil Gaiman? What did you think?

“I can’t think of any greater happiness than to be with you all the time…” -Franz Kafka, The Castle

A few weeks ago an article on Book Riot caught my attention. Called “The Impact of a Single Book”, the post featured an installation by Mexican mixed-media artist Jorge Méndez Blake: a copy of Franz Kafka’s The Castle placed in a brick wall changed what would have been a series of parallel lines running from left to right into small hills with gaps and deep grooves, illustrating how one book can shape the course of a path.

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The project made me think about the books that have shaped my path both as a reader and as a person. This is definitely a topic for a longer post, so for now I’m going to focus on just one series of books.

I was introduced to Enid Blyton as a child, and her series The Five Find-Outers and Dog was my absolute favorite. The stories follow five children detectives around their small town as they solve mysteries and annoy the local policeman. Fatty, Larry, Daisy, Pip, and Bets made me wish I was growing up in England, the place where kids were sent off to boarding school, were free to run around by themselves in adorable villages, and called their breaks “holidays” instead of “vacations” (these were important things for the 8-year-old me).

Continue reading ““I can’t think of any greater happiness than to be with you all the time…” -Franz Kafka, The Castle

It is a truth universally acknowledged that it is much faster to buy books than it is to read them

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I have a habit of buying books faster than I can read them, which means I have a whole bunch just sitting around my apartment collecting dust. For my current reading challenge I’m doing my best to finish books I already own instead of buying new ones.

How often do you buy books? Do you have any tips on how to limit the number of new books that make it to your shelves? Comment and let me know!

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