Hi, my name is Misti and I’m an audiobook convert.
I was completely and utterly burned out of politics this month and I opted to move away from podcasts a bit and intersperse my listening with audiobooks. I’m finding that I enjoy listening to mostly non-fiction or shorter fiction via audiobooks. I use a combination of Hoopla Digital and Overdrive for downloading audio and digital books. I have preferred Hoopla mostly because it is easier to search for books and usually something is available. The only problem is there is a daily lending limit set by the library so if I want to download something at noon one day I usually get a message to try back later. If I remember, I try about 6:30 that evening and all is well. Overdrive seems to have a broader selection of books but it is not nearly as easy to download books because there are usually only a certain amount of copies per digital or audiobook so I have to put a hold on it. No big deal, just that sometimes there’s a line of people in front of me, whereas with Hoopla, despite the daily limit, if there’s a popular book available I haven’t had a problem downloading it before the daily limit is reached. I don’t know, it’s a weird system.
I’ve been flagging so many books to follow up and read at some future date. Some I’m coming across that I know I want to own and will keep that in mind next time I see a used copy or one on sale somewhere.
With my audiobook uptake this month and spurning of podcasts, I’ve ‘read’ a lot more books this month. I’ll denote which were audio.
Completed On Trails by Robert Moor: I originally started this book on paper and got about halfway through before I couldn’t renew it anymore and had to return it. I found the audio on Hoopla and was able to finish it easily within a week. This is probably my favorite book I’ve read so far this year. Moor writes a fascinating overview about the history of trails, from what may be the first trails left in fossilized rocks from primordial animals in Newfoundland to a history of the Appalchian Trail, including a scouting adventure to Morroco for part of the potential IAT. Interspersed are stories about Native American trails and hunting trails. In one section he covers herding sheep on a remote portion of the Navajo reservation and in another he scouts old Cherokee trails in North Carolina. I found the latter fascinating because he discussed how you can often see the original foot path in the woods with the adjacent wagon path after settlers arrived and then adjacent to that the eventual highway that was built because the original foot path had been that desirable of a trail. There’s so much packed into this book I really thought it could have gone even further. Highly recommend this one for outdoor and nature enthusiasts.
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett: This is a story of a married and pregnant woman who leaves her husband in the 1960s and ends up at a house for unwed pregnant girls in Kentucky. She gives birth and stays on, remarrying and raising her child there. It is told from three points of view. At first I found this frustrating because I had just gotten into the story with the main character narrating when it switched over but then I grew to like the point of view of each of the storytellers. It ended more abruptly than I wanted and didn’t quite resolve everything but overall this is good introduction to Patchett’s work. I really want to read State of Wonder next!
Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier: LeHoullier has made the rounds on various gardening podcasts and is always an interesting person to listen to. The book cover has intrigued me for years and I’ve wanted to purchase the book but never broke down to buy it. This was an informative read but I was mostly interested in the discussion about heirloom tomatoes and the history of some of the seeds, including the resurrection of 70+ year old seed. Most of the detailed information about seed starting and tips and tricks was less interesting because I was already familiar with it. This book is one for any gardener to check out. So many tomatoes, not enough garden space. Or driveway space in LeHoullier’s case!
Cold Tangerines by Shauna Niequist: If you read certain lifestyle and inspirational blogs long enough you’ll see someone mention Shauna Niequist. She’s got several books out and this was her first one. I typically like to start the beginning with an author but from what I understand her books stand on their own. This memoir was heavily faith based—or was supposed to be—but as an areligious person it didn’t really bother me that this was the intended goal. Honestly, the book would have been better and more inspirational if it had been more secular because the references to God felt tacked on, as if her publisher reminded her that she needed to include a certain amount of references to religion in approximation of how many essays she had in the story. That said, I found myself loving some of her essays, particularly the ones about life changes. This particular book was a take it or leave it one for me, I will give her writing another chance and check out her later books at another point. Another audiobook.
The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott: This was an audiobook. I was looking for an easy fiction listen to break up the non-fiction and this seemed up my alley in the vein of historical YA. Historical, yes, YA….ehhh, not really. I’m not sure how I would have liked this book if I’d read it on paper but as an audiobook it wasn’t that spectacular of a story. Actually, I probably wouldn’t have like the paper version either because the plot was trite and pithy. It takes place in the 1830sish in New England when cotton factories were just starting to gain steam. If you’ve read or watched Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South you’ll get an idea of where I going in a way—but in less well written storyline. The protaganist is a factory worker who left her family’s farm to escape farm life (which many of the other factory workers were doing) and there’s a story about murder and unwed pregnant factory girl, a weird side story of a tent evangelist, and of course a romance between the protaganist and the son of the factory owner—a romance that is incredibly forced.
So, I liked the zone out and imbibe in something frilly aspect but this isn’t that engaging of a book.
Bird Watcher’s Digest Butterflies Backyard Guide: Identify, Watch, Attract, Nurture, Save by Erin Gettler: I had Erin on the podcast to talk about her book a few weeks ago and I was bummed I didn’t think to check to see if the library had her book earlier than I did. I saw Hoopla had it available for download a few days before I chatted with Erin but I was already out of credits for the month so I had to wait until it reset March 1st. This is a great guidebook for common backyard butterflies throughout the United States. I’m going to have to buy a copy to have on hand at the house—Erin said Home Depot is supposed to be carrying it so I will have to look next time Chris or I go by there.
Finding Everett Ruess by David Roberts: I have a love/hate relationship with this book. I loved the writer and the idea of this story but I really did not like Ruess himself. This was because the story focused on his years from 16-20 when he was exploring the southwest and he was a bit of an entitled, bratty teenager, not quite coming into his own. This book has been on my to-read book for years and I listened as an audiobook. If you aren’t familiar with Ruess’ story, in the early 1930s he was exploring the desert southwest, roaming with pack mules and horses as he tried to make his way by selling his art. Almost like a Muir or some other similar transcendental type of nature enthusiast, but not quite. He lived with other people doing work or exploring the southwest as well as various tribal groups on occasion. He was actually very negative about his interactions with tribal people which was frustrating, too. There’s quite a bit known about his wanderings because he was an avid journal and letter writer and his family has quite a bit of his information, except the final journal and some other information that they lent out to unscrupulous characters in the 50s and 60s. The first and last quarters were really the best parts of the book in my opinion, and because the story of his disappearance has not be solved it makes you want to become a Ruess fan just to solve the puzzle.
Appalachian Odyssey by Steve Sherman: I’m about 3/4 of the way through this book, a memoir from the 1970s. I have a lot to say about it and will save it for April’s book report. Pretty good so far, could have been developed a bit more.
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: This year’s most hyped book, after I saw people raving about the audiobook because of its cast of readers I put myself on the lending list on Overdrive (Hoopla didn’t have it) and it was automatically downloaded this weekend. I just started yesterday and so far I’m ambivalent. If I was reading this on paper I would probably abandon it. I’ll keep you posted next month!
On Hold Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: This is on hold because it is a series of short stories and not one continuous novel so it doesn’t make it easy to just sit down and read straight through. I’ll probably borrow it off and on throughout the year until I can finish it.
I took about a month off from reading from the middle of December through the middle of January and it was great to disengage with books for that bit, but like always, I tend to come back around to take another gulp from some books. Since it has also been a season in which I’ve watched far more television than I usually do, I thought I’d talk about some shows and movies I’ve watched over the last few months.
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher: With her untimely death back in December I kept seeing everyone talk about her books. I found this audio version, read by Carrie, to listen to over the course of a few days. I’ve taken to listening to audiobooks instead of podcasts recently and am finding it a refreshing change. This book is more about Carrie’s upbringing and relationship with her mother. A worthwhile listen if you want to know more about her life. I’m planning on getting around to her fiction books eventually.
Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Another audiobook listen. All I’ve got to say is I hope this woman can manage to live out the rest of the Voldemort presidency. I knew very little about RBG before reading this book and it was a revelation to hear her story and the things she dealt with in regards to sexism in the workplace. We’ve come so far and yet not far enough. Put this book on your to-read list.
This Life is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and A Family Undone by Melissa Coleman: I’ve had this book on my to-read list for years now and this was yet another audiobook, read by the author. I did not speed this one up because the author has a wonderful voice that is soothing. Honestly, she sounds southern but she’s from Maine—sooo…not sure on that one. If you are familiar with Eliot Coleman and his expertise around four season gardening then you will know that this is his daughter. The story is about the Coleman family in their beginning years in the back to the land movement in Maine in the 70s. The family was mentored and rented land from Helen and Scott Nearing, the go-to folks for the back to the landers back in the era. I was not left with a good taste about the Nearings after reading this book. I knew some of that going into the story because of what I’d previously read in other articles about the BTTL movement but this book just highlighted it even further. I did give some serious side eye to the freedom a toddler was given to basically roam wherever, but I will just accept it was a different era.
If you are interested in homesteading, gardening, memoir, or just like a good but heartbreaking story, this is worth reading.
In the Middle Of
The Patron Saint of Liars by Ann Patchett: I keep see Patchett time and time again as a revered author and so I finally gave one of her books a go. I’m listening to this one as an audiobook and am about 30% into it and LOVE it! Great story and writing. I’ll keep you posted.
Difficult Women by Roxane Gay: This is a newly released book I am jumping on the bandwagon early for once! I’m not very far into it but the short stories I’ve read so far are captivating and well written.
On Trails by Robert Moor: I am only about halfway through with this book but it is so, so good. If you are an outdoor enthusiast or hiker you will really enjoy this book as it is about—-trails! And not necessarily hiking trails, either, but animal trails and the author even goes into exploring to find out what were the very first trails. I started this in December and because I was in a lull with reading I had to renew it the max amount of times and I still didn’t finish before needing to return it to the library. I plan to pick it back up again soon so I can finish but based on what I’ve read I highly recommend it.
Now on to TV!
As for network tv, This Is Us, Timeless, and Big Bang Theory are what I’ve been watching steadily this year. I dropped the political thriller with Kiefer Sutherland because I was politics-ed out and it was too realistic. Timeless just had their season finale and dropped some major plot bombs yesterday—the thing is, from what I’ve seen, the show hasn’t been renewed for a second season. I hope it gets renewed because it is a show that has just enough intrigue but a lot of lighthearted comedic moments, too. This is Us has turned out to be a hit that I’ve loved more than expected because the characters are written with such layers. Also, Mandy Moore is awesome. And Big Bang Theory just keeps getting better as it ages, I think. I am curious what they are going to do with Koothrappali—is he closeted gay?? Just some weird stuff and innuendos being thrown around this season.
Over on PBS the return of Sherlock in early January filled the gap where Downton Abbey had previously been. I thought I was going to have another gap to fill until we got to Call the Midwife in April but Victoria has filled that niche wonderfully. It ends here in a few weeks, though. Somehow I missed that Mercy Street had returned. I think it aired after Downton Abbey last year but this year it has been airing before Victoria and my DVR didn’t catch it to record. I will probably just catch up with it online instead.
Over on Showtime, Homeland has started back and I was a little ‘meh’ on the season as it started. While I really like the actor Rupert Friend, I was surprised to see him back as Peter Quinn after that horrific situation he was in last season. I mean, if this was real life he would be dead. That said, Sunday’s episode finally catapulted the season into something watchable and now I’m intrigued again. Also, I think Dar Adal is a bad guy. Remember season 4????
Netflix has been my go-to for when I’m looking to be lazy and I’ve come across a lot of good things there recently. If you haven’t binged The Crown yet, get on it! So much about a time period I’m not that familiar with. I never thought I could see Matt Smith as anything but The Doctor but he is a damn charming Prince Phillip. The OA is a series I started seeing a few people mentioning and honestly? I think it’s better than Stranger Things. It’s a show that kind of came out of nowhere and bam! it hits you upside the head. So. Many. Questions!
I tried to find a post for my ‘word’ of 2016 but I guess I didn’t end up writing one. I decided my word would be ‘read‘ which seemed more actionable and doable than anything else. If I had chosen ‘run‘ I’m not so sure I would have been very successful. I have yet to figure out a word for 2017 but it may be a phrase instead.
So, here’s my round up of total number of books read for the year and what they were. I was aiming for about 25 books, approximately two a month; let’s see how I did!
In alpha by author:
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown
Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors
Voyager by Diana Gabaldon
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon
The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Hiking the Florida Trail: 1,100 Miles, 78 Days, Two Pairs of Boots, and One Heck of an Adventure by Johnny Molloy
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer
The Backyard Parables by Margaret Roach
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfield
Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout
On a Farther Shore by William Souder
The Florida Trail End to End: A Father and His Sons Two and a Half Year Adventure Hiking 1100 Miles Across Florida by Mike Umbarger
The Lady Elizabeth by Allison Weir
The Care and Management of Lies by Jaqueline Winspear
23, not bad! I probably started at least another 10 books that I either abandoned or put down in the middle of them. I will try to finish some of them next year.
Out of this list I’d say the top three books would be Big Magic, Fire Season, Lab Girl, and oh hell, a fourth book because I cannot leave it out, The Girl on the Train. 11/23 were non-fiction, 12/23 were fiction; I’m a little surprised at the nearly even split because I feel like I tend towards non-fiction these days but maybe I did make a decent effort for fiction.
Next year I would like to make the effort to read more of the books on my bookshelf as well as take the year to re-read the entire Anne of Green Gables series. It’s been a good while since I’ve done that and its time to bond with Anne again. Based on how this year went, I think what I averaged is plausible for next year, too. Some months I barely read anything and other months I read more than two books which evened that spread out. If I listen to more audiobooks instead of podcasts there’s a chance this could up the numbers a little more but we’ll see.
How about you? How much reading did you do? What was your favorite book(s) of the year?
I was in the middle of a lot of books in September so I didn’t want to do a book report at that time. However, I’ve now finished a bunch of books and am in the middle of more! Before I launch into that I’m going to launch into a rave about how much I now enjoy listening to audiobooks because I figured out how to speed them up! I have always been super bored by audiobooks, finding only a few here and there that caught my attention well enough to listen through. Recently, though, I started seeing people talk about speeding audiobooks up because many readers are speed readers (like myself) and have a difficult time pacing through an audiobook, which is typically read at a slower pace.
I had been listening to audiobooks through Hoopla Digital because there is no waiting period for books unlike on Overdrive. But, I had been listening through the computer and not my phone because my phone is a hand-me-down iPhone 4 and many apps, including Hoopla’s, aren’t compatible with that iOS version. Unfortunately their listening platform on a computer isn’t the same as for a device, there is not option to speed up the listening on the computer. Then I remembered Chris had bought another Kindle Fire tablet back in the summer during Amazon’s Prime Day sale and so I fired that thing up and saw I could download the Hoopla app from amazon on that. Voila! I could speed read! Life, changed!
Read Voyager by Diana Gabaldon: As soon as season 2 of Outlander ended I was on such a high I had to launch straight into a re-read of the third book. This was my third or fourth reread of this book and I had forgotten quite a bit of what went on in the story. I read it fairly quickly for an Outlander book and then launched right into the fourth book which I got about a third of of the way through and put on hold. I’m so excited for the upcoming season of the show but can’t fathom, again, how they are going to cut the book down to 12 episodes.
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: This book has been talked about by so many people for well over a year but I never got around to putting it on my to-read list until this spring when I got in the very long line on Overdrive. My time came up at the beginning of October and I dropped everything else I was reading to devour this book in three days. Y’all, I haven’t read a book that fast in a long time. It was captivating, intriguing, and I couldn’t pinpoint ‘Who done it’ until quite a ways through, but damnnnnn. Good book. I definitely recommend this one! That said, in my head I never saw an Emily Blunt character in my head for the main character, it was always a mishmash of Amy Schumer and Renee Zellweger as Bridget Jones. Eh, I can’t wait to see the movie when it comes to RedBox!
The Backyard Parables by Margaret Roach: This is one I listened to as a sped-up audiobook which turned out perfect because the author read the book. While I love Margaret on her podcast and through her website, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about her reading a book—there wasn’t a lot of change in tone or enthusiasm. I can imagine this is difficult for people who aren’t natural speakers and I imagine I would suck at it, too. But speeding it up made it a lot more tolerable and ideally this would have probably been a better book to read in paper. However, I did enjoy the book as it chronicled her garden over the year, talking about the ups and downs of the garden.
The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron: The term Highly Sensitive Person has become more mainstream in the last five to six years, much like the use of introvert—we introverts and HSPs are fighting back!—and so this book has been on my radar for quite some time. I checked out the digital version (after semi-long wait). Curious if you are an HSP? You can take a self quiz here. For the book, I mostly skimmed it. It had a lot of information I already knew and frankly, wasn’t all that helpful. I think if you are just coming into some self awareness on knowing what an HSP is this might help you out quite a bit. There is also a book for highly sensitive children which might be good for parents whose children may be HSPs. As I read some reviews on Goodreads about the book I found myself agreeing: the term highly sensitive is a bit negative—to me it conjures up the thoughts of people clutching Kleenex and crying—but it is more than that, and of course HSPs are likely to be easy criers. I think what I wanted to see was a how to deal with the non-HSPs, both in how to approach people to back off when telling us we’re too sensitive but also have to effectively build up that wall for the everyday and work on the sensitivity a bit to get through life, kind of like introverts having to pretend to be extroverts from time to time when need-be.
Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay: I have followed Roxane on Twitter for awhile now and kept seeing this book popping up here and there over the internet. This is another audiobook listen, one that was much better sped up as well. It earned 4/5 stars for me only because of the Sweet Valley Twins rants at the beginning of the book. I was not a Sweet Valley reader as a kid so I was mostly bored by this discussion. However, the rest of the book was excellent. The premise of the book is that she is a ‘bad feminist’ in that in many aspects she is a girly-girl—she likes pink, she wants kids, she isn’t interested in doing the fixer-upper or bug killing type chores—things that maybe if you want to say you are a feminist, or maybe culturally, these are things women should or shouldn’t be if they want to call themselves a feminist. You can’t like pink and be a feminist. You should want to know how to change a tire if you want to be a feminist. You shouldn’t call a man to squish a bug. Etcetera, etcetera. All of these supposed biases about who a feminist should or shouldn’t be are exactly the problems feminists are facing from the culture. Preferring pink and wanting a man to squish a bug doesn’t preclude you from being a feminist. (FYI: The notion of pink being a ‘girl’ color is a relatively new idea). I have so many thoughts regarding feminism and have thought even harder about it during this election cycle as well as after having Forest. I read something else recently about how we’ve done so much to help girls and women realize their equality but we’ve kind of forgotten to work on how to teach boys about equality—and I mean this from the unconscious bias way. We may easily say girls can do what boys can do but we easily fall into the trap of limiting boys about so-called girl things, ie: that’s a girl toy or girl book, girl color, etc. No, it’s just a toy, a book, a color.
Anyway, the book was well worth the read; she touches not only on feminism but racism and then also on the differences in feminism for white women and people of color. Some of this I hadn’t thought much about until the last few years but my eyes are definitely opened.
“I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.” -Roxane Gay
Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts: I was in the middle of this one when The Girl on the Train came up and while I was sailing along with it the um, much better writing and storyline of TGotT kind of threw me when I went back to this book.
Focus for the rest of the year
I think my goal for the rest of the year, other than digital reading and listening, is to finish up books I have left hanging around, or those I ordered but haven’t gotten around to. Those would be:
I haven’t read a whole lot this summer. Evenings until recently were spent outside in the garden and I kind of lost interest in reading on my phone while Forest fell asleep at night in favor of scrolling social media. Now that it is pretty much dark by the time Forest falls asleep and I escape his room around 8-8:15 every night I have evening time to read or craft. I’m also trying to make a point to read again on my phone instead of endless scrolling. I don’t have a huge update but here’s what I can brief you on. The last update was for May.
Completed Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout: When I was home in June for my parent’s 40th anniversary my mom, SIL Stephanie, and I went over to this thrift store where everything is $1 and it benefits, I think, a Leukemia foundation. I’m always drawn to the books and I found a couple and brought them home, this one was included. It was a Pulitizer Prize novel and unlike All The Light We Cannot See it appeared much more readable to me. Overall the novel is written very well. It’s an every day life, minute stories kind of book. Little glimpses into the life of people in a small town in Maine, primarily focusing on Olive and her family and friends but also on acquaintances. The individual stories may or may not have her involved in the plot. It was a good but slow read and I found myself definitely disliking Olive herself. She grew more tolerable as she aged but she was not a nice person overall. The small stories about the other townspeople were interesting and it would be as if you picked out anyone in any town and wrote about whatever struggles or triumphs they were having. That was the most interesting aspect of it all. It’s not a book I want to keep so I listed it on Bookmooch but it hasn’t been mooched yet, so if you think this book is something you’d want to read I’m up for sending it to you via media mail in the US. Let me know!
The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer:
I first mentioned this book back in March when I had to put it on hold because my audio loan ended before I could finish. Well it took until this week for my turn to come up again and when I saw I had only less than two hours left to listen I kicked myself for not staying up top of listening back in March! I still hold by chosing to listen to this versus reading it because Amanda is a fantastic narrator and there’s all sorts of interesting music interspersed. I would like to check out the book sometime just to take in the words that way. I loved this book! I definitely had some disconnect between the two listening sessions, having to remember where I’d left off and what was going on where I’d stopped. I think the best thing about this book was about showing up to do the work and not being afraid to ASK, to take action on anything…asking for something seemingly trivial, asking for payment for creating something…anything. The last 5-6 years have shown that creatives are starting to take things into their own hands, asking for donations or subscriptions via services like Patreon or asking for donations for special content on otherwise free sites. There’s a rising tide turning against people coming to creatives asking for them to donate something for free because it will be ‘good exposure’—a lot of the time coming from businesses who *can* pay. ‘Good exposure’ doesn’t pay the bills. Creatives of every kind of tired of that trope. I definitely recommend this book!
In the Middle of Second Nature by Michael Pollan: Another thrift store find, this is Pollan’s first book he wrote. I am about a quarter of the way through, maybe, but I am loving it so far. It’s about the intersection of gardening and nature.
The Journey in Between by Keith Foskett: I came across the site Free Book Sifter a few weeks ago, a site that looks for currently free digital books via Amazon or Barnes and Noble. Some of them aren’t as updated as the site is having issues with Amazon so books that might have been free back in early summer are now priced. This one was only $2.99 and looked interesting so I grabbed it for reading while Forest goes to bed. The author has a lot of hiking memoirs and this one in particular is about the Camino de Santiago. I’ve not read any books on that trail, have only watched The Way(highly recommend), but it sounded interesting. I’m not far into it but I should make some progress on it soon.
You are a Badass by Jen Sincero: Getting back into Palmer’s book above reminded me that I could do audio books again. I kind of forget about them because they are sometimes hit and miss with the narrators. I borrowed this one from my Hoopla Digital service at the library. The book has been making the round of all of the lifestyle bloggers lately and seemed interesting. It’s short, about 5 hours. Just started!
On Hold Paths of Desire by Dominique Browning: I mooched this one earlier this summer and was intrigued because it was a gardening memoir. I’m probably halfway through but kind of got bored. While interesting, the author gets a little weird with her naming conventions for her boyfriend and friends and it kind of turned me off. I’ll definitely return to this when I’ve got the mind for it.
The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf: I’ve had this on reserve digitally for months and my turn came up. I started it and was loving it but it is very detailed and I quickly realized that I didn’t want to read it on my phone, that it deserved to be read from paper. So I requested the book from the library and am waiting on that so I can finish it.
I only read two books this month but both were stellar!
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
Up until a few months ago I had no idea who Hope Jahren was. When her book was recommended to me by Erin I followed Hope on social media and kept tabs on her book release date. It was released but the library didn’t have copies of it yet, however I put a request in on my Overdrive account for the library to get it if they could and was subsequently put on the hold list. I was thrilled when they did purchase the digital (and hard copy) book and launched right into it knowing I needed to get it read as quickly as possible because it would be a popular book to request and the hold list would get long.
Right away I was entranced by the book. It opens with a little background on Hope’s interest in science while living in southern Minnesota. Her father was a professor at a local community college and her mother had a college background as well but had given that up to raise a family. It is apparent there’s tension in the family situation and Hope doesn’t really dwell on it though it is interspersed throughout. Mainly, she doesn’t want to be stuck in her small town which is dominated by industry. She wants out and college is that way out.
She gets her undergraduate degree in Minnesota and then moves to California to get her PhD. Unless I missed it, I think she skipped the Masters and went right for the PhD. It’s there in California where she meets her future lab assistant and friend and the rest of the book tells the tales of field work, lab work, and becoming a flourshing scientist in the face of crappy funding, sexism, and other obstacles scientists have to face, particularly those while sciencing as a female.
There were a few instances that I thought were a little weird and kind of irresponsible as a professor such as when she has a bunch of grad students out for a lab field trip in Georgia and a grad student suggests their end of field trip excursion be to Monkey Jungle. In Miami. And they go! Sure, great story to reminisce upon, but I gave that serious side eye.
Overall I throughly enjoyed the book. The writing was excellent, the stories were excellent, and it offers a glimpse into the real issues of becoming a tenured professor these days. In the middle of her stories she gives great analysis of plants from a typical botanical perspective but also through the lenses of paleobotany and geobiology. Definitely read this book if you like memoir and science!
Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
This was another much hyped book but unlike All The Light We Cannot See that I wrote about last month, this one was fantastic! This was another must-read-before-Overdrive-expires books and so I pretty much zoomed through it over Memorial Day weekend. Right off the bat the book hooked me and I was in for the ride. I did not like Louisa’s family at all, though her sister redeems herself a bit towards the end. I just can’t deal with families/people who have ‘smart kids’ and ‘idiot kids’, aka: golden children and scapegoats, because Louisa was not an idiot but she believed it because her family had ‘joked’ that way for years and it had rubbed off. That aside, the interactions she has with Will, the friendship she develops with him—I really loved that. It isn’t like you can’t see what’s coming in the end, that there’s not some formulaic plot built into it, but it works well and the book is easy to get through. I liked it because it didn’t take a lot of thinking but wasn’t completely a ‘beach read’. You are rooting for Louisa the entire book and still, despite knowing in the back of your head what’s going to happen, wanting the happily ever after.
I’m also happy I finished the book just in time for the movie to come out. Not sure when I’m going to see it but I’m happy knowing I am actually ahead of the game on something for once!
And that’s it. That’s all I read last month. I have nothing on my immediate reading horizon but Mary Karr’s The Art of Memoir is close to being ready for me to borrow on Overdrive. I plan on organizing my bookshelf at home this month and getting it into better order so I can see what I have and start reading some of the books on my shelves I haven’t read. I’ve also been itching to reread the entire Anne of Green Gables series and that might be a good backburner series to do for the rest of the year.
+Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Philip Connors: I really loved this book! If you like to read stories about the outdoors, this book is for you. The premise is that the author is working as a journalist in NYC when one of his friends let’s him know that a fire lookout job is available in New Mexico. He’d previously spent some time in a tower with this friend and really enjoyed his time out there. Well, one thing lead to another and Connors ends up spending half the year looking for fires in the Gila Wilderness and the other half tending bar.
What I liked about this book was that it wasn’t strictly about the life in a lookout tower but also about the history of the USFS, our country’s history with fire and fire control/suppression, and some interesting local knowledge about tribes that lived in the area. There’s an especially heartwrenching portion of the story about a fawn he finds—well, I can’t tell you about that, you will have to read it. Heartwrenching, though!
For starters, I’d flagged this book for a hold as it was recommended to me on my digital Overdrive account. The premise sounded interesting when I borrowed it: 1790s southern Virginia plantation, a six year old Irish girl who’s forced into indentured servitude because her parents died on their way to America, she’s separated from her younger brother who is sold to someone else. The first dumbass in this book is the captain of the ship and the plantation owner. He’s a dumb-ass because he never corrects his wife and young son’s thoughts that Belle, a mixed-race slave and secondary narrator, is his daughter and not his mistress. Gah, if he’d not had his head up his ass about this, everything else in the book wouldn’t have been so damned bad. The thing is everyone and their dog knew the truth the entire time I don’t understand how the wife, Miss Martha, never figured it out. Or how the son, Marshall, didn’t figure it out. Cue dumb-asses.
Without going into crazy detail about this book, I’ll say that it started off well. It was a semi-typical antebellum story and moved along well which is why I kept reading it. Lavinia, the Irish girl, grows up living among the slaves but it is clear that she’s kind of in a limbo; she’s not high enough to live in the Big House but she isn’t quite low enough to be totally mixed in with the slaves. That’s another thing that bothered me, while it was apparent this was slavery and the issues of owning people was brought up many times, the use of the word servant was thrown about far too much for me. This isn’t Downton Abbey servants. Her slave family are slightly elevated slaves as they are the kitchen and house slaves, not the field slaves. The author does make a decent distinction between how each of those two groups lived, one fairly better than the other.
Something I also had trouble with on occasion was picturing the scenes. I kept envisioning a modern kitchen, or at least a late 1800s kitchen, not a late 1700s kitchen. My kitchen kept having a sink. Yeah, I don’t think that happened!
This book is full of death, rape, violence, child molestation, mental disorders, drug abuse (good gravy, the trope of laudanum!), alcohol abuse, and all sorts of other crap. The author pulled all the tricks out for this book and most of the time I couldn’t wait to see what other sordid thing she was going to bring out next. Honestly, the first half of the book I thought was decent. Lavinia was a little dense but I figured she’d grow out of it, that the elders in her life would actually educate her a little bit about the ways of the world. But no, the girl never gets any common sense and never becomes any kind of figure you are rooting for.
I rated this 3 stars on Goodreads because it was a page turner and easily readable. I found a lot of fun in reading the 1 and 2 star reviews because they were all lamenting, like me, why on earth the book had so many 4 and 5 star reviews. I did find out there’s a sequel that just came out. I’m not sure I have it in me to read it, but I am kind of curious about how a few people ended up!
In other words, don’t waste your time on this book!
+Hiking the Florida Trail: 1,100 Miles, 78 Days, Two Pairs of Boots, and One Heck of an Adventure by Johnny Molloy: As I was reading this book I found several parallels in our hike as compared to his hike. As I said a few months ago I had held off from reading any trail memoirs as I was writing my book and found myself needing to know what some of the books were really about before I sent out book proposals. The writing was easy to read and enjoyable for the most part. Molloy hiked the trail in, I think 2005 or 2006, the book was published in 2008, so there were definitely some differences in trail routes from our hike in 2011. Like the The Florida Trail End to End that I wrote about last month, Molloy finished his hike at the Alabama state line in Blackwater River State Forest. It sounded like he had initially wanted to end at Fort Pickens but the effects of Hurricane Ivan were still on-going when he finished his hike and there were issues with closures along the beach, including at Fort Pickens. Also noted were more roadwalks than even we did, particularly in the panhandle. The Palatka-Lake Butler rail-to-trail hadn’t been added as a route to the Florida Trail at that point and so a lot of that was a road walk…which he opted to take a whirl on the rail-to-trail anyway and found it only recently cleared. Having barrled our way down uncleared rail-to-trail before I can’t imagine doing it on the Florida Trail! Also noticeable were longer roadwalks in the section from Econfina Creek west to Eglin. I’m so very thankful we got some new public and private lands to break up that roadwalk. One interesting item I noted, and even Molloy remarked about it a few times, was how he made a campfire every night and most mornings. Definitely not a common event among thru-hikers, even in areas along the Appalachian Trail, unless there’s a group of day or section hikers out. Overall it is a great book to introduce hikers to the Florida Trail. Easy to read and there was quite a bit of interesting facts about some of the locales that I didn’t even know about!
+All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: I’ve had this on hold digitally and for a hard copy at the library for several months now. The internet has been raging about this Pulitzer Prize winning WWII novel and I thought I’d jump on the bandwagon and begin reading it. The hard copy came up for me but unfortunately I got about 30-40 pages in and it wasn’t doing anything for me. The ‘chapters’, if you can call them that, are 1-2 pages long and jump between the stories of the two main characters. Just when you are getting involved in a scene you are pulled out and flopped back into the story of the other person. It was incredibly annoying. I lost patience very quickly and because I knew I wouldn’t be able to suffer through it by renewing it, as there are other people on the wait list, I opted to return it. I’ll likely try this again another day/year when I can purchase my own copy to take my time. Or not. Who knows?
+Lab Girl by Hope Jahren: Erin at The Familiar Wilderness gave me a heads up about this book not long before it debuted last month. I put in requests for my Overdrive to get a digital copy and I also reserved a hard copy at the library. It looks like I’m next up for the digital copy so I’m holding off on reading anything else digitally for now. Looking forward to this!
+Baby Birds: An Artist Looks Into the Nest by Julie Zickefoose: I first found out about Julie Zickefoose, gosh, maybe in 8 or 9 years ago when she was a commentator on NPR. I found her blog and followed her here and there but with our hikes on the AT and FT and then our field work, I stopped staying in the loop. Erin at TFW has been friends with her for awhile and I’d seen her post and converse with her in various social media outlets and so I started following Julie once again. She’s got a great blog and I love her perspective on the natural world! Well, she’s been working for years and years on this book, building a portfolio of baby bird paintings and finally the book was published. I opted to support her by purchasing Baby Birds directly from her site instead of Amazon as she retains more of the profit that way. I’ve just barely flipped through it but it is beautiful! Forest even liked the bird paintings but I have to be careful because I know he’ll go to town tearing pages!
+Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon: As I finish my third reading of this book, I have to say I have developed an appreciation for taking it slow and sussing out the details of this book and series. With any of Diana Gabaldon’s books, when they first come out it is a race to devour the story, to see where it leads. Often I finish mentally exhausted, which is to be expected after 800+ pages. And then I don’t pick the book up again for years. I’ve read the first four in the Outlander series multiple times and really need to pick up the last four once again. I’m curious how my opinion of the tv show’s rendition of the story will unfold having been so close to the story for these last several months.
+The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz: As I mentioned in the February book report about this book, I hadn’t realized it was a YA novel. It definitely had two of my favorite common threads of a YA novel: historical and a heroine. However, the story fell flat a few times. The premise of the novel is of a young girl of about 14, pre-WWI, who is living in an emotionally, and borderline physically abusive household. As primary caretaker to her father and brothers, there’s little love going around. She wants an education but has been forced by her father to abandon her schooling, not unheard of in that time, to run the household since her mother died. After seeing an ad in the paper about actually getting paid for work as a hired girl, she makes a run for it one day using money her mother had hidden for her in a doll.
Eventually she makes it to a larger city and by weird circumstances comes to work in a Jewish household. There’s a lot of concealment of age, young crushes, and a coming of age story tied up in there. If I had been a teeanger I would have loved the story more but as an adult I saw a lot of faulty story going on. That said, if you want a light YA read, it’s worth checking out.
I chose this as a Kindle read. It was self published by the author and hiker, and is a narrative, as the title suggests, of the section hike he went on with his sons. I hesitate to be too harsh because it is someone’s creative endeavor, but the book needed serious editing. However, I did find a lot of humor and inspiration threading through the book. I also commiserated many times with some of the stories, particularly with the wretched Lake Butler Forest. What I liked best was that he was taking his kids on a journey that most people don’t even attempt to do. As someone who actively tries to engage my own son in the natural world, I really hope that I can take Forest on section hikes or maybe even a short thru-hike in the coming years.
If you don’t know who Amanda Palmer is, she’s a musician and performance artist. She’s also married to author Neil Gaiman. If you want a little background on her you can see her TED Talk. I listened to this as an audio book and I highly, highly recommend it. Amanda read the book herself and is an excellent choice for doing so. She should narrate more audio books! Interspersed throughout is music from her solo work as well as her work with The Dresden Dolls.
I won’t go into detail about the book until I finish it, which might be a few months since I’m so far down the list again! But from what I’ve listened to so far I definitely recommend you put it on your list of to-read non-fiction books.
+Along the Florida Trail by Bart Smith and Sandra Friend: One of the books I purchased for my proposal research. Love it so far! I found a used book on Amazon and it was signed by Sandra. This is more of a photo book accompanied with narrative about each of the sections of the Florida Trail.
+Fire Season: Field Notes from a Wilderness Lookout by Phillip Connors This book has been on my radar for several years now. I’m sure it was profiled in Backpacker or Outside which is probably where I found out about it. As I’d finished Umbarger’s book, I needed another Kindle read for Forest’s bedtime (he takes 45 min-1 hr to get to sleep…so I have lots of time sitting around in the dark!) and tried finding backpacking and hiking books from the Overdrive library app. Those searches yielded little results and so I tried ‘wilderness’ and came up with this book. I saw Finding Everett Ruess hiding in there, too, so it might be my next read.
The Lady Elizabeth by Allison Weir: I started this back in late January but didn’t finish it until sometime in mid-February. It was fairly long and took a lot out of me! However, I really did enjoy it. The author has several historical fiction books of this era that I want to read at some point in time. What I liked about this book was that it followed the life of Elizabeth Tudor (Queen Elizabeth I) from about 3 years old until about 25 years old, when her sister Queen Mary died and Elizabeth became queen. The book picks up on the rumor that Elizabeth may have become pregnant from Thomas Seymour when she was about 14-15 and takes off with that storyline a bit. From my reading, that rumor seems to be unfounded. It’s an interesting thread, though.
The writing was done well and I found myself Googling various historical figures in the book as I went along. I will definitely read more of her books in the future.
The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown: I’ve been a Brene Brown fan for years now, long before she hit the popularity with TED talks. I just never got around to reading her books! I started this one back in early fall but never finished it. Finally, i took it with me to the gym and flipped through the last 1/3 that I had left. I definitely resonated with more of the first 1/2 of the book than the second half. If you struggle with perfectionism, either outwardly or inwardly, this book is worth reading. It deals not only with perfection but touches on shame, which is one of Brown’s biggies when she talks. Honestly, shame is a lot more related to emotions, feelings, and actions than I thought. It keeps coming up in so many readings and podcasts I listen to. While I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, there are some aspects on the creative front that I get in an all-or-nothing attitude with myself.
Dragonfly in Amber by Diana Gabaldon: I’ve been rereading this with Elizabeth the last four to five months. We should be wrapping up this month before the second season of the tv show starts.
The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz: This has been in my queue digitally for quite a while. I just came into the slot for my turn and I’m probably going to be switching to reading it first before I finish The Map of Lost Memories. However, once I downloaded it I realized it’s a YA novel. Not a bad thing, I like some particular YA novels as an adult, so we’ll see. It has quite a high rating on GoodReads and Amazon so I’m betting it’ll be worthwhile.
How to Live: A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at An Answer by Sarah Bakewell: I’ve been hearing about stoicism and the Stoics for the last six to eight months in various online venues. They’ve piqued my interest and I tried to find something digitally from one of the more famous philosophers of that time period but came up empty from the library. I’ll have to look elsewhere for something from the original Stoics. However, I found this book about this dude Michel Eyquem de Montaigne a philosopher from the French Renaissance who had influence from the Stoics. This particular book isn’t his writings directly, and is instead more of a biography. It has been interesting enough for me to want to find his writings. Montaigne is basically the person who got essays into being. If he was around now he’d probably have a very popular blog or column in a newspaper. He influenced the likes of Emerson and Woolf.
This is only on hold because I couldn’t renew my digital copy as someone else was in line for it. When it comes up again I’ll be reading it again.
In my effort to read all the books this year, I made some progress with reading this month. Here’s the lowdown:
The Care and Management of Lies by Jaqueline Winspear. I’m a huge fan of historical fiction and as I was trolling through the Overdrive app for our library this one piqued my interest. I rated it 3/5 stars because of some character development issues and some weird language/writing at the beginning. The book is set in WWI England and we see the beginning of the war from three different vantage points. Because of this I believe it easily could have been split into two books. Also, there was a very compelling suffragette component to one of the storylines and frankly I found myself wanting to know more about that line and suffragettes. It made me want to read more about women getting the right to vote, what was done to them (HORRIBLE THINGS!), and to be a more well-rounded feminist. Mental note: read more feminist books this year!
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. This book. This book deserves 6 stars instead of 5. It is that good! It’s part memoir, part meditative/contemplative, part whip-your-ass-into-creative-shape…I will refer to this book for years to come. Read it straight through and then randomly pick it up and pull out whatever passages speak to you. I want to be Elizabeth Gilbert’s BFF.
A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows by Diana Gabaldon. This is a novella of the Outlander novels set between/around books 7 and 8. I hesitate to say a whole lot about it so I don’t spoil things for others who haven’t made it through the whole series, but if you’ve at least read Dragonfly in Amber, the second book, there are several characters in that book that appear in this book. I know, I know, I’m confusing y’all! Just know there’s a sweet treat and more mystery when you finish the Big Books. LOVED this one!
The Space Between by Diana Gabaldon. This is another novella from the Outlander series and it takes place concurrently with the last released book, book 8. Definitely don’t read this one until you’ve finished the entire series as it is currently. It is about what happened to Roger’s parents. While I did like this one it wasn’t a ‘love’ as the other novella. Honestly, I wanted more. It was too short. Oh, and another mention of a Dragonfly in Amber character in this book. Yes, very intriguing!
The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir. Remember I said I liked historical fiction? Yep, this is historical fiction and it’s Tudor fiction at that! I love me some Tudor fiction! I know I’ve gone through all or most of the Philippa Gregory books for this period and the earlier War of the Roses period. I also love to watch any kind of Tudor time period movies or tv…so of course this gets me! It is a lot slower reading, though, so I’m pretty sure I’ll be renewing this one when it comes up. Based on the author’s list of books she’s written, I’m pretty sure I can satisfy my historical English monarchy fiction reading for awhile.