Sunday, January 24, 2016

12 Interesting and Influential Women

In addition to reading 54 books in 2015, I had a secondary goal. I wanted to read a biography a month of an interesting and influential woman. This turned out to be an excellent, though slightly challenging goal. It turns out the collection of biographies of diverse women available through my library's ebook database is quite small. It took a lot of searching to find titles available to me. In the end, I read more memoirs than biographies because they were easier to access. 

Here are the titles:

January - Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Hirsi Ali went from a traditional Islamic childhood in Somalia and Kenya to political life in the Netherlands. She is an outspoken critic of Fundamentalist Islam based upon her personal experiences.  I found myself cheering for Hirsi Ali but also feeling some discomfort at her harsh words. Her opinions are strong and wide sweeping and do not always match the experiences of other Muslim women I know. 

February - Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson
One of those books that makes you want to go hug your mother. Jeanette Winterson grew up queer in a strict Pentecostal household in the north of England. A story of identity, heartbreak, and the search for acceptance from those who are supposed to love you the most. 

March - Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall
A Transcendentalist we should know more about. She was a premier thinker of her time, a war journalist, a social activist, and died tragically in a shipwreck. This one took a little work to get through but was excellent. 

April - Just Kids by Patti Smith
I wish I had never read this book so I could read it again for the first time. I've never had much interest in New York City until reading this book. I literally wanted a time machine. Highly recommended. 

May - Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon
I've never been a fan of Sonic Youth but felt compelled to read Gordon's memoir nonetheless. I'm always amazed by people who just do their thing and that thing turns into *the thing*. I enjoyed reading about Gordon's experiences in NYC so shortly after reading about Smith's experiences there a few decades prior. 

This memoir reads like an informercial for the word determination. It's basically impossible to feel sorry for yourself after reading this. You've had a challenge come your way? Get over it. Sirleaf was abused and imprisoned yet still managed to become the first female president in Africa. Recommended. 

Before reading this book, I only knew the name Gypsy Rose. This biography reveals the woman, as well as the world of burlesque and the business of fame. You'll want to hug your mom after this one too. Recommended. 

August - Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman
The fascinating story of a very rich and very quirky recluse. I found myself spending her money in my head while reading. 

September - Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi
I liked this book because in addition to learning Ebadi's story, you learn much more about the history of the conflict in Iran. I admire Ebadi's strength, determination and pursuit of justice. 

October - Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog
The story of growing up poor on Indian land in North Dakota and later joining the American Indian Movement. Crow Dog's depiction of reservation life was eye-opening and heartbreaking.

November - The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee
This book gave me a much richer picture of what life is like in North Korea. Lee grew up near at the border between NK and China. One day she decided to visit relatives in China, crossed the border, and found out days later that she could never go back.

December - Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism by John Norris
The story of a pioneer in journalism beginning in the 1950s. McGrory was intelligent, determined, and more than a little feisty. Very enjoyable. 

I did happen to read other memoirs over the year, but these 12 were the official picks.

I loved working on this goal over the year. For this year, I've decided to have another sub-goal focusing on female writers. I'm planning to read all of the writer's on Powell's 25 Women to Read Before You Die list. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Books of 2015

2015 was a pretty successful year for reading. Despite once again living in a non-English speaking country, I was able to reach my goal. I brought a few books with me to Korea and asked my mom to bring over a few more when she visited. The rest of the books I read through my home library's ebook collection on my Kindle. The selection is not great, but nonetheless, I was able to find plenty to read.

My goal for the year was to read 53 books. However, I made a puzzling discovery that caused me to revise my goal to 54. I was recording a back up copy of my book lists into Excel when I realized that at some point during the last few years I failed to record Skippy Dies by Paul Murray. I felt it only right to account for it now.

So, it was close. I completed my 54th book on December 31, but I made it. Another fulfilling year of reading. Here are the books:

1. The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty (416)
2. Without You, There is No Us: My Time with the Sons of North Korea's Elite by Suki Kim (291)
3. Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (350)
4. For Bread Alone by Mohamed Choukri (169)
5. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson (176)
6. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson (240)
7. Living the Secular Life: New Answers to Old Questions by Phil Zuckerman (288)
8. Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (345)
9. Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall (390)
10. Looking for Alaska by John Green (221)
11. Just Kids by Patti Smith (320)
12. So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (290)
13. A New Year by Pearl S. Buck (255)
14. The Leftovers by Tom Perotta (355)
15. Heart Burn by Nora Ephron (176)
16. Dept. of Speculation by Jenny Offill (180)
17. Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (393)
18. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (150)
19. The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (207)
20. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham (290)
21. Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang (277)
22. Girl in a Band by Kim Gordon (273)
23. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (326)
24. Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer (368)
25. This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa's First Female President by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
26. If You're Not Yet Like Me by Edan Lepucki (55)
27. American Rose: A Nation Laid Bare - The Life and Times of Gypsy Rose Lee by Karen Abbott (448)
28. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg (320)
29. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin (272)
30. Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman (432)
31. Amsterdam: A Novel by Ian McEwan (193)
32. The Eternal Wonder by Pearl S. Buck (364)
33. Iran Awakening by Shirin Ebadi (256)
34. Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog (263)
35. I Have the Right to Destroy Myself by Young-Ha Kim (119)
36. Dracula by Bram Stoker (406)
37. Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman (306)
38. The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story by Hyeonseo Lee (320)
39. M Train by Patti Smith (272)
40. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie (264)
41. Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling (240)
42. Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein (256)
43. Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker (150)
44. You and Me and Him by Kris Dennison (288)
45. Blackout: Remember the Things I Drank to Forget by Sarah Hepola (231)
46. Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (304)
47. Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit (160)
48. The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith (275)
49. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison (326)
50. Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary (176)
51. We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (65)
52. Mary McGrory: The First Queen of Journalism by John Norris (328)
53. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (198)
54. The Fever by Megan Abbot (314)

I'm already three books in for the new year. 52 more to go. Let's do it!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Books of 2014

This past year was a great one for reading. Despite living in a non-English speaking country for half of the year, in general, I had easy access to books. Thankfully, I was able to borrow from the school library that was fairly well stocked with novels. I was also pleasantly surprised when a parent came in and offered me her old Kindle. I've always been a bit against e-readers so it sat on my desk for a few months while I worked up the courage to use it. In the end, I'm still a paper book person. However, I definitely appreciate the convenience of an e-reader, especially while living abroad. Sometimes you need a book that you just can't get your hands on.

My goal for 2014 was to read 37 books. I very happily exceeded that goal.

Here's what I read this past year:

1. Hope was Here by Joan Bauer (186)
2. Sold by Patricia McCormick (263)
3. Bob: No Ordinary Cat by James Bowen (293)
4. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (290)
5. Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan (252)
6. Just Juice by Karen Hesse (137)
7. Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote (194)
8. Mr. Stink by David Walliams (267)
9. Gangsta Grandma by David Walliams (297)
10. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough (673)
11. Where'd You Go Bernadette? by Maria Semple (352)
12. Buster Keaton: Tempest in a Flat Hat by Edward McPherson (253)
13. Habibi by Craig Thompson (664)
14. No Longer At Ease by Chinua Achebe (194)
15. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (771)
16. The Spider's House by Paul Bowles (406)
17. Hideous Kinky by Esther Freud (186)
18. In Arabian Nights by Tahir Shah (414)
19. The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun (165)
20. A Life Full of Holes by Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi (295)
21. The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp (304)
22. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (337)
23. A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers (354)
24. Maggie and Me by Damian Barr (242)
25. Give Me Everything You Have: On Being Stalked by James Lasdun (218)
26. Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin (245)
27. This One is Mine by Maria Semple (289)
28. Lady Chatterley's Lover by D.H. Lawrence (306)
29. Northern Exposed by Darren Burrows (220)
30. Under Wildwood by Colin Meloy (559)
31. The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum (280)
32. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (325)
33. Rabbit Proof Fence by Doris Pilkington (133)
34. Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits by Laila Lalami (195)
35. Wildwood Imperium by Colin Meloy (580)
36. The Circle by Dave Eggers (491) 
37. Clementine and the Family Meeting by Sara Pennypacker (162)
38. Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life by Bryan Lee O'Malley (160)
39. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick (273)
40. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (433)
41. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster (256)
42. Mighty Be Our Powers by Leymah Gbowee (262)
43. I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (289)
44. Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture by Peggy Orenstein (192)
45. California by Edan Lepucki (393)
46. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (422)
47. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (112)
48. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood (267)
49. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight (400)
50. Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Portes (336)
51. Yes Please by Amy Poehler (352)
52. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (480)

52 books...that's an average of a book a week. Not bad. That means 53 is the goal for 2015. Better get started. 

Friday, January 3, 2014

Books of 2013

I'd say I did pretty well with my reading this year despite two fairly large obstacles. The first six months of the year I was in Australia where the price of books (and everything else for that matter) is quite high. Luckily, during our last three months we lived down the road from an excellent used book store. I was able to buy books at decent prices and get a few dollars back when I finished. 

My second obstacle occurred when I moved to Morocco in August. Not only was my life consumed by my new job, there is also a dire lack of English reading material here. Thankfully, I've been able to borrow books from friends and check out a few books from the school library. A definite perk of working at a K-12 school is the Upper School reading material. I'll need to keep that in mind for the future.

As always, my goal for 2013 was to read more books than I did in 2012. That meant I needed to read 36 books. And yep! I did it. I managed to finish my last book on December 30th with one day to spare. 

Without further ado, here's what I read this past year:

1. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (550)
2. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of a Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonassson (387)
3. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (512)
4. Seaworthy: Adrift with William Wallace and the Golden Age of Rafting by T.R. Pearson (304)
5. Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (200)
6. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (424)
7. Wedlock: How Georgian Britian's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore (512)
8. Dirt Music by Tim Winton (480)
9. Everything I Knew by Peter Goldsworthy (304)
10. The Laughing Clowns by William McInnes (195)
11. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (511)
12. My Uncle Oswald by Roald Dahl (204)
13. The Getting of Wisdom by Henry Handel Richardson (260)
14. Praise by Andrew McGahan (279)
15. Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner (192)
16. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (394)
17. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail (255)
18. Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (425)
19. Let's Explore Diabetes with Owls by David Sedaris (275)
20. Summer Crossing by Truman Capote (139)
21. Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in a Desert Jail by Malika Oufkir and Michele Fitoussi (291)
22. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed (311)
23. Wildwood by Colin Meloy (541)
24. The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson (309)
25. A Separate Peace by John Knowles (204)
26. Hector Finds Time by Francois Lelord (235)
27. Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood by Fatima Mernissi
28. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole (287)
29. Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (344)
30. Secret Son by Laila Lalami (274)
31. Tales of the Alhambra by Washington Irving (314)
32. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald (315)
33. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume (217)
34. A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (274)
35. Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson (307)
36. The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver (246)

I'm halfway through my current book, so here's hoping I make it to at least 37 in 2014.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Books of 2012

Well, I'm happy to report that I achieved my resolution for 2012. I read more books during 2012 than I did in 2011. I needed to read 29 books, and I finished 35! It wasn't too hard... and I actually should have read much much more. 2012 was a year with plenty of down time. To be fair, I spent the vast majority of the year in places not very conducive to reading. The book selection in UAE is somewhat lacking (unless you love Pablo Coelho), and book prices in Australia are quite high.

Despite succeeding in my resolution, this place is still pretty sleepy. Maybe that's just the way it's going to be.

Here are my books for the year:
1. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (304)
2. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka (324)
3. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ranson Riggs (352)
4. Swamplandia! by Karen Russell (397)
5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (328)
6. Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea (304)
7. Freedom by Johnathan Franzen (708)
8. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (560)
9. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan (352)
10. Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel (210)
11. Bit of a Blur by Alex James (274)
12. Blood Work: A Tale of Medicine and Murder in the Scientific Revolution by Holly Tucker (231)
13. The Understudy by David Nicholls (404)
14. Bossypants by Tina Fey (274)
15. The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker (274)
16. Submarine by Joe Dunthorne (309)
17. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (374)
18. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (391)
19. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (390)
20. Then Again by Diane Keaton (256)
21. Bonobo Handshake by Vanessa Woods (264)
22. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling (240)
23. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (331)
24. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (599)
23. A Wolf at the Table by Augusten Burroughs (272)
24. Surgeon of Crowthorne by Simon Winchester (198)
25. Breakfast at Tiffany's and other stories by Truman Capote (160)
26. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (368)
27. How to Be Good by Nick Hornby (305)
28. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (384)
29. The Different World of Fin Starling by Elizabeth Stead (313)
30. The Water Underneath by Kate Lyons (284)
31. The Men Who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson (259)
32. Nanny Returns by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (307)
33. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (352)
34. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume (399)
35. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler (279)

I finished my first book of 2013 today, so it looks like I'm off to a good start! 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

I think I first heard about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot on a podcast. If I had to guess I'd say it was Radio Lab. It sounded really interesting but fell to the back of my mind. When Shauna visited me last year she was reading it and enjoying it. Again I thought that I should pick it up, and again I forgot. So yeah, it's been on my "To Read" list for a few years. Fortunately it arrived in my Christmas package from my dad this year!

Henrietta Lacks died of cervical cancer in the 1950s. Without her consent, doctors removed a slice of her tumor and began using her cells in medical research. Her cells, named HeLa, reproduced so quickly and easily that they soon became widespread in the scientific community. HeLa cells were used in research relating to cancer, polio, AIDs, and so on. Unfortunately, Henrietta's family wasn't told about the medical research until a few decades later. In this book, Skloot tells the story of Henrietta's cells as well as the story of Henrietta and the Lacks family.

Recommendation: Superb. Even if you're not a fan of non-fiction, Skloot tells a fascinating story.

Friday, February 10, 2012


It would be pretty difficult for me to pass up a book with a title like Swamplandia! You just know there are good things between the pages. So naturally when I saw Swamplandia! by Karen Russell recommended by staff members at Powell's, I put it on my Christmas list.

Ava Bigtree grew up in Swamplandia!, an alligator themed amusement park in Florida. When Ava's mother, the "Swamp Centaur", dies of cancer it seems like the family won't be able to go on without the star of the show. As Swamplandia! begins to decline, so does the livelihood of the family. Ava's brother runs away, her father leaves for the mainland, her sister starts to communicate with ghosts, and Ava is left to try to save the park on her own. Turns out, that's not going to be very easy.

The blurb on the back cover states that Russell "takes us to the shimmering edge of reality." So true.

Recommendation: Sometimes sweet, sometimes sad, Swamplandia! is worth your time. I enjoyed it much more than Russell's other work St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.