Books that surprised me, for particular reasons I’ll share below:
- Billy, Albert French – I found this book in a used bookstore in Madison, Wisconsin in 2001. I’d never heard of Albert French before, so it sat on my shelf for almost 15 years before I bothered to read it. When I did get around to reading it, it truly chilled me. It’s a series of vignettes around the execution of a ten-year-old Black boy named Billy Lee Turner, convicted of murdering a White girl in Mississippi in 1937. Not one word is wasted here, it’s one of the finest books I’ve ever read.
- Boys in the Bunkhouse: Servitude and Salvation in the Heartland, Dan Barry – Another book I half-heartedly picked up at the library. Once I opened it, I could not put it down. This book is a fine work of investigative reporting about a group of men with developmental disabilities who were kept in a dilapidated rooming house and forced to work on a chicken farm for over 30 years with limited pay and no recourse for leaving their employer. The group eventually sued the company who abused their rights–and won.
- Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century, Jessica Bruder – Another nonfiction pick I consumed via audio. It’s about older Americans (mostly those who have lost their jobs and savings in the 2008 financial crash) that have chosen a kind of “off the grid” lifestyle, living in mobile homes and tents and working odd jobs (Amazon warehouses are a popular job among them). Great investigative reporting.
- See You at Harry’s, Jo Knowles – This is a YA book that I read for one of my doctoral classes about YA lit and trauma. I remember this book surprised me not because it was particularly well written, but because of how amazingly sad it was in the way it dealt with the death of the main character’s younger sibling. If you decide to tackle this book, have tissues handy.
- Down City: A Daughter’s Story of Love, Memory, and Murder, Leah Carroll – Another nonfiction pick that I picked up at the library somewhat half-heartedly, but ended up really getting into. Leah is a young girl when her mother is murdered by two Mafia-affiliated henchmen. She does not find out about the circumstances of her mother’s death until much later in her life because her father refused to tell her, attributing her death instead to a car accident. Many years later, Leah’s father, an aging alcoholic Vietnam veteran, is found dead in a seedy hotel. Despite the bleak content, I completely loved this book.
- Ru: A Novel, Kim Thuy – Ru (Vietnamese for “lullaby”) is a collection of short vignettes that describe the author’s growing up in Vietnam before, during, and after the war, her experiences as a refugee in Malaysia, and finally, in her new life as a mother and a writer in Quebec. It’s a short book, but man…every single page packs a punch. Loved this immensely.
- The Insides, Jeremy Bushnell – Fantasy like book about a dangerous man in search of a special knife with the power to change destiny, and a girl chef who possesses it and must keep it safe. It’s a nice mix of magic and realism and real-life like characters. Once I started reading this book I couldn’t put it down, it was a very suspenseful read from start to finish.
- Crimes in Southern Indiana, Frank Bill – I was surprised that I actually liked this book of short stories, despite the fact that it is full of the male-dominated violence that I completely abhor these days. All of the stories in this volume are connected, the head that got blown off in the meth lab explosion in the second story belongs the same guy who murdered two crooked cops in the first story. Despite the fact that these men are all pathetic, there is a kind of reckoning for all of them, which is one of the factors I think I responded to most. I also think what drew me to this book back in 2014 was the fact that I liked this book for the very reason I shouldn’t–because it is full of drugs, guns, and men fighting over them–a guilty pleasure, if you will.
- Inside Madeleine, Paula Bomer – Another audiobook I loved. All of these stories revolve around girls and their relationships with their bodies. They are amazingly brave and hide nothing. Whew.
- Hope and Other Dangerous Pursuits, Laila Lalami – A short book of less than 200 pages that begins with four characters riding in a shoddy, makeshift boat across the 14 kilometer strait that connects Morocco to Spain. Each character, we learn, has a reason they are escaping their fate in Morocco in pursuit of a better life. Some of them find happy endings and some of them don’t. This book is really really good though. A must read.
On to dissertation writing for today, ya’ll. Good morrow…
Alas, another Tuesday. Here’s some of my favorite book quotes:
- “If I have to fight, it will be just as good a day to die as any other.” – Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
- “What is it to worship an image? It is to pray for a gift you will never receive.” – David Mura, A Male Grief: Notes on Pornography and Addiction
- “Shelter, if it’s warm and safe, may keep a family from dying. Only a home allows a family to flourish and breathe.” – Jonathan Kozol, Rachel and Her Children
- “Where there is power, there is resistance.” – Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, volume 1
- “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” – Martin Luther King, Letter from a Birmingham Jail
- “Love catches fire, it trespasses, it breaks, we break, it comes back to life…we come back to life. Love may not be eternal, but it can make us eternal.” – Julie Maroh, Blue is the Warmest Color
- “It’s the myth of the American Dream that with initiative and industriousness, an individual can always escape impoverished circumstances. But what data shows is that you have these multiple assaults on life chances that make transcending those circumstances difficult, and at times, nearly impossible.” – Ta’Nehisi Coates, We Were Eight Years in Power
- “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” – James Baldwin, Notes of a Native Son
- “Ignoring men–whether romantically or rhetorically–is existential violence to them.” – Jessica Valenti, Sex Object: A Memoir
- “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” – Audre Lorde, From a Land Where Other People Live
Beloved readers: it’s bad to have book ADD. I’m on about a dozen publisher and upcoming book mailing lists (Buzzfeed, NetGalley, Kirkus, Electric Lit, Signature) so I get the word on books that are coming out months before they hit the stores. I’m also constantly in the library, looking, searching. The books I don’t pick up on my visits there I often add to my TBR pile to come back and get at a later time. Then there are the books that you come across on your Goodreads recommendations late at night, thinking: damn that sounds interesting, so I add those too. Before you know it, you’re like me and you’ve got 609 books in your queue list. I am also no respecter of order–if I really like a book I read it right then, forget the books in the back that have been stuck there, waiting for years to be read.
So this Tuesday, I’m giving ya’ll a glimpse into the books that have been in my TBR pile the longest. I’ve been on Goodreads since 2008, so we can assume that they’ve been there for at least 10 years (or longer, depending on if the actual copy is sitting on my shelf at home).
- Midwives, Chris Bohjalian
- The Farming of Bones, Edwidge Danticat
- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
- Tuesdays with Morrie, Mitch Albom
- The Age of Shiva, Manil Suri
- Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, Marjane Satrapi
- Dessa Rose, Sherley Anne Williams
- All Over Creation, Ruth L. Ozeki
- The Lovely Bones, Alice Sebold
- You Remind Me of Me, Dan Chaon
And btw, add me on Goodreads, beloveds. Till next time…
Excited to share some big news with you guys. One of my dearest friends and I have decided to start our own publishing imprint, BGM Publishing. We are doing an open call for submissions for our first-ever anthology, due out in downloadable ebook format later this year. More info is below. Check it out!
To flex my blogging muscles a bit I’ve decided to follow a weekly feature for now. I may not do a Top Ten Tuesday posting every week because I honestly don’t see myself answering all the topics they’ve got posted over at thatartsyreadergirl.com. Also, I may not always give ten responses so this isn’t truly a Top Ten, per se. In the meantime, however, I guess it’s fun to take a departure (whichever way it’s taken) to peek inside my head a bit.
I don’t really make resolutions, but I do make changes in my reading habits fairly consistently. Here’s a few:
- Read the myriad of books I already have. About 90% of the books I review here come from the library. I have about another 100-300 books sitting on my shelves here at my home, unread. Most of them are tagged as ‘Want to Read’ on Goodreads, but I really should get with it and just stay out of the library and clear them off and read them. Even if I wanted to buy a new book, I’d have nowhere to put it. Sheesh.
- Continue to mine sources (other than bestseller lists) for great books. I follow some really swell book-friendly IG accounts, plus I get newsletters from sites like Electric Literature, Signature Reads, and NetGalley throughout the month on titles coming up. Buzzfeed Books is also cool too. Whatever I do, I prefer the less-traveled corner of book recommendations.
- Continue to extol the virtues of DNF. I realized a long time ago that one way to make reading more effective is to realize when you’re not having fun doing it. If a book doesn’t make an impression on me within 50 pages, I will usually stop reading it with absolutely no apologies. This isn’t high school, I’m not doing a book report. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is simply too much to read out there in the world without stressing myself out over reading something that bores me to tears.
- Follow more book blogs on WordPress. I see ya’ll following me and I appreciate the love. I will try to follow more of you guys, I promise. I just rarely have a chance to sit down at my computer and scroll through to find sites I like. When everybody’s reviewing the same 12 books over and over, finding ones that stand out from the pack can be a daunting task, you know?
I think that’s it for now. I told you this isn’t a Top Ten so much as it is just a chance for me to have you get to know me better. I hope it’s working.
29chapters.com will roll on like a rolling stone in the new year, bringing you nothing but the best of my fiction and nonfiction book reviews. Ya’ll (and I’m showing my southern-ness here), there’s so many books in my TBR pile this year it’s ridiculous. My Goodreads personal reading goal for 2018 is 140 books. Last year I knocked out 135, the previous year, 130. Each year I try to do a little bit more than before. When I’m not working or sleeping or catching up with Netflix then I’m usually reading, taking notes on what I read, or writing about reading here. I truly love maintaining this site. It helps me to stay on top of my reading game, to analyze, and encourages me to write.
Speaking of writing, I’ve been thinking of some features to add here, though honestly I’m not sure how I’d set this up yet. I’m not a typical reader, so this has never been a typical book blog. I’ve got no interest in doing what other people do or reading the books that other people read. I’ve never been interested in what’s number one on Amazon or what’s on the NYT bestseller list. All the books I select are because I’m personally invested in finding out what they’re about.
So with that said, welcome to the new year. Hopefully you’ll continue to bear with this mess I’ve made here.
Today I decided to break from tradition a bit and post a weekly tidbit from The Broke and the Bookish’s “Top Ten Tuesday” feature. Today’s (July 12th) designation is “Ten Facts About Me,” which I shall proceed to post in no particular order:
- I cannot swim. No particular reason why, I just never really bothered to learn or try. Of course I’ll sit on the beach and chill, or post selfies of myself by the pool in my swim gear, but me in the water? Hell to the no.
- I have an obsession with owls. On my Google drive are hundreds of pics I’ve collected on the web, I also have a Pinterest board dedicated to the same. I have mugs, jewelry, figurines, and t-shirts with owls on them. I would explain this obsession with a simple response but I really can’t. I just think owls are pretty kick ass creatures.
- I’ve watched the movie Purple Rain about 200 times. I’ve been a Prince fan since I was a small child and I was immensely upset when I learned that he passed away. I still don’t think I’ve come to terms with Prince being gone yet. I don’t think I ever will.
- My first job was a gift shop clerk at a local amusement park, which has since shut down. A couple of my HS friends worked there with me in the summer of my sophomore year. If you’ve ever watched the movie Adventureland, I swear it’s the story of my life, lol.
- I am terrified of snakes. And spiders. Eww.
- I hate the smell and look of mayonnaise. Needless to say, I’ve never touched the stuff. Other foods I’ve never eaten and never will: onions, relish, tomatoes, Snickers bars.
- I’ve been the same height (5’2″) since 7th grade. When I used to be an 8th grade teacher, most of my students were taller than me.
- I am the oldest child in my family. I have 2 younger sisters.
- I knew I wanted to be a teacher pretty early on, around 6th grade. I knew I wanted to be a writer even earlier than that, when I was about 7 years old. Of course, I’ve ALWAYS loved reading. I always knew that my adult life would contain some combination of those three activities.
- I stopped eating meat completely (except for fish) when I was about 18. I stayed this way for about 2 years. Not for any particular reason, just wanted to try a different lifestyle.