what I’m reading: brain on fire: my month of madness by susannah cahalan.

This book is scary. Scary because it’s a true story and could happen to anyone. Scary because it took doctors too many weeks and months before they finally figured out what was wrong with Susannah. Scary because one doctor brushed off her concerns with the diagnosis that she just drank too much and partied too hard.

When Susannah wakes up in the hospital she discovers she has no memory of the past month. What happened and how did she wind up in the hospital? As the days and months pass, Susannah recovers and struggles to piece together what happened.

This is a great memoir. The author does a fantastic job of being real and honest. She chronicles how she was diagnosed as bipolar and schizophrenic and tested for a number of diseases before the doctors diagnosed Susannah as having an inflammation in her brain. She sifts through hours of video footage and interviews friends and family to try to reconstruct events that she doesn’t remember.

For me, this book highlighted the fact that there are so many things about our bodies and health that we don’t understand. There are so many areas of the human brain that we don’t know about. I’m glad that the doctors were finally able to figure out what was wrong with Susannah and that while Susannah had a long road to recovery, this book had a happy ending.

what I’m reading: hillbilly elegy: a memoir of a family and culture in crisis by j.d. vance.

hillbilly-elegyI found Hillbilly Elegy to be a very inspiring memoir. J.D. Vance grew up in a poor Appalachian town. His mother was a drug addict. Two of his grandparents never finished high school. Vance was on his way to failing out of school as well, until his grandmother stepped in and pushed him to succeed. Vance ending up joining the Marines, graduated from Ohio University, and eventually went on to Yale Law School.

I enjoyed reading about Vance’s family and his personal story. Vance’s grandmother, Memaw, was one of my favorites and she provided the needed humor and strictness for Vance to flourish in his dysfunctional family. She was a tough lady and her love for Vance was clear.

This book is described as part memoir, part historical and social analysis, however I found there was little analysis. The majority of the book is a recount of Vance’s life (all 31 years of it). There were a couple of instances where he delved into the history of the area and some sociological aspects, but those were slim and not very extensive.

While I enjoyed the memoir part of the book, I was a bit disappointed in the rest. I’ve read many reviews and heard so much about this book, but I didn’t have the same experience as other readers. To me, this book was just a memoir about a boy who overcame obstacles and makes something of himself. It really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know and I didn’t learn anything new about the “culture in crisis”.

2016 reading in review.

I’m taking a look back at my 2016 year of reading. I didn’t have any real reading goals last year or participate in any book challenges. I pretty much read whatever caught my eye and sounded interesting.

Here’s how I did in 2016:

Number of books read: 50
This averages out to .96 books read per week.

Number of pages read: 17,506
Averages out to approximately 336 pages read a week.

Longest book:
Baby, It’s Cold Outside at 534 pages.

Shortest book:
Unexpected Gifts at 136 pages.

Average Book Length:
350 pages

According to Goodreads, my average rating was 3.3 stars.

Books by genre:
Fiction – 48
Nonfiction – 2

Books by acquisition type:
35 books were borrowed from the library.

Books by format:
Paperback – 19
Hardback – 18
Ebooks – 13

First book read in 2016:
When We Were Animals

Last book read in 2016:
Marry Me at Christmas

Another great year for books!!

book heart

what I’m reading: where am i now?: true stories of girlhood and accidental fame by mara wilson.

where-am-i-nowYou may remember Mara Wilson as the little girl with the lisp in Mrs. Doubtfire or Matilda, the precocious little girl with the expressive face. But that was years ago and Mara Wilson has grown up and has published a book of essays, giving up a glimpse into her life.

Where Am I Now? is a delightful read and Mara Wilson is a wonderful storyteller. I’m amazed at the level of detail so many of her stories have, considering that they take place from when she was a young girl, to now. Her essays span the length of her life so far and range from working as a child actor, to her high school experiences, and to college and beyond.

I found her stories to be so different than what I was expecting. She writes about not fitting in at school and dealing with OCD and anxiety. She discusses the pitfalls of not only growing up as a child actor, but growing up and not being the cute little girl anymore, something she found out when she realized a role she was auditioning for was the “fat” girl.

There’s not a lot of humor in her stories. This is an honest look into Mara Wilson’s life, more of a coming-of-age memoir. At times she can seem a bit harsh and you may not like everything she has to say. But I think that just shows how human she is.

mara-wilsonI had the opportunity to see Mara Wilson in person when she gave a reading at Seattle Town Hall last month. She was completely changed and so grown up from her Matilda and Miracle on 34th Street days. For someone who had grown up in the spotlight, she was very posed and down to earth. I greatly enjoyed listening to her talk and reading her essays.

judging a book by its cover.

You know the saying – never judge a book by its cover. But I confess, I am totally guilty of forming opinions of books based on their covers.

The cover is one of the first things that draws me to a book and if the cover doesn’t catch my eye, it’s highly unlikely that I will pick up a book to learn more about it. It has to create an impression on me. Aside from reading the title, the cover is the first thing that I see. I usually don’t look at books that are shelved with only the spine out – the ones that attract my attention are the books that face out.

Most of the time, basing books on their covers works out. Sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve definitely gotten burned by a cover before.

I’ve picked up books that have a great cover with what looks like an interesting scene or characters on it. Only to then find out that the book is nothing like the cover portrayed. (I’m looking at you, The Selection, as well as many a historical romance.)

But what information should book covers reveal? For hundreds of years, book covers originally were to function as a protective device for hand-bound books. Books were expensive to print and some even used materials such as gold or silver. As books became cheaper to reproduce, book covers became more than just protection for the pages; they took on the purpose of advertising and conveying information about what was inside.

Now, as the book industry has become more competitive, book covers have become more important. Covers now give clues about the genre and subject of the book. Designs have become more sophisticated and elaborate in the hopes of gaining attention.

I generally like a book cover that tells me something about the book. Books that have bad or cheap looking covers, I don’t bother looking at. If a cover is boring or tacky, I automatically wonder if the book will be boring or tacky. But again, I also want the cover to tell me something about the book. I can’t stand the trend (that I hope is over) that 50 Shades started for erotic books where the cover just shows an item such as a tie, or cufflinks, or a mask. That tells me nothing about the content of the book.

Similarly, I find it frustrating when the cover doesn’t match the book. I’m not saying a cover has to completely mirror a scene in the book, but it drives me crazy when the cover models look nothing like the characters in the book. The character may have red hair, but the model on the cover is a redhead. Or the cover is a scene that looks like the novel is set on a plantation, only to find out the book takes place in medieval London.

What about you? Do you judge books by their covers?

what I’m reading: the speechwriter: a brief education in politics by barton swaim.

the speechwriterFrom 2007 to 2010 Barton Swaim worked as a speechwriter for then governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford. The Speechwriter is a collection of stories about his time spent with the governor and his staff.

While Mark Sanford was the governor of South Carolina and is now a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, he is perhaps most notorious for telling his staffers he was going hiking on the Appalachian Trail when he really was meeting his mistress in Argentina. I vaguely remember when the scandal broke in 2009, but it seemed to disappear fairly quickly. Still, I thought this book would be interesting as it might provide insight into the governor, his way of thinking, and how the whole situation played out.

Unfortunately, this is not a tell-all book as I had hoped. Rather, it is more about the inner workings of the governor’s staff and the day to day issues they faced.

Swaim recounts some entertaining stories of working with the governor, especially how he learned to imitate the governor’s way of speaking. I found it fascinating that the way Swaim learned to write in the governor’s voice was by transcribing letters dictated by the governor and by writing down and learning some of the governor’s favored phrases.

I’m not sure who comes off best in this book. The governor is not portrayed very well. Most of his staffers don’t like him, as well as his colleagues. The governor is portrayed as frugal to the extreme, to the point that he would wear the same shirt for weeks on end and would rather sit and sweat in a car on a hot day than waste gas by running the air conditioner while the car idles. As much as I did not like the governor character, I couldn’t help but be impressed when he stood up for not taking stimulus funds.

Likewise, there are times when Swaim comes off a bit pretentious, as he seems to look down on the governor because he’s not as good a writer as Swaim is. There are times where Swaim seems to think he is better than the governor because he is a better speaker and doesn’t use weird colloquialisms like the governor does. Swaim even writes that he wanted to title this book “How to Write Badly”.

The thing I found most interesting in this book was that Mark Sanford is never referred to by name. Honestly, I kept forgetting what the governor’s name was and I would have to read the back cover to remember. I’m not sure why his name is never mentioned – the Appalachian Trail and Argentinian mistresses are clearly described so there is no doubt who Swaim is referring to, plus it is clearly mentioned in the description of the book.

Swaim is clearly a gifted writer. But perhaps a job as the speechwriter for the governor of South Carolina was not the job for him.

reading resolutions: 2015 in review and reading statistics.

Happy New Year!

I thought I would take this time to look back on my 2015 year of reading. I decided to tackle the Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge. I am a huge fan of the Book Riot website so I decided to attempt their reading challenge in the hopes of expanding my reading boundaries. The challenge consisted of 24 tasks, which averaged out to 2 books a month.

Unfortunately I only completed 12 categories on the challenge, which means I ended up at 50%. Not the worst, but I definitely could have done better.

Here are the categories I completed with the respective books I read for that category:

  • A book written by someone when they were under the age of 25 – NAMEDROPPER by Emma Forrest
  • A collection of short stories – THE OPPOSITE OF LONLINESS by Marina Keegan
  • A book by or about someone that identifies as LGBTQ – TIPPING THE VELVET by Sarah Waters
  • A book by a person whose gender is different from your own – THE STRANGER by Harlan Coben
  • A YA novel – THE MOON AND MORE by Sarah Dessen
  • A sci-fi novel – ARMADA by Ernest Cline
  • A romance novel – DELICIOUS by Sherry Thomas
  • A book that is a retelling of a classic story – SPLINTERED by A.G. Howard
  • A book that someone else has recommended to you – THE THREE by Sarah Lotz
  • A book that you would consider a guilty pleasure – CHRISTMAS AT TWILIGHT by Lori Wilde
  • A book published this year – LUCKIEST GIRL ALIVE by Jessica Knoll
  • A self-improvement book – GUNN’S GOLDEN RULES: LIFE’S LITTLE LESSONS FOR MAKING IT WORK by Tim Gunn

Here are some other book and reading stats for 2015:

Number of books read: 62
Averages out to 1.2 books read per week.

Number of pages read: 20171
Equals out to 388 pages read a week.

Longest book:
Tipping the Velvet at 498 pages.

Shortest book:
Unwrapping Her Perfect Match at 119 pages.

Oldest book:
Namedropper and Tipping the Velvet – both first published in 1998.

Books by genre:
Fiction – 55
Nonfiction – 7

Books by acquisition type:
50 books were borrowed from the library.

Books by format:
Paperback – 6
Hardback – 12
Ebooks – 44

First book read in 2015:
The Moon and More

Last book read in 2015:
If I Could Turn Back Time

It was a good year for books!!