What I’m Reading, August 2017 to Present

Where has the time gone? I’ve been listening to plenty of books but have barely had time to sit down and read fiction lately. I also meant to post this in late September and then… forgot. Oops.

So here we go, everything I’ve read since August. This is a semi-long post, although you can probably tell which reviews I scribbled down just before pressing Publish.

It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens by danah boyd: I listened to this book and enjoyed it. boyd’s work is one of the things that got me interested in online communities and cultures. As is often the case for books on tech, some of the material is less (or more!) relevant than during the book’s 2014 publication. The book itself explores how teens use social media to communicate with friends and find their own identity, not to mention engage with the wider world. It’s a topic that resonates with me and made me think of how I would use social media if I were a teen now and not just writing on my Diaryland blog and the NaNo forums. (4 out of 5 social networks)

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins: I wanted to like this book after enjoying The Girl on the Train but then… I didn’t. Sure, there were some good bits of prose, but in the end, the story itself and multitude of points of view made the plot difficult to follow. It didn’t help that I had a hard time telling the characters apart. (3 out of 5 drowning pools)

When Paris Sizzled: The 1920s Paris of Hemingway, Chanel, Cocteau, Cole Porter, Josephine Baker, and Their Friends by Mary McAuliffe: I listened to this book. The premise sounded interesting enough, but the book itself was so dull I doubt I would have enjoyed if I had read an actual copy. The book goes like this: “This happened. This famous person was doing this thing. Then this happened. Then this other famous person was also doing this thing.” It reads like a school report on the topic with no reason to make the reader care. (2 out of 5 socialites)

Cosmos by Carl Sagan: I listened to this book, which Neil deGrasse Tyson narrated. Even though some of the science is out of the date, the premise of the book is a beautiful one: an adventure through our solar system, from planet to planet and sometimes beyond our own solar system. I wish I had read this book as a kid; it might have made me more interested in astronomy and space, and who knows, maybe some Sushi in an alternate universe is pursuing astrophysics now. (Fun fact, I really do have most of an astrophysics minor, so a lot of the material wasn’t new, just buried somewhere in the back of my mind.) (5 out of 5 star systems)

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline: I listened to this book, which tells the story of fast fashion. Think stores like Charlotte Russe, Forever 21, and H&M. Cline researches the rise of fast fashion on multiple fronts, talking with people in every part of the fashion business–fashionistas who buy clothing all the time, factory workers, factory owners, and fashion marketers. While the main point wasn’t very surprising (people are buying more, stores want people to buy more), Cline also talks to makers of higher-end clothing and learns what makes their clothing more expensive. Spoiler: you get what you pay for. While not all of us can afford to buy high-quality clothing (she says after a large shopping trip that mostly consisted of at least mid-range stores), we can think of whether we’ll wear the clothing before buying the shirt we’ll wear only once. If you’re interested in fashion or business, you’ll probably be interested in this book. (4 out of 5 shirts on sale)

The Sellout by Paul Beatty: I read this book for my library’s book club and didn’t even get to go to the book club meetup. I’m not sure how to feel about this book, which seems to be the consensus among the group. This book is a satire written by a black man about black culture. I’m not sure how to critique a satire of a community or culture I’m not part of. The author makes some burning points about American culture, particularly American black culture, and I found myself laughing out loud at some points. But the overall storyline was hard to follow; one moment the narrator would be talking about the past and then he’d go on to talk about some other moment in the past. There was also some storyline going on in the present that I completely forgot about until the end. (3 out of 5 Supreme Court cases)

The Mystery of Sleep: Why a Good Night’s Rest Is Vital to a Better, Healthier Life by Meir Kryger: I listened to this book, which sounded interesting on the surface, especially since I was one of those nerdy kids who read medical books for fun. But in the end, this book read a lot like those medical books, except with much less excitement. While some of the material was interesting, this book serves as something pre-101 when it comes to sleep disorders. The narrator’s voice of the audiobook didn’t help; the voice was oddly soothing and made me want to fall asleep on more than one occasion. (3 out of 5 sleep disorders)

This Savage Song by Victoria Schwab: I’ve wanted to read this book for ages, and now that the sequel is out and the universe is complete (for now), I was running out of excuses. It took me a few chapters to really get into the story, but I attribute at least part of this to reading in ten-minute bursts on the bus, which barely gave me enough time to experience the chapter I was reading and put the pieces together. But once I started reading the book for more than ten minutes at a time, I enjoyed the story, all the different character interactions, and lack of romance. The prose, man, the PROSE. I want to write like Schwab when I grow up. (4 out of 5 Sunai)

The Not-Quite States of America: Dispatches from the Territories and Other Far-Flung Outposts of the USA by Doug Mack: I listened to this book, which tells the stories of the various US territories, lack of consistency in defining these territories, and the people who live there. Some can vote in US elections, others can’t. Some are American citizens, some aren’t. Using cell phone data is roaming or international in some places but not in others. This book is one part history and politics, one part memoir (the author did visit all these territories, after all), and two parts stories of the people living on these islands, all told with an enthusiastic and fun voice. I found this book especially pertinent given that Hurricane Maria was making its way through the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico while I listened. If you’re curious about these territories and want to learn a little more, this book is a good place to start. (4 out of 5 territories)

Our Dark Duet by Victoria Schwab: This book is the sequel to This Savage Song, and boy am I glad I picked it up at the library just before finishing the first book. I have to confess, though: I liked this book a little bit less than the first book. Not sure why, though. The prose is precise, and while I liked the characters in Verity, I wasn’t too impressed with the characters outside of Verity, which is probably why that part of the book lagged for me. Still, I enjoyed the book and want to read more of this author’s stuff. (And uh, there’s not too much of it left.) (4 out of 5 monsters)

Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America by Michael Eric Dyson: I listened to this book in late September, and it is beautiful. As a half-white person who can regularly pass as white “enough”, this book was stunning. Go read this. It’s short and you’ll get so much out of the book that you’ll be thinking about the material for far longer than it took you to read it. (5 out of 5 striking points)

If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin: I read this for my library’s book club. It took awhile for some of the characters to grow on me, but the writing itself is beautiful, making me laugh and feel for Tish and Fonny. (And considering a major part of the book is a squick of mine, that’s saying something.) (4 out of 5 hopes for the future)

Data for the People: How to Make Our Post-Privacy Economy Work for You by Andreas Weigend: I listened to this book, which talks about data and how we can benefit from all these companies collecting all this information from us. I’m usually of the data privacy and portability mindset, meaning that at first glance, this book seemed contrarian to my own views. But the author makes some good points, namely that big data collection isn’t going away. If you know nothing about big data, then this may be of interest to you. (4 out of 5 data points)

Glass House: The 1% Economy and the Shattering of the All-American Town by Brian Alexander: I listened to this book, which details the rise and fall of Lancaster, Ohio, a former All-American town. What makes this book interesting is the variety of perspectives it brings in: CEOs and music festival directors and regular people who live (or lived) in that town, and how the actions of people forty years ago brought about a town that embraced Rumpism and conservative politics. If you like Hillbilly Elegy (I did) but want more history and less memoir, read this book. (4 out of 5 glass houses)

Pep Talks for Writers: 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo by Grant Faulkner: I received an advance copy of this book for review. I’ve also had the immense honor of meeting Grant in person on several occasions (but forgot to bring my copy to Night of Writing Dangerously for him to sign, alas). Each pep talk takes only a few minutes to read, and the topics range from getting ideas to editing them. Not al of them may be relevant to you and your writing journey right now, but give it time. Keep this book around for that dose of encouragement, for it doesn’t disappoint on that front. (4 out of 5 pep talks)

Heart of the Machine: Our Future in a World of Artificial Emotional Intelligence by Richard Yonck: I listened to this book, and to be honest, it was kind of dull. While the topic of robots and emotional intelligence sounds like something relevant to our time, the author failed in making it relevant to now, instead telling stories that have already been told without adding anything new or showing why the reader should care. The last part of the book was pretty fascinating, though. (3 out of 5 robots)

Culinary Reactions: The Everyday Chemistry of Cooking by Simon Quellen Field: I listened to this book. While this book just consists of the chemistry in cooking, there’s a lot to be learned, as well as some recipes to try. (The author encourages you to pause the audiobook so you can grab paper and pen for recipe scribbling.) The chemistry in the book isn’t so heavy that someone with, say, a high school chemistry course under their belt would have a hard time following along, and there are chemistry lessons and explanations scattered throughout the book. All in all, a fun little listen. (4 out of 5 carbon bonds)

Beartown by Fredrik Backman: This man’s prose and insights into humanity never fail to disappoint me. But–and stop reading if you care about spoilers–this isn’t a happy book. In fact, huge trigger warning for the trauma being rape. It’s not explicit, but it may be explicit enough for some. Even though I’m tired of rape being used as a major plot device, I still found myself drawn to most of the characters and hating some of the others (and not the ones you’d expect). You don’t need to know anything about hockey in order to enjoy the book; in fact, I think that’s the beauty of the book. The hockey is there, but not so there that you need to be a pro to understand. The feeling is captured perfectly, and that’s all I could ask for. (4 out of 5 hockey sticks)

Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur: I’m trying to read more poetry, and this was a good start. The collection is divided into four distinct sections, with simple (and occasionally NSFW) images illustrating some of the poems. While I’m not the best judge of poetry, I did enjoy them, even though some of them felt like clever arrangements of words on paper instead of poems. Maybe that’s a personal problem, though. (4 out of 5 hearts)

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