So, the greatest act of self-care I have indulged in since this year started is listening to Thug Notes: A Street-Smart Guide to Classic Literature by Sparky Sweets, Ph.D.
In case you’re not familiar with the greatness that is Thug Notes, here is a brief intro, using a story we’re all familiar with:
Traveling to the march this past weekend put me behind on everything. Sigh.
First things first, though: I didn’t make it to the actual march because on the way there, about two hours outside of DC, I got sick and knew I wouldn’t be able to handle the walking or the crowds.
However, I still had a positive experience because of all the awesome women in my life, most notably my friend Monique who was willing to brave traffic, etc. to pick me up from RFK at 7:30 a.m. when I told her what was going on and also a woman named Crystal on our bus who supplied me with Dramamine and anti-nausea meds when I got motion sickness on the bus ride home (before I knew her name, even!).
And, yes, that means I got sick on the way there AND the way back.
Anyway, the best sign I saw this weekend was black text on a white background that said, “NOPE.”
Then, of course, there were the books.
The topic for this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is all about audio and rather than list my favorite narrators or audiobooks, I’m going to take this opportunity to talk about a different kind of reading/audiobook experience I had this summer.
This summer, I actually spent quite a bit of time listening to plays, which if you have never done that, I highly recommend it. The plays I listened to are all full-cast productions so all of the characters are played by different actors. If you’re wary of audiobooks or not sure if they’re for you, I think full-cast productions are the perfect entrée into the format.
When we watch plays (or TV/movies for that matter), I think we take for granted how much work the dialogue has to do. So I really appreciate listening to plays because they give me an even greater sense of how much work the dialogue does in terms of setting the scene, establishing character/character relationships, and advancing the plot–all without huge dumps of exposition (if it’s done well, of course).
I listened to 3 1/2 full-cast plays this summer. Here are the three I actually reviewed over on Goodreads:
I wanted to tell them that I’d never had a friend, not ever, not a real one. Until Dante. I wanted to tell them that I never knew that people like Dante existed in the world, people who looked at the stars, and knew the mysteries of water, and knew enough to know that birds belonged to the heavens and weren’t meant to be shot down from their graceful flights by mean and stupid boys. I wanted to tell them that he had changed my life and that I would never be the same, not ever.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz has been on my radar since it first came out–not only because it has won so many awards and is lauded by many, but also because my summer book club picked it a few years ago. I didn’t read it then because I had required reading fatigue (it’s a thing I tend to get every summer), but I knew I would get back to it eventually. Well, eventually came this year once I found out Lin-Manuel Miranda (of Hamilton fame) did the narration for the audiobook.
The plot of the book is pretty straight-forward: Aristotle (who goes by Ari) is a lonely 15-year-old who befriends Dante one day at the swimming pool. Then, you know, life and stuff happens. Big life and big stuff. I am avoiding spoilers here, obviously.
What I Liked
– First and foremost, this is a friendship novel. I LOVE FRIENDSHIP STORIES. They make me happy. Friendships can be easy and challenging and hard and beautiful, and that’s exactly what happens here.
– Dante is pretty fantastic. He’s such a great character: open, honest, frustrating, angry, challenging. He’s just so earnest! Ah, it’s adorable.
– Ari is pretty great, too. He’s the narrator, so the reader is more privy to his thoughts, and he is struggling to find his place in the world. I liked that he is pretty much just doing what comes next like a checklist for life, even if he isn’t sure what he wants yet. I think that’s pretty accurate for how many teens do things.
– This is a kissing book. Lots of talk of kissing here. Lots of kissing happening, too. I approve.
– THE PARENTS. Both boys’ parents are excellent. They are supremely flawed human beings who are doing the best they can, which means they screw up sometimes but that they love their kids so, so much–and the narrative acknowledges it. Also, Dante’s father is an English professor, so that automatically raises his level of awesome for me.
– Gina Navarro and Sophie (I can’t remember her last name). These are girls Ari grew up with who drive him insane but also love him a super lot and force him to participate in life stuff. At first, I was jarred by their presence, but I really like how they challenged him and how he came to see their place in his life.
– So basically all of the characters were great is what I’m saying.
– THE ENDING. I 100% love the ending to this book, and that’s what took me from liking it to really liking it. And when I say the ending, I don’t mean the last chapter. I mean pretty much the whole last act, starting from the moment Ari’s parents sit him down for a heart-to-heart until the very, very end. It was pretty much perfection.
– The dialogue is super realistic and I loved, loved, loved any time the characters were talking to and interacting with each other. I could pretty much see every single one of those scenes playing out in front of me. They were so great.
– One of the running threads through the book is this idea of being a “real” Mexican. I loved that exploration of the boys’ identities and how the idea is tied into not only cultural expectations but also outside stereotypes. It’s really well handled and Saenz is subtle in how he completely and most emphatically states that the only thing that makes someone a real Mexican is being Mexican. Love.
– Lin-Manuel Miranda is A+ as a narrator. I would listen to another book he reads. Also, he can definitely roll his r’s. I tried over and over to say Bernardo the way he does, and it just wasn’t happening. I also don’t speak Spanish, so you know.
What I Didn’t Like
– I thought this was a summer book. It’s not. When Ari went back to school, I was so confused and a little upset. This is all about my expectations as a reader, but it is what it is.
– I am pretty sure Ari is depressed throughout most of the novel (thought it’s never explicitly stated), and that’s fine. He’s also a pretty interior character, which is also fine. However, what that meant for huge chunks of the novel is that Ari is completely in his head and most of what he thinks is expressed in negatives. There is a lot of “I don’t know why I did this” and “I don’t know why this” and “I didn’t say anything, but” or “I didn’t ask him this.” Those moments (and there are A LOT of them) made the narration and the story drag.
Also, one thing I was taught when I studied creative writing was not to describe what a character doesn’t do and so I am hyper aware of when an author does it.
Those moments may have played out better in the text than in the audio, but just imagine listening to someone tell you for five minutes straight all the things they didn’t do in a given situation. It would get real old real fast.
On the plus side, it did make the moments of dialogue and character interaction that much more enjoyable, so.
In conclusion: A really powerful look at friendship, family, and love with great characters and an excellent ending.
I should be at the gym is what I’m saying. But no. Bands of rain with squall lines are coming through. RUDE.
This past week, I read:
3.5 stars, rounding up
Great characters, EXCELLENT ending. Also, Lin-Manuel Miranda is an A+ narrator. Will review on the blog.
I. Love. Grandmère.
That is all.
I made it about 1/3 of the way through this book and just could not bring myself to pick it back up again.
I find all of the characters grossly offensive and problematic on pretty much every level. If the author was aiming for satire, she missed. By a lot.
As of today, I’m reading:
I am still making my way through my library book sale finds, so I started Dear Bill, Remember Me? and Other Stories by Norma Fox Mazer last night. It’s a definite palate cleanser after Kill the Boy Band.
I’m currently listening to some podcasts so my audiobook adventures are on hold for now. However, I’m going to have to start packing soon (as in, I should have started yesterday), so I should really get on finding my next read.
Happy reading, everyone!
This past week, I read:
This was fine, but a little dry mostly because it’s very interior and about a kid who thinks he’s smarter than everyone else thinking about how much smarter he is than everyone else. The only problem is that set up leaves little room for interaction with other characters and is, you know, kind of boring. But it was interesting enough for me to finish, so.
Sister Carlotta’s sections were pretty great, though. And I wasn’t that fond of the chapter beginnings. They were unnecessarily vague in places and would have worked better as actual scenes.
Suuuuuuper cute with lots of laugh out loud moments. I am extremely tickled that Olivia finds Grandmère to be a comforting presence, but that’s the benefit of a different POV.
These books are just similar to and different from the original Princess Diaries series to delight old fans like me. Although, I do wish Olivia’s nemesis wasn’t basically a mini-Lana.
Last week, I posted:
[wrap-up-posts week=”20″ year=”2016″ listtype=”ul”]
I’m already smashing my stack because I totally pulled Ender’s Shadow right off my shelf. (It was gifted to me several years ago–so long ago that I actually can’t remember when. And, yes, I just got around to reading it. That’s just how I roll.)
As of today, I’m reading:
In more #SmashYourStack news, I have decided to tackle A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ But a Sandwich by Alice Childress (which I just found out was made into a movie starring Cicely Tyson and Paul Winfield! So there’s that).
My daughter is so confused by my reading choices right now. Most of the books I’ll be reading from my own shelves are from the ’80s, and I had a small pile of them on my bed.
Her: “Why are you reading all of these old books?”
Me: “Because we’re moving, and I want to read them so I don’t have to pack them.”
Her: *makes a face*
Linda Cooney is up next, basically. Ah, nostalgia. (I bought almost all of these books from the Friends of the Library book sale so will re-donate them to be re-sold to raise even more money for the library.)
Call it the Hamilton effect, but I totally just started listening to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz because Lin-Manuel Miranda mentioned on Twitter that he narrated it. I can’t find the Tweet, so here is the FB post:
I had started this book a couple of years ago but didn’t finish because I had hit my no assigned reading during the summer wall (my book club selected it). However, I always planned to get back to it. Turns out LMM was just the boost I needed. And now I get to take him on my morning walks with me.
(And I just found out LMM narrates The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which I finished earlier this year. I totally would have listened to that one, too!)
Anyway, I’m enjoying it so far, so that’s nice.
Happy reading, everyone!
I love audiobooks, but I have to admit that I was nervous to start listening to them. My concern was mostly that I wouldn’t pay attention and would miss a bunch of stuff as a result. However, I found that to be the exact opposite of my experience.
Still, my first foray into audiobooks started with me listening to a book I had already read: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. I figured that was a safe way to figure out if audiobooks were for me or not. Because, hey, if I found that I couldn’t pay attention, it wouldn’t really matter since I had already read the book.
Well, I paid attention, and I was hooked. In fact, listening to HP in the car is how I finally got my daughter into the books. We listened to the whole series as we did road trips over the course of about a year. We also make it a habit now to check out audiobooks before going on a road trip–whether we wind up listening to them or not.
Audiobooks are a great way to bond with children or other family members because you have a shared reading experience and someone else gets to read to you. So, here are five audiobooks that I recommend for family bonding, using me and my daughter as the foolproof sample:
1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling (read by Jim Dale) — I am not 100% in love with Jim Dale as a narrator, mostly because his Hermione and Luna Lovegood are both absolutely horrid. However, his overall narration is pretty good. Plus, the Stephen Fry version isn’t available Stateside. So we just gotta make do with what we got.
2. The Junie B. Jones series by Barbara Park (read by Lana Quintal) — She is hilarious. Also, you can easily listen to multiple books in the series because they’re so short.
3. The Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look (read by LeUyen Pham) — Also hilarious. Also really short.
4. Mr. Chickee’s Funny Money by Christopher Paul Curtis (read by Joe Holt) — Super hilarious. Also, there is a sequel, but my library doesn’t have it in audio form which is the saddest sad to ever sad.
5. Witch Week and Charmed Life by Diana Wynne Jones (read by Gerard Doyle) — These were less funny and more completely engaging and enthralling. Also, there are more books in the Chrestomanci series, but those are the only two we listened to, so I can’t rec the whole series. Plus, the other books may have different narrators and Gerard Doyle is perfection.
I should also note that we listened to most of these books when my daughter was a teenager even though a lot of them are kiddie lit and not YA.
I belong to two book clubs: one that meets during the school year and is full of awesome moms (The No Rules Book Club) and one that meets during the summer and is full of awesome grad students/academics (Children’s Lit Summer Reading Book Club). The school year one meets once a month from September – May and the summer one meets every week (give or take one or two) May – August.
The pros of being in a book club include getting together with awesome people to talk about books, eating delicious food, and being exposed to books I might not otherwise read. The biggest con to being in book club is assigned reading. Just like in school, sometimes I like the book and sometimes I don’t. And sometimes I’m fine with reading something that someone else has picked while other times I just want to read the book I want to read.
Unfortunately, I have a reputation in the No Rules club for not liking the books. However, it’s not that I don’t like them. It’s more that I’m just critical of them. I studied literature and creative writing. I don’t read like normal people.
And to prove that I don’t always hate the books, I have compiled a list of five book club books I dug that I would not have picked up on my own:
1. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty — I saw lots of people posting about this after I read it. But I still probably would have skipped it. Not YA and I don’t really care about stories focused on marriage.
2. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford — This was nowhere near on my radar.
3. One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern — See #2.
4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd — See #2. Also, this is a book about slavery. I do NOT read books about slavery anymore.
5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (read by Edward Hermann) — A biography of a WWII vet? Absolutely not my thing. Also, I found this book completely boring when I tried to read it on paper, so I checked out the audiobook because sometimes the medium matters and wound up completely into it. Edward Hermann is FANTASTIC. I would listen to anything else he narrates. Plus also, I almost put this on the audiobook list above because my daughter listened to a little bit with me and was also intrigued (not enough to make me wait to listen to it with her, however, hence its exclusion from the list).
Bonus: Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale — See #2. This is also now one of my favorite books of all time and therefore further proof that sometimes magic can happen in book club.
Okay, party people, tell me what audiobooks you recommend for family bonding and/or a book club pick someone else chose that you wound up digging.
I missed last week, so let’s do a little catch up, shall we?
Since my last post, I read:
I don’t typically read traditional romance stories, but this one seemed to check all the boxes pretty well. I was more intrigued by the character of Alanza than Mariah, but it was fun reading about life on a ranch and all of the other fun historical tidbits that you get from historical fiction.
Read Harder 2016: Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900
Okay, so I listened to this on audio, which I think made it just that much more amazing.
Leah is a complete badass and spills ALL THE TEA. All of it. Every last drop. My girl names names and everything. ALL OF THE NAMES.
I love this book. Love, love, love. Remini is fierce and funny and also a little hood, which I completely appreciated.
Read Harder 2016: Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)
I also went to see:
Zootopia! I don’t make it to the movies often, but my daughter’s birthday was Wednesday, and she really wanted to see Zootopia, so off we went. It was a lot of fun and also a really practical look at how structural racism and sexism (and other forms of discrimination work). Allegory, yay! Anyway, my daughter liked it so much that she has already seen it again, so I can highly recommend it.
As of today, I’m reading:
I’m still making my way through Something Wicked by Alan Gratz. Poor Banks (Banquo), man.
I also started Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud, which is all about recognizing when it’s time to move on from situations in your life. I was introduced to the book through a small group study at my church, which I got a lot out of, so I figured I should probably read the book to get a little more understanding, so here we are. This article provides a little bit more info about the concepts covered in the book, if anyone is interested.
I’ve been reading House of Many Ways by Diana Wynne Jones (the last book in the Howl’s Moving Castle trilogy) at work for the past week. I like the book well enough so far, but I legit keep forgetting about it until I get to work or unless I’m at work. So I guess this is the equivalent of a bathroom book in that way. We’ll see if it picks up. Or if I give up on it altogether. (I will probably finish it since I keep being amazed at how far into it I actually am. Maybe.)
Happy reading this week, everyone!
This is actually a combo post! It’s a day late, so an It’s Tuesday! What Are You Reading? deal instead of IMWAYR. Plus, the monthly to-do. Let’s get to it.
This past week, I finished:
This was super cute and fun, even though I hate both the title and the cover. There is a smidgen of fake dating in this book–but not enough to make it a fake dating book. I will say, though, that every single one of the fake dating scenes filled me with glee. Fake dating for everyone!
Janette Rallison is now one of my go-to authors when I need something fun and light to read, for sure.
The first half of this book bored me and the second half infuriated me.
I could buy that a woman out of her mind with grief and living in isolation could think a baby washing up on shore was the answer to her prayers.
I could buy that her husband would feel guilty and responsible for his wife’s loss and isolation and go along with not reporting the found baby.
However, I could not buy that (view spoiler) I mean, SERIOUSLY. That is where the book 100% lost me.
Anyway, the book club discussion was lively, so there’s that.
So, all in all, February was:
A solid reading month. I finished 7 books, which is actually more than I thought I had read. Granted, I did DNF one book (Re Jane) and another one was slow-going (The Light Between Oceans), so it happens.
I read three books for Diversity on the Shelf, which is about half of my reading for this month, so I met that goal for the month. However, I’m at 8/21 for my overall reads, which is not keeping me on track to my goal of 50% by or about POC for the year. I’m sure it’ll correct itself eventually, but that’s where I am.
After giving it some thought, I’m going to count Proposal by Meg Cabot for the Read Harder Challenge. It’s not by or about a POC, but, quite frankly, I don’t see myself reading any other non-kid lit books under 100 pages any time soon. If I do, I’ll note it, but for now, I’m good.
That means I’ve completed the following categories for that challenge:
- Read a middle grade novel
- Read a biography (not memoir or autobiography)
- Read a book under 100 pages
- Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
- Read a food memoir
- Read the first book in a series by a person of color
I’m feeling pretty good about my progress there. I was kind of stressing out about it at first, but then I remembered that I basically read from all of the categories last year, so if I just read the way I usually read, I’ll probably wind up doing the same if I don’t overthink it. There are a few categories that take me out of my comfort zone, and I have to be more aware there, but I am confident that I’ll complete the whole challenge.
As of today, I’m reading:
My hold on the Leah Remini audiobook came in at the library yesterday, and I am loving it so far. She narrates it herself (of course!), and it’s stellar. If you want to know how cults work, definitely check out her book. Not only that, but she’s funny and real and raw. And so, so Brooklyn.
I read Something Rotten by Alan Gratz (Hamlet retelling) years ago and remembered the other day that I never read the second book, which is why I’m now reading Something Wicked, a Macbeth retelling. I like how Gratz is playing with the names and characters so far (Macbeth is Mac, Lady Macbeth is Beth, and there’s a dog named Spot–obviously, at some point, Beth is going to have to tell Spot to get out of something, and I am super looking forward to that moment).
One of the Read Harder categories is historical fiction set before 1900, and I absolutely 100% did not want to read a book about slavery. Enter Destiny’s Embrace by Beverly Jenkins. (Thanks to my friend Jasmine for the rec!) I just started this today, and it’s working for me so far.
I’m on spring break this week, and I think I may wind up reading more than these three, but we’ll see. Happy reading, everyone!
Reading this book was almost like being home again. I mean, yes, it’s set in Atlanta and not the DC area, but all the black people in this book. Ah, I was just rolling around in blackness. Granted a bit more militant blackness than I usually rolled with back in the day, but a lot of blackness nonetheless. Yes, I miss that on occasion. It was nice to get right into it is what I’m saying.
Miss Iona may be one of my new favorite characters. She is so awesome. I love her. Love, love, love, love.
On the other hand, there is Wes, my new most hated character. I think he is worse than Dolores Umbridge. I mean, the hate I have for him is deep and abiding. The book mentions that he’s amoral more than once, and I think that’s pretty apt. He is the worst. THE WORST.
I hate him a lot is what I’m saying.
So, yes, anyway, I need to read more African-American fiction, obviously. That is the conclusion I’ve come to.
Oh, right, the book! So I think the beginning is slow, probably a little too slow. One of the benefits (and drawbacks) of listening to an audiobook is that they all seem kind of slow and my listening is kind of disjointed, so I can’t always tell if it’s slow because it’s slow or it’s slow because of how I’m listening to the book. But, no, the opening of the book is slow. It spends way too much time on Ida and how she doesn’t have a job but is going back to Atlanta because her dad has lost it blah blah blah Wes is the worst blah blah blah we get it. I was well over the 30% mark before Ida and Wes even got close to each other’s orbits. That is absurd. And Ida was mostly just walking around West End talking to people. Which…slice of life or whatever but come on.
However, once they both got into Atlanta, the plot and pace picked up considerably and I was hooked. I had to know what would happen. I was waiting for the bus, and my co-worker stopped and offered me a ride, and I almost declined because I wanted to be into the book. Also, I went from listening only during my bus commute to also listening in the car when I was doing errands. So, yeah. I was into it.
The ending, however, was disappointing. Sigh. Too rushed and rather preachy. Oh well.
I thought both narrators were pretty good. (This was my second Bahni Turpin in a row and not on purpose. However, that she was one of the narrators didn’t deter me from the book. Obviously.) However, I liked the way Turpin narrated men better than Willis narrated women. All of his women sounded the same, which may have been a deliberate choice, honestly. Wes is the kind of guy who probably thinks all women sound the same or would make all the women in his life sound the same. In contrast, Turpin’s Rev and Mr. Eddie (as well as some others) were all pretty distinctive.
Turpin’s Miss Iona is brilliant, of course, but Miss Iona >>>>>>>>>>>>>> everybody else in all ways, so it would’ve been pretty hard to make her terrible.
3.5 stars may be a bit high, but the stuff I liked, I really liked and the audiobook made it past commuter status, so.
Also, the book’s title comes from a song by Duke Ellington, and here is Ella Fitzgerald singing it. That’s worth at least a half-star, I think.