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2015: A Bookish Year in Review

Yes, ideally a reflection on the year’s reading gone by is done before the year is over, but better late than never, right?

In 2015, I read 86 books in total, which is an all-time record for me, and blew past my annual goal of 65 books! I’m not really sure what to credit for this huge leap in numbers, other than 1) I received a Kindle, which makes it easier for me to immediately begin a new book after finishing an old one, 2) I have a long subway commute to work, and 3) a loss in my family resulted in me reading near-constantly for a week or so in order to cope with some of the stuff I was thinking and feeling. Reasons both good and bad, then.

The average length of the books I read in 2015 was 341 pages, with the shortest read being Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant, and the longest being The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. My average star rating was a 3.3, or pretty average. (Still wishing there were half-star options on Goodreads, argh!)

There are a ton more interesting stats on my Goodreads Year in Review page. I encourage you to check it out!

What I think is a bit more telling of me and my reading style, though, are the 2015 books that I gave 5 stars to, 6 out of 7 of which were written by women. Mini-reviews of each can be found after the jump!

Continue reading ‘2015: A Bookish Year in Review’


Book Review: Zoology by Ben Dolnick

My feelings about this novel exactly.

I can be bored by books, or bewildered by the author’s choices, or unable to suspend my disbelief enough to buy into a story, but it’s rare that I feel the visceral level of dislike that I felt while reading Ben Dolnick’s debut novel Zoology.

Henry Elinsky fails his first year of college. To escape the boredom of living at home with his parents for the summer, Henry accepts his older brother’s offer of a place to live in New York City and a job working at the Central Park Zoo. He ends up befriending another summer transplant, Margaret, and bonds with her as various tragedies befall them both.

Zoology is a slim novel, topping out at 300 pages, but it felt longer for me. A huge stumbling block was our “hero” himself, Henry, who is just straight-up unlikeable and not in an interesting way–in an 18-year old man-child way. I kept getting the sense that Dolnick was trying to reach for Holden Caufield-esque protagonist in Henry. But Holden, despite how you may feel about him, felt things and felt them strongly–not just about himself, but about the injustices and hypocrisies he saw in the world around him.

Henry is, by contrast, a boring sadsack. He has no sense of relativism, no curiosity, no unselfishness, no compassion. He gets angry when a girl he likes doesn’t want to date him and hopes that by staying friends with her, he’ll win her away from her boyfriend. (Um, respect her choice, dude; she said no.) Perhaps I’ve been spoiled, but the 18-year old boys I grew up with–like my brother and my boyfriend–were not like Henry at all. Thankfully.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: Zoology by Ben Dolnick’

Book Review: The Bitches of Brooklyn, by Rosemary Harris

Thanks, Thranduil. 

I always say, when asked, that I read “everything,” and I do usually mean it. My tastes are pretty wide ranging, from hard sci-fi to poetry, from literary fiction to true crime. Upon reflection, however, there are some genres that I have tended to avoid: romance (of all flavors, paranormal and otherwise), mysteries, and what is often somewhat-pejoratively referred to as “chick lit.” Not because I think poorly of those genres, but because I know myself and my tastes. And as you can see from previous reviews, when I’ve been fooled into reading romance in the guise of sci-fi or fantasy, I’ve been…less than kind.

With all of that in mind, you might wonder why I decided to read mystery writer Rosemary Harris’s latest, The Bitches of Brooklyn. Three words: title and cover. They were eye-catching and kind of hilarious, and I couldn’t help myself. Additionally, I live in New York City and enjoy reading books that take place here, especially in the boroughs. So I thought, “ah, what the hell,” and clicked to download The Bitches of Brooklyn e-book.

It didn’t take me too long to realize I had made a mistake, but I’m too stubborn to stop reading a book I’ve started.

Continue reading ‘Book Review: The Bitches of Brooklyn, by Rosemary Harris’

Book Review: Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, by Dee Brown

Surely revolutionary at the time that it was released, and even now, still an incredibly incisive look at how white American politics, backstabbing, greed, and genocide decimated the American Indian population, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West is not a comfortable read. Wounded Knee is relentless in its documentation of the betrayals and battles suffered by the United States’ indigenous populations, from the Comanche to the Blackfeet to the Kiowa.

I often had to put this one down while reading, due to the sheer injustice and treachery suffered by literally every tribe of American Indian, even those who considered themselves allies of Washington and the Great Father (the U.S. President). This is the real history of the West, which was far from the empty plains the U.S government painted it as; Native Americans had rich, vibrant, established societies that were displaced and destroyed by Manifest Destiny and westward expansion of industrial and agricultural interests. Knowing how the story ends–with the systematic removal of American Indians to tiny, poorly-served reservations–doesn’t lessen the blow.

Wounded Knee also gives us a deeper look into the lives and motivations of prominent American Indians like Red Cloud, Mangas Coloradas, Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull, all of whom consistently tried to serve and protect their people however they could, despite the overwhelming odds facing them. It was especially interesting to see the divisions between American Indian leaders like Red Cloud, who tried dealing with the U.S. through legal channels, and those like Crazy Horse, who chose guerrilla warfare and resistance. The photographs and illustrations of these brave men were a welcome addition to their stories.

While the ending to Wounded Knee feels rather abrupt, it is still probably one of the most complete investigations of American Indian history out there, and the choice on Brown’s part to end it with the Ghost Dance saga was especially haunting. Wounded Knee is a difficult but important read, and anyone who considers themselves a student of the history of the West or Native American history would do well to read it.

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was on my to-read list for the 2013 TBR Pile Challenge, hosted by Roof Beam Reader!

Bookwanderer Rating: Four and a half out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept but one; they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Other Reviews:  At Home with Books, A Variety of Words,

Capsule Book Reviews: October 2013

I’m alive! (Barely.) Who knew that being a first-year teacher was as hard as they said?

I apologize for my long hiatus. While I’ve still been reading, I have not been great about reviewing. I haven’t been great at anything recently, and I am going to try to make more of an effort to keep my work/life balance a little more…balanced.

In the meantime, enjoy some capsule reviews of the books I’ve been reading these past months! (Reviews after the jump!)

Continue reading ‘Capsule Book Reviews: October 2013’

Sorry for the silence!

I have just recently enrolled in an intensive teaching program (yay career changes!), so please expect my posts to be a little fewer and farther between. I’m sorry for the inconvenience and hope that I won’t lose too many of my fun and faithful readers.

Rest assured, I do intend to keep up with this blog–and to keep reading, of course!

Thanks for your understanding, ya’ll. See you soon with more bookish reviews and news!

Heart Books

Eva over at A Striped Armchair has a very thought-provoking post up: what are your “heart books,” or books that have impacted you so powerfully that you’ve never forgotten them? The heart books she writes about are Sara Maitland’s From the Forest (which I haven’t read, but would like to, simply on the basis of how strongly it seemed to resonate with her!) and Jane Austen’s Emma, which I’m actually in the middle of reading right now.

Anyway, after reading Eva’s post and thinking of my own heart books, one in particular immediately came to mind: Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, The Golden  Notebook is the story of Anna Wulf, a writer, and her five journals. Each journal is a different color, and represents a different point in her life (the red notebook, for example, tells of her time as a member of the Communist party). The fifth notebook–the golden notebook–is her attempt to tie all of the other notebooks, really all of the other parts of herself, together.

The Golden Notebook i’s now considered a feminist classic, but at the time, I didn’t know that. I picked it up from my local library on a whim; perhaps I recognized the title, or just thought the cover was interesting.

Then I started reading it, and it was as if a blinding light suffused me. This book–despite being  published in 1962, from the point of a view of a Communist and a mother–was speaking directly to me. Anna is disillusioned, confused, warring with both the freedom and the confusion that post-war London has brought her. She’s talented and ambitious, but emotionally and psychologically lost–floundering.

I read The Golden Notebook at a time in my life where I was struggling to define myself in a job that felt increasingly unfulfilling. (And that’s not to say that I have all the answers now, but I do have a slightly better sense of the things I find important in a career.) I’ve always measured my self-worth by my academic and my work output, and after college, I felt a bit lost. I wanted to be a writer, but found it impossible to corral my thoughts enough to actually put words to paper (or computer screen). I was dissatisfied with living in NYC and craved change–I just didn’t know exactly what. It’s a feeling, I’m sure, that many people can commiserate with. And that’s what The Golden Notebook did for me: it commiserated. It showed me that these challenges were particular to ambitious women. I didn’t even need a happy ending; the commiseration, defined so unequivocally, was enough.

As I’m going through a similar period of dissatisfaction–of wondering how to best live by my values and still be able to provide for myself–I should probably pick up The Golden Notebook again, to see if it holds any new revelations for me.

What are your heart books?

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