Monday, February 4, 2019

What I Read: January

Thank goodness for good books with the cold weather we had in January. There really is nothing better than curling up with a good book when it's so cold outside the wind seems to eat away at your skin. I had a few heavy books this month and some really fun, easy reads. It was a nice mixture.

  • John Quincy Adams by Harlow Giles Unger- After reading biographies on James Madison and James Monroe I was really excited to get into this book about John Quincy Adams. I knew going into it that he had chosen to remain in political life after losing re-election to the presidency, but I had no idea what a huge role he played in that arena. It was interesting that he was such a successful and influential congressman when he wasn't as successful as president. I had no idea he fought so strongly for abolition and I also didn't realize the part he played in releasing the Africans who had been captured and taken aboard the Amistad. Now I want to see the movie they made about that years ago. I also found it interesting he died in the Capitol. I was also impressed by the fact that he held some form of political post under every president from George Washington through James K. Polk and served in Congress with Abraham Lincoln, that's quite the legacy. His words on abolition provided the constitutional basis for Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. Another fun fact is that a photograph of him was the first surviving photograph of a president.
  • The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy- When I was preparing for my travel abroad to India back in college, The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy was recommended as a great book to give some perspective on India. It was given to me as a present and I started it multiple times without ever making it very far into the book. This book was also given to me as a present and I also had a hard time getting into the book. I found myself floundering and not really wanting to read at different points throughout the book but I trudged on and finished the book. It was heavy and I finished it feeling depressed. I may try The God of Small Things again to see if I can make it through the book but I'm going to need a while. While I wouldn't recommend this book to someone else because I didn't enjoy reading it, it was a good book. I'm not sure if that makes sense. To explain, Roy is a wonderful writer and the book was well written and interesting in how it was weaved together. It just wasn't my kind of book. It wasn't just that it was so heavy. I've loved some very heavy books. In a way it was also dark and a bit odd.
  • One Day in December by Josie Silver- I wanted a fun, fluffy book after reading The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. We were at the library and after I returned our books I stopped to look at the Quick Picks shelf which is where they have really popular books available to pick up without having to put them on hold. I grabbed this one and it was the perfect follow-up to a heavy book. It was sweet and fun but not totally fluffy. I loved it and couldn't put it down. I read it over a weekend where it was so cold we didn't venture outside other than to run and I read 200 pages one of the days. It was that lovely, I didn't want to put it down!
  • The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan- This was our book club book for our January meeting. I didn't get it in at the library in time for the meeting and we had a birthday party to go to during our book club meeting so I was going to miss it anyway. I decided to go ahead and read the book because it's one I've always felt like I should read. It was interesting and I liked that she used anecdotal information as well as research and statistics to make her points. The book was much longer than I had expected and I almost didn't pick it up at the library when it came in and I saw how long it was. There were chapters that were really interesting and I flew through and others where I slogged through just to finish them. This is the first book in a long time where I actually fell asleep while reading at night, but that may also be because I was really tired! The version I read was the 50th Anniversary Edition so there was an Epilogue and then a 2 Generations Later section by Friedan added at the end. The 2 Generations Later section was my favorite part of the book. It was very interesting and I could relate to it more since I lived through the time period she was referencing. She talked about the growing discrepancy in income inequality with the top 10% controlling 2/3 of America's wealth. She made the point that the only reason more families aren't pushed into poverty is that both women and men are working. I've had that discussion with so many different people and her numbers really resonated with me. She went on to say, "Easier to deflect the rage by turning women and men, black and white, young and old, against each other than to openly confront the excessive power of corporate greed." After reading that sentence I just kept thinking, "wow," and she wrote that in 1996! How true it continues to be today.
  • Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson- I read a lot of nonfiction in a row and needed a break with some really awesome fiction. Jackson's name popped in my head when I was trying to decide what to read next and I found an ebook available of this one. It was just as good as all her others and I really enjoyed it! My regular book took a backseat as I finished this one because it was so good. I liked that her main character was a comic book illustrator and found that aspect of the book very interesting. I highly recommend reading any of her books. I haven't read them all yet, but I plan to. 
  • What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd and Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe- Goodreads recommended this book for me and, oh my goodness, I loved it! Munroe is so funny and his cartoons really added to the book. I was initially going to listen to this as an audiobook but when I realized he was a cartoonist, I decided to download it as ebook instead. I loved how he took weird questions people asked and even took them further and more ridiculous. His sense of humor also got me giggling. He was talking about what would happen if the Earth stopped spinning and how it would effect sunlight and he drew a cartoon where the person asked, "If the old day/night cycle is gone, when can I feed the Gremlins." I just couldn't stop laughing over that one and his adorable, little Gremlins he drew. I also learned a lot from the book too. Something I'd never even thought about is why people tend to lose their hair and get sick when undergoing chemotherapy. Chemo selectively kills cancer cells rather than harming the patient and the cancer equally because cancer cells divide more rapidly, which I already knew. But I didn't connect that to the fact that the most rapidly dividing cells are found in bone marrow so chemo weakens your immune system. And that other rapidly dividing cells are hair follicles and stomach lining which is why chemotherapy can cause hair loss and nausea. That blew my mind that there was such a simple answer but I'd never thought to ask the question!
  • Secret Lives of the First Ladies by Cormac O'Brien- Goodreads suggested this book for me and I immediately felt like it gets me! Haha! I loved this book and enjoyed all the little, fun tidbits I learned about the first ladies. It renewed my belief that I need to find a better book about James Madison to read as I didn't learn anything new from this book about any of the first ladies whose husbands I'd read a book about, except for Dolley Madison. I didn't know any of the facts about her that were in this book except for that she was adored by the American citizens!
  • The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama- Reading Michelle Obama's memoir made me want to read this book as I had read Dreams From My Father before Obama ran for president but never read this one. It was interesting to read the book over 10 years later and to see how his beliefs then as a senator manifested into the programs he pushed and the issues he championed as a president. He also discussed some issues that I wasn't aware of at the time, but have become glaringly obvious since. He talked about how the media tends to share both sides of a story, without discussing the facts and what is factually accurate, giving validation to falsified information and accusations. Although he said it much better, that's just my take-away. That has become such a huge issue and was so frustrating during the last presidential campaign.
  • Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson- I was needing some awesome fiction after my last audiobook so I decided to pick another Jackson novel. I was really excited when I came across this one and realized the main character was Rose Mae Lolley, who was a smaller character in Gods of Alabama. It was so neat how she wrote this book, including some of the same events from Gods of Alabama, but from a different perspective. I absolutely loved this book. I also liked the realness it brought to domestic violence and made me stop and think more about how hard it is for some women to get out of a bad situation and some of the reasons why that may be. I've now read half the books Jackson has written, not including one that is coming out sometime this year, and I'm a little sad that I don't have more left to read.

  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer- This book kept coming up on reading lists and I saw it on a list of audiobooks so I decided to check it out. It was a Pulitzer Prize winner and a bestseller so I was surprised when I found it to be a bit blah. I didn't really care much about the main character which was possibly the point of the whole story. There were some really dynamic supporting characters who I enjoyed. Overall I'd say I liked the book but it wasn't so good I'd recommend it to someone else. Maybe it would be better as a regular book, I'm not sure.
  • The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang- This was our book for February's book club meeting. There were so many holds on the book and ebook versions that I ended up getting it as an audiobook to ensure I'd get to read it by our February meeting date. At first it reminded me of The Rosie Project because the main character was on the spectrum and was hoping to find a way to practice skills that would help her in a relationship. It quickly turned more into a version of Pretty Woman with reversed roles. There were a few too many intimate sections in my opinion. I'm fine with a few but after a while it felt a little too much like Fifty Shades of Grey or something and there's a reason why I've never read those books! I enjoy a few scenes or sections of a book like that but I'm not interested in reading an entire book about it, although I don't want to sound judgy about it because I love it for you if that's what you like, it's just not my favorite. And maybe there's more to the storyline of Fifty Shades than I have been led to believe... That being said I did love this book and the sweetness of it. I also liked the insights it gave into the life of someone on the spectrum. I found myself excited to weight lift just so I could listen to my audiobook as I lifted! 
  • I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos- This book kept coming up on reading lists I'd seen and was suggested to me on Goodreads. I wasn't sure I wanted to give it a try because I had listened to de los Santos' book Falling Together and just thought it was okay. It didn't leave me wanting to read more books by her. Although I had loved her writing, I just didn't particularly like the storyline and it felt longer and more cumbersome than necessary. I was very pleasantly surprised by this book and how much I loved it. I had recently listened to Backyard Saints which dealt heavily with domestic violence and this book did too which was maybe a little much back to back, but it didn't keep me from loving this book. It was just so wonderfully written and always left me struggling to stop listening. I wished I'd read this as a regular book but I went with the audiobook because I figured I wouldn't be super into it. My favorite line from the book was, "No one should live with someone who scares them." Whereas I felt like "Falling Together" was longer than necessary, I felt like this one ended too soon!  


  1. I never read Fifty Shades because I've heard it was horribly written, and the excerpts I've read were about S and M, which I don't care about at all. I love Joshilyn Jackson, and haven't let myself get another book by her yet, because I have such a hard time putting them down. What I find unusual about hers, is each one is so different. One deals with the foster system, one domestic abuse, one a quilt maker, so you know she has to do a lot of research into what she writes about. I'll have to check out some of the ones you read this month.

    1. I agree! She writes about such different topics but at the same time is always so suspenseful and amazing!