Category Archives: On Writing

September 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

Hello! So, you may have noticed that I’m a lot more, shall we say, “relaxed” about posting in the summer. (“Lazy” is another way to put it.) It’s just so tough to come home and sit in front of a computer when it’s still light outside. But I’m back now!

Book cover magnets, $3.50 each or $10 for threeOf course, I can’t guarantee that I will post as much as I’d like to this fall. My latest writing class, a fiction workshop, begins tomorrow night. But hopefully I’ll have a little time to share what I’m reading.

Although I wasn’t updating the blog much, I was still reading over the summer. And I’ve stayed plenty busy! I’ve begun creating miniature books–jewelry, magnets, ornaments, and other accessories–and I’ll be listing several other literary items in the next few weeks. Check out my new “Shop” page!

And, while I was in web design mode, I changed the look of this site a bit. What do you think?

OK, back to the books…

Books read in June:

  • Gaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
  • Green Girl by Kate Zambreno

Books read in July:

  • Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
  • Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
  • Losing It by Cora Carmack

Books read in August:

  • Faking It by Cora Carmack
  • Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje

Halfway Through

  • Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman
  • When God Was a Woman by Merlin Stone

What I’m Reading Now:

Love in the Driest SeasonLove in the Driest Season by Neely Tucker
I actually finished this early last week, but it’s still with me. I loved this book, a literary memoir that explores love, trauma, family, conflict, passion, and much more. I recommend for those interested in journalism, international adoptions, and life in Zimbabwe–plus anyone who loves a good memoir. (And the author is local!) I’ll be discussing this at the next One More Page book club–please join me!

9780670016587The Ways of the Dead by Neely Tucker
Now that I’ve read Tucker’s memoir, I want to check out his first novel! A murder mystery set in D.C., The Ways of the Dead sounds utterly thrilling. I want to finish it before book club with the author!

9780804178327Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Longtime readers should know how much I love Joe Abercrombie, and I can’t wait to read his latest book. This is his first assay into Young Adult, and Publisher’s Weekly called it one of their top 10 best books of summer. I could have told you that if you’d asked, PW. I’ve got nothing but love for Joe.

The New JIm CrowThe New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
I’ve been interested in the judicial system and prison reform for a while now, and discussing Orange Is the New Black at the last book club made me want to read about these topics even more. From what I’ve heard, The New Jim Crow is one of the best books on the prison industrial complex. I hope it’s good (and readable)!

Bad FeministBad Feminist by Roxane Gay
There are no words to describe how much I love Roxane Gay. I am a total, unabashed fangirl. Roxane 2016!

If I have time, I’d also like to start The Fever by Megan Abbott and Save the Date by Jen Doll. We’ll see!

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

June 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

Whew, what a busy few months! I actually drafted this post last month, but I didn’t even have time to publish it!

In April, I spent nearly three weeks in Brazil, so, as predicted, I didn’t get much reading done. (Pictures from Brazil coming soon, though!) I ended up finishing two books and almost finishing two more in April.

Then, in May, I got married.

!!!!!!

We had an absolutely fantastic time, both at the wedding and during the two-week honeymoon to Belize. I got a good bit of reading done, too–it wouldn’t have been a vacation otherwise!

With all of these trips and all the planning that goes into a wedding, I’ve been crazy busy. I apologize to the authors who were expecting reviews this month or last. I promise I’ve read your book and drafted the review–I just haven’t had time to post it yet.

June proves to be another busy month. But I’ve got some great options when I’m ready to kick back and get my read on! And hopefully soon I’ll have a spare minute to post some reviews of these excellent titles.

Books read in April:

  • We Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
  • The Promise by Ann Weisgarber

Books read in May:

  • Where’d You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
  • Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Divergent by Veronica Roth
  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
  • Not a Drop to Drink by Mindy McGinnis

What I’m Reading Now:

Gaining GroundGaining Ground by Forrest Pritchard
We’ll be meeting at One More Page Books & More on June 9 to discuss this book, which explores sustainable agriculture, from the decision to become organic to the crucial rise of farmers’ markets. Pritchard is a fixture in Northern Virginia’s locavore movement, and I’m really looking forward to reading about his experiences on the family farm.

Cutting for StoneCutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
I’m headed to Ethiopia in a few days, and this is the book that keeps surfacing when I look for fine Ethiopian literature. As I stood in line at the bookstore to buy it, another customer ran up to me and said, “That book is so good, you’re going to love it!” I hope I do. I know I love word-of-mouth book recommendations!

Thirty GirlsThirty Girls by Susan Minot
The premise of this book already sounded astounding. But with the recent abduction of nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria, it’s almost eerily relevant. I think it will be a difficult but rewarding read.

We Need New NamesWe Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
In looking at my reading list, I’m noticing a theme: books by female authors focusing on Africa and the diaspora. It’s not surprising, given both my affinity for lady writers and my recent/upcoming travel to several countries in Africa. I’ve heard great things about this book, so I’m eager to dive in!

If I have time, I’d also like to start The Fault in Our Stars by John Green. We’ll see!

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

April 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

So far in March, I’ve finished a whopping NINE books, and made progress on two more. I think this is a new record for me! All the snow we had this month made for lots of quality reading time. Over the next few months, I have a somewhat hectic travel schedule, so I’m not sure how many new titles I’ll be able to get to. But I’ll have a ton of options!

Books read:

  • The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
  • Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
  • Answers I’ll Accept, edited by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  • The Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
  • Highs in the Low Fifties by Marion Winik
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris
  • The Time Traveler’s Boyfriend by Annabelle Costa
  • Gulp by Mary Roach

Halfway through:

  • Brazil on the Rise by Larry Rohter
  • The River of Doubt by Candice Millard

To read:

We Learn NothingWe Learn Nothing by Tim Kreider
Kreider will be visiting my memoir/essay writing class while I’m in Brazil, and I’m bummed to miss him. But I’ve met him before, and he is very funny and entertaining. I’m really looking forward to this collections of his essays–including the infamous, much-emailed “Busy Trap.”

Coming of Age on ZoloftComing of Age on Zoloft: How Antidepressants Cheered Us Up, Let Us Down, and Changed Who We Are by Katherine Sharpe
This is the next One More Page nonfiction book club pick. After discussing Hyperbole and a Half last month, I’m eager to examine depression, especially among adolescents, even more closely. We’ll talk about the book on Monday, April 21; I hope to see you there!

The PromiseThe Promise by Ann Weisgarber
I loved Weisgarber’s first book, The Personal History of Rachel DuPree (my review here) so much, I named it a top 10 book in 2011. I’m very excited to read more from this author! Also, she told me on Twitter that she kept a red-eared turtle for years. This woman knows the way to my icy little heart!

Miss PeregrineMiss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
My fiction book club chose this as our next book. I might miss the meeting, since I’ll be out of town so much, but I still want to read along. I’ve heard a LOT about this book, and I think it will be a very enjoyable read on my travels! I’m particularly intrigued by the author’s use of photographs.

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

Trailer for Emma Donoghue’s “Frog Music”

Sunday Salon

I’m not usually one to post book trailers, but I’m very intrigued by Emma Donoghue’s next book, Frog Music. As faithful blog readers (there has to be one or two of you, right? Guys??) will know, I’m Donoghue’s biggest fangirl. Hearing her read an excerpt from Room (my review here) at Politics & Prose was a highlight of my literary life. I know. Sometimes my nerdiness disturbs even me.

Anyway, the trailer:

More about the book:
Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead.

The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice–if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

In thrilling, cinematic style, Frog Music digs up a long-forgotten, never-solved crime. Full of songs that migrated across the world, Emma Donoghue’s lyrical tale of love and bloodshed among lowlifes captures the pulse of a boomtown like no other.

On the “R” Word and Insults in Books

I was reading a good book recently. It was funny and well-written, with a voice that was clear as a bell. But after three uses of the R word (as in, someone who faces developmental challenges), I had to put it down.

Interested in linguistics? John McWhorter's books are an excellent place to start!

Interested in linguistics? John McWhorter’s books are an excellent place to start!

I’m trained as a linguist. So on one level, I believe words are a social construct whose meaning can depend entirely upon the users. Words are vessels for sound and meaning. Words are wonderful, because with just one or two little sounds, we can convey a universe. We have created this system whereby these little sounds summon nearly anything, and everyone who speaks your language can understand you.

Language is flexible and fun, and normally I’m the last person to tell you how to use it. I drop the F-bomb like it’s my job, because there’s nothing inherently offensive about it. (Unless, I suppose, you’re anti-sex, in which case I’m anti-you.)

But insults are an entirely different beast. These are words used to destroy people.

“But hold on,” the author might say, if he or she read this little blog. “It’s just a joke. I didn’t mean any of that.”

I get it. Everyone loves jokes, and no one wants to analyze every single word they utter. But there’s nothing funny about using a word that has and continues to hurt so many.

This is the other edge of the sword that is language. When you choose to speak, you are entering into a contract of sorts. You are acknowledging that the words you speak carry greater meaning beyond their composite sounds. Most of the time, we benefit from this, in that we can make ourselves understood to strangers. But we must also acknowledge that there is a history of oppression and fear lingering behind certain combinations of sound.

There are those who have been on the receiving end of insults who seek to reclaim them, who want to imbue oppressive words with positivity. Let them. That’s the great part of language–how it changes with us. But if you keep using these words in their traditional context of insult, you are only prolonging the negativity.

Words are our right and our responsibility. Use them carefully.

Note: The book pictured above is not the book I’m talking about. I didn’t want to name and shame that author. But if you are interested in some of the linguistic concepts I’ve so clumsily explained, check out McWhorter’s careful work in the field. He’s one of the best.

March 2014: What I’m Reading

Sunday Salon

February was a short month! But I was still able to read four titles and make progress on four more. I hope to finish reading several books in March, before my travel schedule gets really hectic!

Books read:

  • Cairo in White by Kelly Ann Jacobson
  • In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan
  • Be With Me by Jennifer L. Armentrout
  • (T)here: Writings on Returnings edited by Brandi Dawn Henderson

Halfway through:

  • After I’m Gone by Laura Lippman
  • The Sense of Touch by Ron Parsons
  • Highs in the Low Fifties by Marion Winik
  • When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

To read:

GulpGulp by Mary Roach
This is the selection for both of my book clubs–the one with my friends, and the one held at One More Page. (We’ll discuss it at OMP in May.) I really enjoyed Roach’s Packing for Mars, so this should be a lot of fun!

Frangipani HotelThe Frangipani Hotel by Violet Kupersmith
This book sounds fantastic–it has garnered praise from the likes of Téa Obreht, as well as starred reviews from both Publisher’s Weekly and Library Journal. I haven’t read many books set in Vietnam, but the last one–The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli–made me fall in love with the country.

Brazil on the RiseBrazil on the Rise: The Story of a Country Transformed by Larry Rohter
I’m traveling to Brazil next month, and this seems to be the must-read book on understanding Brazil’s present state and future promise. Rohter, a reporter for The New York Times, goes beyond the stereotypes of Brazil–Carnival, beaches, supermodels–to dive into its rapid growth and status among other emerging markets.

River of DoubtThe River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey by Candice Millard
Did you know that, after being defeated in 1912, Roosevelt mapped a dangerous tributary of the Amazon? Yeah, me neither. While I won’t spend much time around this famous river (at least, not on this trip), this book sounded like an unusual glimpse into the country and a fun, if harrowing, story.

In March, I’ll also read Hyperbole and a Half, the next One More Page book club pick–I can’t wait to discuss it!

Have you read any of these? Which should I pick up first?

What Book Bloggers Love

Ask any book blogger what she loves most about blogging. Invariably, the answer is always the same. It’s not the advanced reader copies or the page views or even the inducement to read more.

It’s the community.

This is what I learned from the beginning of my book blogging career, and it is what has kept me going.

From my fellow book bloggers, who fill up my TBR list and share tips on review policies and the reading/life balance, to readers of my blog, who enrich my posts with their own opinions and experiences with a book. From publishers, who are endlessly enthusiastic about the next great gem everyone will be talking about in the three months, to bookstore owners and employees, who just can’t contain themselves when they get on the topic of their new favorites.

And, of course, those around whom we book-lovers have built this entire ecosystem: Writers.

One of the very best parts of writing about books has been interacting with authors, whether they comment (always graciously) on my review of their work, or shoot me an email recommending even more great authors, or indulge me at author events when I have a billion questions about their writing process.

I met Kelly Ann Jacobson at a happy hour for emerging writers a few years ago. This was when I was dipping my toe into writing small pieces of my own, mostly essays and articles, that for the first time didn’t have anything to do with someone else’s book. I was eyeing the distant shore of writing a novel, but Kelly had already plunged in. She was in the process of revising the novel that had been on her mind for years: the story of one young woman and her freedom to love.

Today is the publication day of that book, Cairo in White.

Cairo in WhiteAs Cairo sweltered in the summer of 1986, eighteen-year-old Zahra faced the heat for a rendezvous with her secret lover.

But after climbing the Ahmeds’ wall and darting through an open door, Zahra came face-to-dace with the last people she expected to see: her parents. They were taking tea and arranging her marriage. But not to Jamila; love between two girls in Egypt was forbidden. Instead, Zahra will marry Jamila’s brother.

Twenty years later, Zahra’s American daughter, Aisha, steps off a plane at Cairo International Airport. Aisha is as headstrong as her mother, and she is determined to find a life and a family in Egypt. But she discovers more than she bargained for.

Will Aisha find acceptance, even a home, in a culture that once rejected Zahra? And will Aisha be free to pursue the love that she finds in Egypt? 

I’m very pleased to have received an advance copy of the book, and my review will be posted next week.

In the meantime, if you are a book blogger and would like to receive an e-ARC, I’m happy to send you one.

And if you’re in the DC area, come on out to her book launch party on Thursday, February 20!

As I’ve frequently found over the last few years running this book blog, the connections made with the writing community are priceless. I love meeting authors like Kelly, and I’m very glad I have the opportunity to support her work and the work of other local authors.

Keep on writing!