Life By Kristen

Go, and embrace your liberty. And see what wonderful things come of it. – Little Women

Archive for the tag “books”

Five on Friday- Books

I’m only 3 books behind in my quest to reach 50 new book reads by the end of the year, which is a much better pace than last year. I’ve (re)discovered the awesomeness of audio books for my commute.

Here’s five recent reads that I highly recommend ( in random order):

1. I like to alternate reading fiction and nonfiction and in recent years have come to love memoirs. The End of Your Life Bookclub was a selection of Twookclub a few months ago that I wasn’t quite in the mood to read, but enough other people told me about this book that I picked it up from the library. It was a really sweet and touching read that was nowhere near as sad/tragic as I thought it was going to be. I thought it was a really great book about mother/son relationship and a lifelong long of reading/books.

2. I cannot recommend Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder enough. Ever since my mother thrust Bel Canto into my hands a few years ago, I’ve made my way through Patchett’s titles ( definitely read it if you haven’t). I ‘read’ State of Wonder as an audio book ad was so captivated by the story that several times I found myself sitting in the driveway or parking lot at work waiting for the chapter to be done. It is definitely one of the better things I’ve read this year.

3. The Night Circus is something that I would not have picked up on my own without the recommendations from friends and a few good reviews. The circus is something that interests me and I’ve read a few great fiction and nonfiction books with life under the big top as a central theme ( also as an aside there was a PBS mini documentary series called Circus a few years ago that I highly recommend). In any case, while this book has a lot more fantasy elements than I cared for, I overall enjoyed the level of intrigue and mystery to the book, even if the whole time my brain kept thinking “this could never happen!” I wouldn’t highly recommend it, but it was a fairly quick read and if you aren’t into reading fantasy but want something a bit whimsical that will still make you think, this is a good choice.

4. In my fiction selections, I love books that fall more into the genre of historical fiction or follow a group of characters over a large period of time so you can change, development, etc. J. Courtney Sullivan with her 2 previous titles ( Commencement and Maine) has quickly made her way onto to the list of authors I will always read and her newest title, The Engagementsdid not disappoint. The story is pretty much about how the diamond ring became such a huge part of marriage culture in the United States, and follows different story lines related to this. I loved the format and the various storylines, especially the way how it is revealed each character vignette relates to the others.

5. Curtis Sittenfeld is another favorite author and in the few years since American Wife came out, I’ve been clamoring for another novel from her. There are a good handful of authors who I feel this way about so when I read that Sittenfeld had a new book out in June, I was #5 on the huge waitlist at the library. Sisterland was a quick read with great character development. I wasn’t too happy with some of the developments towards the end of the book, but I would recommend it.

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A Bookworm in Need!

The other day I was saying I’ve had blog growing pains. Lately, it seems I’ve been having a rough run of reading woes too. I’m a bookworm in need!

At the beginning of this year, I set out to read 50 books for 2013. It was the same goal I made in 2012 that I fell short on. The nice thing about this sort of goal is even in not achieving the final number of read books I wanted, it’s still a win because I’m knocking items off my reading list and (mostly) enjoying the books I read.

According to my goodreads reading challenge counter, I’m 7 books behind in reaching my goal. But lately, I haven’t had a good run of book choices. I read Where’d You Go Bernadette, and really enjoyed it a lot. Same with Tina Fey’s BossypantsI took Chris Cleave’s Little Bee on vacation to Amsterdam with me, but I didn’t love it and found it really tough to get into. Currently, I’m trying to get through Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence and also reading Julia Child’s letters to Avis DeVoto.

Usually I’m a reading fiend, often with 2 or 3 titles going at the same time, but for some reason– lack of interest? Too much else going on?– I can’t seem to get into the reading swing like I used to. I am also finding that I tend to devour a book far quicker when it’s from the library than one from my personal bookshelf, so I’m sure that says something about me needing a 2 week deadline to read in than anything else. Mostly, I think it’s not just because the titles I’ve been picking haven’t wowed me, but also that my interests and energies have been elsewhere in life, mostly with house projects and social life, as well as a new obsession with watching every amazing BBC/PBS show ever made ( PS why didn’t anyone tell me how awesome Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch was? I’m LOVING it).

So all that being said, I’m looking for some GREAT reads for the summer time. My reading list is miles long, but I’ve been thinking about deleting it entirely and just going on recommendations from friends, family, colleagues, and not so much on the random reviews I read online or in magazines. I want a book that captivates me, something that I don’t want to put down and can read in a weekend or a few weeknights. Fiction or nonfiction welcome and if you sell it well enough, I may even read things outside my normal interest area like fantasy or vampires!

Give me your best book recommendations!

 

Renewed Reading

One of the 2012 goals was to read 50 new books. While I still have 18 days left, I will fall short of this goal by about 9 or 10 (depending on how the current books go), but that’s OK. I read a lot of really awesome books and pushed myself to seek out novels, memoirs, and nonfiction that are outside of my normal interest and comfort zone. One of the things I’ve been trying to accomplish with my entertainment reading and viewing ( I say entertainment since I do a lot of reading and often documentary watching for work) is to watch more classic films, read the books I skipped in high school English, and try to choose nonfiction topics of things I only know a bit about. I also really tried to check off books that were word of mouth recommendations instead of just things I heard on NPR or in Oprah magazine.

There were books I struggled through like On the Road. While I had an appreciation for the style and writing of Kerouac, I think the reason people are assigned to read that book in high school is because it  embraces adventure and the quest for a fulfilling and meaningful life. Maybe it’s because I read it during some tumultuous months of budgets and mortgage payments, but as an adult I had a hard time relating to the characters–  on more than one occasion I thought that they all should go get real jobs. Sometimes my pragmatic side can’t shut up enough to escape into a book I guess.

I read books that have long sat on my shelves like Loving Frank which I bought, then forgot about. I highly recommend this book for anyone who has an interest in historical fiction and good storytelling. I could barely put it down, reading it over a three day weekend. There were some quick entertaining, guilty pleasure reads like Jennifer Weiner’s Then Came You which was fun (and needed) in the same way as a relaxing Friday night in with a romantic comedy in my pajamas.

I was most surprised by how much I loved Steinbeck’s East of Eden and how much I disliked Katharine Graham’s Personal History, a Pulitzer Prize winning autobiography that put me to sleep more than a few times. That always is a bit sad to me- when a book that has been on the list for so long ( since high school I think) ends up being disappointing. That book in particular I think is most to blame for my not reaching the 50 goal–642 pages that were very tough to get through in certain areas( I definitely employed grad school perusing techniques there.)

One of the most recent- and most loved reads- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I have no idea why I never read this when I was younger- perhaps it was never assigned or maybe I just skipped over it. Whatever the reason, I’m sad that my younger self did not have the experience of this book, but I’m so happy I finally read it. I loved the characters and how much the protagonist, Francie, reminded me of myself. She has a love of reading and writing that reminded me a lot of my 8 year old self- a good reminder as I set the new goal for 2013 to really focus on my writing ( like the blog!)

She also is a huge library lover- something else that was renewed for me this year. I have really come to cherish the library this past year. I’ve always been a fan and supporter of all libraries, but the local Somerset library is just an awesome place and I look forward to my weekly visits, just like when my mom used to take me as a kid.

The best part of trying to reach the 50 new books goal was really a re-dedication of my love for the written word. And it’s not just because I didn’t have cable to fall back onto- there were many nights when tired eyes or headaches made reading difficult, relegating me to my one local TV station or a movie. I think my passion for reading was renewed this year because I let myself realize how awesome it is to spend a night at home in comfies with a cup of tea or a glass of wine, devouring a book. I renewed my childlike love of books and reading, allowed myself to forget about the to do list and housework, and dive head first into escaping into a novel.

Happiness is a Room Full of Books

Today is the 60th anniversary of the publication of Charlotte’s Web. On my morning commute, I heard the best story about E.B. White on NPR and his experience writing and recording the audio version of the book. Hearing that on a grouchy Monday morning instantly changed my mood.

Charlotte’s Web was my first chapter book that I read and it ignited a verocious reading habit. I devoured books as a kid, often reading faster than my parents could bring me to the library. I read just about anything I could get my hands on, frequently spending an entire weekend reading two or three books. I had the entire Babysitter’s Club  series ( including the special double books!), Nancy Drew, and loved the Boxcar Children series which I took out of the library on a frequent basis. When I was in my tween years, I read  A LOT of books by Lurlene McDaniel books, which my mother called “the sick books” because their teen characters always had some degree of chronic or terminal illness. I read a lot of the ‘classics’ early like Little Women, a book I return to over and over again as an adult. As I matured, I began reading a lot of Mary Higgins Clark suspense books in junior high. When mandatory novel reading became a big part of high school and college English classes, I looked forward to school vacations to read from own growing reading list.

In college, my reading world was expanded exponentially as various professors introduced me to amazing authors like Toni Morrison and Sarah Orne Jewett. I found my interests changed quickly in my pleasure reading- I became much more interested in novels with complex characters, creative writing, and beautiful prose. While I still read an occasional fun, quick read ( Jennifer Weiner’s wit gets me in every book), I was also looking to tackle the great pieces of the literary canon.

For me, reading is such an exciting and entertaining thing- far more than watching television. I love books that follow a character throughout time to see the development and evolution of the person, something that I don’t think is achieved in even an hour long TV drama ( Jennifer Haigh is my favorite at the moment for this skill). As a lover of history, the historical fiction genre has become a favorite, as have biographies. In the past few years I have been reading a lot of memoirs too.  With suspense novels, sometimes I can barely read and turn the pages fast enough to find out what is going to happen. I am definitely one of those readers who feels disappointed sometimes when a book is over; I have frequently wondered how a random person is doing to only realize that it was a book character and not an in-real-life person that I actually know.

Some books to me are like a warm hug or that comfortable spot on the couch- safe places to return to on a cold, rainy day or when things are a bit down in life. Some books I have on my shelf I kept after reading because I loved them so much and wanted to keep them in my life, others I keep because I want to re-read them again ( though with only a few exceptions, this almost never happens). There are numerous books from college and grad school which I only read portions of for class or research that I hope to return to again. There are some books- like Eat Pray Love that I have not opened again on purpose; I enjoyed the book immensely, but during the tough times of my divorce, the emotions were still too raw to be able to handle it.

I often joke around that I only bought my house because of its abundance of built-in bookcases. Since cancelling cable last year, I’ve read a lot of books and magazines, spending hours of a work night enthralled in a great novel. My Amazon wish list serves as my reading list and it currently stands in the 500s, growing more each week. I am at my library at least once a week getting  books- it is one of my favorite times of the week. When buying a new purse, it has to pass the ‘book test’ because I am  never without a paperback in my bag ( yes I’m still an old-school physical book reader). As the saying goes- “Happiness is a room full of books!”

Currently reading: Personal History by Katharine Graham and The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

What was your first book memory? Any great recommendations for my list? 

History and Girls

I’m currently reading The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure. I’m only a bit into the book so I’ll save my review for another time, but so far I’m loving it- her wit, the various scenarios she writes about in her quest to understand and learn more about Laura Ingalls Wilder and the books she loved as a child.

I will admit that while I read Little House on the Prairie, I did not read all of the other Wilder books in the series, though I do remember owning them. I just recently read the section of the book where McClure discusses the American Girl dolls, books, and franchise– now that is something I can relate to even more.

I loved all the American Girl books and like to think that between those stories and a few Disney history movies like Johnny Tremain is where my love of history began. The American Girl historical characters and their books are well read and well- researched definitely would be a dream to work there.

Of course the franchise of the books, dolls, and more has grown since my time as a girl with them, but I still hold a fondness for them. I went to the website for the company to see the additional girls they’ve added to their lineup and I was sad to see that the doll that I had– Kirsten ( chosen because of similarity in name) has been retired. My friend (practically like  a sister) Jessica had Samantha I think, also retired. I know I have Kirsten somewhere at my parents’ house, hopefully well-preserved in a closet or plastic bin in the basement.

While the franchise has become huge and has commercial endeavors with department stores filled with products for the dolls, I definitely loved the books as a girl and would get them for any young girls in my life ( Jessica just had her first child, a beautiful girl named Lyla, who I am sure will benefit from Aunty Kristen’s love of history and books with some American Girl in her future). The books for me were pure magic- they fed a curiosity about history and ignited it even more. I had a love of reading long before I discovered these books, but knowing that they blended fiction and history together was an awesome discovery for me- I’ve loved historical fiction ever since.

Review on The Wilder Life to come, but from what I’ve read so far it’s definitely going to be a thumbs up!

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