Of Mice and Men

Book Review: “Of Mice and Men” by John Steinbeck

I should have known better. I’ve heard enough pop culture references to “Of Mice and Men” that I am familiar with the story. But dang it, the ending just wrecked me. In fact, the entire book stomped on my emotions. Lennie just wants to love and George does what he can to protect him in his gruff way, but the results are just tragic. Curley and his wife are cruel, backward, and vengeful. Steinbeck crafted a story that is simple and complex and emotive, but I had a really difficult time with the racist, derogatory language and content.

I read this one as an audiobook and in written form at the same time. Listening to the audio was a unique experience because I generally don’t choose fiction for my audiobooks. Overall, I’m glad I finished it, but it was a 3⭐️ book for me. I know this is supposed to be an American classic, but it just didn’t work for me despite pulling on my emotions.

The Fire Next Time

Book Review: “The Fire Next Time” by James Baldwin

I really enjoyed Baldwin’s essays in “The Fire Next Time.” The powerful subject matter of racial discrimination made me hurt and think, two actions that only a truly amazing writer can impart on a reader. I must admit I knew very little about Baldwin before I picked up this book of essays, but I am challenging myself to learn through reading this year. And this book is part of that goal.

Baldwin’s writing style is so interesting as well. I could feel the fire burning as I read the words, even without much flourish of adjectives. His pace quickened as he made his points, and then it slowed when he needed to give the reader a chance to ponder the words. This is a beautiful, powerful book that describes the terrible racial divides in our country.

Party of Two? No, Thank You.

Book Review: Party of Two by Jasmine Guillory

I’ve slowly stopped being a fan of rom-com reads over the past decade, so I didn’t pick up Party of Two with the expectation of loving it. But, having enjoyed The Wedding Date a couple of years ago, I figured another Guillory book would be an entertaining read.

And yes, this book was entertaining. I enjoyed the character development and the will-they-or-won’t-they trope. Overall, it was a 3 ⭐️ read because I’m just not a rom-com person, I guess. However, I love the diverse characters Guillory creates and the BIPOC representation in her books.

Book Review: Confessions of a Prairie Bitch

“Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson and Learned to Love Being Hated” by Alison Arngrim

I wanted to enjoy this memoir so much more than I did. Alison Arngrim will forever be engrained in American pop culture as the evil Nellie Oleson on the 1970s/1980s tv show Little House on the Prairie. But as Arngrim writes in her memoir, playing the hated, spoiled, ringlet-shaking nemesis to Laura Ingalls actually gave her the foundation to be a strong, confident woman offscreen.

With a terrible history of physical and sexual abuse in her childhood, Arngrim writes with honesty and reflection. The requisite stories from the Little House set are humorous and nostalgic. I learned things I didn’t know about the actors, but all in all, this book just didn’t pull at my emotions, despite the terrible childhood that Arngrim had. The writing just didn’t draw me in as I’d hoped, but I’m glad I read it.

3⭐️

Books from My Childhood

In follow-up to my post about five facts and five books that impacted my life, I pulled out my Laura Ingalls Wilder collection. The Little House on the Prairie books played an enormous role in my childhood. I wanted to be a writer and a teacher like Laura. My parents even took me to De Smet, South Dakota to see her house and watch a Little House performance. I relentlessly carried around the yellowed copies of these books and spent endless afternoons playing dress-up as an Ingalls girl. I know these books have come under fire in recent times, and I acknowledge the controversy. However, I credit them as being my first inspiration to start writing.

More about Little House on the Prairie and Me

Why did I love the Little House story so much? Wilder’s detailed descriptions of life on the homestead — whether in a log cabin or a sod house or a simple wooden house in town — gave me an opportunity to escape modern day life (in the 1980s) and explore the world in simpler times. Growing up in small-town Nebraska, I could relate to the prevalence of agriculture in Laura’s surroundings. Also, I was a lonely child, and the books showed me what it would be like to be part of a much bigger family with friends all around.

Also, I loved the TV show Little House on the Prairie. Watching an episode with my mom and sister is one of my first memories of television. (That and an episode of Days of Our Lives, which they watched almost religiously.) Melissa Gilbert (Laura) and Michael Landon (Pa/Charles) were my favorites, and I loved the tension that Alison Arngrim (Nellie Oleson) brought to the show. Again, because I was raised in such a small town — I attended Grades K through 4 in a two-room schoolhouse — I could relate to the lives of the characters in Walnut Grove. While the show went beyond the books and took liberties with the storylines, it still brought a simple joy to a young girl who lived in her imagination.

Thanks for indulging this trip down memory lane for me. Do you have books from your childhood that you think upon fondly today? Why?

P.S. – The wooden stool in the picture above is also from my childhood. My older brother, who is 13 years older than me, made it for me in his wood shop class when I was itty bitty. As you can see, it has been well-loved as it’s traveled with me for nearly a lifetime.

5 Facts & 5 Books

Five is the number! Here are five random facts about me, and more importantly, five books that have inspired me in some way.

Five Facts about Me

  1. I lived in a town of 150 people from birth to 18. Yes, it was quiet. Yes, you couldn’t get away with anything as a kid because someone was always watching. Yes, I was sheltered in many ways. However, my parents insisted I grow beyond that four-square-block town and encouraged me to expand my mind and experiences.
  2. I wrote my dissertation on mental illness in the workplace. Specifically, I focused on how managers interact with employees who have/have not disclosed mental illnesses. My biggest takeaways from the research was that stigma is rampant about mental illness and that disclosure is a multi-faceted decision. I’ve seen this in my own life.
  3. I took a solo trip to Greece after my first husband and I divorced. Well, about 27 months after the divorce, actually. It took that long to get the courage to go on my first-ever solo trip. While the sites were amazing and the trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, I was still lonely and cannot wait to take another trip, but this time with my amazing husband.
  4. I adore elephants and dogs. To me, elephants have a quiet majesty about them. They are strong and fiercely protective of their loved ones. I love them and need to add more elephant symbols in my office. And dogs? Their loyalty and playfulness brings me joy. I could watch our dog Tuck explore our backyard all day.
  5. I am the youngest in my immediate family and amongst my cousins. So, I’m the “double” baby. As a child, this meant I was spoiled rotten and teased exponentially. Because everyone is significantly older than me, I missed out on a lot, and I don’t have much of a relationship with anyone aside from my sister and brother.

Five Books that Have Impacted My Life

I could have picked many more books to add to this list and think I’ll do another installment in a few days, but here are five books that inspired me in some way.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale when I was a freshman in college. Being 18 and freshly out of a tiny town (see #1 above), this book was unlike anything I’d ever read. It was part of the curriculum for a first-year seminar about utopias, and I consider it to be one of the first books that led me to be an English lit major. I reread it about 3 years ago, and I still adore it.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

You know those books that you pick up 3 or 4 times and they just don’t click, but then the next time you pick it up, you’re like “Why did I stop reading it the other times?” For me, One Hundred Years of Solitude is that book. This was my introduction to magical realism, and I had a major book hangover when I finished the last page.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

This is a recent read for me, and I shouted its praises when I finished it. I don’t know that I’ve related to a protagonist so deeply in comparison to any other book I’ve read in the past three years. Nina’s love of books and her awkwardness spoke volumes to me.

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle

My apologies to James Joyce, but Roddy Doyle is my favorite Irish novelist. I read Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha while I was studying in Dublin, and the child protagonist is amazing. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors was my first read by Doyle, but it’s gone missing from my collection, as has A Star Called Henry. I’m very sad about this.

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy

What can I say about Pat Conroy? He was a genius who could transform a phrase from words on a page to magic in your mind. My high school English teacher encouraged me to read The Prince of Tides, and I am so grateful she did.

What about you? Share your facts and books!

To Listen or Not to Listen: Audiobooks are the Question

Do you listen to audiobooks? I’ve only started listening to them in the past two years, primarily during the walking portion of my daily commute to my Chicago office. The pandemic turned that upside down, of course. (I miss you, Chicago.) Now, as I’m trying to get healthier, I’ve started using audiobooks on my walks around the subdivision. Not as exciting as walking to Michigan Avenue, but I don’t have to navigate around pigeon droppings any more. 🙂

My Rules for Listening to Audiobooks

I have a few rules about audiobooks that I’ve found work best for my listening enjoyment.

  1. Nonfiction listening only. I’ve tried fiction audiobooks, but my mind wanders and I lose track of the characters. I’m much better off listening to nonfiction, particularly memoirs.
  2. The listening time should be less than 10 hours. My interest wanes after about 8 hours, if I’m being honest.
  3. When possible, choose an audiobook with the author as narrator. Only the author truly knows how the words should sound. Listening to Jen Lancaster or David Sedaris read their own memoirs is much better than even the most professional narrator, IMO.
  4. Do an activity while listening, like exercising or sewing, but don’t drive. Never drive while listening. This is how accidents happen. Trust.
  5. Listen at 1.5x to 2.0x playback speed. This definitely varies by the narrator’s speech patterns, but I’m a fast talker and prefer to listen to the same. I haven’t found an audiobook that I enjoyed listening to at 1x.

October Audiobook Marathon

So, with those rules in mind, I’ve been on an October audiobook marathon. Here’s a recap for you.

Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

Have you experienced the great wisdom of Brené Brown? You should. She is a queen in my book. Her research and insights about vulnerability and connection are life-changing. I plan to read the physical book from my bookshelf soon, but for now, listening to Daring Greatly was a good step forward for my own mental health. My only complaint for the audiobook was that I would have loved for Brené to narrate her words here.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

We Should All Be Feminists is a short audiobook, but it’s amazing. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie narrates, and her accent is both soothing and empowering. This is a book for anyone looking for answers about where women should have roles. Spoiler Alert: It’s everywhere!

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

This is my second audiobook by David Sedaris. I didn’t love Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, but Me Talk Pretty One Day is so popular, I didn’t want to miss out. This is another case of how the author-as-narrator makes an audiobook even better. I felt like David was walking next to me while telling me hilarious stories about his life.

Happiness is a Choice You Make by John Leland

You know how sometimes you choose to read a book after only skimming the description and you assume one thing based on the title only to discover that the book is about something very different? Just me? Okay, perfect readers…

I neglected to understand that Happiness is a Choice You Make was about John Leland‘s experiences over a year with the elderly. There were touching moments, but three years after losing my dad and having an aging mother made this book a little too personal in soul-searching ways that I’m not ready to face. Still, I was too far invested into listening before I realized this, so I finished it.

Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

Before listening to Wolfpack, I knew three things about Abby Wambach: 1) she is an excellent soccer player, 2) she is married to Glennon Doyle, who I think is fantastic, and 3) she wrote a book. This short audiobook taught me so much more. Abby is insightful, empowering, and a damn good writer. Her humility and genuine desire for a better humanity shines through here. And again, listening to the author narrate this book made a big difference. I’m a fan.

Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen

I really need to pay more attention to the book summaries on my Libby app.

In listening to Get Out of Your Head, I wanted to buy in to more of what Jennie Allen described. I am a Christian, but other than praying each day, I don’t actively participate in my religion. There’s a lot of personal baggage there. I didn’t realize this book was a Christian self-help book, but I took away some valid ways to stop my negative thinking patterns. The book was fine and Jennie is a good narrator, but my own stuff got in the way of truly enjoying it.

What I’m Listening to Now: The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster

This weekend I started listening to The Tao of Martha by Jen Lancaster. I read the book when it was released back in 2013 and enjoyed it. I love Jen’s humor and snark, and her memoirs are some of my favorite books ever. Needing a little of that joy right now, I decided to try one of her audiobooks. So far, it’s been a great choice. P.S. – Jen’s recent book, The United States of Anxiety, is an excellent read that I highly recommend.

Do you listen to audiobooks? Tell me some of your favorites!

Crows & The Zombie Apocalypse

What happens when the zombie apocalypse hits and a domesticated crow must seek out survival alongside his pal, Dennis the Dog?

I’d never considered the answer to this question before, but Kira Jane Buxton takes us on a quest to find resolution for S.T. (Sh*t Turd) and Dennis in her book, Hollow Kingdom.

I’m not quite sure what to think after finishing this book, but I am certain about several things.

I am certain that I’ve never read a tome like this before. I am certain that Ms. Buxton writes with fantastic imagery and unique turns of phrase.

I am certain that the anthropomorphic qualities of the animals S.T. and Dennis encounter are both hilarious and tragic, especially the scenes with my favorite animals–elephants.

I am certain that the MoFos (humans) had it coming. Finally, I am certain that creativity like this needs to be celebrated.

Have you read Hollow Kingdom? What unique books surprised you?

This or That: Bookish Brain Edition

I love “This or That.” I often think of these ponderings as “Would You Rather” because my little loves to ask these types of questions. So, I thought I’d write a Bookish Brain This or That post!

I love “This or That.” I often think of these ponderings as “Would You Rather” because my little loves to ask these types of questions. So, I thought I’d write a Bookish Brain This or That post!

Buy or Borrow

Much to my family’s chagrin, I’m a book buyer more than a book borrower. I utilize my library for eBooks, but some books (okay, many books), I need to have my own hard copy. There’s something soothing about holding the pages in my hand.

Print or eBook

I enjoy both print and eBooks. My overall preference is for a hard copy book (see above), but I find I read more quickly via eBook. I’ve found myself buying copies of the same book I’ve read on my Kindle App, just so I can have both. This is especially true for beloved series like Sarah J. Maas’s A Court of Thorns and Roses, and I’m currently building up my Louise Penny Inspector Armand Garmache collection — there are 16 books in her series, so I have a ways to go!

Also, I buy hard copies of books by authors I love, like Dr. Maya Angelou, Pat Conroy, Jen Lancaster, and Jennifer Weiner. I may never read the books again, but I want to have them in my collection. Yes, I am aware that I’m a book hoarder.

Indoor Reading or Outdoor Reading

This is a toss up. Primarily, I read indoors as I do most of my reading at night. However, I love to sit on our deck and read in the early mornings on the weekend. I guess I’d say I read anywhere.

Classics or Contemporary

As an English lit major, I want to say that I’d pick the classics over contemporary books, but that’s just not true. I’ve found that I don’t enjoy classic literature as much as I used to. And, I can’t stress this enough, there are too many books to read than to force yourself to read what you “think” you should be reading. Case in point, I picked up Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca from my bookshelf recently, thinking that I should finally see why there’s so much love for this classic, especially before the Netflix movie drops. Nope. Couldn’t do it. It felt stiff and the descriptive prose felt too heavy for me. Maybe another time.

Bookmarks or Dog-Eared

Okay. I recognize that this may be my undoing in the Bookish Community, but I dog-ear my pages (sometimes). I’m getting better, but I don’t have many pretty or fun bookmarks, and sometimes I just need to close the book quickly, you know? I’m looking at crafty ways to make bookmarks myself, but for now, I either dog-ear or grab a scrap of paper.

Marginalia or Clean Pages

Writing in the margins of a print book or highlighting sections of an eBook – that’s my jam. Maybe it’s because I watched my father write notes in his books and underline important passages. Maybe it’s because I learned great note-taking skills in college. Or maybe it’s because authors have such amazing messages or poignant turns of phrases that I have to capture their work. In any case, if you see me marking up the marginalia, you know I feel the words in my soul.

P.S. The Goodreads highlights feature is genius.

Speed Reader or Slow and Steady

I devour books, but I’m not as speedy as some friends. If the book is engaging, meaningful, or full of twists, then I will find any spare moment to read–and read quickly. This is the case for most of the tomes I choose. However, other books are more plodding, whether it’s because I’m not truly enjoying it or because I want to savor the prose.

What about you?

What are your “this or that” choices for this list? Do you agree or disagree on my picks?

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Fiona Davis is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. Her books are rich in story, characters, and setting, checking all the boxes for a great read.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue, Davis’s newest publication, is driven largely by its setting: the New York Public Library, with two intertwined stories occurring 80 years apart.

In 1913, Laura Lyons lives at the newly opened New York Public Library with her husband and two children. As her husband maintains his job as the library’s superintendent and works on his novel, Laura advocates for her own dream of becoming a journalist and is able to enroll at the Columbia Journalism School. When she pursues her schooling and discovers the Heterodoxy Club, where a group of “new women” are vocal about suffrage, health care, and independence, Laura makes choices that deeply impact her family and future. A mystery unfolds at home, with priceless first edition books disappearing from the library stacks.

As Laura’s story unfolds, we meet Sadie Donovan, a single woman in 1993 who works at the New York Public Library. Just as her career as a curator takes an upswing, Sadie is faced with her mother’s death and a crisis at the library that strangely echoes the experiences of her grandmother, Laura, 80 years before. Sadie must grapple with a mystery of her own while learning more about her family’s history.

I really enjoyed this book – another five-star read for me. The New York Public Library setting is just perfect. I would adore living amongst those stacks! Can you imagine living in a library like that glorious institution? It would be heaven on earth for me!