Here’s the thing. My current job allows for quite a bit of time to read between helping one customer and the next. Between this, and the 30 minute commute to and from work each day, I end up reading and listening to a lot of books.
With this in mind, I decided I would move my reviews I had been doing on GoodReads.com to my blog. This way, I could do a monthly round up of what I had read and what I thought about it. I am also using Instagram (cats_caffeine_chapters) to post photos and one to two sentence reviews on these for a more weekly update.
I’ve currently read 40 books this year, and have a goal of reading 100 by this year’s end. Although I have about 120 books on my to-read list on < https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8597152.Erica_Tuggle > , I welcome more suggestions. Because…books.
All the books below, have pretty high ratings, but I attribute that to just having a good reading selection on my shelf. The books I have there now are pretty likely to be ones I want to read. I’ll be branching out and trying suggested reads outside my typical genres soon though.
Billy Budd, Sailor by Herman Melville
Oh Melville, we’ve had a history haven’t we? I initially tried reading this classic author back in high school with his most notable work: Moby Dick. That went down like a row boat with a hole in it.
Melville is descriptive. Very descriptive. And “Billy Budd, Sailor” is no exception. This slim volume that I listened to via Hoopla Digital’s audio book service had a listen time of 4 hours for a story that could have been told in about 30 minutes.
The story itself wasn’t shocking. A handsome youth at sea, young Billy Budd, is beloved by all except the churlish Master at Arms. Master at Arms sets Billy Budd up for dishonor, Billy Budd retaliates, and the plot thickens (a little).
If you are looking to read Melville and find yourself seasick at the thought of tackling the tomb of the White Whale, give Billy Budd,Sailor a try. The view painted by Melville is nice if nothing else.
The Books of Magic by Neil Gaiman
Gaiman is one of my favorite authors. When I heard he had a graphic novel, published years prior to the release of Harry Potter, that detailed the story of a bespectacled boy and his owl beginning the journey of the call to magic, I knew I had to read and compare.
Fortunately, The Books of Magic series (only the first written by Gaiman) is more an ode to Joesph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey.” And for the record, Gaiman defended J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series by saying they both drew from standard story archetypes but were both stories of different measure.
The artwork in books of magic is beautiful. The story was dark, intriguing, and full of Easter egg nods to Gaiman’s highly excellent Sandman graphic novel series. Read Sandman first, and then cleanse the palate with this gem.
A Virtuous Woman by Kaye Gibbons
This is a short volume that details, quite succinctly, what one marriage was like. The story is told in alternating chapters by the husband and wife, and stays true to a delightful, simple Southern tone throughout. There’s drama, passion, sadness, and truth. It smacks a bit of required school reading, but that isn’t a ding against its performance. It’s a Oprah book club selection, so you know it’s good.
For a more in depth description, see here: http://www.amazon.com/Virtuous-Woman-Oprahs-Book-Club/dp/0375703063
Slapstick by Kurt Vonnegut
I’m a Vonnegut junkie. I am making it my goal to read one of his works each month until I’ve run through the whole lot. Although this one is not my favorite overall, (that honor goes to Cat’s Cradle) I enjoyed the puns and wit that Vonnegut always brings to the table.
Like many of his works, Slapstick deals with an alternate future in which an apocalypse has already commenced. The President of New York, aged and possibly senile, is recounting his life from strange birth to strange now. Light on the satire and heavy on the ridiculous imagery, this one was another pleasant read.
Shotgun Lovesongs by Nicholas Butler
This one took a long time to get through. This was not because it was a bad read, but rather it was one that I listened to via audio book on my daily commute. Yet, this story is perfect for car stereo and views of the open road. “Shotgun Lovesongs” details the story of a small town and the tight knit group that belongs to it. There is a loose character based on the musician Bon Iver in the form of the fictional character of Leeland, which may mean more to true fans than it did to me.
As it is, the novel is a solid work. The characters are vivid and lovable, even with all of their faults on display. The ending felt a bit cobbled together, but the story probably could have gone on forever, so it’s as good an ending as any. I recommend the audio book for the variety in voice actors you get that bring the story more to life.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler
Amy Poehler reminds me of a good friend I had in high school that would come by my lunch table everyday, reach over my shoulder, and pick off one of my croutons from my homemade salad. She’d tell me if the croutons were good or if my parents needed to switch brands back to the cheesy garlic kind.
Quaint, although perhaps pointless to the rest of the world, stories like these is what you are going to get in “Yes Please.” Amy Poehler wrote this book mid-career and with little enthusiasm for the idea of completing a book. I don’t blame her. Between just finishing up Parks and Recreation, raising two sons, occasional movie roles, and strong remaining ties to SNL she seems to have better things to do than to tell us her history that compares pretty closely to her Wikipedia page.
Granted, the book isn’t bad. It’s full of positive affirmations and real-talk to the 20 somethings that I imagine she primarily envisioned reading this book. She’s clever and determined and her bio-thus-far shows all this. Instead though, you’d probably benefit more from just seeing what Poehler has done with a few episodes of Parks or rifling the archives of SNL. Hell, if you’re feeling brave, rent Baby Momma.
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
I love single science subject books. Goodreads has gotten wise to this and started to recommend all in this book genre to me. The best thing about the single science subject books is that you get the knowledge of the science subject matter as well as a dollop of the humanity behind the concept and how it came to be.
Henrietta Lacks, forever known to the world for her HeLa cell contribution, was just another name before this book was published. Afterwards though, the recognition and fame that her contribution deserved was brought to light. Her life itself is a fascinating slice of Americana, her struggles are tragic, and she (like her cells that live on today) was an indomitable force. Even if you aren’t “science-y,” the story is worth knowing.
Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders by Neil Gaiman
Another Gaiman? Yes, another Gaiman. Always another Gaiman.
This Gaiman work is a collection of his short stories. These bite-sized snippets were fun, but always left me hungry for more. Each of his short stories could easily become longer works.
I listened to this on audio book as read by the author, and that’s the best way to encounter Gaiman and his delightful accent. My favorite poem by Gaiman “The Day the Saucers Came” is included in this selection, and there’s enough of a mix of horror, fantasy, fiction based stories to please almost any reader.
What if? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
Have you ever wanted to know what would happen if the Earth all of a sudden stopped spinning? Have you wondered what a periodic table composed of the actual elements would look like? How long would it take for the last artificial light source to go out if all humans were gone? If you have asked yourself these questions, you are a strange one. But you are in good company, because apparently many others are asking just as strange and unsettling questions that can be answered with a little stretch of the imagination and a whole lotta science know-how.
Former NASA engineer, Randall Munroe, answers these questions and about 50 more in this book. Some of it went way over my head, but all of it was intriguing. If you like weird science or have a thing for factual apocalypse trivia, this is a book for you. My favorite part was the “Questions from the Weird and Worrying File” segments that Munroe would do in-between chapters. (Bonus: The audio book is read by Will Wheaton who has the perfect voice for this kind of stuff)
Darkness Casts No Shadow by Arnost Lustig
This is a book about the Holocaust, and so saying that I enjoyed this book has room for misinterpretation.
Everyone has heard of Elie Wiesel, but he’s only one of many who have Holocaust survivor stories to tell. Arnost Lustig’s novel, based on his own experiences, is different from Wiesel’s “Night” though in that most of the action occurs between two boys who have escaped a transport train car and are walking the woods to their new life. The portraits of their time in the concentration camps is told by way of dream and flashback sequences.
The ending is as perfect as it gets for this subject matter. The story is just long enough to resonate and stick with you for a long time. This is a classic that slipped through the cracks somehow. For teachers and students looking for something different to remember the Holocaust, this is a must read.
Room by Emma Donoghue
Told from a child’s perspective, Room is a portrait of a boy and his mother who have been locked away in a garden shed for years. Our narrator Jack knows nothing of the world outside Room, does not even believe there is an Outside. The writing is masterful in its manipulation of the language to tell the story from his view. Room tells the story of Jack and his mother’s captivity, their escape, and what life is like Outside.
Room kept me in its thrall quite easily. It is a definite page turner that has easily earned its place on best-seller lists.
It’s a Slippery Slope by Spalding Gray
Slippery Slope is a narrative by the late Spalding Gray. The work is meant to be read aloud in an auditorium during one of Gray’s traveling tours. As such, the print version lacks what an author reading would give to it.
The story is about Gray’s attempts to learn to ski coupled with the rocky time he is having as one end of a love triangle between a long-time girlfriend and a mistress. When the mistress becomes pregnant, the real-world shenanigans ensue. Gray was having health problems as he wrote this one, and concludes the work with hopes for his health to be on the upswing. Unfortunately, this was not the case and this is one of the last things he wrote.
The work didn’t do much for me, but it may appeal to an older age range or maybe just those into skiing?
Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
This book goes way back…like approximately the year 1709 back. As such, it has some proverbial wisdom and some really dated crazy stuff.
The book involves sayings from Tsunetomo who was a Samurai to a Lord who looked down on the practice of Seppuku (disemboweling yourself with a sword) and therefore forbid his warriors to do so upon his death. This led to Tsunetomo becoming a monk and spewing his good ole days story to anyone who would listen.
These stories in Hagakure mainly involve who Seppuku’ed who. Living with honor and not fearing death is a central theme. There are some nuggets of wisdom about living a good life, but there’s also some hate speech against women and talk of how best to behead a man. All advice may not be applicable to your life, but do what you will with it. For my part, my rating is on its usefulness to present day and readability (very easy).
God Shaped Hole by Tiffanie DeBartolo
Ugh. This book was a workout. First off, its cover is misleading. The front talks about how a gypsy predicted main character’s true love would die young and leave her alone. Spoiler Alert: This happens. Yet, the gypsy and all that is more like an after thought that gets brought up in prologue and last chapter as a sort of deus ex machina.
The work is an obvious first novel from DeBartolo, who is trying to channel the struggling writer story and rocky love life into a novelized version. Her main character Beatrice and her love interest Jacob are vain, selfish, boring people who have kinky sex at almost every opportunity. Jacob has some misogynistic tendencies that come into the light in a disturbing “sexy rape” scene that still makes me shudder. Beatrice is a poor, basic white girl who makes a great living selling her uncomplicated jewelry. She gets her kicks making fun of everyone who isn’t as deep as she is, and she hates her doting and supportive parents almost as much as she hates when Jacob supports her.
This book…(shakes head sadly, knows she must go on just a little further to spread the truth)
Plus, there’s enough subplots within one-half of the book to sink it. There’s a dead dad, and a missing dad, and a new life plot, and a relationship, and another death, and ex boyfriends and girlfriends all over the damn place.
Painfully, I admit, that I wrote something similarly emo when I was in college. At least, I self published and kept the majority of the world from my diary-esque ramblings.
That’s it for March. Hope everyone has a happy April, and look for my next book round up then. In the meantime, I’ve got a movie review podcast called Movie Vs Film that my friend Bentley Little and I are doing. Check out episode 1 at : movievsfilmpodcast.bandcamp.com