Friday Fives

Friday Fives: One F and Three DNFs


Non-book-related image: How cool are these little water droplet stalactites, which I saw on one of my walks home this week? 

Happy Friday!

I have been a real slacker on the reading front this week. I finished Paper Wife and The Secrets We Kept last week and struggled to settle in to a new book this week.

I did, however, finish the audiobook version of God is Not Great: How Religion Ruins Everything by Christopher Hitchens. Haven’t had the mental space to blog about it, but that was a win on the reading front.

Image result for sad panda

Sad panda only ever has DNFs.

Had some DNFs:
Such a Fun Age – Really wanted to read, but just couldn’t get going on it for some reason. Interesting themes re: racial issues, but I lost interest quickly, so idk.
Dr. Zhivago – Wanted to read this after The Secrets We Kept, but again, couldn’t muster the energy for it. As with a lot of classic Russian literature, in my experience, it felt like an idea-driven book, rather than a character-driven book, and sometimes a bitch has no mental capacity for that kind of thing at the end of the workday. 🙂 I shouldn’t make such sweeping generalizations about Russian literature given my limited experience, but that’s what the Internet is for. I don’t make the rules, people.
Grand Hotel – I was looking forward to starting this one, but it was so very tedious. Loved Baum’s tone and voice, but omg, the minutiae was exhausting.

I’m a little concerned that I’m giving up on classics when I’ve decided on another classics challenge this year, but here we are. You have to kiss some frogs to find your prince.

On to Friday Fives:

Catastrophe Poster1. What I’m Watching: Nothing right now, but a coworker who also loves British television just recommended Catastrophe, so I’ll probably give that a try. If you’ve watched it, what did you think?


Confessions of a Bookseller2. What I’m Reading: My library hold on Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell finally came in! I’m careening through that now. It’s the follow-up to his first memoir, Diary of a Bookseller, which I read last year and loooved. I will say that I don’t think this one is as snappy, but I don’t care because I’m invested now. If you, too, are invested in the life of this curmudgeonly Scottish bookseller you don’t know, he spills some good tea about his relationship with Anna.

BadFeministRoxanneGay3. What I’m Listening to: Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay, read by Bahni Turpin. She’s such a wonderful narrator.


4. What I’m Making: *crickets chirp* *the sun sets* *a lone coyote howls in the distance*

Image result for funny gym memes5. What I’m Loving: Going back to the gym! Ben and I started going again. My goal is to get there three times a week. I’m just lifting and I am a weakling with noodle arms, as my coworker Karen would say.

So far so good on the new routine, but it’s only week two, so…

What’s everyone reading, watching, etc.?

Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Paper Wife

45171444._SX318_The protagonist of Laila Ibrahim’s novel Paper Wife is one bad bitch. I loved listening to the audio version of this book read by Nancy Wu.

Set in the early 1920s, the novel follows Mei Ling, a young Chinese girl who is married to a widower that lives in San Francisco. She goes in place of her older sister, who becomes too ill to travel the night before her wedding is to take place. So Mei Ling, working through a Chinese matchmaker, is compelled to pretend to be her sister. Once wed, she finds out that in order to get into the U.S., she must now pretend to be her new husband’s deceased wife. She is also now mother to his four-year-old son Bo.

Bo becomes Mei Ling’s constant companion throughout the long and harrowing journey to San Francisco. Because it’s 1923, they go by ship and men and women, including husbands and wives, are separated on the ships. Children go with their mothers and so Mei Ling travels alone with Bo. It takes two ships, one from China to Hong Kong, and another from Honk Kong to Angel Island off the shore of San Francisco.

Thus, Mei Ling is thrust into a new life in which she must immediately navigate being married to a stranger, pregnancy, mothering a young child, grueling travel, and nervewracking immigration interviews in both Hong Kong and the U.S. And she must do it all while pretending to be someone else entirely. This is where the book’s title is taken from. She’s her husband’s deceased wife “on paper” and her papers get Mei Ling into the U.S.

What makes Mei Ling such a badass in my mind is her strength. Through the many daunting challenges of immigrating, she draws strength from her family back home. The parting words of her beloved grandmother echo in her mind. And she also relies on her faith, praying to goddess Quan Yin for protection and strength through adversity.

On the second ship, Mei Ling also cares for a six-year-old girl, Siew, who was brought aboard by an uncle, but separated from him while on the ship. Over the months-long journey, Mei Ling, Bo, and Siew become a family. June, an older woman who has already lived in San Francisco, befriends Mei Ling and helps her prepare for her immigration interviews.

Once they arrive in San Francisco, both Siew and June remain a part of Mei Ling’s life, though Siew is separated from her new little family. Searching for her and rescuing her from a terrible future consumes Mei Ling, even as she struggles to adjust to life in a new country.

This is an immigration story. While I came to care about the characters, I also appreciated the many details Ibrahim includes about the process of immigrating from China to the U.S. in the early twentieth century.

Because Mei Ling doesn’t understand English, narrator Nancy Wu reads the English spoken in front of her with the correct tone but only emits gibberish sounds. I don’t know how it’s written in the book because I don’t have a hard copy, but I thought that a brilliant way to show how a forgein language sounds to someone unfamiliar with it.

On her first trip to the Chinatown post office, Mei Ling learns that mail isn’t picked up. It’s delivered right to her home instead. She doesn’t know how many stamps to buy for a letter and a kind postal worker speaks to her in Cantonese and helps her learn the ropes.

Experiences like these, along with the overt racism on the part of white people on the street, drives home the isolation an immigrant might live in when unable to speak the language of their new country or attempting to understand unfamiliar customs. If you want to read a book that lays bare the immigrant experience in the 1920s, I highly recommend this one.

You’ll find many other joys along the way. They include the growing love between Mei Ling and her new husband, the incredible scene in which Mei Ling gives birth, and her and her husband’s dreams for the future of their family.

All in all, it was a wonderful listening experience and I was disappointed when it ended.

Friday Fives

Friday Fives

Haven’t done a Friday Fives in a while, but since I’m being such a good, regular blogger lately, I had the urge and went for it…

durWhat I’m Watching:

Nothing. Weird. I went through a ton of Netflix and Christmas movies over my two-week break from work. I was super sick and escaped into the TV. I ran out of free Durrell’s in Corfu, which is sad. Have you watched it? SUCH a great show.

Please tell me if you have recommendations! Would love to hear what you’ve watched and enjoyed lately, movies or TV, no matter what genre.

43923951What I’m Reading:

The Essential Rumi, which I started, like, two years ago and recently came back to. What can I say? One is not always in the mood for mystic poetry. Tonight, I’ll also crack open Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid and see how I like it. I am sure to tell you either way. 😉

45171444._SX318_What I’m Listening to:

The audiobook version of Paper Wife by Laila Ibrahim. So far, I am absolutely loving it. It fits with my goal of reading more historical fiction this year.

What I’m Making: 

ACK. Nothing. This saddens me. I had so many grand plans for collage work and crafts over my holiday break and strep throat stole my vacation away from me. Sad panda. I hope to get back to it this weekend.

logoWhat I’m Loving: 

Recently, I’ve been outraged by the number of white people trying to “help” in African countries while broadcasting their helpfulness on social media.

People’s lack of knowledge around the history and cultures of the people they are “helping” is astounding and appalling to me.

I’ve enjoyed following the organization No White Saviors, which is a great resource for white people who want to do good things for other people but know that there is more to the story than what they’ve been told by many white missionaries and self-proclaimed activists. One of the messages NWS pushes is that “good intentions are not good enough” and I can’t agree more. I’m working to educate myself. If you’re interested, check out the NWS Resources page. Highly recommend.

Tell me what you’ve been up to! Happy weekend!

2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading? Challenge: The Secrets We Kept

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 1940-1959.

40700317._SY475_I just finished The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott and, while I enjoyed the subject and characters, I found the writing to be kind of bland.

I’ve noticed that’s an issue for me with a lot of popular historical fiction. Anyone else?

It’s like if a book has a woman in a pretty dress on the cover, I know it will most likely be unremarkable. And yet, I am drawn to it.

That’s how I found The Secrets We Kept, cover out on the New Fiction shelf at the library, tempting me with that gorgeous green dress.

And despite the bland writing, I liked the subject matter. The book centers on CIA typists turned spies during the Cold War. They become involved in a mission to sneak into the USSR and bring back the unpublished novel Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.

If that dress hadn’t compelled me to read the book, the synopsis certainly would have. What a plot. Imagine a book being so important—an unpublished book no less—that the CIA would conduct a full-on mission to sneak the manuscript out of the USSR. Quite a story.

But two things left me feeling kind of meh about this one. The first, of course, is the somewhat pedestrian writing, which I found plain with spurts of the melodramatic. I honestly almost quit reading when I read this:

“Three and a half years had passed since we shared a bed, and we didn’t waste time. His touch shocked me. It had been so long since I had been touched. We came together like crashing boulders that echoed across Moscow.”


The second issue was the number of narrators.

The are:
The Typists – the CIA typing pool
Olga Ivinskaya, Boris Pasternak’s mistress
Irina Drozdov, the typist turned spy
Sally Forrester – spy

Sometimes the book switches between the three main narrators, but then a new chapter follows another character in a third-person omniscient voice, and you’ll be pulled out of one story and into another, however briefly.

Prescott did a good job of distinguishing the voices though. I thought she excelled at writing from the perspective of Olga Ivinskaya, Boris Pasternak’s mistress (and the inspiration for Dr. Zhivago), and Russian-American typist Irina. Those perspectives were the most interesting in the book to me and I wish the entire book had switched between just those two. In the beginning, Olga is sent to the Gulag and her experiences there are fascinating and frought with danger, which made for good reading. But, in general, I thought the constant alternating between narrators diluted the story, giving us only a surface look at the characters and historic events.

I kept reading it, so that says something. I wanted to find out how the story ended. And I think Prescott does a good job of keeping the reader immersed in the historical setting. But, while the plot is interesting and Prescott clearly researched her topic, the book came across as “history light” and I thought it was light on character development too.

OK, I just googled for reviews and there is so much fanfare out there about this one! So, take what I say with a grain of salt. I guess people generally love it.

WashPo loved it.

Lynn Neary of NPR seems to like it.

It did convince me that I need to read Dr. Zhivago, so there’s that. If you have read it, I would love to hear what you thought!

Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come

45459370._SX318_As an avowed introvert, I’m always interested in reading about other introverts. I like to see if their experiences match my own. So I especially enjoyed listening to the audiobook version of Jessica Pan’s Sorry I’m late, I Didn’t Want to Come: One Introvert’s Year of Saying Yes.

The book, which presents as a memoir, but includes interviews with experts, is a fun journey through Pan’s year of taking risks.

A self-described shy introvert or “shintrovert,” as she calls herself, Pan feels lonely living in London, England. She lives with her husband, but has no social life to speak of. Her friends are spread out across the globe and, like many introverts, she finds it difficult to make new friends.

Thus, she embarks on a yearlong project to develop a social life. She pushes herself to try a number of typically extroverted activities that range from talking to strangers on the train to the Bumble BFF app to improv and stand-up comedy. I really enjoyed the chapter on improv. When she tells other people she’s taking an improv class, they cringe, and that was my immediate reaction too.

But improv, along with most of her activities, ends up opening doors to friendship and confidence and Pan even signs up for another round of improv classes after her year is over.

1I liked the book because, as an introvert, I find making friends difficult too. I’m not naturally inclined toward chattiness and I find networking functions terrifyingly awkward (of course, that’s most people, I hear. Even some extroverts find those functions unbearable).

And I sympathized with Pan as she details the anxieties of pushing herself to be the center of attention or takes the risk of being the first one to talk to someone in a silent room.

I celebrated with her when she hosts her first dinner party at the end of the book and invites many of the new friends she’s made throughout the year. And I was a bit jealous. I will be following some of the tips given by experts in the book and feel encourage to take some risks myself.

In fact, the book led me to recognize something about my own socializing. Ben has always been comfortable going, to say, the local watering hole and having a drink and chatting with strangers. He’s an extrovert. He’d not a joiner and doesn’t like planned activities.

But, even though I’ve pushed myself to show up at a bar alone at times, I end up drinking too much out of sheer anxiety. It’s not pretty…That’s just one example, but you see my point. Inserting myself into a social situation and talking to people out of nowhere is not my bag, baby.

Thanks to Pan’s activities, most of which were structured in classroom or group settings, I realized that I need that kind of set-up to help me feel comfortable. I’ll probably be more successful at a planned activity, like a book club, an art class, or some other kind of actual thing you have to sign up for.

I love when books I read lead to personal insights.

Getting back to the book, Pan is an adept writer. Her actual job is freelance editing, so the writing is solid. Sometimes she comes across a bit young though. For example, using a word like “great” to describe someone, rather than digging deeper to give us a sense of the person. But that’s a nitpick. She’s also compassionate, anxious, honest, and slightly Type A, and because I really appreciate authors who are just wholly themselves in their books, I like this. I feel like I got to know her.

I do recommend the audiobook version, but Pan reads it herself, so I’ll warn you that her style won’t be for everyone. Her reading is stilted and she tends to stop for commas like they’re periods, but I got through it fine.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

That Reading Life, Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday: Bookish Discoveries I Made In 2019

Top Ten Tuesday header

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly top ten list hosted by Jana at Artsy Reader Girl.

If there’s anything I like as much as reading, it’s learning about books, talking about books, and discovering books. OK, that was three things. But yeah. That’s why I have a book blog. If it involves books, I’m in!

So when I saw this week’s topic, I knew I wanted to share a list. Below are the Top Ten Bookish Discoveries I Made in 2019, which Jana indicates can be books, authors, blogs, websites, apps, products, etc.

Here we go!

299278401. New author: Barbara Pym

Believe it or not, I had never head of author Barbara Pym until I saw her novel Quartet in Autumn listed on Five Books. I started reading it but got distracted. But I did listen to the entire audiobook version of Excellent Women and I loved it.


2. A fun blog:

Books and book thoughts by Stacey, a librarian who hosts a Book Bingo game each year. I always enjoy hearing about what she’s reading. (Link)

3. Books at the Museum of the American Revolution


I had the pleasure of visitng Philadelphia for a second time in July. One afternoon, after conference sessions, I walked around a historic area (I love the federal/colonial style architecture in the city) and happened upon the Museum of the American Revolution. I didn’t tour the museum as I was a bit tired, but I popped into the museum shopped and enjoyed perusing the books. Because I’m on a budget, I only bought Sally Wister’s Journal. But I took note of others and ended up buying the kindle version of Ties That Bound: Founding First Ladies and Slaves when I got home. And I checked out The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton at the library. I love finding books while traveling!

4. Inflatable kayaks

inflatablekayakI didn’t know that inflatable kayaks were a thing until I read Hidden Nature: A Voyage of Discovery by Alys Fowler. I put two on my Christmas wish list and my sister- and brother-in-law came through, sending both kayaks and two life vests for my husband (or son) and me. I’m really looking forward to paddling down the river near our house in the spring.

5. The Literary Ladies Guide

I really enjoy following the Literary Ladies Guide on Facebook. Today, my feed hit me with this gem:


If that doesn’t just sum up working in a cubicle…

13167087._SY475_6. A rediscovery: Augusten Burroughs

I rediscovered Augusten Burroughs and ended up reading three of his books: Running With Scissors (a reread), Dry, and This is How. I liked This is How so much that I bought it. More here.



313267. Another new author: W. Somerset Maugham

I’d never heard of W. Somerset Maugham, but I came across Theatre in the classics section at the library and fell in love. May read another of his this year for the Back to the Classics Challenge.


8. The book that spurred a trip to the Robie House


At long last!

Several years ago, I discovered author Blue Balliet and read her children’s novel The Wright Three about three young sleuths solving a mystery around the Robie House, a Frank Lloyd Wright house in Chicago’s Hyde Park. It’s such a good book. Since then, I’ve wanted to visit that house, but none of our Chicago trips led me there. 2019 was the year! I finally made it to the house and Ben, Jacob, and I took one of their tours. It truly is a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece and an architectural treasure. I’m grateful to the author who led me there.


Here’s a view from across the street. Prairie style at its finest.


And check out these windows!

9. I realized I had a low-key reading project going


I’m rereading books from my younger years to see what I think now. Re-discovery is as fun as discovery sometimes. More here.

10. I truly cannot think of a 10th item…

What did you discover last year? Please share!

That Reading Life

Is there a book you think everyone should read before they die?



Thanks to a Facebook post by the Literary Ladies Guide, I have been thinking about this.

Is there a particular book you think every single person would benefit from reading in their lifetime?

Reading tastes are so personal. People who read for pleasure just read what they like, not what others have told them they “should” read. (I’m a big believer that you shouldn’t use the word should in the first place, unless it’s in dictating how we treat other people.) The point of reading for pleasure is that it’s pleasurable! I don’t want people to have to read books that feel like swallowing cough syrup.

On the other hand, throughout my reading life, I’ve come to understand that reading widely is the method by which I attempt to understand the world and the other people in it. Experiencing the world is important, of course. But because I have a regular job in an office and most of my friends are of the same socioeconomic class as me, I have to intentionally seek out diverse experiences. And one of the ways I do that is through reading.

For me, it’s important to read about other people’s lives in order to understand them. I read about people from other cultures in order to learn how they are similar to and different from me. It is an important aspect of my reading and the reason I was so disappointed to see that I’d only read 2 books by non-white authors last year.

Essentially, in my own life, books have been a powerful catalyst in helping me to understand other people’s lives. They have given me the gift of empathy and the willingness to acknowledge that my perspective and worldview are not the only perspective and worldview (and certainly not the only “right” worldview) that matter.

Other than immeasurable pleasure, this is what reading has meant to me.

Having seen the power that books wield, I want everyone to read books by people whose life experiences differ from their own. To read books by authors of other races, genders, countries of origin, sexual orientation, social classes, political views, and languages.

But I don’t know that I could pick just one book that I’d want everyone to read. Because who’s to say that book will affect others the way it affected me?

That preamble aside, in mulling over this question, several books did come quickly to mind. So, here are four books I would love for everyone to read. But no presh! 🙂

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

This is one I read as a teenager and I continue to read it periodically as an adult. In the 90s, it helped this young white girl to understand that racism is still, and was always, very much alive in the U.S. despite a Civil War that was fought, or so she was taught, to free slaves in the name of equality. It drove home the terrible injustice served up by systemic racism. I would love for all people, at least all Americans, to read this one.

ThesoulofAnOctopusThe Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration Into the Wonder of Consciousness

This might seem like a weird choice to some, but this book helped me understand the fullness of life beyond what we see every day. There is life being lived by creatures that science has only just begun to understand. Best of all, in reading this book, I felt an incredible sense of wonder, not an emotion that comes readily to me as a cubicle warrior who lives in a midsized city.

Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

I read this classic in high school and again in college. It’s a glimpse into the life of a Nigerian Igbo tribe that reveals the effects of colonialism. Once again, this is a book that opened up another culture to me and taught me to question the dominant values of the society in which I live.

8520610Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I almost didn’t include this one, but I’m gonna’. In this book, Susan Cain really toes the line between introvert appreciation and extrovert bashing. And even though I am a classic introvert, I don’t think one way of being is better than another. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being an extrovert.

But this book is stellar in a couple of ways that are important to me: It helped me and a lot of other people understand the differences between being shy and being an introvert (I am both, hah!). And it outlines and promotes the value of introvert ways of thinking in a country (I’m thinking just the U.S. here) that rewards extroversion (namely in the world of work).

It helped me personally to feel seen and understood. But I’ve also spoken with several extreme extroverts, including the vice president of my division at work, who said it helped them understand that introverts/quiet people/reserved people aren’t dysfunctional. They just have a rich inner life that can’t be expressed on demand, especially in a room of extroverts. I love that a book has the power to bridge gaps like that!

989013Boundaries by Anne Katherine

Every time I see a post on Facebook about how someone is upset, it’s usually because someone they love or loved has crossed a boundary. This book is about giving yourself permission to set boundaries that keep you not just safe, but sane. I wish everyone would read it and try to identify themselves in the boundaries setters and boundary crossers. Most of us have been both. Reading this book would lead to self-awareness that would benefit so many people.

And that’s where I’ll leave it.

I would love to know, is there one book, or are there several books you wish everyone would read? Tell me what yours are!