What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: March 2020

This month has pretty much been about escape for me. Anyone else?

I am in high anxiety mode about COVID and my job, which means I need lots of breaks from both.

That’s where thrillers come in. I find that I crave them lately. Escape escape escape.

Also time outside and good sleep.

Ben and I went for a hike over the weekend and came across this stream. The sound was so soothing with the gentle rain that I stopped to record it.

 

Anyway, on to our March reads!

Past recaps if you’re interested:ย 

January
February

What Shannon read in March:

Shannon’s notes:

Even split between audiobooks and hard copy this month.

Really enjoyed Mama’s Last Hug and An Unconventional Family, so those reviews are coming soon.

What Ben read in March:

Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End by Kevin Alexander

Despite some complaints about the style and organization, it was a fun read. Tied together some of my other reading about American culinary trends and the recent cocktail renaissance. And it showcased both the brutal grind of the restaurant industry and how rewarding it can be.

Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age by Gary F. Marcus

Since guitar practice was soaking up some of my potential reading time, I figured I should look for possible synergy and read some guitar books. This one was very relevant, based on the author’s experience as a non-musical person (by his report even worse than me) trying to become a competent guitarist in his late 30s. As an educational psychologist by trade, he took a particular interest in questions of how people learn music and what factors are important in this pursuit.

A few of the notable takeaways:

Music is not inherent or hard-wired, but some elements of musicality are instinctive.

The popular “10,000 hours to mastery” trope is misleading. Quality of practice is just as important as quantity, and natural talent is not to be discounted. Jimi Hendrix was a better guitarist after 2,000 hours of practice than you will be after 20,000 hours.

But there is hope for everyone. With practice, even a person with zero natural talent can become a competent musician.

The Unholy Consult: The Aspect-Emperor: Book Four by R. Scott Bakker

This one was daunting to pick up, but I’ve come a long way with this saga and was determined to see the end. Unfortunately, it’s not really the end. It looks like we’re going to see yet another series before the story of the Second Apocalypse is complete.

I have a 75% love 25% hate relationship with this series. It’s original, imaginative, majestic, intense, exciting, unpredictable, philosophical, and truly an impressive feat of world-building. On the other hand it often puts stylistic pretensions ahead of clearly conveyed descriptions, it’s ponderous, abhorrently disgusting in parts, and populated with a cast of generally unsympathetic characters.

But the good outweighs the bad. I will read every single book that he writes until the Second Apocalypse reaches whatever resolution is in store. And when Bakker is on top of his game he comes up with some really epic quotes.

“Fool! You appeal to reason where there is none! You would put my hatred upon balance with my desire–show me the mad wages of my design! But my hatred is my desire. My ribs are teeth, my heart a gut without bottom. I am fury incarnate, outrage become stalking sinew and flesh! My shadow cracks the earth, falls upon hell itself!”

And damn if that ain’t the truth sometimes… ๐Ÿ˜‰

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

The book that inspired Blade Runner. It was interesting to compare the two. The movie kept a lot of the same elements, but there are definitely some major differences. The book kind of builds up some sympathy for the androids, and then reveals them to be cold and lacking in empathy. The movie kinda goes the other way and gives the replicants (as they’re called in the movie) more empathetic treatment at the end.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

A portrait of sports fanaticism, coming of age story, and self-deprecatingly humorous memoir, it was a fun read. While the review blurb on the back called it “tears running down your face funny, read bits out loud to complete strangers funny” I found it more, “snort quietly to yourself funny, read bits out loud to your wife funny.” But yeah, certainly funny. Read more like a bunch of sequential anecdotes than a continuous narrative, though there certainly was continuity of themes and characters.


Have you read any of these? Would love to hear your thoughts!

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: February 2020

Time for another recap already! I would say, “Where has the time gone?” but I know exactly where it has gone and it has gone to gainful employment peppered with a few enjoyable social activities and far too little alone time for your resident curmudgeon. ๐Ÿ˜‰

 

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We went out to dinner for Valentine’s Day though and that was awesome.

 

Here’s January’s reading recap if you’re interested.

 

What Shannon Read in February :

Shannon’s Notes

I got lazy about reviewing February books, but here’s what I have so far:

I am, thanks largely to audiobooks, reading at a breakneck pace, which I fully admit I cannot maintain. I will inevitably tire myself out and end up reading, like, one book a month for half the year…Meanwhile, Ben, a constant and steady reader, will totally eclipse me in a real-life tortoise-hare situation.

What Ben read in February :

Ben’s Notes

The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story by Julia Reed

Very conflicted about this book. To find an author who clearly shares almost the exact same love for New Orleans that I have was delightful. To then find out that I find that same author unlikable is very troubling. This person is me! This person is living a life I would love! I don’t like this person at all! Wait, uh oh…

She clearly comes from a very wealthy background, and sort of tries to play it off like it’s no big deal while at the same time going oddly far out of her way to drop names. She is admittedly rash and irresponsible, but nothing can ever really go wrong because she has seemingly bottomless funds and a squadron of domestic helpers at her disposal. She does at least see the help as individuals and care about some of their lives. Make of that what you will.

When Katrina comes she tosses last night’s champagne and lobster shells in the trash and decamps to her parents’ house a few hours away, where they promptly spot her an extra 5 grand just to tide her over. She returns to find her house basically unscathed and spends the rest of the time buddying up with the National Guard and talking about how the grossly corrupt governor she used to be friends with would have handled the crisis better.

The book left me with Hall and Oates in my head:
“You’re a rich girl, and you’ve gone too far
‘Cause you know it don’t matter anyway
You can rely on the old man’s money
….
High and dry, out of the rain
It’s so easy to hurt others when you can’t feel pain…”

Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar by Alan di Perna and Brad Tolinski

An enjoyable survey of my somewhat newfound hobby. Some of the Gibson/Fender/don’t-forget-McCarty history was already covered by the more narrowly focused “Play It Loud” but it was fun to get another perspective on those years, and this book moved quickly enough that I didn’t feel bogged down in covering the same ground.
While most of the book is history, the authors do get current enough to cover the White Stipes/Black Keys “garage rock revival” movement, and make some interesting points about how formerly scorned guitar brands/models are now getting their time to shine as cool vintage artifacts.

There’s some late musing about what the future of the instrument might be and its overall significance. That part is brief, but to the authors’ credit they do support their musings about the future with themes developed throughout the book.
For any one specific guitar topic, there’s probably a more detailed book. But if you want a one-book course on The Electric Guitar In History and Culture this would be a great contender.

King of Ashes by Raymond Feistย 

Bringing back a beloved name in epic fantasy. Feist is a guy whose work I read a lot back in the day, and then kinda felt like I outgrew it. But while browsing I saw that he had just published book one of a new series and decided to give it a shot for old times’ sake. Turns out our man still writes some very enjoyable character-driven page turners.

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: January 2020

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The couple that reads together also sometimes hikes to the library in the snow together.

I’ve noticed other bloggers doing a sort of monthly wrap-up. Stacey of Unruly Reader is one of my favorites. ๐Ÿ™‚ I thought it might be fun to do the same.

Especially because Ben doesn’t have a lot of time for blogging, so this is a good way to share what he’s reading even if he doesn’t write verbose reviews like I do…

It’s already a couple of weeks into February, I know, but I just thought of doing this, so here we are.

What Shannon read in January:

Sorry, they’re not clickable because they’re in a “gallery” set-up (get on this, WordPress). But here are links to my reviews:

What Ben read in January:

Ben’s notes:

Sins of Empire
Fun epic fantasy in a world that includes both magic and gunpowder. It’s book one of a series, but there was an earlier series featuring some of the same characters. I might read that too even though now I’m thoroughly spoilered up. Seems like some heroes lived long enough to become villains.

The Castle on Sunset
Fascinating look at the history of the Chateau Marmont. Hotel histories are kind of a thing for me now, after I read about The Plaza last year. Fascinating how so many hotels are almost completely anonymous, but then some become huge cultural icons. Lots of Hollywood gossip and history wound up in this one, although it gives disappointingly short shrift to the Sunset Strip era of our lifetime. Would have appreciated a little more rock n roll along with my Hollywood.

The Swerve

This one was really good: dense but readable, and full of huge ideas. Pretty impressive to read how many of the concepts that we think of as being products of the modern scientific mindset were actually formed in ancient Greece in the first century BC. I may have to read some Lucretius at some point, the book hypes it up so much.


Shannon again: As you may be aware, Ben and I have a friendly competition every year to see who reads the most books. You’ll see I’ve made a good effort in January, but note that I am also famous for my reading slumps. I will inevitably stall out and have some 1-3 book months, and I fully expect Ben to win our challenge in 2020, as he has the past several years. ๐Ÿ˜€

Ben responds: I think Shannon may be overstating my chances for the 2020 race, but I’m not giving up. Gonna try to bring the noise in February. Taking my inspiration from the words of professor Gerald Lambeau,ย  “So, let this be said: the gauntlet has been thrown down, but the faculty have answered, and answered with vigor.”

Thanks for reading. Have a good week, everyone!

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