What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: June 2020

Welp, I upped my game and managed three-ish reviews this month and none of them were books I actually read in June. A slow start, but here we are.

Happy 4th to the Americans and happy weekend to everyone else! I’m not particularly proud of my country at the moment, but I’m doing my best on my own anti-racist journey and hoping to encourage others to embark on the same.

In that vein, I’m reading My Time Among the Whites: Notes from an Unfinished Education by Jennine Capo Crucet. Her first essay is quite moving and I’d recommend it for anyone interested in how a first-generation, minority college student might experience their first semester on a majority-white college campus.


On to the June books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March
April/May

What Shannon read in June:

Shannon’s Notes:

After the Flood: SO good. Will review it shortly.

-Two rereads: It Was Me All Along because I’m a sucker for a weight loss/eating disorder memoir; and Somewhere Towards the End because I never want to stop reading Diana Athill’s thoughts on aging and life in general.

More Edith Wharton

-Can’t say enough about Nothing Good Can Come from This. Another book that made me feel seen.

The Obstacle is the Way: What a load of schlock.

What Ben read in June:

Ben’s notes:

The Genealogy of Morals: It was good to come back and revisit this. I hadn’t read much Nietzsche since college days.

Legend: Another reread, this is the book that got me started on the delightful fantasy of David Gemmell. Mostly a pretty light action/adventure, it does also dabble in philosophizing about life in the shadow of death.

The Rap Yearbook: This was a fun read, and denser than you might expect from looking at it. The author has a rather frenetic, wisecracking style which complements his enthusiasm for the topic. He chooses the rap song that he deems most important for each year. Not necessarily “best” or “his favorite” but the one that mattered most in the history of the genre, and supports his choice with an essay, supplemented with charts, graphs, and illustrations.He often allows critics a little sidebar to make their case for an alternate pick. It was fun to get an inside perspective on genre trends that I had observed casually without really unpacking and dissecting the way a true aficionado like Serrano would.


Shameless Garden Update

Shannon again:

Here is a shameless garden update because I can’t stop myself. It’s my new obsession.

My lovely mother came over last weekend and helped me dig out the rest of the rockery area. Seriously, she is amazing and I am so grateful. It would’ve taken me three days to do the work we did together in a couple of hours.

The dirt we dug up waiting under a tarp (to prevent washing over the yard in the rain) waiting to be hauled away:

It doesn’t look like much under that tarp, but…it is.

Was, rather. Filthy Hands Property Preservation came over yesterday and hauled it away for us. Took two guys around 45 mins. to shovel it into their truck.

You have to pay to get rid of dirt. Not a thing I anticipated when I started gardening. I do not understand the world sometimes.

Rocks laid out and representative of Neighborhood Squirrel Watch on back porch:

All the rocks and bricks were given to me by neighbors and this week I received enough to finish the job. More shameless updates to come.

In the meantime, here are Steven Q. Squirrel and his lady friend availing themselves of the birdseed I threw in the yard for them. Because of my habit of throwing seed off the porch to them, some of it has landed in the mulch bed and germinated. So we are growing an accidental millet crop.

Quarantine continues to make me real weird. πŸ˜‰

Happy reading and, if you garden, happy gardening!

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What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: April/May 2020

Well, hi!

We’re still over here reading. It’s just been a helluva spring, as I know it has for everyone…everyone on the planet, really.

My work picks up the pace in the spring and this year our efforts were especially dependent on those assigned to digital projects. Who knew a writer could be so gainfully employed? πŸ˜‰

So I had my hands and brain full. Too full for blogging.

I found relief in the yard, planning my garden, starting a gardening log…

…and sourcing plants and rocks for a rockery, which I’m determined to have, but to create at no cost.

Rockery area “before”:

And during:

It took around 2 hours to get this far, hacking away at the tree roots and fighting the 90-degree heat before it claimed me.

Much progress was made in other areas.

Bed on south side of house “before,” clogged with myrtle (bah!), hostas past their prime, and baby maple trees (no bueno):

The same areas after…

Hydrangeas and baby pink muhly grass presided over by Ernesto the Gnome:

I feel like that side of the house can breathe again.

In my other life as a collagist, I am once again part of #the100dayproject, completing collages and sharing them on Instagram.

These creative endeavors have contributed much sanity as the world has erupted around us with disease (bad) and protests (much needed). We have been quarantined and working from home like the rest of the world. And, like others who understand the evils of the legacy of slavery, we have gone out to support the Black Lives Matter movement in our community.

A protest and march that met up at our courthouse:

In the meantime, and this is what you came for, Ben and I are reading.

On to the books!

Past Recaps Here:
January
February
March

What Shannon read in April/May:

Shannon’s Notes:

I haven’t reviewed a single one of these, but I intend to review some in individual posts.

Notably:

  • It was the spring of Edith Wharton and looks like it will be the summer of Edith Wharton as well.
  • I re-read The Secret Garden as I am wont to do in spring.
  • I continue listening to audiobook thrillers as a means of escape…blessed escape…

What Ben read in April/May:

Ben’s Notes:

Wrath of Empire by Brian McClellan

After the first book (Sins of Empire) I was interested in the series but not 100% sure if I was going to commit to it. But Wrath of Empire won me over, leaving all the preliminaries behind and cranking up the pace of action and intrigue from “brisk” to “rocket.” Six hundred and thirty nine pages with hardly a dull moment. I’m excited for book three.

The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K. Dick

Slow at first compared to the show, but picked up a bit as it went along. Ending is a bit enigmatic, calling the nature of reality into question. There are many references to the I Ching, and if I were more familiar with it I bet there would be some additional insights to be gleaned.

Side Glances Volume 1 by Peter Egan

Nostalgic look back at one of the great automotive monthly columns. Starts before I started reading it, and runs up a few years past when I first began.

Side Glances Volume 3 by Peter Egan

What happened to Volume 2? I’ll have to ask Chase (who lent them) next time I talk to him. This volume picks up toward the end of my tenure as a Road and Track subscriber, though I continued reading his column (courtesy of free Tire Rack promotional copies of R&T) until he stopped writing it in 2013. Egan remains an occasional contributor as an “editor at large” and is generally considered to be one of America’s all-time great automotive journalists.

Magic Kingdom for Sale by Terry Brooks

A throwback reread of a fun, fairly light fantasy novel from one of the big names in the genre. I was amused to note that I happened to pick it back up at the same age as the protagonist, 39. It was fun to revisit, I may re-read the rest of the series if the spirit moves me.

Trouble is What I Do by Walter Mosely

This one was a little short but packed a punch. Mosley seldom disappoints. And in the middle of a fairly self-contained story he dropped a major twist into the life of Leonid McGill, the main character in his 21st century noir series.


If you’ve read this far, thank you! And thanks for stopping by. I aim to be a more regular blogger (famous last words) and if we’ve connected in the past, please comment or like and let me know you’re here–I’d love to reconnect. If you’re new to this blog, welcome!

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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:Β 

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… πŸ˜‰

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. πŸ˜‰

 

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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 FeistΒ 

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. πŸ™‚ 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. πŸ˜€

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,Β  “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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