#LLBreads2020 Update: My January/February Reads

I’ll aim to do these recaps monthly moving forward, but since I couldn’t get my act together in January, I’m lumping the first two months of the year together.

I got a bit of a slow start, but I’m starting to find my reading groove. My intentions for 2020 were to read more international authors (ie. not Americans!) and especially more books in French, as well as pick up some of the books I already have on my shelves instead of being such a slave to my library queue. So far I’m not doing great with any of these but the year is young….

THE VEGETARIAN by Han Kang, fiction

I didn’t kick off the year with an easy read. This South Korea book is short but intense. 

KNOW MY NAME by Chanel Miller, memoir (audiobook)

Chanel Miller recounts being sexually assaulted behind a dumpster by Brock Turner and the subsequent trial that ended with the “promising young athlete” barely getting a slap on the wrist.  It’s an important read from a courageous young women who reclaims her name and her story in every page.

CONFESSIONS OF AN UNLIKELY RUNNER by Dana Ayers, memoir

Sometimes I run, sometimes I read about running. Summit to Soul, a fabulous woman owned fitness boutique on Capitol Hill organized a bookclub and picked this book by a local runner as its January pick. It was a quick read and it really related to the author in her quest to pick up running.

THE SENATOR NEXT DOOR BY Amy Klobuchar, memoir (audiobook)

I’m pretty sure this will be the last “getting to know DEM” memoir I read this election cycle. Definitely one of the more enjoyable ones, especially since I knew very little about Amy Klobuchar before picking it up. 

RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson, fiction

Beautifully written short book about two very different families whose lives become permanently intertwined by a teenage pregnancy. The story goes back and forth in time and points of view, those of the unplanned child that was born out of the pregnancy, and those of her parents and grandparents. The book packs in a lot in less than 200 pages, touching upon issues of class, education, racial prejudice, motherhood, identity, parenthood or loss…

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead, fiction

This book is a fictional rendering of actual events that took place not that long ago, during the Jim Crow era. It’s so hard to believe and so heartbreaking to think that the actual school this fictional rendering is about only closed 9 years ago! Heavy read (again!) but an important reminder not to let history repeat itself.

ON THE CLOCK: WHAT LOW WAGE WORK DID TO ME AND HOW IT DRIVES AMERICA INSANE by Emily Guendelsberger, non-fiction (audiobook)

After the local newspaper where she worked as a reporter closed, Emily Guendelsberger took a series of low wage jobs around the country:  at an Amazon fulfillment center outside Louisville, KY, at a call center in North Carolina and at a McDonald’s in San Francisco. I never eat at McDonald’s, but this book has made me want to never raise my voice again when I’m on a phone with a customer service representative and try to ween myself of Amazon. I thought the book was just ok though. 

A WOMAN IS NOT A MAN by Etaf Rum, fiction

After reading two books I recommended, Educated and Maid, my college bestie Sara asked me if I had any happy reads to recommend. I was reading A Woman is Not a Man at the time, which is such a heartbreaking story. So my answer was no. But I still recommended she reads this book someday. 

THE BRIDE TEST by Helen Hoang, fiction

At first, I was really put off by the mail-order-let’s-trick-my-son premise of this rom-com novel but within a few chapters, I was totally into it. While the romance part is on the predictable side, it’s sexy and funny, and explore (albeit with a light note) some more serious topics like autism, grief and finding your place in the world. Will definitely pick up Hoang’s first novel, The Kiss Quotient, soon! 

LA TRESSE by Laetitia Colomani, fiction 

Another short book that was quick to read yet dealt with heavy topics through the stories of three very different women in three different parts of the world. One is an untouchable in India, determined to give her daughter a life where she can have some control over her destiny. Another is a young woman in Sicily trying to save her family’s business. And the last one is a lawyer in Montreal working hard to break the glass ceiling at a big corporate law firm. Three women with a strength of will to carve their own path in a world that seems to want them to stick to a particular lane. 

DEAR GIRLS by Ali Wong, memoir (audiobook)

Dear Girls was the perfect companion to my marathon training runs. It’s funny, raunchy and very entertaining and I certainly do hope Ali’s daughters wait until they are much older to read or listen to it.

So 11 books in two months. Two foreign books, including one in French. Four audiobooks. Two books plucked out of my library shelves. A good mix of fiction/non-fiction. All but one written by women. Seven written by non-white authors. Not bad.

If I had to recommend a book over others from what I read it would definitely be Chanel Miller’s Know My Name. It’s really a powerful book. And Red at the Bone was extremely well written.  What’s the best book you’ve so far this year? I’m kinda desperate for some happier reads… 

ps: are we goodreads friends? <<You can find me here >> 

5 of the Best Books We’ve Read So Far This Year

BOOM! It’s July and that means we’re officially half way through 2019. My “reading goals” this year were to read more books by non-American authors, and particularly more books by French writers; to read more from diverse authors and to read at least two books a month. I set out 30 as the ideal number of books I would like to have read in 2019 since that’s just slightly over two a month. And guess what!? I just finished my 28th books (We Kissed Them With Rain by Futhi Ntshingila) so I think I’ll easily crush that goal 😉

Here’s a little summary of what I’ve been reading, some trends if you will, and the 5 books that have stood out so far.

Books by Diverse Authors

So far, I have read twelve books by diverse authors. In addition to books I already mentioned in this post, I read Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan; The Farm by Joanne Ramos; We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy by Ta-Nehisi Coates (audio book); Heads of the Colored People by Nafissa Thompson-Spires and We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irb (audiobook). That last one was not my favourite…

Books by Foreign Authors

We Kiss Them with Rain by Futhi Ntshingila (South Africa) and My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite (Nigeria) were wild quick reads and I loved both of those.

I had more mixed feelings about North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah. He’s Somali novelist though he lives in Norway where the story takes place. Finally I did squeeze in a French book: Ta deuxième vie commence quand tu comprends que tu n’en as qu’une by Raphaëlle Giordano. It was cute. And I definitely need to read more books in French the second half of the year!

Getting to Know DEMs (aka political memoirs)

The 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have books and I’m trying to read as many of them as I can, in the order that I can get them at the library. So far, I’ve listened to Cory Booker’s United; Pete Buttigieg’s Shortest Way Home and Kirsten Gillibrand’s Off the Sidelines.

They’ve all been snoozers, though Mayor Pete’s book was the best written of the bunch (you can tell he was a literature major at Harvard!) And yes, so far I’ve been able to get these as audiobook from the DC Public Library which is great since the candidates are reading their own work. Unfortunately, once I’m off the waitlist from Kamala Harris’ The Truths We Hold I will have to start getting hard copies since that’s all my library has for Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Julian Castro. That’s a bummer because I was really looking forward to Bernie screaming his words at me!

Speaking of presidents…. 

I read three memoirs written by former presidential aides: Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump by Dan Pfeiffer (Obama’s former communications director and current co-host of Pod Save America); From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey-Stein (she was Obama’s stenographer) and Team of Vipers: My 500 Extraordinary Days in the Trump White House by Cliff Sims. I found Beck’s book surprisingly entertaining and fun and thought the other two were duds.

… and speaking of memoirs

So I’ve read a LOT of memoirs in 2019 it seems. In addition to the six books I’ve already mentioned I also read:

  1. Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi
  2. This Will Only Hurt a Little by Busy Philipps **
  3. Heavy: An American Memoir by Kiese Laymon
  4. Small Fry by Lisa Brennan-Jobs
  5. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
  6. We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union **
  7. Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh **
  8. Educated by Tara Westover

3 of those were audiobooks (as noted by the **) and I loved all of those except Small Fry. It came with such great reviews, I was definitely  disappointed. I loved all of the other books.

Educated, Heavy and Notes from a Young Black Chef are probably three of the best books I’ve read so far this year.

Essays and Short Stories 
Essays have been my sweet spot this year, especially when I’m running. I *love* mixing it up and getting both the audiobook and hard copy versions of this type of book so I can go back and forth between the two. Read a few chapters here and there, listen to a few more during my runs. That’s really worked out for me. I Miss you when I Blink by Mary Laura Philpott is one I actually wish I had done in audio/hard cover but read exclusively. Otherwise, The View from Flyover Country: Essays by Sarah Kendzior was an absolute stand out in this category for me as was Heads of the Colored People (short stories).
So if I had to pick just 5…
  1. Educated. Shocker. Like all of America I devoured this novel and loved it. I got to discuss it in my bookclub too which was interesting.
  2. Heads of the Colored People. Nafissa Thompson-Spires’s debut short story collection was the DC Public Library’s pick for DC Reads, its literacy program that promotes reading for pleasure through citywide celebrations over one book in May. I had no idea what to expect when I picked it up and I was pleasantly surprised. My only regret is that I couldn’t make it to any of the talks with the authors or discussions that were organized around the city.
  3. The View From Flyover Country: Essays by Sarah Kendzior.
  4. Notes from a Young Black Chef. I’ve read a fair amount of chef’s memoirs and they tend to be even more blend than political memoirs. Kwame’s book is absolutely an exception to that rule and I highly recommend to check it out.
  5. My Sister, the Serial Killer. Sometimes you just need a quirky, fun read and that one is just that.
Tell me about what you’ve been reading so far? Anything I should add to my reading list? As I mentioned, I’m eagerly awaiting Senator Harris’ book and until then Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala and The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai are next on my bookshelf… 
ps: I’m looking to do these updates more frequently. But until the next one, are you on goodreads? Here’s a link to my profile, let’s be book friends!