Audiobook: Stop Missing Your Life

by Cory Muscara
Read by the author
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at libro.fm
Content: There were two f-bombs and some mild swearing, which seemed odd and out of place. It’s in the mindfulness section of the bookstore.

I’m not entirely sure why I picked this up, other than to satisfy a category in the #ReadICT challenge, but I’m kind of glad I did. It’s a how-to and a why book on meditation, something I tried for a while (about a year, I think) and then dismissed as something “too hard” (sitting still is quite hard for me). I do yoga kind of regularly, once or twice a week, but meditation? Not so much.

But, in this crazy world (and especially after the insanity surrounding COVID), I really kind of needed this. Yeah, it’s another Buddhist mindfulness book, but I liked that Muscara is practical about the whole thing. He does impart Buddhist philosophy: that the idea to “happiness” is to be able to sit with emotion and situations as they are, whether “good” or “bad”, and be able to interact with them without trying to control them. That’s not how I usually think of “mindfulness”, and I appreciated thinking differently. He also gives a huge variety of meditation practices, from what you traditionally think of “meditation” to a practice with your phone (or any technology) in order to interact with it in a more present and mindful matter. I think, for me, the simple question of asking why am I doing things has made the most difference. Why am I scrolling through Facebook? Why am I eating the cake? Why do I feel anxious? It’s helped. That, and doing a body scan practice, which, yes, is a form of meditation, every night.

And I highly recommend it on audio. Cory is a good reader, and it’s beneficial to be able to go through some of the practices as he reads them. It’s a very conversational book, which works well in audio form.

It’s probably not drastically changed my life, but I do have a wider perspective on things, and maybe that will, in the long run, be a good thing.

Little Women

by Louisa May Alcott
First sentence: “‘Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,’ grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It is very long and old-fashioned (well, it was written in the 1860s). It’s in the fiction section as well as the middle grade classics section.

I have had an affection for this book for a long time. Maybe since youth? I’m not sure, but I think my youth affections were more for Laura Ingalls Wilder and L. M. Montgomery than Louisa May Alcott. I know, as a mother, I have tried to be like Marmee: supportive and loving, but letting my girls be their own individual selves, giving advice and comfort as needed.

So, I haven’t read this for at least 25 years; I think the last time I cracked open the book was soon after the 1994 movie came out. And, well, now I remember why. See, I think I have a fondness for the story, and for the movies (I really enjoyed the new Greta Gerwig one!). But the book, I find, well, dull and long-winded and more than a bit preachy. I tell myself it’s because it’s 150 years old, but I don’t feel the same way about Jane Austen and those are more than 200 years old! There are moments of sweetness and sass (which is why the movies can distill the story so well), but the book is overlong, and full of passages that I ended up skipping.

And can we talk about the end? The whole book spent championing girls and women and their lives, and Jo decides to open a school for BOYS? It just didn’t sit well with me, but maybe that’s because I’m reading it with 21st century eyes.

So, yes to the story (and the movies). But it may be another 25 years before I read the book again.

Monthly Round-up: March 2020

I had no idea — none of us did, really — at the beginning that we would be all stuck at home trying our best to slow the onset of a pandemic. On the upside? A lot of time to read. Maybe. I find that I’m having a hard time focusing on print books, so I’ve been listening to a lot of audio while doing puzzles. It seems to be easier.

I’m not sure I had a favorite this past month; everything seems to have blurred together. Here’s what I read:

Graphic Novels:

Grimoire Noir
Surviving the City
They Called Us Enemy
Mooncakes
This Place: 150 Years Retold

YA:

The Vanishing Stair
Girls of Paper and Fire

Adult Fiction:

The Worst Best Man (audiobook)
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Non-Fiction:

Round Ireland With a Fridge
Becoming (audiobook)
Stamped: Racism, Anti-racisim, and You (audiobook)

Did you have a favorite this month?

Girls of Paper and Fire

by Natasha Ngan
First sentence: “There is a tradition in our kingdom, one all castes of demon and human follow.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is sexual assault and rape (though mostly off-screen) as well as physical violence. There is also some implied sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

I’ve seen this one on the shelf for a while, and it looks intriguing, but I had NO idea what I was about to get into.

In some ways, it’s easier to explain the world Ngan created: it’s vaguely Chinese (she’s half-Malaysian) but she’s flipped the usual hierarchy: the Moon caste, who are fully animal demon, are on the top. Then come the Steel caste, who are half human and half demon. And finally, on the bottom, are humans, the Paper caste. There are a lot of politics in the book, but the long and short of it is that the Paper caste are treated horribly and discriminated against. Especially under the Demon King. As part of this discrimination, though it’s framed as a “privilege”, eight Paper caste girls from across the country are taken to be the king’s private prostitutes.

Lei, our main character, is one of those Paper Girls. She is taken, against her will, because of her golden eyes, to be a bribe from one of the king’s generals. And it’s not an easy life. Lei deals with the politics of court life, the discrimination from the demons in court, resentment from the other Paper girls.

It’s complex and hard to explain, but Lei is a phenomenal character to spend time with. She’s open and vulnerable, yet fierce and determined. Ngan is expert at balancing the world building with character development, and the chemistry between Lei and the person she falls for is intense! In fact, she does an excellent job with intensity all around: the fight scenes, the chemistry, everything.

So, yeah. It’s a hard one to explain (and to sell), but I’m definitely picking up the second in the series!

The Vanishing Stair

by Maureen Johnson
First sentence: “‘Has anyone seen Dottie?’ Miss Nelson asked.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Truly Devious
Content: There’s some mild swearing and a couple of f-bombs. Somehow, this ended up in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a younger kid interested in mysteries.

Picking up where we left off… (Thankfully, Johnson gives us a bit of background to help out in the beginning) Stevie was at Ellingham, a non-conformist boarding school in Vermont, until Hayes, a fellow student, turned up dead, and Ellie, another student went missing. Stevie was pulled out of school and brought home, that is, until a powerful senator convinces her parents to send her back. The reason? So she can keep an eye on his son David. Whom Stevie happens to really like. But things don’t go as planned; there’s still a kidnapping/murder left from the 1930s left to be solved, a fellow student is still missing. And Stevie seems to be at the center of it all.

This is a good solid second book in a series, answering some questions left over from the first book, and bringing up new ones. It’s still a delight to spend time with Stevie, Noah, Janelle, and David, and Johnson has a way of spooling out a mystery with just the right amount of information at the right time.

And bonus: the last one is already out! I can’t wait to see how it ends.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

by Cho Nam-Ju, translated by Jamie Chang
First sentence: “Kim Jiyoung is thirty-three years old, thirty-four Korean age.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: April 14, 2020
Content: There’s some swearing, including a few f-bombs. It will be in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

This is the story of one Korean woman, and how she get to the point, a year after giving birth, where she’s impersonating (but is she really?) other women. Something I didn’t know until the end: it’s told through the eyes of a psychologist/psychiatrist that Jiyoung goes to see, presumably because of her condition. She tells this psychiatrist about her life, from a childhood where she and her older sister were mostly neglected in favor of their younger brother, through school where she was often harassed by boys, to the workplace where she was often treated by men as a servant. She just decided it was her lot, and did the best she could, though there were women — including, eventually, her mother — who were telling her life could be different. Jiyoung gave up working when she had her baby, mostly because it was too hard to juggle daycare and a full-time job and her husband wasn’t terribly supportive.

This was just a portrait of one life, albeit one that had quite a few run-ins with the patriarchal system of Eastern Asia. It was a sad little book — sad that Jiyoung was never really encourage to do much of anything, sad that the lives of women still revolve around the men and boys. It’s odd too, it had footnotes (which makes more sense knowing it’s psychiatrist notes) and an odd cadence. It’s not a story I read to really connect with the characters, though much of that Jiyoung went through was relatable. But, even though we got the facts of her life, I felt like we never really got to know her. Although I appreciated the insight into contemporary Korean culture, I just felt disconnected through the book.

Oh, and the author got epidurals wrong, which is a small thing, but an annoyance all the same.

I do appreciate that this book exists, if only to highlight the sexism and misogyny in countries other than the United States. But, no, I didn’t find it enjoyable.

Audio book: Stamped: Racism, Anti-racism, and You

by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi
Read by Jason Reynolds
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is frank talk of slavery and rape and they use the n-word a couple of times. It will be in the Middle Grade History section of the bookstore.

The publishers — and Reynolds himself — are calling this a “remix” of the National Book Award- winning Stamped, by Kendi, and a brilliant remix it is. Reynolds takes the ideas in Kendi’s book — which is a look at racism from the first recorded instance in the 14th century to the present day — and distills them down so that kids == it’s aimed at the 10 and up crowd — can easily grasp the ideas and the history.

And Reynolds makes it fun. It’s a “not history history book”, one where Reynolds talks about IDEAS and how they fit into the grander scope of history. It’s incredibly engaging to listen to (and read!) — Reynolds is a fabulous narrator — and it made me look at history in a new light. It’s an important book — I’ve checked the original out from the library because I’m interested in what Kendi’s research — especially in this day and age. It’s incredibly helpful as a white person to understand that racism is systemic and built into the framework of our society. And maybe by understanding that, we can all become a bit more aware.

Excellent and highly recommended.