Tag Archives: Brendan Halpin

2013 Q3 Reading Report

As I mentioned in my Q2 Reading Report, I moved during the summer, which meant that not only was I late posting that Report, but I didn’t do as much reading. In fact, I gave away and sold about half of my book collection, amassed over a long period of time as a Graduate Student Teaching Assistant (free textbooks!), a bookseller at Barnes & Noble (discounted books!), a reviewer (free review copies!) and most recently, a volunteer for the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library book sales (free or cheap books!). I’ve gone through different phases, collecting lots of titles as “research” for projects I was working on (Y/A, fairy tales, novels about music/musicians, books about the circus). Some of these titles had to be culled. I still have more than 1,000 books, so don’t be too alarmed.

Since the move, I’m reading more mindfully than ever, mostly memoirs. I’ve eliminated almost all other books from my reading diet at the moment. But most of what I’m reading is rich and powerful.

July

Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – I saw the movie, really liked it and was curious about the book. It’s a pretty fat book, so because of the move, this one book was most of my July. I was lucky if I could read a chapter each evening before falling asleep, after a hard day of moving my remaining books to the new place. I enjoyed reading it, especially gauging why the filmmakers changed what they changed, which is always a fascination of mine. In some ways, I think the film is better, but in others, the book was richer and more complex.

Confessions of a First Daughter, Cassidy Calloway – While culling books, I decided that I’d like to read this one quickly before I gave it away. It was a sweet, cute book, a quick read. Reminded me a lot of the period of my life when I loved the movies First Daughter and The Prince and Me. It’s probably not an accident that in all the tumult of the move, I turned to comforting and engrossing Y/A novels.

Seventh Grade Tango, Elizabeth Levy – I saw this one at the FONOPL book sales and was so curious about how tango would be presented for middle readers. I was pretty impressed and touched by this book. The characters reminded me a bit of Alice and Patrick in the books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (I just saw that the *last* Alice book was published a few days ago! It’s a 500 page book about Alice between the ages of 18-60! How weird is that?).

August

Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas – This is an anonymous memoir about a sociopath’s life and psychology, from the founder of www.sociopathworld.com. I was curious about anonymous memoirs and about a memoir that deals with a subject that is controversial, that people so easily judge. While this relatively slim book was highly repetitive and it often felt meandering, I did find it illuminating and fascinating. Sometimes, it felt like I was being conned as I read it, but I also found myself sympathizing quite a lot. When a phrase like “(s)he’s a sociopath/psychopath” is used in popular culture, it’s to describe someone violent, dangerous, or evil. This book has convinced me that that’s not always the case, that sociopathy is simply on the spectrum of personality types, that within the world of people with sociopathy, there is again a spectrum from the socially-functional to the violent. It’s another book that’s come up a lot in conversation.

The World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh Hanagarne – I put this one on my to-read list earlier this year and requested it from the library. Then, I had the opportunity to interview Josh for a piece I wrote for 225 about the Louisiana Book Festival. Just when I was almost finished reading the book, I was invited to interview Josh at the Festival (in about two weeks!). So, I’ve had quite a journey with this book over the past few months. Like with Poser from Q2’s Report, the subtitle says it all: “A memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family.” Whoo boy. Yes, he talks about all of that and knits it together to flesh out a very real, complex person who just happens to be himself. Whenever I think my memoir has too much going on in it, I’ll just have to re-read this book to figure out how to make it all make sense. Looking forward to our talk in the State Capitol building Nov. 2nd.

The 2012 Best American Essays, Ed. David Brooks – Reading this was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in a while. I read one essay each day, over 24 days, both forcing myself to read an essay on occasion and only allowing myself to read one sometimes. This gave me the space of an entire day to think about the essay I’d read and I found essays cropping up in conversations constantly. There were only one or two essays out of the 24 that I didn’t absolutely adore and even then, I was glad I’d read them. I discovered several books to add to my to-read list through this collection. When I was finished, I found myself going through withdrawal and desperate for the 2013 version, which is edited by my literary godmother (in my mind at least), Cheryl Strayed. Hurray!

Whip Smart, Melissa Febos – This was another book I read because I wanted to see how memoirists tackled hard or controversial topics. Jamey recommended this story about Febos’s years as a dominatrix and loaned me her signed copy, which I devoured. The bar for fierceness, for honesty and for bravery was raised so high here and whenever I’m scared to say something in my work, to really say it, I might have to open up this book again and read a few passages. Any passages will do.

September

This is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith – I really liked The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, which I read last quarter, so I requested this book about a “normal girl” and a child star who fall in love. What I like about her books so far is that they start out with a gimmick (or “hook” as they say in Hollywood, since these are both so cinematic), then ranscend the gimmick by being so clever and cute. Essentially, a light-hearted, escapist Y/A book that I stayed up all night to finish before diving headlong into a loooong stretch of more memoirs.

Bootstrapper, Mardi Jo Link – The part of me that adored The Swiss Family Robinson and The Boxcar Children loved this book about a mother and her boys surviving and saving their farm. I love stories about hoarding for the winter, struggling and thriving against adversity.

Poser, Claire Dederer – While doing “book math” to work out the structure of this book, I ended up reading it all over again!

Smashed, Koren Zailckas – I saw the movie Smashed a few months ago and assumed it was based on this memoir. Turns out…not so much, though they do have alcohol issues in common. Once more, I was interested in reading a memoir that tackles difficult topics. In this case, girlhood drinking and alcoholism. Though I could relate to a lot of Zailckas’s experiences, I found her often very difficult to relate to. However, I can appreciate how influential this book was and continues to be on the topic of girls/women and alcohol abuse, binge drinking and the vulnerability of women under the influence. I’m interested to see that she’s written another memoir, Fury.

Turn Around Bright Eyes, Rob Sheffield – Turns out I bought Sheffield’s first book years ago in my “novels about music” phase, except it’s not a novel. It’s a memoir! And I’ve had it all this time. Turn Around Bright Eyes is his third memoir, and the first I’ve read. What amazes me is that there is some deep, dark stuff in this book (like depression, the death of his first wife and 9/11) and yet the book is mostly jovial and light-hearted. Which makes the deep, dark stuff somehow hit you harder, but also it helps you survive it as you read. No one writes about music like Sheffield. Also, I was tickled to discover he seems to share my weird obsession with Crossroads. Can’t wait to read the book I’ve had all along, Love is a Mixed Tape.

Losing My Faculties, Brendan Halpin – Put this one on my list to read after reading Halpin’s book with Emily Franklin, The Half-Life of Planets. Of course, it’s very different from that Y/A title, since it’s a memoir about a teacher’s experience surviving the bureaucracy and failures of the education system while trying not to fail his students. I was very impressed (and surprised) with what Halpin came out and said about schools and students and teachers. It’s horrifying to know from an inside perspective how likely our education is to fail so many, but the fact that there are teachers like Halpin out there, determined to teach, is hopeful. He’s written another memoir, It Takes a Worried Man, that I’m also interested to read, plus another Y/A novel with Emily Franklin!

Well, that’s it. Light in quantity, but certainly not light in quality or subject matter. As I suspected, the last month picked up. And I continue to read as much as possible. There are so many books I want to read!! And I have a mini reading project I want to do before the end of the year. Maybe in December, we’ll see how it goes. I hope you discovered some books you’d like to read here and I can’t wait to share Q4’s titles with you.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under books, literature, musing, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading

2013 Q2 Reading Report

I hope you’ll forgive me, but I’ve been in the process of moving during the end of June and all of July, so that’s why this 2nd Quarter Reading Report is coming so late. My 2nd Quarter in reading was strong, but the 3rd will be a bit paltry, I’m afraid (especially the first third) because of how time- and energy-consuming this move has been.

April

A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin – This book, along with the next, A Dance with Dragons, only follows half of the characters from the series. Considering how many of my favorite characters died in A Storm of Swords or were absent, I found this one a slower read. GRRM never really lets up, kills some more major characters and really tortures some others. Still, it was fascinating reading, the kind that just sucks me in and holds me hostage.

The Age of Miracles, Karen Thompson Walker – The premise of this book is brilliant: the planet’s rotation starts to slow, which makes the days gradually lengthen, causing a societal schism and also some very real environmental catastrophes. The story is narrated by a young girl who’s going through an ordinary adolescence in the middle of extraordinary circumstances. I was continually surprised by the details that made it all feel very, very real. Best of all, it could be read as a giant metaphor for our current times. Like this haunting sentence near the end of the book: “No one knows what the world will be like by the time I finish school.”

Her, Christa Parravani – A memoir about two twins, one who was raped, struggled to recover and overdosed, and the other who survived the loss of her sister. This book, while incredibly hard and heavy, is also beautiful. Parravani talks about family, sibling (and twin) bonds, competition between women, art and ownership, addiction and mental health. I read this book obsessively and the end was cathartic and earned. I felt like I’d been on a journey by the time I got there.

A Dance with Dragons, George R.R. Martin – So, I got to find out what the other half of the characters were up to with this book. Everyone (who’s still living…) is in such a tough place in these last two books. It made for compelling reading, but was also hard on the heart. The evening I finished this book, I went to a literary cocktail party and was asked what I would do if anything happened to GRRM before the series is finished. I immediately started tallying the cost of hiring private security for him. What would I do? What am I going to do while I wait for The Winds of Winter? It was like 6 years between the last two books and 5 for the two before that. The last one was published in 2011. I’m going to go mad if I have to wait till 2016 or 2017, even with the t.v. series to enjoy. Dammit.

May

Jake and the Giant, E.G. Foley – The sequel to The Lost Heir. Like the first book, I read it at the same time as one of my favorite kids, the son of a friend. We have our own little book club of sorts. He sped through this, sneaking it to school and reading it in the car, etc. (I miss being a kid). Since I had to, you know, drive, instead of read in the car, I was a bit slower. I found this follow-up dealing with Norse mythology entertaining and silly, but also really hefty reading (literally, the book is heavy). The Kid and I are looking forward to The Dark Portal in October.

The Half-Life of Planets, Emily Franklin and Brendan Halpin – I started this book because I love Emily Franklin and I finished it because I fell in love with the characters. It seemed a bit formulaic and earnest at first, but then it started to feel like the kind of books I loved as a teen. I’m kinda fascinated when writers (especially Y/A writers) team up to write dual character narratives. Since I’m now on a memoir kick, and after reading this, I’m looking forward to reading Halpin’s Losing My Faculties.

The End of Your Life Book Club, Will Schwalbe – I expected this to be really sad, since it’s about a mother and son reading books together in waiting rooms while she’s being treated for terminal cancer. It is sentimental, highly so, but also highly celebratory of the life that Schalbe’s mother Mary Anne led. It’s a remarkable story and reminds me why I love books so much, the power they have to form and heal relationships. The variety of books that they read during her last days is fascinating, both how they weave into the narrative of her life and how they may be situationally incidental, but speak so much to character and passion.

The Spindlers, Lauren Oliver – Thought I’d zip right through this one, since it’s a short middle-readers book by an author whose older books I read in a few hours. It was a bit treacly and light for me, but I’m not exactly the target audience. Also, I’m not really in a light, childish frame of mind, reading-wise, lately. If you combined The Borrowers and Labyrinth, you’ve got The Spindlers. I think kids growing up with this book will adore it.

Dead After Dark, Charlaine Harris – So I’ve basically been reading the last few books in this series because I hate leaving things unfinished (see my recent reviews of Iris Johansen books and the Stephanie Plum series). It’s hard for me to voluntarily not finish the ride, which is why I try to start series only cautiously lately. I totally respect why Harris decided to end the Sookie Stackhouse series and I basically felt rewarded by how things turned out for Sookie. But this book was so crazy and over-packed with returning characters and plot threads. It felt like a bit of a rush to finish.

The One and Only Ivan, Katherine Applegate – This book is amazing! Took me totally by surprise. The first person narrative of Ivan, a gorilla who paints in captivity, is so funny and poignant and such a smart book. I flew through this, laughing out loud, quoting the book to friends in conversation and was entirely invested.

June

Why We Broke Up, Daniel Handler and Maira Kalman – This is a pretty unique book, but not a unique experience. Each section of the book, illustrated by Kalman, is about an object from a break-up box and the story behind it, from when the couple were together. I’ve had at least one such box and stories about the scraps of paper and objects that carry relationship residue. Another book I underestimated which stuck with me long after I finished it.

Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg with Nell Scovell – This is a quick, vital book that everyone should read. Period. Mostly about women in the workforce by the COO of Facebook, it’s packed with fascinating personal stories and research about the disadvantages women are dealt (often, by themselves) in business, how both women and men can counteract these disadvantages to everyone’s advantage. This came up in no fewer than 300 conversations since I read it.

Poser, Claire Dederer – The subtitle says it all: “My life in 23 yoga poses.” Each chapter focuses on one particular pose/period of Dederer’s life as she’s learning yoga and what it reveals about her history and relationships. I have to add this one into the gumbo of my own book – the way she uses yoga poses as a frame for her memoir is a lot like what I’m hoping to do with my memoir (framed by tango). If I can be anywhere near as funny and brave as Dederer is in this book, even better.

Elysian Fields, Suzanne Johnson – My 225 Magazine review is available here.

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, Jennifer E. Smith – I hope they make a movie based on this book. Hell, *I* might make a movie off this book, if someone doesn’t. It’d be a sweet, smart rom-com like The Wedding Date meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Oh look, someone is making a movie. Good. I can focus on my memoir, since I’m all moved into my new place.

Now, I’m gonna go read so I can bulk up my third quarter…

5 Comments

Filed under books, musing, what I'm reading