Books I Read This Week 2019 – 30

A decent amount of reading this week. Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! I’ve also started an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art.

Drawing Home (3.5 stars): Sometimes a book comes at the right time, you’re ready for it and you fall right into the story. This is not how Drawing Home was, for me. I kept putting off reading it, thinking it was going to be too fluffy and I’d already filled up on fluff for a little while. 

But then I couldn’t decide on what else to read and it was coming up due in the library and next thing I knew, I had started listening to it. Within about ten minutes, I was so engrossed in the story that I had no idea what made me wait so long. 

It’s not a deep, richly layered, exquisitely told literary masterpiece. It’s a delightful, real, sweet, and genuinely enjoyable read. It’s written well, the setting is rich and meaningful and most of the characters will stay with you. I found myself wishing I could read more about several of the smaller characters and by the end, I could have spent another ten hours in Sag Harbor. 

I loved reading this one.

Biased (4 stars):  I started this book back in April but was unable to finish it before it was due back at the library. My turn finally came back and I managed to read the rest of it. This is a really solid mix of wide statistics and studies around race with tangible results. There is a lot of historical setting as well as the author’s personal stories. You connect with the book both on a intellectual level and on a personal level. 

There is such a wide variety of useful information here that it’s a book I can see myself coming back to again and digesting in stages. I have so much to learn and Eberhardt’s book is one of the best and most comprehensive I read in a while.

Olive, Again (5 stars): “It was as though waves swung her up and then down, tossing her high – high – and then the darkness came from below and she felt terror and struggled. Because she saw that her life – her life, what a silly foolish notion, her life – that her life was different, might possible be very different or might not be different at all, and both ideas were unspeakably awful to her, except for when the waves took her high and she felt such gladness, but it did not last long, and she was down again, deep under the waves, and it was like that – back and forth, up and own, she was exhausted and could not sleep.”

I can praise this book from so many different angles: the writing is exquisite, the character development is exceptional, especially for short stories, each story is so different and yet so similar that it creates unity without getting repetitive. But while Strout’s craft is impeccable, what makes her stand out is her perceptiveness. Her ability to zero into the human part in each of us and in all of us, is incredible. These stories are touching not in the superficial-sentimental way and not even in the raw-exposing-human-pain way but in the tiny truths of what it means to be human. How ordinary days are laced with sorrow, regret, and longing. What it means to be human and lose bits of yourself, lose bits of potential futures you though you had. Realizing all the ways in which life gets ahead of you and you end up in a place you never intended to but now it’s too late.

These stories are subtle, textured, and layered. These characters are complex and hard to understand because let’s be honest, humans are complex and hard to understand. There isn’t a clean line between cause and effect in our lives. We do things, we choose paths, we say things and it’s unclear what led to those. 

Strout has a unique ability to weave all this into her characters and stories. She has a way of exposing a moment in their lives in such a way that we get a peek into the complexity of what it means to be human. I might not like these characters, I might not relate to their individual characteristics or choices but I see their humanity. I see their struggle. These stories give me permission for the complicated bits of my life. They help me feel connected and understood. 

“People either didn’t know how they felt about somehing or they chose never to say how they really felt about something.”

The character here, including Olive, are not the most likable characters. They are petty, selfish, boring, rude and many other human characteristics. But that’s the whole point. Most people in life aren’t just purely likable. We all have parts of us that are petty, selfish, boring, rude, and more. We are not cartoons. Maybe some of these characters are a bit more unlikable than average. But even that’s not the point, for me. It’s that they are all human and even as they struggle, they touch each others’ lives and they make a difference. 

“And it came to him then that it should never be taken lightly, the essential loneliness of people, that the choices they made to keep themselves from that gaping darkness were choices that required respect.”

There are many themes in these stories but what I felt most acutely were the themes of loneliness and aging. Especially since Olive herself is aging throughout the story, these themes weave through many of the stories. Each story manages to weave a glimmer of hope through the sadness/reall-ness of life.

“You all know who you are. If you just look at yourself and listen to yourself, you know exactly who you are. And don’t forget it.” 

I knew all along that I would love this novel and Strout did not disappoint. Even if every single story didn’t speak to me equally, the collection will stay with me for a long, long time. 

Huge thanks to Random House and netgalley for an advanced copy in return for an honest review and to Elizabeth Strout for brining our humanity to the surface so very beautifully.

Evvie Drake Starts Over (3.5 stars): This is the third book I’ve read in the last month that features a basketball player, I don’t know what that means but I thought that was an interesting trend. I really enjoyed this story. I connected with the story and the characters pretty quickly and the novel flew by. I didn’t want to stop listening to it. Even though I don’t think I will remember much of it a year from now, I will remember how it made me feel and smile again. If you’d like an enjoyable and sweet summer read, you can’t go wrong with this story.

Apollo Leadership Lessons (4 stars): This book has lots of ideas around leadership in multiple dimensions. The ideas are presented in a simple way with tangible examples from NASA’s own projects and especially the journey to landing on the moon. The stories, lessons and examples are told through the lens of different people (the execs, flight directors, astronauts and more.) Each chapter has sections where the author goes one layer deeper into the story. These were some of my favorite sections either for some interesting NASA fact or how one idea might seem interesting but then the flipside is also interesting. For example there’s a chapter around learning from failure but then the author highlights how it’s important not to over index on this and that NASA does post-mortems for both failures and successes. This book can seem deceptively simple but sometimes the most profound ideas are the simplest ones. Just because they are simple to understand doesn’t mean they are simple to do. I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of leadership and learning more about NASA, especially at such an interesting time in history.

The Islanders (3.5 stars): I loved this sweet and fun to read story. It’s the story of 3 people on the island for different reasons and their lives intersect. Each has his/her own healing to do. As they intersect and grow and go through experiences, we are there along with them, cheering them on and crossing our fingers. This is a generally feel good book with some real life issues thrown in but not a ton of depth in any of them. Lovely summer story.

Heads of the Colored People (4 stars): I don’t usually read short story collections because I prefer character-driven stories and like to get to know the characters and see them grow and learn throughout the novel. But every now and then there’s a magical short story collection that’s written so well that it stands out. Heads of Colored People is one such example. Several of the stories here have the same character or a tie to a minor character in another story. Each story is poignant, sharp and well-written. There are layers of thought-provoking messages in each of these stories and I enjoyed every single one of them. But my very favorite was “Belles Lettres.” It made me laugh and wince and be sad as many of the stories in this excellent collection.

The Last Book Party (3 stars): I’ve been trying to figure out my thoughts on this book. It’s a coming-of-age story that involves writers and poets. A big dress-up book party, and a girl realizing that people aren’t as glamorous as they might seem and everyone has issues even if they are amazingly talented and revered, etc. There was nothing wrong with this book. It read reasonably smoothly and the characters were somewhat interesting. But I also feel like I’ve read many books like this before. This was not a new spin on it, or even such amazing standout characters or writing that it will be memorable in some way. So I liked it just fine, just didn’t love it.

And there we go, an okay week of reading. Here’s to a great week next week.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too! I’ve also started an instagram account where I join my love of reading with my love of art.

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