Book Review: Mister Monkey by Francine Prose (3/5)

17 May

This was yet another book that I had never heard of and probably never would have read if it weren’t for my book club. There are just far too many good books to read them all. Sometimes we need a kick in the pants to find the good ones.

Cover image via Goodreads

Mister Monkey by Francine Prose

Summary from Goodreads:

Mister Monkey—a screwball children’s musical about a playfully larcenous pet chimpanzee—is the kind of family favorite that survives far past its prime. Margot, who plays the chimp’s lawyer, knows the production is dreadful and bemoans the failure of her acting career. She’s settled into the drudgery of playing a humiliating part—until the day she receives a mysterious letter from an anonymous admirer . . . and later, in the middle of a performance, has a shocking encounter with Adam, the twelve-year-old who plays the title role.

Francine Prose’s effervescent comedy is told from the viewpoints of wildly unreliable, seemingly disparate characters whose lives become deeply connected as the madcap narrative unfolds. There is Adam, whose looming adolescence informs his interpretation of his role; Edward, a young audience member who is candidly unimpressed with the play; Ray, the author of the novel on which the musical is based, who witnesses one of the most awkward first dates in literature; and even the eponymous Mister Monkey, the Monkey God himself.

This book started off with a summary of the book-turned-play that the plot revolves around. That threw me a little because I thought the rest of the book would focus on an odd story about a family in New York adopting a monkey. I was beyond relieved when it didn’t. I liked the revolving narrator in the book and how the next narrator was connected to the previous story. I did think the skip to Eleanor was a bit of a stretch, but it still made sense. More sense than the Monkey God talking but not ending the book. I liked how certain phrases and ideas were repeated (unhappy love affair, Darwin, etc.) and how the play was at the center of the book but never fully spelled out and explained. You explore the story from all sides without seeing it and by the end, I think I could tell you the plot fairly well.

The characters were great in this story. Each one was well-developed and they were all very different as well. Though they were all touched by the play in some way, everyone was affected differently or less directly than others. I loved how flawed they all were, it was very realistic, especially Sonya. She was the one I related to most because I’m closest to her age and I have friends that she reminded me of. I thought Margo’s flaws were great, too, and Mario. Honestly, all the characters were easy to fall in love with. Except for Adam. He was the worst.

Like I said, Sonya was my favorite character. She seemed slightly stuck in a bad situation and as hard as she tried, she wasn’t finding a way to climb out of it. I felt bad for her and could understand why she had the problems she did with sleeping pills. I wanted her date to go well but that was a dud from the beginning. I felt really bad about her situation at work, too. Sometimes you get talked into a corner and there’s no good way out and that’s what had happened to her.

I admired Eleanor. There were times I’ve wanted to tell a kid that they’re out of line when a parent won’t, but she had the nerve to do it. I also respected that she held two jobs, one a passion and one a calling. It must have been exhausting but she did well for herself. She also seemed the most collected and happy with her life out of all of the characters.

Francine Prose
Image via the Dayton Literary Peace Prize

I found Ray’s story really interesting. The actors are really involved in the musical but Ray is, of course, intertwined with the book. I liked how he talked about the back story of the novel and what he really wanted to say with it to start. It was interesting to hear how the message had changed and become so diluted with edits that he didn’t feel as connected to it anymore. I think a lot of writers worry about that and it was interesting to hear Ray, someone who was made famous and rich off his story, lament it.

The chapter from the Monkey God rubbed me the wrong way. I think it would have been better at the end, but stuck before Roger’s chapter, it seemed odd. Plus, it took away from the smooth transition from character to character. Eleanor to Roger would have made sense, but Eleanor to a God to Roger was a bit much. It seemed strange to see into the future of some of the character’s we’ve explored before we finish with the present. I wish it had been removed completely, I didn’t need to know about Ray and Sonya’s futures.

The audiobook I listened to had dual narrators in Nan McNamara and Kirby Heyborne. I’m glad that they used two for the male and female narrators, it was more believable than Eleanor in a man’s voice or the Grandfather in a woman’s. I’ve heard Heyborne before because he narrated the Peculiar Children series. Both did well incorporate the character’s disappointment in certain parts of their lives and the heaviness of humanity that was hanging over them all.

The lives of these people touched without some of them ever meeting. Eventually, Eleanor and the Grandfather meet and Margo and Mario hit it off, but some will never interact and it’s great to see how small things that other people do can affect us. It was a cool concept to jump from one to the other as they’ve interacted and I had a great time guessing who would come next.

Writer’s Takeaway: The flaws that Prose was able to give to each character made them come alive. You’d think such heavy flaws would weigh the characters down but it didn’t. I loved conscious-heavy Mario and pill-popping Ray and feeling-old Margo. It made them much more real and having well-developed adult characters was important in this book focused on a children’s play and all the ridiculousness involved in that.

I enjoyed this book but wasn’t blown away or overly captivated. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

 

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Mister Monkey | Shelf Love
Buy Mister Monkey by Francine Prose | Ken Brosky, Author

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WWW Wednesday, 16-May-2018

16 May

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’ll be finished with The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne pretty soon. I’m really enjoying this memoir and I’m realizing how long it’s been since I read a memoir. Hanagarne’s sense of humor is keeping me reading though he’s going through some very tough times in his life.
I’m not very far into The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver so it’s hard to really say how I’m feeling about it at the moment. I like it so far but I know this one will be on here for a while as I enjoy it slowly.
I haven’t had a ton of time to read The Sellout by Paul Beatty either. The prose is very poetic and I’m reading it slowly because of that. I think I’ll finish it in time for my book club meeting but it will probably be closer than I’d like to admit!
I’ve just started Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson on audio. I think it’s the full book but with it being so short, I’m still a little unsure! I guess we’ll see when my book club meets again.

Recently finished: I finished Mister Monkey by Francine Prose on Friday night. Overall, I enjoyed the book though there were some parts that rubbed me the wrong way or that didn’t flow logically for me. We met to discuss it on Monday but I wrote my review before the conversation could taint my opinions. The review will post tomorrow and my book club reflection will be up next week.

I’ve made a push for book reviews and I managed to post a few. Monday I posted my review of John Green’s An Abundance of Katherines. I gave the book 3 out of 5 Stars.
I also reviewed Ellyn Spragins’ What I Know Now. It’s a collection of letters that she helped famous women write. I gave it 3 out of 5 Stars as well.

Reading Next: I’ll need another audiobook for my car next. With all the driving I’m doing for school this semester, I’ll go through these rather quickly. I’ll be picking up Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club next. I’ve heard good things and I’m excited to enjoy this one while I drive to class.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: What I Know Now by Ellyn Spragins (3/5)

15 May

This book has been on my shelf for ages. Well, not ages, but five years. It was one of the earliest books I shelved on Goodreads and I think it came onto my radar because of the suggested reading feature, which I’ve stopped using to keep myself sane. It wasn’t one I ever found at used book sales so I eventually did an inter-library loan and read it. It was a nice, short read and I’m glad I read it but I think I built it up a bit in my mind.

Cover image via Goodreads

What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins

Other books by XX reviewed on this blog:

Summary from Goodreads:

If you could send a letter back through time to your younger self, what would the letter say?

In this moving collection, forty-one famous women write letters to the women they once were, filled with advice and insights they wish they had had when they were younger.

Today show correspondent Ann Curry writes to herself as a rookie reporter in her first job, telling herself not to change so much to fit in, urging her young self, “It is time to be bold about who you really are.” Country music superstar Lee Ann Womack reflects on the stressed-out year spent recording her first album and encourages her younger self to enjoy the moment, not just the end result. “Your hair matters far, far less than you think,” is the wry advice that begins the letter bestselling mystery writer Lisa Scottoline pens to her twenty-year old self. And Maya Angelou, leaving home at seventeen with a newborn baby in her arms, assures herself she will succeed on her own, even if she does return home every now and then.

These remarkable women are joined by Madeleine Albright, Queen Noor of Jordan, Cokie Roberts, Naomi Wolf, Eileen Fisher, Jane Kaczmarek, Olympia Dukakis, Macy Gray, and many others. Their letters contain rare glimpses into the personal lives of extraordinary women and powerful wisdom that readers will treasure.

My first impression was that this book was physically smaller than I thought it would be. I figured that with so many women contributing to it, it would be a lot thicker. I realized that the letters were all quite short. If I were able to write a letter to my younger self, I’d go on for quite a while! Most of these women had about a page, maybe two. I was also a little disappointed by the breadth of the letters. It was clear that these were women Spragins had worked with as their careers seemed to focus on the entertainment industry. If they weren’t in that industry, then they were probably interviewed because of their experience. The women selected also seemed a little dated. The book was published 12 years ago and it showed because of the number of times I had never heard of the writer.

The women who shared their stories were very candid about their lives. Most of them talked about being afraid to make big changes and encouraging themselves to be brave. Many of them talked about their families, too, and spending time with children when they’re young. I was surprised at how many of them discussed staying at home with their children and stepping away from successful careers. I’ll talk more about this later.

One of the letters stuck out to me and that was from singer Macy Gray. She had a very rough time before her career took off and spoke very openly about her relationship with her family. She was trying to be a singer and take care of a child and live with her parents. It’s crazy to think that someone on hard times would continue to push forward in a career where success and even a paycheck aren’t guaranteed. I admired her guts but I probably would have been on her mother’s side and pushed her toward a steady job!

Many of these women were writing to themselves in their 20s, where I am now. I was surprised how little I related to the letters considering my age! I thought it would speak to me more now when I’m at the age they focused and where they made their mistakes. Instead, a lot of the letters focused on children, which I do not have, and big career moves, which I’m not ready to make. Maybe being 28 in 2018 is different than being 28 in the 70s and 80s when most of these women grew up. There were a few who were writing to themselves in the 90s and early 00s, but it wasn’t as many. It did feel a bit outdated which was a slight disappointment.

Ellyn Spragins
Image via Twitter

I got really excited when the letter was from someone I’d heard of, like Vanna White or Nora Roberts. These were women whose success has lasted over time and whose names were still recognizable twelve years after the book was published. White’s story stuck out a lot because she talked about some poor decisions she made early in her career and how they came back to haunt her on Wheel. She was one of the few women who warned their younger self to make a different decision and I thought that was really insightful.

A lot of the women in this book talked about taking time off from their careers to stay home and raise a family and that rubbed me the wrong way a little bit. Now, I have nothing against stay at home moms, please don’t take it that way. My mom stayed home until I was 10. However, the letters made it sound like staying home with a family and then having extraordinary career success after was completely achievable. I think these women are the exception and I think doing so can be very difficult. I’ve seen many women take entry-level roles when returning to the workforce just to get in the door. This means they’re starting the corporate climb all over again which can be a huge disadvantage and is part of why we see such a wage gap between men and women. I felt like the women selected were too exceptional to give a realistic picture of taking time off and returning to the workforce. Most people have an amazing experience raising a family full time and some enjoy working full-time. It’s very rare to have both and this book was full of rare women.

Sometimes, in tough situations, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. These letters were a way for the light to scream, “You’ll get here and you’ll be fine, keep going!” to women struggling to find their way out of a tunnel. I liked that there was a lot of encouragement in these books and it made it easy to see that everyone struggles before they are successful.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book felt like a fun project Spragins wanted to try but not like a book she really put a lot of time into. The introductions were very generic and then focused heavily on the point in the writer’s life she was going to write about. Spragins helped each woman write her letter and I felt they were a bit too vague and short. I would have liked to see more. I also would have liked some more variety in the industries the women worked in. It felt like she asked her friends and then stopped.

There were some good messages in this book, it just fell a bit flat when it had the potential to shine. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
For My Mother’s Birthday: What I Know Now | noubelle
What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self (Pre-52) | Letters to Grandma

Book Review: An Abundance of Katherines (3/5)

14 May

After enjoying two John Green books and somewhat liking a third, I figured I might as well read through all of his books. I’m getting there, really. This is one I was given by a friend preening her bookshelves but I eventually read the ebook so I could get to it sooner.

Cover image via Goodreads

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Other books by John Green reviewed on this blog:

Looking for Alaska
Paper Towns

Summary from Goodreads:

Katherine V thought boys were gross
Katherine X just wanted to be friends
Katherine XVIII dumped him in an e-mail
K-19 broke his heart

When it comes to relationships, Colin Singleton’s type happens to be girls named Katherine. And when it comes to girls named Katherine, Colin is always getting dumped. Nineteen times, to be exact.

On a road trip miles from home, this anagram-happy, washed-up child prodigy has ten thousand dollars in his pocket, a bloodthirsty feral hog on his trail, and an overweight, Judge Judy-loving best friend riding shotgun–but no Katherines. Colin is on a mission to prove The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he hopes will predict the future of any relationship, avenge Dumpees everywhere, and finally win him the girl.

Love, friendship, and a dead Austro-Hungarian archduke add up to surprising and heart-changing conclusions in this ingeniously layered comic novel about reinventing oneself.

There were parts of this book I really enjoyed. There were also parts that annoyed me a lot. It started out with annoyance. I felt the whole premise of going on a road trip at the drop of a hat and staying with complete strangers was a bit too far-fetched. Colin’s parents seemed to keep a close eye on him so when he was able to go off with no destination without much debate, my eyebrows went up. When they were offered a job and a place to stay for the summer without much trouble, I cocked an eyebrow. There were points from then on that were fun and that I thought were well written, but I was already soured to the book and it wasn’t a great way to start. I also felt like a lot of the ending was missing. A bunch of loose threads were left untied and I kept thinking there was another chapter hidden later in the book.

One thing you can never say is that Green doesn’t understand teenagers. He understands them so well that it’s scary. Colin doesn’t care about college, he’s worried about his girlfriend (short-term) and mattering in the universe (very long-term). He doesn’t see the next five years. Lindsey and Hassan are afraid of change and having to be adults. They’re very typical and remind me of myself at their ages. Hollis seemed like an odd character to me but, in classic YA fashion, the adults don’t really matter so it wasn’t something I got hung up on.

I liked Lindsey a lot. She was happy in her small town and happy with her mother and her friends. But really, she’s scared of anything changing. She seems to have gone through a lot of change in her life with her father leaving and wants to stay where she is. But she’s also open to change that does come her way, though it takes some time for her to realize she needs it. Even if she and Colin break up, he helped her see the world outside of Gunshot and realize that she can move on.

I remember having big questions about what I would do and how important I would be when I was Colin’s age. Granted, I wasn’t a prodigy, but I still wondered. I was also afraid of change. I went out-of-state for college and didn’t know anyone when I got there. It was a bit terrifying! I could relate to Hassan’s fear of going to school, knowing that everything would change. I can understand why Lindsey didn’t want to leave Gunshot. Major changes can be terrifying and I understand the fear of finishing high school and having to make a decision about what comes next.

John Green
Image via PRH Speakers

I liked the plotline about the factory a lot. This could be a spoiler so skip to the next paragraph if you haven’t read this yet. I wondered about Hollis’s motivation behind the interviews so I wasn’t really surprised that it wasn’t 100% positive but I didn’t see it coming. I know what Hollis is doing is completely counter to all business logic but it matters that she’s doing it. It matters that she’s supporting her neighbors and friends. It’s one of those sticky ethics questions and I wish that plotline had been wrapped up better.

The boar hunting scene was a bit odd for me. I didn’t understand the point of it. It seemed like its only purpose was to get Colin and Hassan at a point where they could find TOC and Katrina. Granted, that scene was hilarious. However, all the detail about boars and the wasps seemed unnecessary and didn’t move Colin’s plot forward much. I could have done without it.

Colin was stuck in a rut. It was an odd rut about girls named Katherine, but it was still a rut. So was Hassan, Lindsey, Katrina, Hollis, and almost every character in the book. Getting out of a rut is hard because it’s so comfortable there. These characters helped shake up each other’s worlds long enough to climb out of their ruts and I thought the book showed that well. It wasn’t a very eventful summer, but it mattered enough to all of them.

Writer’s Takeaway: The footnotes in this one were really awkward in an ebook so that’s something to consider in writing a book. I liked how they showed Colin’s personality, but I didn’t think it was worth it. As much as I liked the teen characters, there were some jumps in logic I couldn’t get past and would even classify as plot holes. I wish Green had been a little more conscious of things that seemed out of character, especially for the parents. I get annoyed with YA books where all of the parents are stupid. I was hoping this wouldn’t be one.

An enjoyable book, but it didn’t blow me away. Three out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green | The Bookgasm
John Green- An Abundance of Katherines | Fyrefly’s Book Blog
An Abundance of Katherines by John Green | What She’s Reading
An Abundance of Katherines – John Green | Clare’s Bookshelf

Book Club Reflection: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

10 May

My book club met last week to talk about a book I really enjoyed, The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. I wasn’t the only one who’d enjoyed this book via audio and the others who had agreed with me that the narrator was great and she kept us engaged the whole time.

The copy of the book we had contained an interview with Hannah. She talked about how she was inspired by the story of a Danish woman who created an escape route for downed airmen, much like Isabelle. She doesn’t have a personal connection to WWII but this story inspired her to do research about it. She did extensive research and consulted her notes to write almost every scene. She mentions that in one iteration of the novel, Isabelle fell in love with a downed airman. One of our readers thought this was going to happen. One of the men was from Oregon, where we know one of the sisters ends up living. We thought the US setting for the 1995 plotline meant she’d be with him. I wonder if it was the first airman she helped, Torrance. He seemed rather well-developed for a character that disappeared.

The first line of the book is, “If I have learned anything in this long life of mine, it is this: In love we find out who we want to be; in war we find out who we are.” The narrator is making a point that love is ideal and we can be our ideal selves, while war is the reality and the bad side of humanity. It sets a tone early on that the narrator has done something she feels she needs to be forgiven for.

One of the hardest moments for me as a reader, and when my waterworks of tears for the rest of the book started, was when Ari was taken away. A Jewish woman in my group said it was a hard scene to read. She could see the good side of that decision and know that Ari would be raised in the Jewish faith. But she could also see how wrong it was to take him away from a woman who loved and raised him. It’s a hard decision to make and we were all glad we didn’t have to make it.

Beck’s death was a very conflicting time. It was obvious that Beck had a moral compass and knew what was happening was wrong. He was a prisoner, much like Vianne. He was stuck doing something he didn’t want to under the guise of serving his country. He recognized that it was wrong and went so far as to put himself in harm’s way to help Vianne and Ari. It became even more complicated because he clearly had feelings for Vianne despite having a wife and child at home. We were sad when he died, even if he was a German.

The father’s death was another hard moment. A few women in my group said they figured out that he was part of the resistance before he revealed that fact to Isabelle. When she broke into his bookshop, the one room that was under a good lock and key had a printing press. They realized that meant he was printing material and reasoned that it was for the resistance. Good eye, ladies!

Isabelle’s death was clearly an emotional scene. Hannah has said that this was her favorite scene to write. Isabelle had said to Vianne that her life had been enough so we feel that she’s at peace when she passes. However, being reunited with Gaëton so short a time makes us question what more she would have wanted. I had some issues with the relationship between Isabelle and Gaëton. I felt it was very rushed and flat and I felt it was more like lust than love. Some others felt the same but others thought that it was an accurate depiction of a relationship grown out of a time at war. Things happened faster because there was no guarantee of a future. He was in and out of the book so often that I felt you didn’t get attached to him.

Learning who the narrator was and who Julian was were good twists. Many of us thought it was Isabelle. Mainly, it was due to the line on page 384 where the woman says, “Juliette hasn’t existed for a long time.” I thought she was talking about her persona, Juliette, not her sister, Isabelle. Kudos to Hannah for keeping us guessing up to the end!

Learning the truth about Julian made us ask the obvious question, Did Antoine know? We think he did. On page 510, he talks about choosing to see miracles. Vianne questions if this is his way of saying he knows. He’s choosing not to admit or say aloud that Julian isn’t his. Surviving the war is more important than grudges or being angry. He’s rejoicing in the fact that they’re all alive.

The book forced you to ask yourself if you would put yourself in harm’s way to save someone. What if that person was a stranger? Both sisters risked their lives for total strangers in the end which is an amazing feat. The book built a world where those actions seemed necessary, but they were incredibly risky.

It was a great discussion and I was so glad to talk more about this incredible book with fellow readers. Our next book is Paul Beatty’s The Sellout and I’m looking forward to it.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

WWW Wednesday, 9-May-2018

9 May

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community. 


Currently reading: I’m enjoying Mister Monkey by Francine Prose and I think I’ll have it finished by next week. The audiobook is well done and I’ve started doing my long runs so I get through audiobooks on my phone fairly quickly. I like finding the connections between the plot lines and I’ve had fun guessing who the next narrator will be.
I’m not too far into The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne but it’s a joy so far. Hanagarne is able to make fun of himself and his childhood and at the same time convey how hard it is to live with Tourette’s. I’m enjoying the tone he picked for the book and I’m excited to keep reading.
My next ebook is The Post-Birthday World by Lionel Shriver. I added it to my list after I enjoyed another Shriver book. I’m a bit too early in this one to tell how I feel about it and I’m not reading it quickly so expect this one to linger here for a while.
Over the weekend, I started a new physical book with The Sellout by Paul Beatty. I almost read this about a year ago but was going to miss the book club meeting so I decided not to read it and now I get a second chance! Again, early in, but so far soon good!

Recently finished: I was able to wrap up An Abundance of Katherines by John Green late last week. It’s not my favorite Green by any means, but it was still enjoyable. I’ll have a review up next week so I can go into some more detail on it.
I sped through What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins. The letters were all really short so I’d binge-read five or so at a time and got through the book really fast. I’ll have a review for this one up next week, also. I’m catching up on reviews!

A few reviews as well! I posted about my feelings on Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs last Thursday. I love this author and I gave him a glowing review. He always makes me laugh. I gave him 5 out of 5 Stars.
I also wrote about The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro earlier this week. I’ve liked Ishiguro in the past, but this book was not for me. Please check out my review for more details, but still read Never Let Me Go! I gave the book 2 out of 5 stars.

Reading Next: I’m trying to keep ahead of my book club picks so I can lazily pick up my own books. The next one I’ll grab will be Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson. I’m worried the audiobook I have is abridged because it’s only 2 hours and 30 minutes long! If you’ve read this before, does that seem right? It looks like the book is about 200 pages so I’m surprised it would be so short.


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Midwest Literary Walk 2018

8 May

This is my third year going to the Midwest Literary Walk and it was also the 10th Anniversary of the event. I was a bit confused at first because usually there are two authors at one or two of the three stops. This year, each stop had only one author. After going to the event, I think they spent more money per author to get such high-quality speakers. Usually, the authors have some connection to Michigan but this year, none of them did.

The first stop was Will Schwalbe. He was the only one I’d heard of prior to the Walk. My book club read his book, The End Of Your Life Book Club (and discussion) back in 2014 and he’d fallen off my radar since then. Schwalbe was an amazing speaker and he’s a huge crusader for reading. His new book, Books for Living, talks about the role books and reading have played in his life. I bought a copy and added it to my ever-growing shelf.

Will Schwalbe at the Midwest Literary Walk

Schwalbe talked about how books help people. In a world where we’re overconnected, books readjust us. It gives us a single sense of focus. When his mother was going through chemo, books gave them something to talk about that wasn’t her illness. Schwalbe talked about the art of reading; when you’re so engrossed in a world that you don’t even realize you’re turning pages and holding a book. He touted the excellent marriage of reading and napping, of falling asleep mid-book and spending extra time running around the book in your dreams.

The second stop was poet Ada Limón. Normally, I kind of daydream during the poet at these events. I’m not a big fan of poetry because I read too fast to enjoy it. However, Limón had me hooked. She spoke about her life and how it tied into her poetry and how she was able to explore how her emotions affected her work and how her writing changed her emotions. She was very eloquent. My favorite thing she said was that a different person writes the poems and reads the poems. People are always changing and you can’t expect the person who writes the words to be the same one who reads them. She talked about realizing what a poem was really about only when she read it in front of an audience. She reads them to herself when writing because she wants the poems to have the right sound, but she doesn’t read them aloud until they’re finished.

Limón talked a lot about female feelings. She said many writers mistakenly think that no one has felt the way they feel about something and how wrong that is because poetry draws from life. We’re all living and Limón was very open about her life and the things she’d experienced. I was happy to run into her as she was putting her mic away and shake her hand, telling her I’d enjoyed her presentation. Her latest book is Bright Dead Things and she has another coming out this year.

The final stop was another unknown to me, Michael Eric Dyson. He’s written a number of books about race in America and his latest book, Tears We Cannot Stop, has the subtitle ‘A sermon to white America.’ Sermon is an appropriate word! What an amazing speaker. I felt like I was hearing a preacher instead of a Sociology professor. I took very few notes because I was so wrapped up in Dyson’s speech. He had attended the previous two speakers and drew things they’d said in his sermon and used them to emphasize his points. He tailored what he had to say to the (largely white) audience and talked about how we need safe spaces to talk about what it means to be white and how we have to untangle that from what it means to be American. I’d go on, but I’d do a discredit to his message I’m sure.

Overall, it was a great walk. My friend Amy and I finished it up with some good BBQ. I think the only thing lacking for me was a fiction writer. I love hearing about the fiction writing process and that wasn’t there this year. I’m looking forward to going again next year, this event has always blown me away.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Book Review: The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro (2/5)

7 May

This is my third Ishiguro book and I own one more that I plan to read at some point. I’ve noticed that Ishiguro’s ‘thing’ is keeping something hidden from the reader. He doesn’t hide it well, but it’s just far enough out of reach that you start to look into it before the text openly explains what is going on. I’ve liked that in his previous books. Honestly, I didn’t feel like this was by the same author. This book was so different and the ‘thing’ was more subtle and less a key part of the plot. I’m still sorting through my feelings on this one more than a week after I finished it.

Cover image via Goodreads

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Other books by Ishiguro reviewed on this blog:

The Remains of the Day
Never Let Me Go Book Club Reflection
Meeting Kazuo Ishiguro

Summary from Goodreads:

The Buried Giant begins as a couple set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen in years.

Sometimes savage, often intensely moving, Kazuo Ishiguro’s first novel in nearly a decade is about lost memories, love, revenge, and war.

This book was too layered in meaning for me to enjoy. I started reading it and was thinking of the characters being exactly who they were described to be. These are two Britains traveling to see their son. Knowing Ishiguro, I didn’t think there would be more to it. As they traveled, the people they met confused me. Gawain seemed too old to be a knight and his backstory was mixed. Wistan’s linguistic abilities confused me and I didn’t understand why he was so attached to Edwin. It wasn’t until I started getting ready to write this review and saw other takes on the book that I ever considered what the characters ‘stood for’ and what the setting ‘represented.’ I think if a book is going to be an allegory for a couple growing old, it should work as a story by itself. I didn’t feel this one did.

The characters weren’t credible enough for me. I liked the love between Axl and Beatrice but the way she dismissed her pain and their knack for forgetting their pasts (but not what they’d done since the book started) bothered me. I didn’t think of it as relating to Alzheimer’s and dementia in old age. Edwin seemed to have no purpose to me and seemed like a burden to Axl and Beatrice and later Wisten. I didn’t see the point in him and I never would have thought of him as a stand-in for their son. The people seemed like the caricatures they ended up being and I didn’t like them or connect with them.

Axl was the only character I liked. He was so sweet to Beatrice. He always called her Princess and never got angry. He made decisions that were best for her and always had her interests in mind. He was the kind of husband anyone would want.

My inability to relate to or connect with any of the characters is a big part of why I didn’t like the book. I didn’t care what happened to them. After the final scene, I didn’t sit and think about what had happened to them or bother to look up interpretations of the book. I’m only now looking into that! I was OK with the Arthurian setting but the allegory was too strong for me to connect with the characters.

Me, Ishiguro, and my friend Nicole, 2015

I enjoyed the escape from the terrible beast that Gawain, Axl, and Beatrice had. It was after this scene that I started getting confused about timelines so it was the last scene that stuck with me before I was confused. I liked the image of them creeping along in the dark and finding an escape route. It seemed like a good adventure for an Arthurian tale. I did find it a bit inappropriate for their ages, but that was something I could get over.

I really disliked the ending. This might end up in spoilers so best skip down if you don’t want to know that. I was so frustrated that after all the warning’s they’d had, they would still separate with a boatman. I couldn’t believe they’d have no patience to wait or that they’d place trust in a stranger after they’d had bad experiences with strangers earlier in the story. The fog had lifted, they should have remembered what they’d learned but they carried on anyway. It made Querig’s plotline seem pointless.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by David Horvitch. I didn’t like his narration very much. I thought he made Beatrice sound a bit whiney and he didn’t use very different voices for the male characters. It’s fairly often that I find a male narrator whose female voices bother me so this isn’t a surprise but it didn’t help when I was already struggling to stay engaged with the book.

Looking it up now, I see a lot of different interpretations of this story. Axl and Beatrice’s story is about losing one’s memory in old age and reflecting on relationships and their merits. The characters represented themselves and others at different stages of life. It’s all well and good and if I’d known these interpretations, I might like the book better. As it is, I didn’t and I think it would have been more enjoyable if it had been couched in a frame narrative like a dream or book, like how The Princess Bride structures the film. As it is, they were too hidden for my tastes.

Writer’s Takeaway: Ishiguro was trying too hard to say something that I didn’t hear him. It was completely lost on me and I can’t imagine I’m the only one. I think he strayed too far from what made his previous books enjoyable. I think there’s something to sticking to a ‘type’ of book. I wish there had been a bit more realism in this one.

Not my favorite and not an Ishiguro book I’d recommend. Two out of Five Stars

This book satisfied the ‘Pre 1500’ time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
October 2015- The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro | LovingBooks
The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro | Nafka Mina
It’s a Kind of Magic: ‘The Buried Giant’ by Kazuo Ishiguro | Robin’s Books
The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro | Obooki’s Obloquy
The Buried Giant | RobertMBall

Book Review: Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs (5/5)

3 May

I’ve been dying to read this book for a while now. I got a copy at Barnes & Noble on clearance years ago and I’d never found the time to read it. I’ve read Jacobs’s three previous books and loved them all so I was excited to dive into this one.

Cover image via Goodreads

Drop Dead Healthy: One Man’s Humble Quest for Bodily Perfection by A.J. Jacobs

Summary from Goodreads:

Hospitalized with a freak case of tropical pneumonia, goaded by his wife telling him, “I don’t want to be a widow at forty-five,” and ashamed of a middle-aged body best described as “a python that swallowed a goat,” A.J. Jacobs felt compelled to change his ways and get healthy. And he didn’t want only to lose weight, or finish a triathlon, or lower his cholesterol. His ambitions were far greater: maximal health from head to toe.

The task was epic. He consulted an army of experts— sleep consultants and sex clinicians, nutritionists and dermatologists. He subjected himself to dozens of different workouts—from Strollercize classes to Finger Fitness sessions, from bouldering with cavemen to a treadmill desk. And he took in a cartload of diets: raw foods, veganism, high protein, calorie restriction, extreme chewing, and dozens more. He bought gadgets and helmets, earphones and juicers. He poked and he pinched. He counted and he measured.

The story of his transformation is not only brilliantly entertaining, but it just may be the healthiest book ever written. It will make you laugh until your sides split and endorphins flood your bloodstream. It will alter the contours of your brain, imprinting you with better habits of hygiene and diet. It will move you emotionally and get you moving physically in surprising ways. And it will give you occasion to reflect on the body’s many mysteries and the ultimate pursuit of health: a well-lived life.

Jacobs’ style is called immersion journalism and it’s become one of my favorite types of memoirs. Knowing Kevin Roose worked for Jacobs drove me to read his book, The Unlikely Disciple. In previous books, I’ve laughed along with Jacobs as he goes through his year of lifestyle change but this time, I was taking mental notes along the way. Health is something I’m concerned about and I’ve usually focused on athletic fitness rather than overall health. I know I need to start focusing more on diet and environment so I was glad to see Jacobs take a lot of time with those. I’m glad he devoted two years to this project since it would have been rushed to do a year and the results wouldn’t have been as obvious.

Jacobs is very open about what happens to him during the two years of this book. He talks about two deaths in his family with a lot of candor. He’s very open about his family as well. Well, as much as his wife will allow. I think this is a good time to praise his wife, Julie, for her patience and ability to endure Jacobs’ antics. The things Jacobs tries aren’t always easy but he talks about his failures (with hand exercises), struggles (with a liquid diet), and triumphs (working out). He’s an average Joe so it’s easy to see yourself doing what he does and think that you’d likely end up the same way.

I have so much respect for A.J.’s wife, Julie. She is such a trooper. I thought this initially when I read his second book, The Year of Living Biblically when he didn’t shave for a year and refused to eat anything cooked in tap water. This time she even joined him to some exercise classes and tried a liquid diet with him. It’s clear she thinks his quest to be healthier is long overdue so I could understand her enthusiasm for the project as well.

When I look into the benefits of certain lifestyle changes, I’m always overwhelmed by the results. Jacobs seems to have encountered the same things. Is raw food healthier than cooked food? Is the price of organic worth it? I struggle with these and other decisions about plastics, chairs, and footwear. It’s hard to know what’s really healthiest for you. My thought is that if there are two sides with strong arguments on different sides, don’t worry about it. In ten years, it could go the other way. There are some things that are clear, such as exercising at least three times a week and cutting down on sugar. These are the ones I’m working on until we can get a clear answer on the advantages of cinnamon.

A..J. Jacobs
Image via Goodreads

I was reading alone at home and said, “YES!” out loud when A.J. signed up for a triathlon. I was ecstatic that he’d be trying my favorite sport and I saved the section about the race to read after I finished studying for a quiz. Triathlon training is great for the body because it involves the cross training that single-sport athletes should do but sometimes fail to. I ran yesterday and my knees need a break so I’ll ride my bike today. It’s all still part of triathlon training. It sounds like Jacobs had a good time doing his first sprint triathlon. I wonder if he did more if he’d be more competitive with it.

I wish Jacobs’ had left the chapter about sex out. Julie told him to leave out a lot about their personal relationship so the chapter was very vague and short. It could have been rolled into the chapter about testosterone levels easily and I think it would have been less awkward.

The people Jacobs’ encounters through his experiment are all very healthy and they all use a different way to get to and maintain their health. There is no one way or single answer to make someone healthy. Most of the things he tries are about moderation and common sense. Doing what feels right is a big part of health as well. You have to live with the decisions you make about a lifestyle so pick some that work for you instead of forcing yourself into someone else’s box.

Writer’s Takeaway: Part of what I love about Jacobs is that he’s not afraid to be embarrassed. He squats at bus stops and wears noise-canceling headphones on the subway. He runs (literally) errands and went to a pole dancing class. He’s not afraid to try things that make him uncomfortable and I respect him for that. I think a writer needs to do things that are uncomfortable at times. To experience what your character is going through, you have to try new things or ask people uncomfortable questions to see how others went through the same thing. Writers have to write about things they haven’t done or felt so finding out as close an approximation as possible is the best way. This isn’t always easy and sometimes you have to be embarrassed.

Again, I loved Jacobs’ book and I’m looking forward to reading his latest when I have the time.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Related Posts:
Drop Dead Healthy (more quotes) | Mike Dariano
Drop Dead Healthy, by A.J. Jacobs | Compulsive Overreader

WWW Wednesday, 2-May-2018

2 May

Welcome to WWW Wednesday! This meme was formerly hosted by MizB at A Daily Rhythm and revived here on Taking on a World of Words. Just answer the three questions below and leave a link to your post in the comments for others to look at. No blog? No problem! Just leave a comment with your responses. Please, take some time to visit the other participants and see what others are reading. So, let’s get to it!IMG_1384-0

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Note: For users of Blogspot blogs, I’m unable to comment on your posts as a WordPress blogger unless you’ve enabled Name/URL comments. This is a known WordPress/Blogspot issue. Please consider enabling this to participate more fully in the community.


Currently reading: I’m still moving forward at a fair pace in An Abundance of Katherines by John Green. It’s fun for me but I think it started off with some large stretches of the imagination so it’s hard for me to enjoy it even though the rest has been really great.
So many new books now! I did start Mister Monkey by Francine Prose like I’d hoped to. The preface threw me off a lot and I’m still deciding how I felt about the book. It’s a lot different from the premise and I think I’ll like it. I’ll have a much better idea next week.
I also got my copy of What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self by Ellyn Spragins through inter-library loan. It came in just as I was about to finish my previous book so it’s beyond perfect! It’s a bit shorter than I thought so I’m being hopeful that I can power through this one and keep scaling Mt. TBR!
I grabbed a copy of The World’s Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne on CD at the library. I got this book at an awesome bookstore in Cincinnati a few years ago and I’m excited to finally enjoy it!

Recently finished: So many to report! The end of The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah had me crying while I was working out and it made push-ups a lot harder! I enjoyed the book a lot and posted my review of it yesterday. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars.
I finished Drop Dead Healthy by A.J. Jacobs Friday. I flew through it and loved every minute. Jacobs is one of my favorite writers. I have only one of his books still to read and I want to get to it right away, but he doesn’t publish very often so I also want to pace myself. I’ll have a review up tomorrow and I’m excited to gush about this book.
I also finished The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro. I had to pick my husband up late Friday night and I finished it waiting for him in the car. I think him being out of town for the week helped me finish so many books this week! I’ll post a review sometime next week.

Reading Next: Being at the beginning of so many, it seems a bit presumptuous to put anything here. However, my book club met on Monday and our next selection is The Sellout by Paul Beatty. My other book club read this when I thought I was going to be out of town so I missed it. I’m excited to get another chance at this book! I’m curious about a Man Booker winner from America!


Leave a comment with your link and a comment (if you’re so inclined). Take a look at the other participant links in the comments and look at what others are reading.

Have any opinions on these choices?

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at SamAStevensWriter@gmail.com. And as always, feel free to leave a comment!