Books 2016: Q2

Taper + Thanksgiving = a bit of spare time to catch up on blogging. It’s been over 2 months since I last wrote about books, so it’s time to cram all of this year’s books into before the end of the year. Ready? Here are the books I read from April 1st – June 30th.

onemorethingOne More Thing: Stories and Other Stories by B.J. Novak
Goodreads rating: 3.64 stars (out of 5); 27,900+ ratings
My rating: 3 stars
Categories: Fiction, short stories, humor
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “B.J. Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories is an endlessly entertaining, surprisingly sensitive, and startlingly original debut collection that signals the arrival of a welcome new voice in American fiction.
Across a dazzling range of subjects, themes, tones, and narrative voices, Novak’s assured prose and expansive imagination introduce readers to people, places, and premises that are hilarious, insightful, provocative, and moving-often at the same time.”
My 2-cents: I found this collection of short stories to be very uneven. Some were very original and witty, while others were either too short or pointless. A quick read though, so it’s worth a perusal. A nice palate cleanser after Missoula.

betweenworldandmeBetween the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Goodreads rating: 4.39 stars (out of 5); 71,000+ ratings
My rating: 4 stars
Categories: Non-fiction, race, memoir
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “In a series of essays, written as a letter to his son, Coates confronts the notion of race in America and how it has shaped American history, many times at the cost of black bodies and lives. Thoughtfully exploring personal and historical events, from his time at Howard University to the Civil War, the author poignantly asks and attempts to answer difficult questions that plague modern society. In this short memoir, the “Atlantic” writer explains that the tragic examples of Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, and those killed in South Carolina are the results of a systematically constructed and maintained assault to black people–a structure that includes slavery, mass incarceration, and police brutality as part of its foundation. From his passionate and deliberate breakdown of the concept of race itself to the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, Coates powerfully sums up the terrible history of the subjugation of black people in the United States. A timely work, this title will resonate with all teens–those who have experienced racism as well as those who have followed the recent news coverage on violence against people of color.
My 2-cents: Poetic and moving. Like most poetry, I had to re-read sections 2-3 times to soak in what was written. At times, it reminded me of Invisible Man, so I was surprised to see that Coates never mentioned Ellison in all of his references to other black writers and artists. I didn’t fully comprehend or agree with Coates 100% of the time, but that’s the point, right? Highly recommended.

your-fathersYour Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? by Dave Eggers
Goodreads rating: 3.58 stars (out of 5); 5,000+ ratings
My rating: 3 stars
Categories: Fiction
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? is the formally daring, brilliantly executed story of one man struggling to make sense of his country, seeking answers the only way he knows how.
In a barracks on an abandoned military base, miles from the nearest road, Thomas watches as the man he has brought wakes up. Kev, a NASA astronaut, doesn’t recognize his captor, though Thomas remembers him. Kev cries for help. He pulls at his chain. But the ocean is close by, and nobody can hear him over the waves and wind. Thomas apologizes. He didn’t want to have to resort to this. But they really needed to have a conversation, and Kev didn’t answer his messages. And now, if Kev can just stop yelling, Thomas has a few questions.”
My 2-cents: The dialogue-only format is fresh and reads like a play, and the premise is interesting enough, but like Eggers’s most recent books, this one leaves me cold.

eligibleEligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld
Goodreads rating: 3.66 stars (out of 5); 30,800+ ratings
My rating: 3.5 stars
Categories: Fiction, easy read
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray…”
My 2-cents: A fast and enjoyable read. Better than expected.


The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mckenzie
Goodreads rating: 3.49 stars (out of 5); 2,900+ ratings
My rating: 4 stars
Categories: Fiction, quirky
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “The Portable Veblen is a dazzlingly original novel that’s as big-hearted as it is laugh-out-loud funny. Set in and around Palo Alto, amid the culture clash of new money and old (antiestablishment) values, and with the specter of our current wars looming across its pages, The Portable Veblen is an unforgettable look at the way we live now. A young couple on the brink of marriage—the charming Veblen and her fiancé Paul, a brilliant neurologist—find their engagement in danger of collapse. Along the way they weather everything from each other’s dysfunctional families, to the attentions of a seductive pharmaceutical heiress, to an intimate tête-à-tête with a very charismatic squirrel.”
My 2-cents: Quirky, imaginative, and fun to read. I can already see it as a hit indie flick. I’m really impressed by how the author manages to make two very dysfunctional families humorous as opposed to depressing.

life-changing-magicThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō
Goodreads rating: 3.77 stars (out of 5); 93,000+ ratings
My rating: 3.5 stars
Categories: DIY, self-improvement
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles? Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).
With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this international best seller featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home – and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.”
My 2-cents: 3.5 stars. This was an easy, quick read and funny without meaning to be. I’m not a particularly messy/cluttered/hoarder person, but I think I was attracted to the idea of someone telling how to get rid of stuff I don’t need. The insights I especially appreciated were about the guilt/unease we have regarding throwing gifts or expensive items away. As someone who grew up in a frugal house, I have a hard time throwing things away. I also thought the author had a good point about hanging on to things because we either cling on to the past or are fearful of the future. Finally, I agree that surrounding yourself with things that bring you joy would be an ideal thing to do.

That said, the way she anthropomorphizes objects was too kooky for me. I’m sorry, but I’m not going to thank my handbag every day when I get home. Nor will I empty out the contents when I get home and repack them the next day. I’m also not going to implement her tip to remove shower items after every shower, dry them off, and place them in a cabinet…just so it’s easier to clean the shower/bathtub. (The author admits that she has been obsessed with organizing since the age of 5, so she’s very…special.) Mostly though, while I think that *some* people have serious psychological issues that exhibit themselves in the amount of clutter they have in their home, I’m not sure that this approach will be magical or life-changing for me personally.

Update: I’m almost done with the decluttering project and hope to blog about it sometime soon!

you-only-fasterYOU (Only Faster) by Greg McMillan
Goodreads rating: 4.0 stars (out of 5); 149 ratings
My rating: 3 stars? TBD
Categories: running, coaching
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “YOU (Only Faster) is a departure from the traditional running book as Greg McMillan walks the reader step by step through the process he uses to create his successful customized training plans, teaching you how to tweak a plan based on your own strengths and weaknesses as a runner. Find out the secrets behind Greg’s 20 years of success in coaching athletes of all ages and abilities from beginners to Olympians!”
My 2-cents: I’ve written about this on the blog a couple of times, in most detail here. I’ve used his training plan to for a half and a full marathon, and so far, I’ve enjoyed both. The proof is in the pudding! Content-wise, there’s not much in the book. You can read the whole thing in an hour. I feel like he expects most readers to be experienced runners and not complete nOObs.

wolf-hallWolf Hall (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #1) by Hilary Mantel
Goodreads rating: 3.83 stars (out of 5); 109,000+ ratings
My rating: 2.5 stars
Categories: Historical fiction
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “Tudor England. Henry VIII is on the throne, but has no heir. Cardinal Wolsey is charged with securing his divorce. Into this atmosphere of distrust comes Thomas Cromwell – a man as ruthlessly ambitious in his wider politics as he is for himself. His reforming agenda is carried out in the grip of a self-interested parliament and a king who fluctuates between romantic passions and murderous rages.”
My 2-cents: Wolf Hall has been on my to-read list for years, so I finally decided to tackle it this spring. It took me a whole month to read it. No matter how hard I tried, I just could not get into it. I understand the style is supposed to be more akin to Old English, but I didn’t like it and found some parts very confusing. I felt only a small amount of tenderness/sympathy for the main character, Cromwell, and was apathetic towards the rest of the characters. There was a lot of the use “he”, and it took me a while to finally realize that “he” meant Cromwell. I’m surprised that so many people liked it and that it won the Man Booker Prize. I won’t be reading the second installment (Bringing Up the Bodies).

the-nestThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney
Goodreads rating: 3.5 stars (out of 5); 55,000+ ratings
My rating: 4 stars
Categories: Fiction
Abbreviated Goodreads Summary: “A warm, funny and acutely perceptive debut novel about four adult siblings and the fate of the shared inheritance that has shaped their choices and their lives.
Every family has its problems. But even among the most troubled, the Plumb family stands out as spectacularly dysfunctional. Years of simmering tensions finally reach a breaking point on an unseasonably cold afternoon in New York City as Melody, Beatrice, and Jack Plumb gather to confront their charismatic and reckless older brother, Leo, freshly released from rehab. Months earlier, an inebriated Leo got behind the wheel of a car with a nineteen-year-old waitress as his passenger. The ensuing accident has endangered the Plumbs joint trust fund, “The Nest,” which they are months away from finally receiving. Meant by their deceased father to be a modest mid-life supplement, the Plumb siblings have watched The Nest’s value soar along with the stock market and have been counting on the money to solve a number of self-inflicted problems…”
My 2-cents: Fun and fast read. The ending was a bit too perfect for me, but I enjoyed the book overall.

2016 Books: Q1


Howdy! My name is Jen and I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I like to eat, run, and blog, but not usually at the same time.

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4 comments on “Books 2016: Q2
  1. Ta-Nehisi Coates almost became my neighbor. He literally was going to live down the street from me in BK, but the media got a hold of his address and published it. He got spooked and is now selling that brownstone. The fact he was my almost-neighbor is the Coates factoid I like to tell whenever his name gets mentioned.

  2. Dominick S. says:

    i have to remember to get to Coates, I have only read his articles on The Atlantic but I really like his perspective. Outside of BJ Novak, which one of the other books would you rec the most?

    • Jen says:

      None of these were “holy crap, this is phenomenal”, but my top 3 are: Coates, The Portable Veblen, and The Nest. The latter two are well-written with fleshed-out characters and interesting plots. For you, I’d recommend The Nest over The Portable Veblen. Just a hunch, maybe I’m wrong…don’t hate me if you hate it!

  3. […] of doing the detailed book updates I did for Quarters 1 and 2, here’s a quick 2-cents of the books I read in the latter half of 2016 (in chronological […]

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4/28/19: London Marathon

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