Uncommon Type: uncommonly good

Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks

3 words: engaging, wide-ranging, creative

 

Tom Hanks — the dude can write! Word on the street was that his new collection of short stories — his first book — had it goin’ on. And I gotta say: True.

I’ve been raving about it for the past few weeks. I plan to continue this behavior for quite some time.

The first story was funny and wry, and the second (“Christmas Eve 1953”) was so idyllic at the outset that I knew it had to have a dark side. (It did. It nearly broke my heart.)

There’s some pretty impressive range here — in perspective and voice and place and timeframe and tone.

I was especially gratified that he can write convincing female characters. He got that really right.

So the whole collection pleased me.

And then there was the story “These Are the Meditations of My Heart.” This one blew me away. It made my heart sing; it made me verklempt. It made me do a little gasp of happiness at the end, even though the ending was not dramatic. He didn’t write it for effect. But it had a profound effect on me nonetheless. The story sounds simple: A young woman buys an old typewriter and takes it to a repair shop, where the owner informs her it’s a toy and he will not fix it. Conversation ensues. At one point, I laughed out loud, and at the end there was that gasping thing. It was quite perfect.

I listened to the audiobook, which Hanks narrates himself. It was also quite perfect. The only problem was the dilemma of listening to short stories. When each one ended, I needed to give it a little breathing room. It seemed the only decent thing to do. It’s just that it’s nicer to pause between stories when reading the words on a page, because you can get up and refill your cup of coffee and swap out the laundry and then you might be ready for the next. In the car, there’s just dead air time.

Each of the stories includes a typewriter, and by the end I was in full typewriter lust mode. Having seen someone recently actually using a typewriter, I have decided my laptop suits me fine. But the romance of an old typewriter… it’s a thing.

I’m not a big reader of short stories, but these…  These are winners. Often poignant, frequently quiet, sometimes funny, always deeply human.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… celebrity authors, well-evoked characters, short stories from a variety of viewpoints, typewriters

Alexander Hamilton: it’s simply amazing

shirt courtesy of twhistory.storenvy.com

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

3 words: detailed, absorbing, lush

 

It’s no secret that I’m hooked on Hamilton. But there’s much I’ve left unsaid on this topic. So, today: an exposé!

Welcome to… True Confessions and Contradictions

 

The 1st confession

It took me 14 months to read this book, even though I loved it.

Granted, it’s 818 pages long, but sometimes a person races through a long book. This biography is packed to the gills with details, and each sentence is worth reading with a fair amount of care.

Which is not to say that this is a tough read — it’s the opposite. In the Acknowledgments, Chernow says he read aloud every word of the book to his wife. When I saw that, I thought, “Ahhhh! So that’s why the thing is so darn readable.”

Take this section: “Words were his chief weapons, and his account books are crammed with purchases for thousands of quills, parchments, penknives, slate pencils, reams of foolscap, and wax. His papers show that, Mozart-like, he could transpose complex thoughts onto paper with a few revisions. At other times, he tinkered with the prose but generally did not alter the logical progression of his thought. He wrote with the speed of a beautifully organized mind that digested ideas thoroughly, slotted them into appropriate pigeonholes, then regurgitated them at will.” (p.  250)

So the book is long, the writing is lovely, and the subject matter is almost too weird to be true. Alexander Hamilton led a wildly unlikely life.

This leads us to…

 

The 2nd confession

I admire Hamilton’s genius and his work ethic and his professional ethics, but I despise his decision to betray his wife.

The heights this man reached, particularly considering the early obstacles he faced, are nothing short of astonishing. And then Chernow uses the perfect words to sum it up: “If Washington was the father of the country and Madison the father of the Constitution, then Alexander Hamilton was surely the father of the American government.” (p. 481)

I don’t know about you, but sentences like that stop me in my tracks and sometimes set me to weeping.

And then there are things like this: Jefferson gave Gallatin the task of uncovering fraud committed by Hamilton, and Gallatin came back with, “‘I have found the most perfect system ever formed. Any change that should be made in it would injure it. Hamilton made no blunders and committed no frauds. He did nothing wrong.’” (p. 647)

Again: stunned and awed.

And then I remember Hamilton’s torrid affair with Maria Reynolds, and I think: Dude, there’s never any call for that, and I think harsh thoughts about his character.

Which brings us to…

The 3rd confession

I find Hamilton a completely fascinating character, but I’m pretty sure that if I knew him personally, I wouldn’t like him.

There’s his decision to disregard his marriage vows and humiliate his wife, there’s his abrasive personality, there’s his ego. I don’t like any of i

t. And I know: without being abrasive and egotistical, he might not have accomplished all he did. But I still get to think I don’t like that personality.

And yet! There are other moments in his life that fill me with joy: the collaboration and writing of The Federalist (this part of the book made me so happy) and his partnership with Washington. I remember a reference question about political speechwriters from my early days as a librarian, when I learned that Hamilton and Washington had co-written Washington’s farewell address. And reading about it here caused me some mild ecstasy.

 

So, like the very best of books, I’m left pondering and weighing ideas and rethinking. It’s one of those satisfying reading experiences that carries on even after the final page. I’m leaving my page of reader’s notes inside the book when I shelve it, so I can easily refer back to the parts I loved best. (I’ve never done that before.)

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… the American Revolution, American history, historical scandal, complex historical figures, in-depth biographies, Hamilton the musical

 

Anyone else out there a Hamilton fanatic?

Dear Fahrenheit 451… dear heaven, what a great book

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks: A Librarian’s Love Letters and Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life by Annie Spence

3 words: smart, snarky, heartening

Well, guys, it’s happened. I finally did that thing where I said to the Dear Man, “You’ve gotta read this. Right now” — and then I handed him the title chapter from this book, which is one of the loveliest odes to librarianship ever written (even if it does contain an f-bomb. Or two).

This entire book delighted me and surprised me, even as so much of it rang true — the books that change a person’s life, the cringe-worthy books to be weeded from the collection, the conversations with readers that results in our handing them books they’ll love, the books that irritate us as readers… it’s all here.

And it’s seriously in the form of letters to each of the books. And that’s kind of perfect.

Spence is a librarian, yes, but man is she ever a writer. Her writing’s smart and it’s conversational and it’s funny and sometimes it’s even inspiring.

Catch this line from a letter to the entire Public Library Children’s Section:

“You make it look easy, like fun even. But what you do is hard work. Important work. And you’re the only one who can do it.”

Then: “Hard work. These kids have got to fall in love with you. They need to learn to read, so they can love to read, so they can understand how many different lives they are capable of.” (p. 142)

I nearly got verklempt.

Oh, people… if you’re here, you’re a reader. And that means you’re probably going to love this book.

 

Give this book a whirl if you like… books about books, the librarian life, books in letter form, libraries, books that change your life

 

Readers… Have you ever read a book that made you love your work even more than you already did?

10 year blogiversary

Photo by Gaelle Marcel on Unsplash

Unruly Reader Turns 10 by Unruly Reader

3 words: books, community, playground

 

When I started this blog 10 years ago, I had no idea what that decade would bring. Some of it was terrible (my mom died that year, and say what you will about the stages of grief, it still sometimes hits me like category 5 hurricane) and some of it is wonderful (finding my Person — so worth the wait — it sometimes hits me like the loveliest breeze on a perfect sunny day, and I just whisper thank you).

And through it all: I kept blogging, even when it felt like nobody was looking.

And even though some weeks, I didn’t have it.

But, as the StrengthsFinder experience confirmed, I have Discipline. So posting: it happened.

And then: delightful things happened.

I met bloggers, either virtually or in person, and they’re now part of the fabric of my life. And that’s what I call a blessing.

And blogging has become a form of play… but it’s the kind of play that pays dividends. I read more thoughtfully now, and I take better notes. And I keep learning new things in my day job that make me a better blogger, and I keep learning new things as a blogger that make me a better librarian.

And while we’re talking dividends, I’ll just say this: I’ve received way more from blogging than I’ve put into it. It’s a darn good investment.

Good people of the bookish Interwebs, I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for 10 great years.

And now… onward! There’re books to read, and posts to write.

2018 reading goals

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

As an Upholder, I seriously love New Year’s resolutions. Actually, I love goal setting at any time of the year. And I mean: I freakin’ love it.

So this time of year — so fresh, so new, so full of resolutions — has me all hopping around like a happy little thing*.

Needless to say, I’ve got some reading goals for the year ahead.

Here they are:

 

First: Read diverse books. Goal: 20% of my reading will be books by diverse authors. I met the 20% goal last year, and it made my reading life the richer.

 

Second: Complete Book Bingo Blackout 2018, our very own reading challenge. Anyone wanna join me? Grab the bingo card here!

 

 

Third: Complete the 2018 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

 

 

Fourth: Complete the 2018 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge

 

 

Within each reading challenge, each book will count for only one category. But I’ll allow myself to use the same essay collection for both Read Harder and Modern Mrs. Darcy. If I’m especially clever, it’s possible I’ll find some books that will qualify for all three challenges. Three birds, one book!

And now I’m off to do some anticipatory quivering of delight…

 

My fellow readers… What are your reading goals this year?

 

*full disclosure: I’m a tall, gawky, awkward thing (but still happy. and hopping)

My 2017 Reading Year: The good, the bad, and the ugly

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2017: you were a lovely reading year!

I’m delighted with most of the books I read this year (largely because very few of them were assigned, so I could bail on anything that didn’t strike my fancy).

I’ve written about my favorite books of the year — the new releases and the backlist.

Today we’re looking at the big picture.

The good people at Goodreads provide a snapshot of one’s reading year, and it’s all visually appealing and everything.

I read 83 books this year (81 titles, cuz 2 were re-reads within the year) and hit my goal of reading 75 books. (OK, so I revised that down from 100 cuz I couldn’t handle Goodreads taunting me with my failure to keep pace. But never mind that.)

Of those, a whopping 36 were audiobooks. My ears are practically worn out, you guys.

So we have The Good…

My proudest achievement this year is reaching my goal that 20% of the books I read would be written by diverse authors. (22%!) It was a richly rewarding experience.

And here’s The Bad & The Ugly…

So we already know I failed to reach my original goal of 100 books for the year, but I also failed to complete the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge. I read books for 17 of the 24 categories, but I didn’t manage to read a collection of poetry in translation or an all-ages comic (or 5 other things). But: I’m trying again next year. 2018, I’m feeling robust!

Let’s go back to The Good, cuz we’re gonna leave this year on an up note…

My favorite things about this year of reading are:

  • The fact that I loved so many of the books I read
  • Reading more diverse authors

 

Readers… what were your favorite reading achievements this year?

Best Books of 2017: New to Me

Photo by Cathryn Lavery on Unsplash

 

Last week I posted my top 10 favorite books published in 2017.

 

This week we’re celebrating the backlist.

 

Here are the favorite books I read this year that were published before 2017…

 

Best Fiction

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Give this book a whirl if you like… skilled storytelling, literary novels with a modern tone and sense of humor, complex family stories, a wry tone, narratives that interweave the past and the present, 1960s counterculture, and stories of the past coming back to bite you

 

Best Feel-Good Fiction

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

Give this book a whirl if you like… heartwarming and quirky stories, charming characters, the Guinness Book of Records, children on the autism spectrum, intergenerational friendships, seniors with lively personalities, and stories of one person’s small actions having a big impact on others

 

Best Nonfiction

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

This one’s a re-read, because we went to there!

Give this book a whirl if you like… the behind the scenes story (literally!), stories of collaboration, the creative process, exuberance, music, history, and beautiful books

 

Best YA Fiction

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz

Give this book a whirl if you like… smart and thoughtful novels, emotional coming of age stories, teen angst, family secrets, LGBTQ stories, and stories about friendship

 

Best Children’s Book

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Give this book a whirl if you like…  warm and honest stories of childhood, lyrical books in verse, and books you can read in small snippets

 

 

Best Memoir

Find a Way by Diana Nyad

Give this book a whirl if you like… forthright and candid memoirs, extreme sports, strong women, stories of vigor, senior power, swimming, stories of abuse survivors, and living a bold life

 

 

Best Self-Improvement Book

Deep Work by Cal Newport

Give this book a whirl if you like… game-changing productivity books, thoughtful and practical advice, diving deep, focus, and taking back control in a world filled with distractions

 

 

Best Speculative Fiction

11/22/63 by Stephen King

Give this book a whirl if you like… time travel, wide-ranging and absorbing stories, reading about the JFK assassination, a wry first-person narrative, and books that have it all: a ripping plot, realistic characters, and creative use of language

 

Best Graphic Novel

United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell

Give this book a whirl if you like… the Schoolhouse Rock approach to learning, government, lively and educational nonfiction graphic novels, and the “why” behind the American system of government

 

 

Best Historical Fiction

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Give this book a whirl if you like… thoughtful and touching novels about intergenerational friendships, well-chosen words, 19th-century America, an intersection of cultures, journalism, and widowers

 

Best Short Stories

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis

Give this book a whirl if you like… the clever use of words, sharp and modern short stories, a fair amount of snark, creative stories, the occasional dark twist, variety in tone among stories, and a quick and rewarding read

 

 

So, readers… What are your favorite books you read this year?

 

Best Books of 2017… it’s #libfaves17

(Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash)

 

My friends, it’s time for #libfaves17.

This is the annual torture event that challenges us to not only choose our top 10 new books of the year, but also to rank them.

I love list-making, but this is a tough one.

 

 

Here goes:

    1. Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things by Amy Dickinson: sprightly, romantic, domestic
    2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders: melancholy, gentle, eccentric
    3. The Leavers by Lisa Ko: sympathetic, character study, emotional
    4. On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman: witty, light, romantic
    5. Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz: character-driven, absorbing, metafiction
    6. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown: narrative, thoughtful, engaging
    7. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: quietly suspenseful, suburban drama, discussible
    8. My Life, My Love, My Legacy by Coretta Scott King: inspiring, dignified, impassioned
    9. Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel: conversational, personal, thoughtful
    10. The Western Star by Craig Johnson: gripping, complex, masculine

 

So… what were your favorite newly published books in 2017?

Introducing Book Bingo 2018!

 

Welcome to Book Bingo 2018!

Whether this is your first Book Bingo challenge, or you’ve been at it all four years… welcome! I’m glad you’re here.

My co-creators and I have rolled out a Book Bingo challenge again this year, and you’re invited to play standard bingo or blackout.

This year we discovered that several of our categories could relate to glamour, but your reading doesn’t need to follow that tone. (Ours won’t!)

Thanks to my co-creators for making this such a fun experience every year. Here’ s looking at you…

  • My dear friend, whose ideas continue to inspire and challenge me — and make me laugh
  • The Dear Man, who never even blinked when we said, “We’d like something with a retro ’50’s glam look, please.” He simply created exactly what was in our mind’s eye. Also: repeatedly makes me laugh

How to Play

  • Read a book that fits the category. Each book can qualify for only one category.
  • Complete just one row or column, or go for blackout by reading a book in every category.
  • All books must be finished in 2018. Books started in 2017 but finished in 2018 count.
  • We’ve provided some definitions, but you can free-style it if you like—as long as you can make a case that the book fits the category.
  • All categories can be fiction or nonfiction (your choice), unless otherwise specified.

 

About the Categories

Reserved – Although you may reserve a book at the library and anticipate its arrival, a book can also be reserved in its tone and theme.

 

#ownvoices – a book written by a member of a marginalized community that it depicts

 

Epic – A generational saga or transformational journey

 

Upgrade Your Life – Take things to the next level — mentally, physically, or spiritually

 

Been There, Read That – A book set in a place you’ve lived or visited

 

Psychological – A book that messes with your mind or heals your mind

 

Fashion(able) – A book about fashion, a book about trends, or a book that is trending

 

Read the Movie – There’s a movie based on this book

 

Judge a Book By Its Cover – You love or hate the cover

 

The Help – A book about those who serve others. Or a self-help book.

 

Timeless Classic – A book that’s stood the test of time

 

I Bought It – A book you bought, or a book whose premise you bought into

 

Rock – Earth, a gemstone, music — however you want to define it

 

Time Travel – A character travels forward or backward in time

 

Cocktails – Alcohol is an ingredient in the book

 

Glamour – A book that portrays a glamorous life

 

Wealth – A book about finance, money, or life’s riches

 

Urban – A book set in a city, or a book about a city

 

Lost Generation – A book by or about the generation that came of age during WWI (born 1883-1900; e.g., Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Babe Ruth, Harry Truman)

 

My People – You identify with the characters based on your roots or sense of identity

 

Audie Award – Listen to or read an Audie Award winner or finalist

 

True Crime – Nonfiction book about a crime

 

South of the Equator – A book set south of the Equator, or written by an author from a country south of the Equator

 

Outsider – The protagonist is alienated from her/his surroundings. Or, a stranger comes to town…

 

No More Waiting – It’s been on your TBR, on your nightstand, on your mind. Read it already.

 

Questions? Answers!

If you have any questions about any of the categories, please ask in the Comments, and I promise to respond.

 

So… who’s in?

Book Bingo 2017: What I Read

We’re heading into the home stretch of 2017, and Book Bingo 2017 is reaching the finish line, too.

 

It’s been a great year of reading, and much of that’s been inspired by our gorgeous Western-themed bingo card.

 

Here’s what it prompted me to read…

 

 

Asia

A book with an Asian author, character, or setting

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

 

Assigned Reading

A book you need to read

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

 

Author’s Name Begins With M

The author’s first or last name begins with the letter “M”

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott

 

Bad Title

The title doesn’t fit the book. Or the book sounds good, but you hate the title.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

 

Best in Class

One of the best examples of its genre

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

 

A Book I Own

Read something from your own shelf

Hungry Heart by Jennifer Weiner

 

Bookstore Discovery

A book you found at a bookstore

Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter

 

Boomer Lit

Written by Baby Boomers, for Baby Boomers

11/22/63 by Stephen King

 

Creativity

Exploring the creative process

The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman

 

Doom and Gloom

When things go terribly wrong

Born Survivors by Wendy Holden

 

Escape

A book about someone breaking free—either literally or metaphorically—or a book that is a true escape for you as a reader

Mary Russell’s War by Laurie R. King

 

Guilty Pleasure   

Something you shouldn’t like, but you like it anyway

Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

 

Highbrow

Literary, scholarly, or classic

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

 

Hot

A trending book or author, a steamy romance, or a book set in a hot climate

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

 

Indigenous Peoples

A book about Native Americans, First Nations, the Inuit, or Aborigines

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

 

The Journey

­­A transformative experience or a literal journey

The One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood

 

Library of Congress Fiction Prize

A book written by an author who won this honor

God Help the Child by Toni Morrison

 

Midcentury Modern

Pick your century, then find a book written in the midst of that century, that has a progressive or modern outlook

Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank

 

Occupational Hazards

A book about a job or workplace. Or a book that helps you become better at your work

On Writing by Stephen King

 

The Outdoors

A book about, or set in, the natural world

George Rogers Clark: I Glory in War by William R. Nester

 

Outlaw

A book about person who lives by his/her own code

March. Book One by John Lewis

 

Pop Psychology

Nonfiction books about why we do the things we do

Strengthsfinder 2.0 by Tom Rath

 

Up in the Air

Planes, planets, astronauts, birds, pollution, clouds, uncertainty, uprootedness–anything that’s up in the air

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly

 

Water

Water is a key element of the story, whether it be setting, activity, or natural phenomenon

Claire of the Sea Light by Edwidge Danticat

 

Where I Grew Up

A book set in a place where you spent your childhood

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

 

 

So, even though Book Bingo 2017 is coming to a close, stay tuned… Book Bingo 2018 drops next week! Stop by next Friday to find out next year’s categories and zippy little theme.  [blogger shiver of excitement]