Book That Go Together

Does it ever happen to you that while you read one book, you find your thoughts constantly returning to another? Sometimes it is an obvious connection -- a sequel, for example, or a continuation of a series. Sometimes it is less obvious but still understandable, like two books by the same author (I'm thinking particularly of Mary Roach, whose books always remind me of each other in the best of ways) or two books on the same subject.

Every once and a while, I find myself reading one book and constantly reminded of another, though the connection is not always apparent. The Casual Vacancy and Emma are one such pairing; for me, a result of reading them at at the same time, but also, I believe, because they dealt with the similar if era-disparate topics of small town gossip, romance, and the neverending wheel of boring, mundane, everyday life.

More recently, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes and The Power of Habit seem inextricably linked in my brain; as I read Mastermind, I keep thinking back to all the brain-learning I did while reading Duhigg's The Power of Habit (both, for the record, are excellent books). I suppose both are about recognizing the patterns of one's own thoughts (and then training them so you can do things better), but  beyond that they really are not the same at all. 

Or are they?

Are Gone Girl and The Likeness different (because really, they are), or do they remind me of each other because they are both psychological mysteries that tip readers on their heads every few hundred pages? Are Live by Night and North River linked because they both have urban settings and gangsters? Because in fact, they are very different in theme and scope and purpose; but the two are intertwined in my brain. Same with Forever and Winter's Tale, both striking novels of New York City dealing with a suspension of disbelief and introducing magical realism to a city we all know is magic. But are they really so similar? Why can I not read one without thinking of the other?

Other pairings include Shine Shine Shine and Packing for Mars (both have spaceships, beyond that they could not be farther in subject), Revolutionary Road and Why Have Kids? (parenting, perhaps?), Let's Pretend This Never Happened and Running With Scissors. The Thirteenth Tale and Shadow of the Wind. The list goes on and on and on.

This is one of my secret joys of reading as widely and as much as I do. I suppose it is what makes recommending books enjoyable to those of us who do it (constantly); if you like this, you'll like this. Or, these two may not seem similar at first blush, but they really are a good pair. 

Some books just go together, even if it is only in the mind of one reader. Does anyone else have book pairings that just seem to go together?

Dennis Lehane + HBO

To follow up on my review of Live by Night from earlier this week...

Looks like someone at HBO read -- and liked -- the novel, too. According to the Boston Herald, Lehane has now signed on as a writer and "creative consultant" for the 4th season of Boardwalk Empire. Apparently Lehane also contributed to a season of The Wire.

Who knew?

News via Shelf Awareness Pro, Wednesday, November 28, 2012.

Slump, Slump, Slump

Guys, I have hit a slump. A reading slump. A writing slump. A reviewing slump. Nothing I pick up to read seems to satisfy whatever it is I am looking for (not that I could define that for you if I tried). Nothing I start to write seems to take shape. Nothing I try to review seems to make sense.

I've tried coffee, I've tried tea. I've tried re-reads, fantasy novels, big historical clunkers of nonfiction. I've tried watching television (that lasted about as long as it took to finish folding the laundry before I got antsy). I've managed to keep up with my review commitments outside of this blog, but I haven't found the magic solution to my slumps outside of that. Any suggestions??

Disclaimer: I am partially hoping that I just need to force myself to write more posts to get my groove back. Let's see if this post helps. Or hurts. Or does absolutely nothing at all!

Audiobook Review: Live by Night, by Dennis Lehane

I have long been a fan of Lehane and his ability to craft well-written, enticing mysteries that embody their settings and bring to life deep, seemingly real characters. It's an art form, and one under-appreciated in a world of thrillers and Patterson mysteries. Live by Night is no exception to the rule of great reading that Lehane has created with his work. Lehane introduces us to Joe Coughlin in 1926 Boston, and then follows this shady but not altogether evil character up nearly every rung of the ladder of organized crime, from lackey to jailbird to crime boss in Florida to fugitive in Cuba. The story is expansive, taking on a world of gangsters and prohibition, drugs and alcohol, sex and romance with a noir flair I've yet to encounter outside of Hollywood (I've also never read The Godfather, so bear with me).

Tight storytelling and well-crafted (if not always well-intentioned) characters make appearances at every stage of Coughlin's adventures, keeping this story moving along at a clipped, steady pace. Live by Night boasts impressive writing and an almost unbelievably simply transportback to a particular time and place, and a stellar narrator on the audio edition, but unfortunately is never quite as gripping as it feels it could have been. Coughlin is likeable but not entirely loveable; Coughlin's world is understandable but not entirely relatable; Coughlin's story is enjoyable but never truly engrossing. That said, however, a less-favorite Lehane novel is still a Lehane novel, and thereby excellent in its own right. I look forward to the next in Lehane's planned Coughlin family trilogy (of which The Given Day was, apparently, the first book).

Oh, and this may also hit the big screen with some Ben Affleck involvement. Get into it.


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Book Riot: Buy, Borrow, Bypass
Beth Fish Reads


You might also like:
The Given Day by Dennis Lehane
Phantom by Jo Nesbo
North River by Pete Hamill


Note: Thanks to the publisher for providing a digital audio copy of this title to review.
Live by Night | Dennis Lehane | HarperAudio | October 2012 | Buy from an independent near you

Book Review: Why Have Kids? by Jessica Valenti

I picked up a copy of Why Have Kids? after reading The Book Lady's Blog's excellent review. Feminism, mothering, parenting, and social norms, all wrapped into one well-designed package? Count me in.
"In 2006, The Washington Post coined the term "pre-pregnant" in response to a report from the Centers for Disease Control recommending that all women of childbearing age care for their pre-conception health. The agency wanted all American women--from the time they have their first period until they go through menopause--to take folic acid supplements, not smoke, not 'misuse' alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, refrain from drug use, and avoid 'high risk sexual behavior.' The CDC was asking women to behave as if they were already pregnant even if they had no intention of conceiving in the near--or far--future. For the first time ever, a U.S. government institution was saying what social norms had always hinted at: That all women, regardless of whether or not they have or want children, are simply mothers-in-waiting." (3-4)
So begins Valenti's introduction to Why Have Kids?, in which she explores the social and cultural norms around parenting--specifically, mothering--in 21-st century America. I have to admit, when I first read that paragraph, I actually had to flip back to the first sentence to confirm that it was, in fact, a CDC recommendation from 2006, because my natural assumption was that this was an out-dated recommendation dating back to the 1960s. Or '50s. Or even '20s. But the 21st century? Do we really still think of women as little more than child-bearing vessels?

Sadly, in an age where British health ministers are recommending similar reproductive health tactics to all women of "childbearing" age; in which we continue to argue the rights and wrongs of Marissa Meyer's maternity decisions; when powerful women still can't have it all; and where reproductive rights have become, yet again, a central point in American political debates, it seems that that is, in fact, still the case. Though we may have become more accepting of single parents, divorced parents, children born out of wedlock, etc., the key word there is "more." Everything is relative. As a society, we are still uncomfortable with family structures that do not look like the "normal" family model we have grown up with on TV--and that includes women and couples who choose not to have children as much as it does gay couples who choose to have children.

I'm not a parent myself--at least not yet. I don't know if or when I may be; at the moment, I'm enjoying my 20s as part of a couple, not a threesome+. But I've been married for two years now, and the number of times I've found myself on the receiving end of the "so-when-are-you-having-kids" question is staggering, astounding, and downright irritating. Why is it that society feels it appropriate to ask about my reproductive plans? What's more--why is it that people assume that now that I am married I will instantaneously start planning for children? Can't I just be me--a full-time marketing professional, wife of an amazing man, book reviewer, sailor-in-training, and obsessive book collector--at least for a little while? Isn't that enough?

These questions lay at the heart of Valenti's excellent book on mothering, parenthood, and 21-century ideals, though her arguments go much deeper than my own initial thoughts had taken me. She tackles issues of breastfeeding (To breastfeed or not to breastfeed? More importantly, why do we care how other people feed their children?); childless couples (Apparently, there are actual support groups for these people, they are so ostracized and misunderstood.); the "myth" that children make us happier (Studies have found that, in fact, the exact opposite is true.); the idea of parenting as a "job" (To work or not to work? See again: Marissa Meyer.); and so on. 

No one person will agree with everything Valenti argues in Why Have Kids?, but, as Rebecca at The Book Lady's Blog points out, that is precisely the point. Parenting is tough--whether one chooses to be a parent or not--and no two people will look on it the same way. No matter what decisions we make as individuals, others will disagree with us--and no matter what side of an argument Valenti takes on these issues, others will disagree with her.

But underlying all of this disagreement, Valenti seems to be suggesting that the most crucial thing that we can do, as a nation, is embrace the fact that we will not all agree.
"We need to do away with the idea that there is a "natural" way to parent--whatever way we choose to parent is the natural way... American parents need to support one another..." (167).
Only by agreeing to disagree can we turn our attention to the greater problem: how to ensure that we continue to raise happy, healthy children, without sacrificing the happiness and health of their parents. It takes a village, as they say, but until we can put aside our differences, that village is nothing more than a pipe-dream.


You might also like:
The Purity Myth by Jessica Valenti
How to Be a Woman by Caitlin Moran
Bossypants by Tina Fey


Thoughts from other bookworms:


Why Have Kids? | Jessica Valenti | New Harvest | Hardcover | September 2012 | 178 pages

Way Late and a Dollar Short: Grapes of Wrath Readalong Wrap-up

This is the fourth and final post in Devourer of Texts Grapes of Wrath readalong. It was supposed to go up last Tuesday, but then Sandy came along and took out my power, and then I forgot to write it when my power came back on (a mere 24 hours later, so no complaints there). But better late than never, they say!

So... when we last left off, The Grapes of Wrath was generally sad, depressing, and a bit preachy, with occasional bits of humor and/or hopefulness thrown in. But we all knew all along that those bits of humor and/or joy were just a tease, and things were never going to end well for the poor, kind Joads.

They didn't. As if destitution, poverty, and hunger weren't enough, Steinbeck throws in [spoilers: highlight to read] some serious flooding and a stillborn baby for good measure. Oh, and union strikes and scab workers and the rest of it.

And we're left with an utterly depressing picture of humanity and all of its wrongs, of the big corporations and their desire for profit at the expense of human life, of the power of people when they come together as a group but their utter powerlessness when they focus only on what is best for themselves, of the rights of workers and farmers and farmhands and salesmen and shop clerks and everyone else to make their way in the world.

I didn't think of it at the time, but The Grapes of Wrath proved the perfect pre-election read as things wound up to what culminated in an Obama victory last night. Though, as I've mentioned, Steinbeck can go all preachy-like at times, standing on his workers'-rights-soapbox or his corporations-are-evil soapbox, his less-than-subtle hints at the importance of banding together, and looking out for those less fortunate than ourselves, accepting those not like ourselves, and preserving a sense of human dignity throughout it all were key themes in the 2012 election.

Those messages, sometimes delivered subtly through Ma's strength or Rose of Sharon's naivete or Tom's stoicism and sometimes hammered into our heads with Steinbeck's in-between chapters, are the silver lining here. Through all of the sadness and hardships thrown on the Joads, they can, at the very least, teach us something about ourselves and our country today--a pretty hefty tribute to pay to a seventy-year old novel.


Thoughts from other bookworms:
Devouring Texts
Reading Rambo
What Red Read


The Grapes of Wrath | John Steinbeck | Originally published 1939 | 619 pages | Buy from an independent near you

Why Read Classics?

Oh, the classics. Those tricky books that dominate my to-be-read lists but never my recently-completed lists. The ones that line the shelves in the living room with signs that say, "Read me! Read me!" The ones that I can almost hear sigh with resignation when I pick up Gone Girl or opt to re-read Harry Potter for the umpteenth time.

They are a tricky lot, aren't they? It is nearly impossible to say "I don't like the classics," because really, what are they? The mere phrase 'the classics' is so broad and impossibly defined as to prevent anyone from stepping away from the entire category, and yet, in past years, I find that I have done just that.

This year, I've been making a conscious effort to read more of 'the classics,' beginning to pare down my list of books-I've-always-meant-to-read-but-never-got-around-to. I signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge. I signed up, more recently, for the Classics Club. And it is working--I have read 14 classics so far in 2012, compared to a mere 6 in all of 2011. I finally read some of the original Sherlock Holmes stories. I read Anna Karenina. I re-read Hemingway and Fitzgerald.

But why? Why are the classics so important? Why is it that I feel the need to make an effort to read them, when the shiny new hardcovers at the local bookstore look so appealing in their own right?

In looking back over the reviews and reaction pieces I have written after completing one classic or another, the most common thread I've found is their continued relevance in today's world. Anna Karenina, that daunting, 800+ page novel of Russian aristocracy, made important arguments about the state of marriage and motherhood; hypocrisy; double standards; and class. The Old Man and the Sea is a timeless tale of perseverance and determination and acceptance. Entire passages of The Grapes of Wrath could be taken out of context and mistaken for quotes from modern-day politicians battling questions of immigration and poverty and corporate responsibility.

That, I suppose, is why I read the classics--because they are timeless. That's why we consider them classics, after all, and it is why I think it is important to make a conscious effort to get them into my reading mix. Modern books--be it fiction or non--carry important lessons about our time (or, in the case of histories or historical fiction, a time before), and are perfectly capable of teaching us about our selves and our world, but classics have stood the test of time and continued to do just that for generation after generation.


Answer to the October Classics Club prompt: Why are you reading the classics?

A Room Without Books...