Thursday, April 30, 2020

Review: A Very Punchable Face

A Very Punchable Face A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started reading this when the publication date was still listed as April, but now it has been pushed to July. (I think this is going to happen a lot while so much is shut down.)

If you know Colin Jost from Saturday Night Live, then you are familiar with the tone of this book - in fact we've seen a few of the SNL from Home episodes and if you've watched that version of Weekend Update, the funny without the laughter, just kind of sent out into the universe - that's how this book feels to me.

The last few chapters are about what it's like to be a writer or Weekend Update co-host on SNL, but the majority of the book is about his life before that, including childhood. It's like a mixture of Rescue Me (Staten Island version) and... male Gilmore Girls maybe? Small town smart kid has to go to the big city and ends up at Harvard, only to turn towards career paths like small town newspapers, stand-up, and writing for television. Colin Gilmore.

But I enjoyed it. Honestly if Rescue Me hadn't already done it, I think his family's story is compelling enough for its own book or tv series (especially his mother, who has the most holy shit story of the entire book) - and when I thought Colin had leishmaniasis I started swearing so I'm glad he threw some of those tangent chapters in. His description of the Staten Island Ferry is probably award worthy. He humble-brag downplays some of his accomplishments in the way a white Catholic-raised male has to these days, but they really are quite significant. His descriptions of speech & debate tournaments are spot on (but then you realize he went to freaking nationals, hello.) He is comfortable making fun of himself, a brand that he has carried with him into SNL.

Now this comes out in July, the 14th last I saw, so keep your eyes out!

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Wednesday, April 29, 2020

Summer Reading TBR

In the most recent episode of the podcast, I revealed this year's summer reading challenge - to finish incomplete series you might have lingering on your "always meant to read" list. Already some people in the Goodreads group have been talking about different takes on the challenge - reading multiple books by an author that may not be in a series, or starting and reading an entire series despite not having previously read any of the volumes. I want to be clear that all interpretations are solid! The goal, as always, is to inject some inspiration and energy into our reading. Please use #readingenvysummerreading if you post about this in social media so I can find you. Or leave a comment on this post!

I have aspirations for this challenge for sure. But as of right now, all of my libraries remain closed. So I will start with the books I already have and make an aspirational TBR for that time I decide to either fill in from bookstores or regain access to libraries. Of course starting with the books I already own is always preferable, I'm just a little more limited to that this time around.

Books I own

There has been a series of podcast guests who have talked about Haruf, including me. I loved Plainsong, which I read in 2017, and I found copies of Benediction and Eventide but have yet to read them. I have the feeling they are a good match to my current reading mood.

The Alexandria Quartet is near and dear to my heart, except - - I've never finished it. I first read Justine in 2009, followed by reading Balthazar that same year. I reread Justine by listening to a new audio edition in 2015, intending to finish all of them that way, but I got distracted. So I've still never read Mountolive or Clea, but I own both of them. Time to remedy that, I think.

I own three physical books from the Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French, based on the belief I would some day return to the series. It's incomplete but I bet this one is easy to find used books in.  In the Woods is book 1, and I also read that in 2014. Someone alerted me to the Book Riot recommended order of reading the series so I'm going to start there.

I own The Last Policeman series by Ben H. Winters on Kindle thanks to some daily deal a few yaers ago.  The Last Policeman is book 1, and I read it in June 2014.

I still haven't finished the Time Quintet by Madeleine L'Engle either. I must!

Books I would need to buy or borrow

The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante are well-known. My Brilliant Friend is book 1, and I first read it in 2015.  I really loved it, so much that I had this sense of wanting to spread the following novels out. I didn't read The Story of a New Name (book 2) until 2016. Well, now it's 2020 and I have yet to read book 3 or 4!

Now I will list series I've started but would like to finish, or at least read farther than book 1! I'm sure this is incomplete, and there's no way I'll get to even half of this list (but I certainly won't run out.) I'm not a frequent series reader, honestly, as I don't read a lot of crime or mystery novels but there are some literary series of sorts, and some genre fiction sprinkled in too.

Seasonal Quartet by Ali Smith (I've read Autumn and Winter)
Seasons Quartet by Karl Ove Knausgard (I've read Autumn and Winter, hmm)
My Life by Karl Ove Knausgard (I've only read book #1 - likelihood of me tackling this collection this year? Pretty low.)
The Thomas Cromwell Trilogy (I've only read Bring Up the Bodies, which is book 2 - I have started the audio of book 3. Should I read Wolf Hall? I mean it did win the Booker Prize...)
The Winston Brothers by Penny Reid (it could be fun to finish this romance series and the other series it connects to)
Dr. Siri Paiboun series by Colin Cotterill (I've only read the first book)
Ambergris Series by Jeff VanderMeer (I own 2/3 of these)

How about you?

I'd love to hear what you are planning for this challenge!

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Reading Envy 188: TBR Explode and SUMMER READING

On this bonus episode, Jenny reports on the first quarter of her TBR Explode project (now on its second year) and announces this year's Reading Envy Summer Reading Challenge! It's almost May, so it's almost summer, depending on how you define it. Please let me know what you are reading for your summer reading by using the hashtag #readingenvysummerreading - yes I left the challenge part out but it's long enough.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 188: TBR Explode and SUMMER READING

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Books discussed:

Kept on TBR but did not finish

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran by Rob Sheffield

Went ahead and read 

The River Gods by Brian Kiteley
The Madonnas of Echo Park by Brando Skyhorse
Beginner’s Greek by James Collins
A Brief History of Time by Shaindel Beers
Unformed Landscape by Peter Stamm

Tried and abandoned 

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais
Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm
My Empire of Dirt by Manny Howard
Wonder by Hugo Claus
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker
Kings of the Earth by Jon Clinch
The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
Two Marriages by Phillip Lopate
What is Left the Daughter by Howard Norman
The Bible Salesman by Clyde Edgerton
Lush Life by Richard Price
In the Kitchen by Monica Ali
The Grift by Debra Ginsberg
My Father’s Tears and Other Stories by John Updike
Pygmy by Chuck Palahniuk
A Good Fall by Ha Jin
The Case of the Missing Books by Ian Sansom
The Widower’s Tale by Julia Glass
The Cookbook Collector by Allegra Goodman
Cheese Making by Rita Ash
The Irresistible Henry House by Lisa Grunwald
Country Driving by Peter Hessler
The Big Short by Michael Lewis

Other mentions:

The Last Policeman series by Ben H. Winters (The Last Policeman is book 1)
Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French (In the Woods is book 1)
Tana French - Book Riot recommended order
The Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante (My Brilliant Friend is book 1)

Related episodes:

Episode 024 - The Attention of Humanity with guests Seth Wilson and Barret Newman
Episode 149 - TBR Explode! (2019)
Episode 158 - TBR Explode 2 (2019)
Episode 168 - TBR Explode 3 (2019)
Episode 169 - Simulacrum with Jon Sealy  
Episode 174 - Cozy Holiday Reads and TBR Explode 4 (2019)

Stalk us online:
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Reading Envy 187: Sentient Snails and Spaceships

Paula joins Jenny from New Zealand, where everyone is getting a little antsy from having to stay home. Jenny chats poetry and non-fiction while Paula brings historical and science fiction, and one gritty regional novel winning all the awards in Australia. In fact, we talk about several book awards. One of these books doesn't come out in the USA until June, but that's publishing for you!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 187: Sentient Snails and Spaceships

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Books discussed:

Shadowplay by Joseph O'Connor
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie
Postcolonial Love Poem by Natalie Diaz
Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Other mentions:

Marriage Material by Sathnam Sanghera
@cathythoughts and @carolynm on Litsy
Costa Book Awards
Dracula by Bram Stroker
The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Nebula Award
Hugo Award
Arthur C. Clarke Award
When My Brother was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz
See the poet read "Ode to the Beloved's Hips"
Miles Franklin Award
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko
Tim Winton
Books on the Go podcast
Stella Prize
Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb
Celestial Bodies by Jokha Alharthi

Related episodes:

Episode 119 - Bread and Butter Writing with Paula
Episode 154 - Is If If with Paula
Episode 176 - Best of 2019

Stalk us online:
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Paula is @centique on Litsy

Monday, April 13, 2020

Review: Then the Fish Swallowed Him

Then the Fish Swallowed Him Then the Fish Swallowed Him by Amir Ahmadi Arian
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yunus Turabi is a bus driver in Tehran who gets stuck taking the fall for a bus driver protest. You wouldn't believe how quickly a society falls apart without bus drivers! Most of the novel is his interrogation where more pieces of his story slowly fall into place. This is very contemporary despite the cover, 21st century Iran.

There's definitely a feeling that Yunus has been... wait for it... thrown under the bus, but has he really? Or is their surveillance just very detailed?

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Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Upcoming Reading Envy Readalong

The last episode of the Reading Envy Podcast included a brief announcement of the next Reading Envy Readalong title: Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. (Join in on the weekly conversations in the Reading Envy Readers Goodreads Group.)

Buy me on Amazon
Buy me on Audible (45 hours)
Find me on Hoopla (as of this posting, a bonus download)
Order from (linking to one of my local stores)
Order from Malaprops (another favorite local store)

You may wonder, why this book?

For one thing, it is massive, at 1040 pages. I need a group to help me through! And I understand it to be very few sentences, and it just goes on in a stream of consciousness style. It's written by a female author, it's about a woman, it's in the woman's head.

For another thing, it received a lot of acclaim. Shortlisted for the Booker Prize (I expected it to win!), winner of the Goldsmiths Prize, listed on year-end lists for many publications not to mention the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Time Magazine.

I also understand it to be the internal dialogue of a very busy woman who is juggling children and housework while feeling deep concern for the political landscape and more. In some ways it seemed like this might be a good read while we are all feeling extra domestic.

A few items you can look at to further acquaint yourself:

The Guardian Books Podcast Interview with Lucy Ellmann (I was charmed!)

WhatKamilReads review of the book (one of my favorite BookTube accounts)

LitHub Interview with the author, 2019 (calls her the Great American Novelist, but she moved to the UK in 1970)
Vogue interview about the Twitter controversy over her comments on motherhood (ooh, controversy!)

Reading Schedule

This is a hard one but I'm going to push us a little harder than we pushed on The Odyssey. Since you just have to jab a bookmark in and interrupt the flow regardless, you might as well immerse into the narrative 175 pages at a time. Right? Right!

April 19-25 1-174
April 26-May 2 175-349
May 3-9 350-524
May 10-16 525-659
May 17-23 700-824
May 24-30 825-1040 (just slip those last few pages in here)

I'm hoping we can record a readalong discussion on the 31st. I feel we waited too long with The Odyssey and I want us all to be fresh. I hope you can join in! Details for the online discussion will be in the Goodreads group.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Reading Envy 186: This is Gravity with Jeff Koeppen

Jeff joins Jenny to chat books we have read and enjoyed recently, but also what it's like to work from home, what kind of reading we feel like doing right now, and more.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy 186: This Is Gravity

Subscribe to the podcast via this link: Feedburner
Or subscribe via Apple Podcasts by clicking: Subscribe
Or listen through TuneIn
Or listen on Google Play
Listen via Stitcher
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Books discussed:

Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil DeGrasse Tyson
The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
No Time to Spare by Ursula K. Le Guin  
Real Life by Brandon Taylor  
A Woman in the Polar Night by Christine Ritter

Other mentions:

Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Absalom, Absalom by William Faulkner
Carrie Brownstein
StarTalk Radio Show
Cosmos (tv show)
The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli
Meet Me in the Future by Kameron Hurley
Kameron Hurley blog post about timeline for The Light Brigade
The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley
God's War by Kameron Hurley
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
Always Coming Home by Ursula K. Le Guin
Ursula K. Le Guin - speech for the National Book Foundation's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.
Unformed Landscape by Peter Stamm
An Intimate View of Robert G. Ingersoll by Isaac Newton Baker
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Related episodes:

Episode 090 - Reading Envy Readalong: East of Eden with Ellie and Jeff
Episode 093 - Spewing Science with Jeff Koeppen
Episode 099 - Reading Envy Readalong: The Secret History
Episode 116 - Make Margaret Atwood Fiction Again with Jeff Koeppen
Episode 148 - Multiple Lives with Jeff
Episode 167 - Book Pendulum with Reggie
Episode 172 - The It Book of NYC with Jon Laubinger 
Episode 185 - The Loyal Swineherd (Odyssey readalong)

Stalk us online:
Jenny at Goodreads
Jenny on Twitter
Jenny is @readingenvy on Instagram and Litsy
Jeff at Goodreads
Jeff on Twitter
Jeff is @BestDogDad on Litsy 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Review: Home Is a Stranger

Home Is a Stranger Home Is a Stranger by Parnaz Foroutan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've found a bit of a memoir stride this weekend, this is no. 3! After her father's death, Parnaz returned to Iran in her 20s (in 2001) to try to regain a sense of connection to his past. Along the way she broke most rules of respectability, had a few life-changing experiences, and struggled to bridge the gap between her two identities.

Among the many "mistakes" she made, she was reprimanded or arrested for "revealing too much of herself (being open)," laughing out loud, and showing a line of ankle while playing tennis. At one party she realized what she was saying was being portrayed by other women her age as "corrupting propaganda of the slut from Los Angeles."

The writing is beautiful, leading me to immediately look for more by this author (I was hoping for poetry but she does have a novel that came out a few years ago, huzzah!). I did find a few events in this book to feel a bit like she was asking a bit too much suspension of disbelief by the reader but they were beautifully rendered. Perhaps Iran really does contain that kind of magic.

I had a copy from the publisher through Edelweiss, and it came out March 24, 2020.

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