52 books in 52 weeks: January and February

For the fifth year, I’m attempting to read a book per week in 2015. That’s 52 books in 52 weeks. Of my four previous attempts, I didn’t succeed in 2013 (sad face). I blame buying a home and moving, which got me so far behind schedule that I became overwhelmed and stopped trying.

People are always checking in to see what I’m reading and what I recommend. Here’s what the first two months of 2015 brought:

  • “Redeployment” by Phil Klay. This was on many end-of-year lists and was the National Book Award winner. It’s a collection of 18114068
    short stories focused both on soldiers in combat and when they’re at home. It reminded me a lot of Siobhan Fallon’s “You Know When the Men Are Gone” which was part of my 2012 reading challenge and one of my favorite books. I was able to relate to that book more than Redeployment because it wasn’t from a soldier’s perspective. But nonetheless, I think stories like this are important to tell, and I admire the writing. Not my favorite book, but one I would recommend.
  • “Dear Life: Stories” by Alice Munro. I picked this up when Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s another book of short stories, mostly set in rural Canada, and it took me more than a year to make my way through it. The writing is deft, but the stories are quiet. I found it hard to look forward to picking up the collection on many occasions. There’s not much action to be found, but Munro’s characters are very real. I think this book might mean more if you read it over time, finishing a story here and there. I’m glad I read it, and I think English major-types would enjoy it. But I wouldn’t recommend it as a beach read or to skim through on the train.
  • 51mSJNECGyL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_“Americanah” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This one has been on my to-read list for quite a while, and I inhaled it. I read the roughly 500 pages in about three days. I couldn’t wait to get home so that I could dive into it. I remember texting Cameron, “Her writing is like eating sorbet.” It’s a love story story about a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. and makes a life for herself and her eventual move back home. I’m a little biased because strong female narratives and immigrant stories are my favorites (major love for Jhumpa Lahiri). I think the ending was abrupt, but this book easily secures a spot on my favorites list. And now there’s going to be a movie with Lupita! OMG.
  • Still-Alice-cover“Still Alice” by Lisa Genova. This book haunted me, and I’ve heard it did the same to others. A Harvard professor diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s may not sound like a horror story, but I had nightmares about it. If I found myself searching for a word in conversation, I immediately thought, “See, this is how it starts!” I bought a second copy and sent it to my mom (who also couldn’t stop thinking about it). I think this book is really important in de-stigmatizing Alzheimer’s. I recommend this book to everyone because we all live in a world with people suffering first- or second-hand from this disease and could all use some more understanding.
  • “The Happiness Project” by Gretchen Rubin. This author-as-guinea pig memoir trend has become a popular genre. This book could easily be summed up as “privileged white lady with no real problems complains she’s just not happy enough.” In each section of the book (which corresponds to a month of the year) she looks at a specific aspect of her life and tries to find ways to improve it. At the heart of it, I think it’s well-meaning and interesting. Some of her happiness fixes are really small: I get hungry and then become annoyed, therefore I’ll have snacks on-hand so I can ward off the hangry monster. But overall, not an engaging read, and I wouldn’t recommend it.
  • “The Girl On the Train” by Paula Hawkins. Is this on everyone’s book club list right now? Yes. Would it be as popular if not for “Gone Girl?” Maybe not. The femme fatale suspense novel is getting big play right now. The main character is an alcoholic and gets wrapped up in a murder case involving a family she views from her train car during her morning commute. I definitely think this is worth a read. I didn’t find the characters very real or easy to relate to. They aren’t very well developed and don’t always act the way you’d expect. However, I found the story engaging and always looked forward to picking up the book.
  • 22367526“My Sunshine Away” by M.O. Walsh. I immediately downloaded this after reading a Tribune review. The story centers on a Baton Rouge neighborhood during a summer in the 1980s when teenage Lindy is raped. Her neighbor and admirer discusses at length the impact this had on him, her and the rest of the neighborhood. In many ways it reminded me of “Everything I Never Told You” (one of the best books I read last year) because it looks at how our lives are impacted so strongly by tragedies that don’t happen to us directly. This in mind, I was left with a feel-good buzz after I finished the book. The writing is warm and detailed, and I thought of it long after I snapped it shut. One of the best reads in recent memory.