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Bonjour! I’m Erin.
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Oh hey! It’s been a while! For the optimistic crickets that are still lingering in this space, waiting patiently for an update: bonjour! I’m closing out the calendar with my “Year in Books” review. Herewith:
Book Goal: 30
Books Read: 40 (!! A personal record)
Books Set in/About Paris: 14
Books Borrowed from the Library: 13
Books from Book of the Month: 7
Favorite Book(s): “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr (luminous), “The Imperfectionists” by Tom Rachman (charming), and “The Twits” by Roald Dahl (a childhood favorite revisited)
Least Favorite(s): It’s fitting that in such a garbage year there would be some garbage reads, too. “Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler was trashy as shit, proving that great cover art can propel a book to popularity regardless of its internal literary merit. “Lies She Told” by Cate Holahan was atrocious, poorly written and vapid. And “Into the Water” by Paula Hawkins had 11 different narrators in the first 90 pages, in case you want to slog through the most disjointed, boring ‘Gone Girl’ genre ~mystery~
Longest Book: “The Queen of the Night” by Alexander Chee, at 561 pages
Shortest Book: “The Twits” at 96 pages
Funniest: “Red Dwarf” or “The Twits” (that title is popping up a lot this year!)
Saddest: “What Remains” by Carole Radziwill (yes, of Real Housewives fame). I surprisingly found this beautifully written and moving. The last 50 pages just about destroyed me. I’d never, before this book, found someone who could articulate the eerie, unsettling pain and panic of middle-of-the-night trauma, or what it’s like to lay with someone hooked up to a morphine drip as they fade in and out of consciousness as accurately as Radziwill does.
Prettiest Cover: “Pond” by Claire Louise Bennett (picked it specifically for the cover and was thankfully not disappointed)
Most Overrated: “Theft by Finding” by David Sedaris. This was disappointing, considering last year I named “Me Talk Pretty One Day” the funniest book I read. I waited forever on the library queue for this one, and found the first 250 pages just god awful. (For example: in the entry for April 19, 1978, Sedaris wrote the word “uh” 203 times in a row. That was it. Just the word “uh” over and over 203 times.) It picked up once he moved to France, but a lot of the diary entries overlapped with “Me Talk Pretty…”
Most Enjoyable: With obvious exceptions, I enjoyed reading almost all 40 books this year. Reading is my favorite! But Julia Child’s “My Life in France” wins, hands-down, for basically narrating my two-week trip to Paris (and La Ciotat!) this past September.
I don’t think I’m going to hit 40 books next year, but I have a big stack next to my bed already and I can’t wait to dive in. Here’s to 2018.
December 29, 2017 / read / watch /
I’m leaving for Paris this weekend (!!), and you’d think that would satiate me in terms of wishlist items, but you’d be wrong. What would this blog be without a seemingly endless wishlist? Just a few things that have caught my eye recently, most of which will likely make their way onto my bank statement at some point (except for “The Bettencourt Affair,” which I’ve responsibly requested from the library!).
Hi! I’m alive! I’m so sorry. I never intended to be gone from here for over a month, but there was always something else that felt more pressing in the rare times I found to sit at my desk–writing, chief among them. I’ve missed you! Tell me, what’s been going on? Besides work, the things that are occupying my time are mostly listed above. Oh, and writing. So, so much writing.
January was a great month for reading; I’m on my fifth book of the year so far, and, surprisingly, not one of them was about, or set in, Paris. Lest you think I’m slacking on my Francophile duties in 2017, here are just a handful of books on my to-read list. Some of these were gifts (my family knows me so well!), some are in my library queue, some were purchased with gift cards (again, people know me well), and one of them (“Shakespeare & Company”) is on my to-purchase list when I get back to Paris (45 days!). I’m trying to expand my literary horizons this year and read books outside of my comfort zone, but I can’t resist the pull of a Parisian page-turner.
What are you reading these days?
My year in books:
Book Goal: 30
Books Read: 34
Books Set in/About Paris: 13 (three less than last year)
Books Borrowed from the Library: 11
Favorite Book(s): “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles, “32 Yolks” by Eric Ripert, “Hotel Pastis” by Peter Mayle, and “Read Joan” by Jennie Rooney
Least Favorite(s): Oof, I read some stinkers last year. “Maestra” leads the pack as possibly the worst thing I have ever read, ever. I’ve read ingredients lists that were more well-crafted and intelligent. But there are some other joyless slogs, too: “The Girl in the Spider’s Web” (the Lisbeth Salander series needed to die when Stieg Larsson did), “Murder in the Marais” (I actually thought this was a bad translation from French, given how poor the writing was. It was not.), “The Fall Guy” (what saddens me most about this one is that the author, who can’t write, teaches writing at a college level).
Longest Book: “The Greater Journey”, by David McCullough.
Shortest Book: “A Separate Peace” by John Knowles
Funniest: “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. I was the last person on earth to read this one, I’m sure.
Saddest: “When Breath Becomes Air” by Paul Kalanithi
Books from Book of the Month: 3
Prettiest Covers: “The Spy” by Paolo Coelho and “Paris in Winter” by David Coggins (the latter was filled with his illustrations, too)
Most Overrated: “The Woman in Cabin 10” by a mile. A weak copy of “Girl on the Train,” which was a weak copy of “Gone Girl.” And it was written at a sixth grade reading level, max.
You can read all of my reviews for these books over on Goodreads (let’s be friends!). Are you doing a reading challenge in 2017? I’m aiming for 30 this year again. We’re about to enter the most unintelligent administration in this nation’s history, so I consider this year’s challenge a moral imperative. Read, read, read, kiddos.
January 17, 2017 / read / watch /
Because I couldn’t bear to have my heartbroken election post at the top of the page any longer, here is a playlist of songs that have become something of a writing security blanket for me over the last three (!!!) years. My incredibly talented friend Herbie compiles a mix CD for me every year for my birthday, and I’m not ashamed to admit that’s where more than a few of these songs came from. The songs on this playlist either get me in the mood to write, help me stay in that headspace, or are so intrinsically linked to my novel from constant looping on repeat that they have formed an unofficial soundtrack (I want to live inside of that Active Child song; two of my characters already do). I listened to Buzzcut Season by Lorde multiple times a day when I lived in Paris (my neighbors must’ve hated me…), and almost wrote an entire blog post about one line of that song: “And I’ll never go home again.” I came home from Paris, but I didn’t really come home, because those weeks I spent there, writing, became my home. I don’t know, it sounded better in my head, but the song itself still does it for me. I know I threw in a bit of a curveball with that Shostakovich Ballet Suite by the Russian Philharmonic Orchestra, but I heard that song on the classical station about eight or nine years ago, and was stopped in my tracks. It is, to this day, one of the most beautiful compositions I’ve ever heard, and I’m not just saying that as a biased former-ballerina.
Happy listening, kiddos! Let me know if you end up streaming or downloading any of these & if they give you as much encouragement as they do me.
November 16, 2016 / read / watch /
I’ve been mentally compiling this post for months; every time I go to Barnes & Noble I’m greeted/assaulted by yet another novel on the “New Fiction” table about someone’s wife. The wife of someone with a notable profession or occupation or designation. This is a somewhat strange trend in women’s literature that’s appeared in the last few years that, if the covers above are any indication, has gotten way, way out of hand. (I searched “wife” on B&N’s website and this wasn’t even all the results from the first few pages.) There seems to be no end to the interpretations: there’s the wife of a ringmaster, the wife of a tea planter, the wife of a tiger (um?), the wife of a traitor, the wife of a widower (wait…), even the wife of a Nazi officer. There’s the 19th wife (I haven’t read it but I’m guessing/hoping it’s about a polygamist family), the silent wife, the secret wife, and a wife who is ~unseemly~. There’s a wife in Paris and a wife in California. There’s even the absolutely confounding “My Husband’s Wife.” (Your husband’s wife IS YOU.) So many wives! So many novels about women, women ostensibly interesting enough to string a whole book around. And yet! This sub-genre of women’s lit has relegated these interesting, novel-worthy women to secondary characters in their own stories. Women, even when they are the protagonists, are only defined by their relationship to men.
Oh, the rage.
To be fair, I’ve only read “The Paris Wife,” (because of course I have) and I fell in love with McLain’s interpretation of Hemingway’s first, long-suffering wife, Hadley. Do I get why it was titled “The Paris Wife”? Sure. Could it have easily been titled something else entirely, something befitting the struggles of the main character, her resilience in the face of infidelity, her selflessness and goodness? Yes! But nah, she was married to Hemingway right when they first moved to Paris, so naturally her story became, “The Paris Wife.” She was just his wife, after all. Merely an extension of her husband. Except she wasn’t! She was strong-willed and independent and the title on the cover was so unbefitting for the character inside the pages.
I have the same reaction when I see other women’s social media profiles that start “Wife, mama,” and list a thousand other descriptions based solely on their relationship to other people before listing anything about themselves as an individual human being. I’m my own fully-formed person who isn’t defined by her husband, and I would never expect Jamal to say he’s “a husband” first when meeting new people. I have never described myself as a wife first. And that isn’t a deliberate, feminist choice, or a slight to Jamal. I speak French, I’m working on a novel, I drink an obscene amount of tea, I can pick things up with my toes, I slept with a nightlight until I was in my early 20s, I listen exclusively to classical music on the radio, and I have a membership to the Louvre. I’m a writer who happens to have a husband, I am not a wife who writes occasionally. If you boiled my existence down to my identity as Jamal’s spouse, I would become “The Senior Vice President of Solutions Architecture’s Wife,” which says absolutely nothing about me and everything about him. I think that’s what is so infuriating about all of these titles, especially because the books go on to say everything about the women. Maybe publishers don’t think people (read: men) would buy them otherwise?
I saw a tweet recently, in response to the hideous comments about glorified-sexual-assault made by one of the candidates for president, that fit this post perfectly. Lots of men came out to express how disgusted they were by the comments…not as human beings with morals, but rather as husbands and as fathers of daughters. Because if you can’t even title a novel about a women with deference to the actual woman, why wouldn’t men only think about women in relation to themselves? The tweet read: “Fun fact: in addition to being wives and daughters and mothers and sisters and grandmas and aunties, women are also people.” A novel concept (pun very much intended).
October 18, 2016 / read / watch /
I am so sorry for the continued, lengthy lapses between posts here. Whenever I think about the heyday of this blog (and blogging in general, it seems) a few years ago, I am awe-struck that I was able to somehow churn out 3-5 posts per week while working full-time. How? These days, I am writing like the wind, it just isn’t here. I’m making progress on my novel, every day, but I still feel guilty when I neglect this blog for weeks at a time. I do have things to share with you! I am still reading your blogs, too! I promise to be better at blogging. Maybe not as good as I used to be (seriously, where was I getting all that free time?!), but better. I miss you, kiddos.
My “To Read” pile…
(It’s only gotten more out of hand, and every book I’ve read has been replaced by at least two more.)
I’ve never been interested in subscription boxes. Paying $10 or $15 or even $30 per month (or week!) for a few makeup samples, or prepared meals, or clothes, or even treats for Fitz, who has the fun habit of throwing things up on the regular, seemed like a waste of money. My friend Herbie turned me on to Graze snack boxes when we worked together, but I would end up eating all four snack packs the same day the box arrived, thus defeating the very purpose and name of the thing (I have never been one for portion control). My sister-in-law gifted us a week of Blue Apron dinners, which were surprisingly delicious, the pre-portioned ingredients and step-by-step photo instructions appealing to someone with as little kitchen aptitude as I have. But after our free trial I wasn’t about to spend $60 on three dinners every week. I have such sensitive skin and such a carefully honed skincare routine that Birchbox always seemed like too much of a wildcard. But I get the overall appeal of subscription boxes; we live in an increasingly digital world, where it’s easy to have everything delivered, especially surprise boxes of goodies chosen by someone else. Who doesn’t love getting packages in the mail? As someone who does the majority of her shopping online, trust me, I should be a subscription box company’s target audience. But none of them ever made me think, “I have to have that.”
“Is there anything more satisfying than to keep abreast of the best new books of our time as they appear? In reading them, in enjoying them, in talking with others about them, we feel our day taking shape.”
And then I discovered, through a Facebook ad no less, Book of the Month. Originally founded in 1926, the once-upon-a-time mail order subscription service started by a copywriter and a publisher has been modernized and rebranded for the internet age, and includes monthly selections chosen by a panel of judges (other writers, a celebrity guest-judge). Five new choices are released the 1st of every month (today!) and you get a few days to make your selection before the (branded, of course) hardcover of your choice is mailed directly to your door. You can add an additional book for an extra fee, and the subscription length runs either one, three, or 12 months. If none of the titles in a particular month float your boat, you can skip that month.
Even though this is right up my alley, I wouldn’t necessarily have signed up for Book of the Month unless I’d found a coupon code (I literally buy nothing full-price). A three-month subscription is $14.99/mo, but if you use the code READ50 you can save 50%, making it about $7.50 per book. Not a bad deal! I chose my first book this morning; when you sign up you select a few genres that interest you, and BoTM makes a suggested selection for you each month based on those interests. You can always change to another title, and it shows you what percentage of other subscribers choose each title. In my case, the suggested selection, “Siracusa” by Delia Ephron, was spot-on.
I am in the middle of two other books, so hopefully I finish those before my Book of the Month arrives next week. What are you guys reading these days?
This post was not sponsored or paid for in any way. I found the coupon code through a Facebook ad and was not compensated for sharing it here. Book of the Month did not contact me nor ask me to write this post. (Though if they wanted to, I’d take some free books!) All opinions expressed are my own.
August 1, 2016 / read / watch /