Monday, January 25, 2016

Reading Roundup: Adult Edition

Today is our fourth snow day from school, our sixth total day with snow on the ground. The amount of culture I have consumed on this little unplanned break is substantial; I've binged books, knocked movies off my Netflix queue, and thrown in lots of PBS programming to feel especially productive. Since it's been over a year, at least, since I was all caught up with posts on this blog, I've also decided to try and play catch up with the backlog of books I've needed to write about! If I keep reading at the rate I'm going without writing, this queue is going to back up forever!

Two great reading related things happened over winter break:
  1. I got a new Kindle (I lost my Kobo back in sad), which allows me to once again checkout random eBook purchases from the library on a whim. I didn't realize til it was gone how much I depended on it for actually broadening my reading horizons, being able to check out whatever I was in the mood for instantaneously and all.
  2. Back in Colin's hometown for the holidays, we visited the library's book barn and got a serious STACK of books for something absurd, like $10. Once again, I was able to grab whatever looked appealing, bringing my reading outside of my 'to-read' list. 

Lately I've kind of mourned the fact that I rarely roam the shelves of the public library, bringing home whatever possible hidden treasure catches my eye. But I've also just realized that maybe I branch off my purposeful reading more than I think; the method is just different!

David Lodge's Deaf Sentence is my most recent instance of choice based on shelf appeal. It's one of those books that looks the right size, with the pages feeling good, and the cover piquing interest. Plus, the review snippets on the front and back covers even helped! This seemed like a charming, sort of sardonically humorous story.

That story is the one of Desmond Bates, a retired linguistics professor that's slowly losing life as he knew it to deafness. By now, he's used to the new daily annoyances of adjusting his hearing aids to the situation—though it's still an annoyance and not second-nature; he still turns it on or off at the wrong time, forgets to replenish batteries, etc. Likewise, he's struggling with the realization that he's actually becoming a nuisance to those around him; his special needs require others to adjust their own habits and instincts, and that's a burden he doesn't want to others to bear. Mostly, though, it's the unreliability of communication that's most bothersome, especially when it leads to accidental involvement with a seemingly personable graduate story who increasingly proves to be quite unhinged.

Deaf Sentence is definitely British. It's a great blend of quiet, situational humor—the kind that is funny as you experience but not funny enough to retell to an audience. We, the reader, are the ones experiencing here, so we can chuckle along with Desmond and sympathize with his plight. This is the kind of story that seems almost too simple to be anything, yet, you realize, is actually so universal that it seems entirely necessary to be written. A true take on the human experience, in all its frustrating glory.

Shannon Hale's Austenland is the last book I read on my Kobo, back on that fateful October flight. After leaving my Kobo on the plane the first go-around, I had to finish this book on my iPhone on the way home—not an enjoyable reading experience! This was, though, the perfect light book for a short weekend trip, one that I'm pretty sure has been in my queue since the Everything Austen Challenge back in 2010!

Jane Hayes is a young woman living in New York who's been dating for a decade and has nothing to show for it. She's grown frustrated with relationships and is on the verge of giving up entirely. Okay, so maybe she doesn't have the most realistic expectations; she's entirely obsessed with the ol' Pride & Prejudice hero, Mr. Darcy, and pretty much compares all men to him and all her relationships to his and Elizabeth's. (Surprise: her actual life falls short of that standard and continues to disappoint.) When a wealthy aunt dies and leaves Jane a fully-expensed trip to a unique English resort, Jane finally gets to live her dream of Regency living. Is it enough to kick the obsession for good, or will it only fuel the flames of unrealistic expectation?

I'll gloss over the fact I find this woman mostly crazy and more than a little pathetic, holding her life to a 19th-century English standard, because I guess that's looking at it with a little too critical, jaded eye. In actuality, Austenland is just a fluffy piece of enjoyable chick-lit; it doesn't try to be anything more, and rightly so. If you're an Austen fan, or just need a bit of light reading, this will do just fine.

I'd never heard of Issa Rae, and I'm pretty sure I was introduced to her memoiric (I am making up this word) essay collection, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, through a Goodreads ad. Chalk this one up to another random eBook read, but I'm glad I ran across it; she's got a humorously observant voice.

So Issa Rae is known in pop culture from her various web series, the most well-known being the titular basis of this essay collection. In Awkward Black Girl (ABG) and her other web projects, Issa reflects mostly on the cultural stereotypes that exist for people of color, particularly her own inability to fit into that mold. She is critical but never aggressive; her observations are more enlightening—like "Ha! Did anyone else notice that this exists??? How ridiculous!"—and doused with a lighthearted sense of incredulity. In these essays, she chronicles her life as an ABG, navigating through middle school insecurities, workplace relationships, and adulthood realities, among others.

I realized quickly that the author and I are very close in age, particularly as she shares her middle school experiences with early Internet culture and chat rooms. I thought, "Yes! Finally another female who also had that weird early intrigue with world wide connectivity!" This is just the kind of episode that highlights her humor—it often comes from her self-deprecating voice. She walks us through the important episodes of her life, usually the ones that made her feel a bit like an outsider, but it's never somber; she's a comedian, not a victim. She is able, though, to connect these universal feelings of misplacement to her broader identity as a woman of color, reflecting on the disparities between the woman she is and the woman society says she should be. This essay collection is not only comedic, it carries a lot of substance beyond the humor.

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