books and reviews

What I’ve been reading this month

A cup of coffee, a warm blanket. Maybe a cat for good measure. And, a book.

If I were to make a list of best things ever, this would make the top 10. And yet, hanging out with nothing but a book is this unicorn of a luxury, a rare jewel in a busy life.

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Why yes, my cat does have a bed in the bookshelf.

Oh, the virtues of audio books

This isn’t a post about how I make time for this luxury, because generally I don’t. I want to, but I don’t. What I actually do is download audiobooks on my phone via OverDrive (a service that many libraries have), and either listen on my headphones when I’m out running walking some errands, or doing household chores. Let me tell you, listening to a book makes the act of scrubbing a toilet far more enjoyable. I’ve even brought my phone to bed several times, listening until I start to fall asleep.

The downside of listening to books while doing chores is that it’s displaced music a little. The plus side is that at least I’m a piano teacher, and thus not lacking for music.

Anyway, I wanted to share with you the four books I “read” in October, if you’ve been hunting for some recommends (no duds this month). I’ve been trying to catch up with some popular books that I never got around to reading, so none of these are obscure – you’ve probably heard of at least one or two of them.

Enjoy, friends!

Non-Fiction reads

David and Goliath by Malcom Gladwell

This summary of ideas from Malcolm Gladwell’s book: “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants” explains that outsiders can win over obvious leaders. It shows that a perceived advantage can, in the end, turn out to be a disadvantage. Gladwell illustrates this theory with the story of David and Goliath.

When confronting powerful opponents, instead of wondering if they have more power than you, the question you should be asking yourself is if there is a way that you can play by your own rules. For Gladwell, the key to defeating a powerful competitor is to avoid confronting them outright.

Top 3 things I learned:

-A disproportionate amount of successful people are dyslexic. Not only is that a fun fact, but Malcom puts forth a case for why this may be the case, and it’s the theme of the whole book: Adversity creates opportunity.

-That going to a top university isn’t always a good idea – too much competition squashes potential.

-Having money increases happiness, but only up to about $75,000 a year – then you’ll basically be as happy as a millionaire.

Why I liked this book

This is my second Malcom Gladwell book (The Outliers was the first), so I came into this book already predisposed to liking his writing style. This book reads like a collection of stories about all kinds of different topics (leukemia, dyslexia, war, etc.), but the thread of the biblical story of David and Goliath is what ties the stories all together. Some parts were dark and difficult to get through from an emotional standpoint, so don’t pick up this book expecting a lighthearted read. It is, however, a profound read.

Bossypants by Tina Fey

At last, Tina Fey’s story can be told. From her youthful days as a vicious nerd to her tour of duty on Saturday Night Live; from her passionately halfhearted pursuit of physical beauty to her life as a mother eating things off the floor; from her one-sided college romance to her nearly fatal honeymoon—from the beginning of this paragraph to this final sentence.

Tina Fey reveals all, and proves what we’ve all suspected: you’re no one until someone calls you bossy.

Top 3 things I learned:

-Tina Fey is really down-to-earth, like someone who would be awesome to have coffee with.

-I need to watch 30 Rock.

-Being in comedy is challenging for women, but has markedly improved over the years.

Why I liked this book

Bossypants is basically the opposite of David and Goliath. It’s light, it’s goofy, it’s not too deep. It’s not a book you have to invest your attention in – you could let it sit half-read on the coffee table for a month, pick it up, and still be able to follow it. This is a sitcom of the book world, and that’s exactly why I didn’t love it, but I certainly liked it.

Fiction Reads

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying, but before she ends it all, Nao plans to document the life of her great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in a ways she can scarcely imagine.

Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humour and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

Top 3 things I learned:

-Being a teenage social outcast in Japan can be extremely difficult (well, I probably already knew that).

-That I like books involving the topic of time travel (though in this book, it was very subtle).

-What it was like to be in the Japanese military during World War II as a suicide bomber.

Why I liked this book:

First of all, the audiobook is great – it’s read by the author, and she does a great job with it. Some of the effects, like the drone of a Buddhist nun, wouldn’t have been as awesome to simply read.

Audio version aside, I wasn’t expecting much from this book – I hadn’t heard of it, and I wasn’t familiar with the author – but it was a surprising gem. You can’t help but love the characters, especially Nao, the teenage outcast. She’s a very believable, sometimes morally grey, character. It was great that there were supernatural elements incorporated as well, but it was done with a light hand, for the sci-fi shy (see what I did there?).

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

Twenty-two-year-old Skeeter has just returned home after graduating from Ole Miss. She may have a degree, but it is 1962, Mississippi, and her mother will not be happy till Skeeter has a ring on her finger. Skeeter would normally find solace with her beloved maid Constantine, the woman who raised her, but Constantine has disappeared and no one will tell Skeeter where she has gone.

Aibileen is a black maid, a wise, regal woman raising her seventeenth white child. Something has shifted inside her after the loss of her own son, who died while his bosses looked the other way. She is devoted to the little girl she looks after, though she knows both their hearts may be broken.

Minny, Aibileen’s best friend, is short, fat, and perhaps the sassiest woman in Mississippi. She can cook like nobody’s business, but she can’t mind her tongue, so she’s lost yet another job. Minny finally finds a position working for someone too new to town to know her reputation. But her new boss has secrets of her own.

Seemingly as different from one another as can be, these women will nonetheless come together for a clandestine project that will put them all at risk. And why? Because they are suffocating within the lines that define their town and their times. And sometimes lines are made to be crossed.

Top 3 things I learned:

-That this world isn’t perfect, but I’m sure glad I’m a woman living in Canada in the 2000s as opposed to the Southern US in the 1960s.

-How, if you piss someone off, a man will beat you up and maybe kill you, but a woman will ruin your life. (Okay, that’s a generalist statement)

-It’s more important to pursue your dreams than to marry a cute boy (real life lesson there!)

-Bonus learning: You’re never too old to change and pursue your dreams.

Why I liked this book:

This was hands-down my favourite of the month. I could not stop reading (listening) to this book – I even invented chores so I wasn’t idle as I listened. This book got me to clean closets and the pantry! If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

And, as always, I love books with strong and distinct characters, especially when they have complicated relationships with each other (like the white and black of Mississippi in the 60s). Just read this one. Or listen to it – the voice acting is great!

What have you been reading lately? Let me know in the comments, I always like recommends!

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  • http://lindalibraloca.blogspot.com/ Linda Libra Loca

    Out of all the above I have only read “The Help”, which I really enjoyed. Reading at the moment: “A thousand splendid suns”, after just having finished “The Kiterunner”.

    I never got into audiobooks, somehow I cant focus on the story if someone else reads them to me.

    Linda,
    Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

    • http://www.ohwaffle.com Allysia K

      Thanks for the book recommends, I’ll definitely look into them. I do know people who don’t like being read to, so I totally get it. I get really absorbed in it though!

  • http://www.gggiraffe.blogspot.com/ JohannaGGG

    love the idea of a book that makes you do more housework – I need that book 🙂 they all sound interesting – makes me wish for more time to read – and I can highly recommend 30 rock

    • http://www.ohwaffle.com Allysia K

      Totally read The Help, even my Granny loved it, lol. 🙂