Link Love

Here are some of my favorite things I found around the internet this week:

  • I’m feeling pretty excited for Into the Woods thanks to this EW featurette.
  • In addition to raving about Serial earlier this week, I’ve already listened to the latest episode twice and the first episode all over again to hopefully derive more clues. My name is Kelley and I am addicted to this podcast.
  • I squealed when I saw that Rainbow Rowell contributed to a story collection. (I swear, I would pay to read that woman’s grocery lists.) But seriously, wouldn’t this make an excellent holiday gift? (Not a hint, those who know me, but rather a warning that this is likely what you’re getting for Christmas from me.)
  • Have you read anything from the 2014 National Book Awards list of finalists? I’ve read (and lovedAll the Light We Cannot See, and am really excited to read Lila
  • I really enjoyed learning about Christina of Sweden on Stuff You Missed in History Class.
  • I’m hosting an Awesomely Bad Movie Night this weekend that will feature pumpkin carving, and these bookish jack’o’lanterns serve as pretty fantastic inspiration.
  • This made me so happy that the internet exists. Because really, where else could you find Dachshund’s Creek?

Happy perusing and happy weekend!

Podcasts I Love: Serial

I haven’t been shy about my adoration of This American Life. So it will come as absolutely no surprise that when I heard there would be a spin-off podcast featuring extended stories in the same vein of This American Life, and that it would be headed by TAL producer, Sarah Koenig, I was more than a little excited.

Serial is even better than I thought it would be, and who doesn’t just love when that happens? I find myself replaying each episode, discussing the events with my husband, pouring over old articles, web forums and Reddit pages where other listeners are discussing it, and asking everyone I come into contact with if they’ve listened to it yet. I am HOOKED.

Here’s a description of the current story:

On January 13, 1999, a girl named Hae Min Lee, a senior at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County, Maryland, disappeared. A month later, her body turned up in a city park. She’d been strangled. Her 17-year-old ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, was arrested for the crime, and within a year, he was convicted and sentenced to spend the rest of his life in prison. The case against him was largely based on the story of one witness, Adnan’s friend Jay, who testified that he helped Adnan bury Hae’s body. But Adnan has always maintained he had nothing to do with Hae’s death. Some people believe he’s telling the truth. Many others don’t.

Sarah Koenig, who hosts Serial, first learned about this case more than a year ago. In the months since, she’s been sorting through box after box (after box) of legal documents and investigators’ notes, listening to trial testimony and police interrogations, and talking to everyone she can find who remembers what happened between Adnan Syed and Hae Min Lee fifteen years ago. What she realized is that the trial covered up a far more complicated story, which neither the jury nor the public got to hear. The high school scene, the shifting statements to police, the prejudices, the sketchy alibis, the scant forensic evidence – all of it leads back to the most basic questions: How can you know a person’s character? How can you tell what they’re capable of? In Season One of Serial, she looks for answers.

I just listened to an interview with Koenig where she speculated that there would probably be 12 episodes on the current story, which is still being investigated as I write this.

Episodes are released Thursday mornings, and episode five will air tomorrow.

To Be Read: The Library Books Edition

I read a BookRiot article yesterday on having too many things to read and how it can feel problematic, and even stressful. “The problems isn’t that I haven’t had time to read or that I’ve let myself get wrapped up in other hobbies, work, distractions, etc. The issue is that I have so many quality choices and so much access to books that I’m paralyzed, unable to zero in on one (or even two or three) to pursue with everything I’ve got.”

I understand that so well.

I’ve written before about how I choose what to read next, and how sometimes it can be difficult to forcibly extract yourself from a story that you really connected to. BookTuber Christine did a pretty hilarious and spot on video of that very feeling:

And while a mourning period can stop your reading momentum in its tracks, having so many great options can also leave you a little frustrated and paralyzed with indecision.

Who knew the act of reading could be so complicated?

I have what I frequently refer to as a “lifelong TBR” collection when someone asks “why do you have so many books??” There are books that I have owned for years and will continue to own and will not read this year or next year or maybe not even the one after that. And that’s fine.

But lately I’ve been feeling a little stressed by library books. To borrow from Blow, my ambition far exceeds my talent. Again and again. And again.

I have 18 books checked out right now. And while I know it’s unlikely that I will read all of them, here is a compilation of the books I’m most excited to read.

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah often thought, she’d most likely be a sight more careful with them.

When I read the description of this book, I had a hard time believing that I’d never heard of it before. I’m guilty of having read fan novels extending and retelling Pride and PrejudiceLongbourn has been described as P&P meets Downton Abbey, as it’s the story of P&P told from the servants perspective. It has mixed reviews, but I’m excited to see if I like it.

It seems you either love or hate Emily Gould. I’ve read her blog and internet writing, knew that she was an editor for Gawker, and that she’s from Silver Spring, Maryland, which is in my neck of the woods. I was curious about her, and even more so when I read her account of writing a novel. So when I saw this book at Barnes and Noble, I decided that I didn’t want to buy it but I did want to read it and it sat on my library holds list for the last six months.

Described by the publisher as “a novel about two friends learning the difference between getting older and growing up,” I figure if anything, Friendship should offer something to relate to.

Since I’m always a sucker for a love story, always a sucker for a story that takes place in Paris, and always a sucker for historical fiction about writers or artists whose work I admire, I Always Loved You seems like it will be right up my alley.

The young Mary Cassatt never thought moving to Paris after the Civil War to be an artist was going to be easy, but when, after a decade of work, her submission to the Paris Salon is rejected, Mary’s fierce determination wavers. Her father is begging her to return to Philadelphia to find a husband before it is too late, her sister Lydia is falling mysteriously ill, and worse, Mary is beginning to doubt herself. Then one evening a friend introduces her to Edgar Degas and her life changes forever. Years later she will learn that he had begged for the introduction, but in that moment their meeting seems a miracle. So begins the defining period of her life and the most tempestuous of relationships.

I saw Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimageon the new releases shelf, and did a double take, sure that it was mistakenly placed there, as it’s a fairly new and popular release, and surely must have holds stretching for months.

And then I more or less did the Grinch grin and added it to the stack I was holding.

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced that they didn’t want to see him, or talk to him, ever again. Since that day Tsukuru has been floating through life, unable to form intimate connections with anyone. But then he meets Sara, who tells him that the time has come to find out what happened all those years ago.

I loved Norwegian Wood and The Wind Up Bird Chronicles, and am slowly making my way through all of Murakami’s novels. I’m so excited to read this one.

My interest was piqued when I read reviews comparing The Queen of the Tearling to The Hunger Games (strong female character, dystopian world) and Game of Thrones (medieval setting). But then I read reviews that say that’s not an apt comparison, and actually does the novel a disservice because those who read it because of that comparison wind up not liking it.

In the end, I was sold on this description: Combining thrilling adventure and action, dark magic, mystery and romance, The Queen of the Tearling is the debut of a born storyteller blessed with a startling imagination. 

Short stories by Margaret Atwood? ‘Nuff said.

(But I’ll be nice and paste the description if you need a bit more.)

A recently widowed fantasy writer is guided through a stormy winter evening by the voice of her late husband in “Alphinland,” the first of three loosely linked stories about the romantic geometries of a group of writers and artists. In “The Freeze-Dried Bridegroom,” a man who bids on an auctioned storage space has a surprise. In “Lusus Naturae,” a woman born with a genetic abnormality is mistaken for a vampire. In “Torching the Dusties,” an elderly lady with Charles Bonnet syndrome comes to terms with the little people she keeps seeing, while a newly formed populist group gathers to burn down her retirement residence. And in “Stone Mattress,” a long-ago crime is avenged in the Arctic via a 1.9 billion-year-old stromatolite. In Stone Mattress: Nine Tales, Margaret Atwood is at the top of her darkly humorous and seriously playful game.

I heard about In the Kingdom of Ice on NPRand thought it sounded like such a gripping read.

In the late nineteenth century, people were obsessed by one of the last unmapped areas of the globe: the North Pole. No one knew what existed beyond the fortress of ice rimming the northern oceans, although theories abounded. National glory would fall to whoever could plant his flag upon its shores.

James Gordon Bennett, the eccentric and stupendously wealthy owner of The New York Herald, funded an official U.S. naval expedition to reach the Pole, choosing as its captain George Washington De Long, who had gained fame for a rescue operation off the coast of Greenland. De Long led a team of 32 men deep into uncharted Arctic waters, carrying the aspirations of a young country burning to become a world power. On July 8, 1879, the USS Jeannette set sail from San Francisco to cheering crowds in the grip of “Arctic Fever.”

The ship sailed into uncharted seas, but soon was trapped in pack ice. Two years into the harrowing voyage, the hull was breached. Amid the rush of water and the shrieks of breaking wooden boards, the crew abandoned the ship. Less than an hour later, the Jeannette sank to the bottom,and the men found themselves marooned a thousand miles north of Siberia with only the barest supplies. Thus began their long march across the endless ice—a frozen hell in the most lonesome corner of the world. Facing everything from snow blindness and polar bears to ferocious storms and frosty labyrinths, the expedition battled madness and starvation as they desperately strove for survival.

May I read all of these before they are due!

Book Review: Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell

Description from the publisher:

“It’s an old, old story: I had a friend and we shared everything, and then she died and so we shared that, too.”

So begins this gorgeous memoir by Pulitzer Prize winner Gail Caldwell, a testament to the power of friendship, a story of how an extraordinary bond between two women can illuminate the loneliest, funniest, hardest moments in life, including the final and ultimate challenge.

They met over their dogs. Both writers, Gail Caldwell and Caroline Knapp, author of Drinking: A Love Story, became best friends, talking about everything from their shared history of a struggle with alcohol, to their relationships with men and colleagues, to their love of books. They walked the woods of New England and rowed on the Charles River, and the miles they logged on land and water became a measure of the interior ground they covered. From disparate backgrounds but with striking emotional similarities, these two private, fiercely self-reliant women created an attachment more profound than either of them could ever have foreseen.

The friendship helped them define the ordinary moments of life as the ones worth cherishing. Then, several years into this remarkable connection, Knapp was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer.

With her signature exquisite prose, Caldwell mines the deepest levels of devotion and grief in this moving memoir about treasuring and losing a best friend. Let’s Take the Long Way Home is a celebration of life and of the transformations that come from intimate connection—and it affirms, once again, why Gail Caldwell is recognized as one of our bravest and most honest literary voices.

This book really got me.

It reminded me a lot of the film Once, which is centered on the idea that in life, it is extraordinarily rare to meet someone with whom we have a true, effortless connection. And that, for many people, it only happens once.

Much is said and written about romantic connections and familial connections, but less emphasis is placed on friendships, especially as we get older. This book serves as a touching tribute to the importance that friendship can have in a person’s life, and the overwhelming grief that occurs when it’s gone.

I picked this book up because I’ve recently experienced the ending of a close friendship that spanned close to two decades of my life. “Let’s take the long way” was something we used to say to each other when we walked around together, talking about everything and nothing. I hoped this book would offer some advice regarding how to gain closure, but instead I found myself caught up in the friendship of Gail and Caroline, and mourning their loss of their dogs and each other almost as much as I’ve mourned my own loss. Though I knew how the story would end, I wished so badly that there would somehow be a surprise ending where Caroline lived and their friendship could resume. And I came away with the realization that sometimes closure is something other than what we expect and hope for. I was reminded of one of my favorite Jeanette Winterson quotes:

“You’ll get over it…” It’s the cliches that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?

I really loved this book, and recommend it to anyone who has ever lost anyone, whether it was to death or simply to the ebb and flow of life.

Book Review: The Arsonist by Sue Miller

Description from the publisher: Troubled by the feeling that she belongs nowhere after working in East Africa for 15 years, Frankie Rowley has come home-home to the small New Hampshire town of Pomeroy and the farmhouse where her family has always summered. On her first night back, a house up the road burns to the ground. Is it an accident, or arson? Over the weeks that follow, as Frankie comes to recognize her father’s slow failing and her mother’s desperation, another house burns, and then another, always the homes of summer people. These frightening events, and the deep social fault lines that open in the town as a result, are observed and reported on by Bud Jacobs, a former political journalist, who has bought the local paper and moved to Pomeroy in an attempt to find a kind of home himself. As this compelling book unfolds, as Bud and Frankie begin an unexpected, passionate affair, arson upends a trusting small community where people have never before bothered to lock their doors; and Frankie and Bud bring wholly different perspectives to the questions of who truly owns the land, who belongs in the town, and how, or even whether, newcomers can make a real home there.

I really liked the first half of The Arsonist, but the second half sort of deflated and I found myself wishing I stopped reading it so I could have finished another library book that was due on the same day. The characters were interesting enough, but the story never really went anywhere. I think the author intended the fires and arsonist to be a metaphor or some type of symbolism, but I’m still not entirely sure for what. It’s almost as though Miller began writing based on a thoughtful concept and an interesting premise, but had no clue how to successfully execute them or how to conclude the story. Overall, it was a pretty disappointing read.