Dear Committee Members

Months and months ago, Linda Holmes of NPR recommended the book Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher on my favorite podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour.  Alas, at the time she recommended the book, she had read an Advanced Reader Copy and it wasn’t set to be published for months. In September, the book was finally published and since I was at the top of the holds list at the library I was able to start reading Dear Committee Members right away.

#31daysofreading

DCM is a short novel of letters from a professor of English at a small college to many, many people.  Professor Jason Fitger writes biting letters of recommendation for students pursuing jobs and degrees at a wide variety of institutions.  With a few exceptions, these are not positive recommendations.  In most of these letters, he is irritated at the requester or the intended recipient, and is not shy about his irritation.  He tells these committees exactly what he’s thinking, with no filter.  While these kinds of letters would be terrible to receive in real life, they are hilarious to read.  Professor Fitger writes what people actually think, but aren’t brave enough to say.

Mixed in with these letters of recommendation (or rather, un-recommendation) are yet more letters detailing his attempts to help one of his students publish a manuscript.  In each new missive, you discover just a little more about Professor Fitger’s life, relationships, and work.  Epistolary novels are so much fun to read: details are teased out piece by piece and you never know which letter will have a bombshell of new information.  DCM is an especially entertaining example, because it is filled with wit and humor.  If you like to laugh, you should read this book.


Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher, 5-stars, epistolary novel, hilarious, some swearing


Dear Committee Members

31 Days of Reading

I am a lifelong reader and book nerd.  Even though there have been seasons where I didn’t have the time or energy to read as much as I would have liked, books and reading have always been an important part of my life.  I also love sharing about what I’ve read, but I’ve never been very successful at actually writing down and publishing any reviews. When I came upon the idea of #31daysofwriting in October, I knew I had a topic ready-made for this challenge: #31daysofreading.  I’ve read 67 books so far this year (finished an audiobook in the car this morning on the way to work!), so I have plenty of material to review.  For this first day, though, I wanted to write about the tools I use to aid my reading habit, as well as what kinds of books I usually read.

#31daysofreading

While I already own hundreds of books, I also really like reading new shiny books.  Alas, my book budget cannot sustain my new shiny book habit, so it’s a good thing I work at a library.  I’m always hovering around my 50 items checked out limit, and I have over 80 items on hold.  Even though I know I won’t ever read them all, I love having choices and perusing these new shiny books.

One of my biggest partners in my reading adventures is Goodreads. I keep my imaginary bookshelves filled with what I’ve read, what I’m currently reading, what I’ve put in hibernating, what I’ve rejected completely, and what I want to read (the shelf that is ridiculously optimistic).  I can also record my reading progress (page number or percent completed), which is helpful since I tend to read 15-20 books at the same time.  I know many people can’t fathom reading more than one book at a time, but I love jumping from book to book and Goodreads helps me stay on track.

Goodreads also hosts a reading challenge every year, which I have participated in since 2011.  That year, I read 20 books, the next year I read 40, and last year I set a goal of 50 and read 53.  For 2014, I wanted to really challenge myself and decided to attempt to read 100 books.  The reading challenge lets me know how well (or not well) I’m keeping to the pace I need to be reading in order to finish 100 by December 31, and right now I’m 7 books behind the pace.

When I finish a book, I give it a star rating using Goodreads’ system: 5-stars: it was amazing; 4-stars: really liked it; 3-stars: liked it; 2-stars: it was ok; 1-star: did not like it.  Most of my books are rated 5s and 4s, because if I really don’t like it, I don’t normally finish it.  If I give a book 1 star, it generally means I hate-read it, meaning I disliked it so much yet I had to finish it because I hoped it might improve (see my 1-star review of The Magicians).

My favorite genre of books is memoir because I enjoy learning about life from someone else’s personal perspective.  Sometimes I choose a memoir specifically because the writer has lived a life very different than mine and I want to explore that difference.  Other times I choose one because I relate to the author and can place myself in her shoes.  Beyond memoir, you will also find me reading young adult fiction and historical nonfiction, with the occasional adult fiction and graphic novels.  Working at the library is expanding my reading horizons, but I mainly stick to these genres when I’m choosing my reading material.

I’ve read a lot of great books this year, as well as some not-so-great books.  You can see them all on my Goodreads page.  I don’t plan on reviewing every book on my list from this year, so if there’s a book in particular I’ve read that you’d like to see, leave a comment letting me know.  I hope that with my #31daysofreading you’ll discover new books to enjoy.

A List

One of my favorite nerdy things to do in my life is finding books to read.  When I get stressed by school or other things of life, I go to my library website and request books like a crazy person.  Which is how I have ended up with 47 items checked out of the library right now. My limit is 50, so I could get 3 more….

My library is an enabler.  Its website makes it far too easy to search for and request books.  Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read everything I check out and sometimes I know I miss out on good books because I just don’t have time to finish them before they must be returned or I am not in the mood to read that particular book.  So, I think a list of books I currently possess via a library card is in order.

I am an eclectic and eccentric reader. Hence, the books on this lists are from various genres and recommended or discovered from various places (thank you Barnes and Noble, Borders, NPR, NY Times, Half-Price Books, etc).  If I feel really adventurous, I may write some reviews of these books that I read.  That all depends on the quantity of my spare time in the coming months.  The fact that I’m about to go on what will essentially be 6 weeks of travel makes that idea of writing my own book reviews unlikely.  But who knows, it could happen.

Since these books I am about to list are only on my to-read list, I cannot vouch for their excellence, readability, quality of dialogue, appropriateness, level of heathen activity, or anything else.  I selected these books for reading possibilities based on random factors, which include judging a book by its attractive cover, liking the blurb on the back of the book, and being intrigued by the title.  I make no promises.

A List
You can’t get there from here: a year on the fringes of a shrinking world / Gayle Forman
When March went mad: the game that transformed basketball / Seth Davis
The oak leaves / Maureen Lang
On Sparrow Hill / Maureen Lang
Waiting for normal / Leslie Connor
Musicophilia : tales of music and the brain / Oliver Sacks
The secret of lost things: a novel / Sheridan Hay
Love and other impossible pursuits / Ayelet Waldman
The moon in the mango tree: a novel / Pamela Binnings Ewen
The boy who dared / Susan Campbell Bartoletti
The piano teacher / Janice Y.K. Lee
The shape of mercy / Susan Meissner
Water Street / Patricia Reilly Giff
The girl who threw butterflies / Mick Cochrane
The Penderwicks / Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street / Jeanne Birdsall
Kiki Strike: inside the shadow city / Kirsten Miller
Thirteen reasons why / Jay Asher
The other side of the island / Allegra Goodman
Siberia / Ann Halam
Tamar / Mal Peet
Marie, dancing / Carolyn Meyer
The remarkable & very true story of Lucy & Snowcap / H.M. Bouwman
Airman / Eoin Colfer
The last treasure / Janet S. Anderson
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society / Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
A child’s journey out of autism: one family’s story of living in hope and finding a cure / Leeann Whiffen
A universal history of the destruction of books: from ancient Sumer to modern Iraq / Fernando Báez
Gideon the cutpurse: being the first part of the Gideon trilogy / Linda Buckley-Archer
Anything but typical / Nora Raleigh Baskin
Olive Kitteridge / Elizabeth Strout
Speak / Laurie Halse Anderson
In the company of crazies / Nora Raleigh Baskin
Three cups of tea: one man’s mission to promote peace– one school at a time / Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
If I stay / Gayle Forman
The returning / Ann Tatlock
Words unspoken / Elizabeth Musser

So what should I read first?

American Born Chinese

I opened ABC to read without realizing what kind of book it is.  It’s a graphic novel.  I didn’t even start to read because I thought, “Ick, graphic novels are not my thing and I really don’t enjoy them.”  When I mentioned that I had tried to read it in my Young Adult Literature (YAL) class and said that I really didn’t want to read it, I was challenged that that’s precisely why I should read the book.  It’s different and not something I would ordinarily read.  So I tried again.

It was….interesting.  Some parts I liked and some parts slightly disturbed me.  I was never quite sure what audience the author was targeting…sometimes 12-13 year olds, sometimes 16 or 17.  Some of the content was just not appropriate for the younger age.  The book tapped into spiritual themes, but just that: spiritual.  Scripture was essentially spoken by God, but in the context of Buddhism and “kung fu” spirituality.  Some Buddhist deities were depicted, including Yama, the deity of the underworld.  These were all points from the book I disliked that I pondered after I read.  These aren’t highly processed thoughts at all, just some commentary.

I liked the way the author wove together three separate stories of Chinese legend, a Chinese boy, and an Causasian boy.  A main point of the book is how many Chinese (and Asian in general) children  are often teased and ridiculed by others (sometimes intentionally, sometimes not).  Teachers and students alike make rude and unpleasant stereotypes about the Chinese boy, Jin, pronouncing his name wrong and making ridiculous assumptions about his life.  The book also touches on how irritated Jin becomes with his Chinese heritage and how ashamed Danny (the Caucasian boy) is of his Chinese relatives.  The author shows how difficult it can be to struggle with these issues.

Overall, I think I liked it.  And I think I didn’t.  Essentially, I feel in-between about American Born Chinese. I still dislike graphic novels, but I also like the stories about Chinese culture.  I shall have to think on it more.