An Open Book: What I Read in October

I’m not going to lie: October was a crazy chaotic month, but I still managed to squeeze in a bit of reading. Check out what I knocked off my bookshelf last month. (Oh, and that reminds me … if you’re on Goodreads, you can find me here.)

103115 - A Year in the WorldA Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveler by Frances Mayes

Three-line review: Mayes is the kind of travel writer that travel writers hate, condemning tourists while acting like one herself, putting down those who don’t have ample expenses to travel as she does while dropping wads of cash on rugs and jewelry, and aimlessly vacationing with an air of pretension. Though she leaves the typical travel writing cliches behind, the prose is spewing with adjectives that make it difficult to read (I do give her props for achieving the “show, don’t tell” aspect of writing, however). Honestly, though, this book – which is little more than a spin through some of Europe’s most visited countries – was a snooze because it is so predictable and boring, packaged too neatly with expected circumstances and minimal self-discovery, raw observation or deeper context that is found in today’s best travel writing.

I listened to the audio version of this book so was unable to mark my favorite passages.

103115 - Saving MaxSaving Max by Antoinette van Heugten

Three-line review: Jodi Picoult meets John Grisham in this novel about a teenage boy in a psychiatric hospital and his attorney mother’s attempts to clear his name when he is accused of murdering another patient. This was a fast-moving read with a weird romantic angle and interesting though not always believable characters as mom races against the clock and her law-abiding judgment to uncover who the real killer is. You can tell van Heugten has a background in law because the trial portions of the book are bogged down with legalese, but I tended to breeze over those parts just for the mind-numbing fictional fluff.

Favorite lines:

The silence is knotted, fragile. If sadness were a color, it would be a blue stripe would tightly around Max’s voice.

The sky is as dark as Doak’s mood. A heavy rain drives against the windshield and covers it like a second sheet of blurred glass. The cab winds its way through unkempt streets. The tires jolt through deep potholes and spray water that joins a dirty stream that flows down the side of the curb. The driver studies his street map every few stop signs and peers through the deluge to stay his course. Row houses stare out from behind buckled sidewalks and full garbage cans. Here, mold is a smell and a color. It rises out of the ground and creeps up to the rafters.

She wears a chenille robe so worn out even the pockets look tired. A threadbare nightgown shows where the robe gapes open. Her breasts hang low and sad, almost flat to her stomach, like dead birds strung up by their claws.

Before You LeapBefore You Leap by Kermit the Frog

Three-line review: This book of life lessons “written” by Kermit the Frog covers everything from harnessing creativity and dealing with stress to fostering meaningful relationships and leading a healthy lifestyle. While I like the idea of Kermit offering even the most common and known advice for leading a happy, productive and fulfilling life, I found much of the book to be too contrived with puns and meaningless drivel while offering minimal guidance of any sort. Additionally, I was surprised by the harsh light this book cast on Miss Piggy, though I did appreciate the way Kermit and Fozzie’s friendship was depicted.

Favorite lines:

I met someone else back then who had a big impact on my career. His name: Jim Henson. And although I’m not exactly sure what he did, whatever it was really moved me.

Whatever you decide to call it, your inner tadpole is what guides you through the calm streams and raging rapids of life. It is what keeps you afloat at low tide and goes skinny-dipping with you at high tide. It is the essence of you.

Audrey HepburnJust Being Audrey by Margaret Cardillo

Three-line review: A charming picture book that follows the whimsical, creative and furiously independent Audrey Hepburn from childhood through her charitable work with UNICEF. Hepburn had a curious but striking appearance and life-long desire to dance, and it was complete chance that led her to her first role on Broadway, which I didn’t realize. This book tells a fairly comprehensive story of her life with minimal words, though it’s whet my appetite to read more on her; if nothing else, check out this book for the beautiful illustrations.

Life Love by Keegan Allen

Three-line review: I had no idea who Keegan Allen was when I checked this book out from the library; it was the simple cover and a quick scan of the pages – a smattering of photography, poetry and casual musings – that caught my attention. For those who also aren’t in the know, Allen is an actor on the hit television series Pretty Little Liars, and it turns out he’s also a talented amateur photograph and wordsmith, though I found his photography and off-handed descriptions of the images more compelling than his poetry and song lyrics. Many of his photos struck me as strangely ordinary – photos I would normally not notice – but somehow were perfectly composed and appropriate for selection in this book, which I flipped through and read in little doses before going to bed at night.

Favorite lines:

When he took a photo, he always made it a big deal, as the moment would soon be gone and all that would be left was our interpretation and composition mixed with our influence on the subject or lack thereof.

It was so alarmingly muted by the canopy, as if I had plugged my ears from a greater disaster, but it still echoed through the mountain and silenced the wildlife for the brevity of an inhale like they were paying their respects before going about their continued survival business.

He wore shirts that looked like ice cream. On windy days his hair would look like a whipped-cream topping. 

We dress a gypsies and open our eyes underwater. Our hats fly off in the warm dry air as we ride our bikes to the bookstore and then to the Pannikin coffee shop, where we listen to Tupac on blown-out mobile speakers.

Golden BookEverything I Need to Know I Learned from a Little Golden Book by Diane Muldrow

Three-line review: Cute in concept but lackluster in execution, this book is a collection of pages from several Little Golden Books punctuated by simple pieces of advice such as “use your imagination,” “sing even if you can’t hold a tune” and “cultivate contentment.” There’s nothing groundbreaking in this book, and it feels like a halfhearted ploy to tug at the nostalgic heartstrings while not delivering anything more than a rehash of imagery smattered with basic advise. The most interesting part of the book was looking at the pictures, which, pulled from actual Little Golden Books, demonstrate how much our society has changed since the publishing company’s heyday; the image of a woman in a pinafore vacuuming the floor from The Happy Family (1955) is a particular favorite.

103115 - InfinityInfinity and Me by Kate Hosford

Three-line review: Uma tries to wrap her head around the enormity of infinity in this artfully illustrated picture book. Everyone she meets has a different way of picturing what infinity is – in years, family trees, stars, simple addition – but she still struggles to grapple with this undefined entity. Finally, she finds a way to come to terms with the concept in her own way – with love.
The Influencing MachineThe Influencing Machine by Brooke Gladstone

Three-line review: Whether we choose to believe it or not, the media has a lot of influence over what we believe to be reality; unfortunately, despite journalists’ best efforts, they are also subject to their own biases when reporting on stories – myself included. This graphic novel offers a deep dive into journalism’s history and traces its path through the political, societal, cultural and even criminal landscape that we’ve arrived at today. With a wealth of research, psychological studies and insider knowledge as an NPR commentator about media in general, Gladstone helps make sense of the noisy, messy and confusing aspects of the media messaging we encounter every day, making this an important read for everyone.

Favorite lines:

We hunger for objectivity, but increasingly swallow “news” like Jell-O shots in ad hoc cyber-saloons. We marinate in punditry seasoned with only those facts and opinions we can digest without cognitive distress.

We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities.

Courage and caution – the yin and yang of good reporting – fell out of balance after 9/11.

Obviously, the biggest risk for access-dependent journalists is self-censorship.

To well and truly report a war – amidst official lies, commercial pressures, horror, trauma, principles and patriotism – is to be at war with oneself. Objectivity is essential. Objectivity is impossible.

Transparency is the new objectivity. Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.

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