Books – January 2019 Roundup

So, remember how I was only cautiously optimistic last month about being able to read 48 books in 2019? Well, if January is any indication of how things will go (and really – it shouldn’t be), I am going to crush 2019. As in, potentially read more than 80 books. I will be a book crushing beast this year!!! Granted, many of these were ones I had started but was not able to finish before the end of the year due to timing and or library checkouts. But still – getting this leap on the year’s reading goal is not a bad thing by any means.


Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Somehow, I had never read this one as a child, and then at our January meeting of book club, I mentioned I was reading/had just finished this book and everyone went, “OMG I LOVE THAT BOOK” or “I REMEMBER CRYING SO HARD!!!” and I wondered to myself how I had managed to get through life to that point without having read it. Yes it was good, and I liked the story – a lot of it was sort of predictable in that 1930s-ish “A kid tries hard and accomplishes all he sets out through hard work” way. That didn’t make it less good – the twists and turns of how things were accomplished and all the delicate country-boy feelings that went with it were what made this book special. And then there were the dogs. Obvs they were magical dogs, blessing that little boy and his family with their hard work and loyalty for the time that it was needed. And that ending. WEEPINGS FOR DAYS. Anyways – definitely a children’s classic, and glad I finally can say I’ve read it.

Tokyo City Trails by Lonely Planet Kids
So, yeah – a travel book. Surprise – can you guess our travel plan for the year? It’s a big one! A trip that will require lots of planning and preparation, and since we are the loons who are taking all three children (ON A 14 HOUR FLIGHT!), it’s also going to require a lot of negotiating what will be interesting for a wide range of ages since we go from toddler to pre-teen to actual teen to adults. But this book gave us some great ideas, and I had the big girls go through and flag things they were interested in doing. Obviously we won’t be able to do everything, but it’s good to know where their interests lie on this trip.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Oh hey – another classic! This one was tough to read – not because the writing was difficult. In fact, the writing was so clear and echoingly poetic that you felt everything crisp and clear. No – the realities of the Dust Bowl and of the tail end of the Depression were just heartbreaking. I loved the poetic, sing-song type of introductions to each chapter – particularly the one describing Route 66, which is a road trip I did years ago – but the story itself is just PUNISHING. Like, will nothing go right for the Joads? And how is that ending even an ending? Because it’s not! It’s just an unfair way to end a story. But I suppose the idea is that things won’t get better, and that it’s best to finish the tale out on a moment of hope and kindness. Someone with a degree in English or else a better understanding of literature should explain the WHY of that ending in the comments.

Lab Girl by Hope Jahren
My book club book for January – and I finished the night before we met! I was really intrigued by this book, and it sort of scares me at the same time. First off – I loved the analogies between the growth and life cycle of plants and the life of an academic. I felt like I learned a lot about plants while reading this book. At the same time, I felt like I learned some about the life of an academic, and it was SCARY. As in, it does not seem like a steady or dependable life unless you are acclaimed in your field, and if you don’t have an advanced degree, it’s sort of a tenuous life at best. Our book club was sort of appalled at some of the choices Jahren made, but at the same time wondered if it was sexist to be appalled at those things, because would they just be seen as daring and independent in a man? Like the story of taking an 8 hour driving detour on a trip just to go down to an attraction near Miami for the morning. WHO DOES THAT??? Also, the wanton stealing of lab equipment. Especially at the end of the book when Jahren’s lab obviously has a little money, and the items which are stolen are potentially from someone who is as desperate as she was at the beginning of her book. An interesting read, for sure.

Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy
A random thriller I decided to read when none of the books in my queue had come available yet. Um wow. Creepy. This book was interesting and covered a lot of aspects of stories that freak me out more now that I’m a mother. And one aspect of the story just broke my heart because I knew from when it was casually mentioned at the beginning, and alluded to throughout the story that it would not end well. Ugh. A quick read, but a worthwhile one if you’re looking for something that doesn’t require a lot of brain power.

The Year of Less by Cait Flanders
Ok, so the full title of this one is actually “The Year of Less: How I Stopped Shopping, Gave Away My Belongings, and Discovered Life Is Worth More Than Anything You Can Buy in a Store”, but that’s a full 2 lines worth of title, and I figured I could put it here instead of with the world’s longest hyper-linked sentence. But this one was FASCINATING. I’d heard Cait speak on the Young House Love podcast, but this whole idea of reducing your belongings, decluttering, and taking active control of your spending through an experiment like this are so intriguing to me. Like everyone else on the planet I’m going through a sort of Marie-Kondo phase (which I’m sure will get discussed here later at some point), but this fit in really well with that time. One of the books I got for Christmas was called “Cozy Minimalism” and the YHL podcast just had another minimalist on to talk that sparked something in me. I will never be a real minimalist, but the idea of minimizing your belongings to those that you really need and that bring you joy…that’s something I can get behind. Consider this your fair warning that it may be something I talk about more on the blog.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
I read this book for the first time as a teenager I don’t know when. And I had these vague memories of the book, and how it was creepy, and the storyline, but Jesus. This book. It’s SO good. It is a classic for a reason, and while it’s certainly not as overtly creepy and scary as I remember it being, there are definite moments of tension and just a general sense of foreboding. Talking with the boy about it, I have a feeling we’ll be watching the Hitchcock adaptation of this story in the not-too-distant future. But if you, my readers out there, have never read this book – DO IT. It’s the kind of story that leaves you with more questions than answers but also with your jaw on the floor.


The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
Literally begun this morning. It’s supposed to be very good? I know I’m excited to read it. And that’s all I’ve got.

The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu
My book club book for February. Short stories that I’ve gotten through one of so far. It’s a kindle book, so keep your fingers crossed for me that I actually finish and don’t fail out at the end.


Ok, so I know I won’t keep this pace up forever. I had so much help by starting and not being able to finish books in December, but I think just the fact that I have a leg up on this challenge is a very good thing. I’m pleased with what I’ve read so far, and excited about what I’ve got on my plate for future reading. In fact, I’m at the maximum number of holds with the library, and I’ve got them pretty well staggered for the next couple months. Let’s hope my reading pace can keep up.

2 Comment

  1. Nicole Holstein says: Reply

    The ending to Grapes of Wrath is…challenging. To me, the rising floodwaters have always been a symbol for or mirror to the rising desperation of the Joads (and all the real world families they represent). We know that the end of the Dust Bowl period and the Depression are coming; things will get better, but for these people in these times, crisis after crisis threatens to drown them. In contrast perhaps to the Red Fern Grows, hardwork does not save the Joads. Their fate is much more in the hands of their economic superiors and of pure luck than their own.
    Right after Rose of Sharon’s baby is stillborn (representing the hope for the future the family had and the next generation) as a result of the toll malnutrition and lack of resources have taken on its mother, the Joads meet another child who has been saved by his father’s sacrifice. The image of Rose suckling the adult man shows her strength and ability to turn her loss into something useful for the world (as so many mothers whose children have died of illness or gun violence have done) and the power of poverty to humble the strong. I keep feeling like this scene also has some Christian allegory to it, but I am struggling in my Christian ignorance to articulate what. It also underlines in perhaps the starckest way possible what the book has been illustrating all along – the grit of humanity and the downtrodden’s will to live. The cycle never ends and therefore the story doesn’t need to go on. I think Steinbeck argues that the poor will always suffer, always eek out an existance at the margins through sheer willpower and creativity until the systems that have put them there change. One member of the family, who has for most of the story been depressed and kind of do-less, does go off to fight for the justice of the people. His story, too, is one of grit. We may be hopeful that his work will result in tangible benefits for his family, but once he chooses that work, he leaves and is not heard from no mentioned again. Maybe their lives get better after the Depression ends. Or maybe they die before that. For me, the Sisyphian struggle IS the story.
    Would be interesting to hear others’ interpretations!!!!

    As for Lab Girl, I think I wrote the first time you blogged about it that it SUPER scared me as a scientist myself. You’re right though – this life is TEN-U-OUS! That’s one reason why so many talented scientists leave academia.

    1. maggie says: Reply

      I am no good at symbolism in literature, so thank goodness I read the WIkipedia page for the story afterwards, and I think you hit on a lot of what they mentioned. As far as the imagery with Rose of Sharon feeding the man from her breast – it’s probably related to so much Madonna imagery of the Virgin Mary feeding the baby Jesus.

      But yeah – I can’t decide what I think happens to the Joads after. I think there’s more death, but some of them survive to make it through.

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