What We’re Reading Open Thread

Unknown I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions this year (although I have a sort of belated one I thought of last week after seeing Louis C.K. to do to at least one cultural activity — see standup, a play, a band, etc. — every month), but I instead made a few “goals,” which are almost the same things as resolutions but, like, with less chance to feel shitty if I fail. Anyway, one of my goals was to get back into reading books, which is something that I basically stopped doing last year after reading less and less since Jackson was born 3+ years ago. It’s just that, with a small child underfoot who is not in school full-time yet and who is still in my care every afternoon, I don’t really ever have time during the day to read, and, by evening, I am so tired that a magazine or newspaper article or two is about all I have the time and energy for before I pass out. And since I don’t commute on the subway like most urban-dwellers (I do commute a lot, but mostly by foot), I miss out on that valuable reading time. Anyhow, enough with the excuses. This is the year I get back to reading books, even if it’s just one or two short-ish ones a month.

In an effort to keep on track, I thought it would be fun to start a new open thread series where we share what books we’re currently reading (kinda like this forum thread, which is packed with great book recommendations). Requiring less commitment than the DW book club of yore, I hope this little series will inspire you to read more and look forward to discussing your books with each other.

This month I’m reading a Ann Lamott’s newest book, Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace, which is a collection of essays in which Lamott shares stories of hope, forgiveness, faith, family, and community. I like collections of essays because I can read an entire essay or two in one sitting and then maybe not pick up the book again for a few days and without feeling like I have to re-read previous pages to recall crucial details of the narrative. Plus, I just like essays — especially ones write by Lamott, or anyone with an uplifting, inspiring, or funny voice.

I’m just about done with this book and I’m not sure what I’m going to read next. Maybe you have some suggestions? What are you reading or have you read recently?


  1. I most often read epic fantasy (major geek here), but right now I am reading Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies by Alastair Bonnett and a couple of David Sedaris books, which someone on DW recommended, so thanks to whoever said that. M got me all of these for Christmas.

    1. M is reading a book called Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman, which i think many here might find interesting. I plan to read it after she’s done.

  2. Avatar photo GertietheDino says:

    I’m reading “The Book Thief,” it’s better than the movie.

    1. I L-O-V-E-D The Book Thief. One of my top books of all time. I haven’t seen the movie because I heard it’s not very good at all compared to the book.

      1. I haven’t bothered with the movie either, but movies usually disappoint me.

    2. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      I loved “The Book Thief,” it’s one of the few fiction books I’ve read recently. Then I watched the movie and found that if I hadn’t read the book I wouldn’t understand many of things happening in the movie. I kept explaining to my husband how different scenes linked together.

  3. RedroverRedrover says:

    I mostly only read classics, because I want to be sure they’ll be good. 🙂 I don’t have time to spend on stuff I don’t end up liking, hahahaha. I have a few hundred books and I tend to reread them a lot. Right now I’m reading Shirley by Charlotte Bronte.
    When I go on vacation I read Agatha Christie. Highly recommended for anyone who hasn’t tried her!!! Quick and easy reads, and excellently done. I usually get through 3 or 4 in a week! Luckily she’s got 80-100 or something, so they’ll last me awhile. 🙂

    1. Avatar photo call-me-hobo says:

      How is Shirley? I’ve always been afraid to read it- Jane Eyre is my favorite book ever, and I was afraid that it would temper my expectations for it.

      1. RedroverRedrover says:

        Personally, I really like it. Did you know that Shirley was originally a man’s name? I learned it from this book! The titular character is a female, and they comment on how she has a masculine name.
        One major difference between it and Jane Eyre is that it has more social commentary. It’s set in Yorkshire when machines were starting to come in and kick people out of their jobs, so there’s a subplot about that. And it’s not written in first-person like Jane Eyre, so there’s more focus on multiple characters. Apparently that was an issue when it first came out, people didn’t like it as much because it wasn’t as “immediate”. It gives it some wider interest though, a better idea of what the world was like. I find it more interesting in some ways, although on the whole I’d say I liked Jane Eyre better. If you want to try something more Jane Eyre-like first, Villette is probably the most similar.

    2. Agatha Christie is a vacation favorite of mine too! One about a mystery on the Nile really saved the day when I was in Beijing for a month. If I’m ever staying in hostels or B&B’s, I like to buy a cheap paperback before I go because there’s usually some sort of communal bookshelf and I leave my copy when I’m done.

      1. RedroverRedrover says:

        Death on the Nile? Where they’re on that boat? That’s a great one! 🙂 That one is actually part of a whole little adventure that Poirot goes on, in Egypt and then heading east towards Turkey I believe. The books reference each other. I always take out like four from the library and put them on my e-reader before going. And I finish one on the plane before we get there! 🙂 They’re so addictive.

  4. Recently I’ve been reading a LOT because I was visiting my in-laws over the holidays for a couple weeks and got kind of bored 🙂 I particularly like books with a historical bent. In the last couple of months I’ve either read or am in the progress of reading:

    * Wild by Cheryl Strayed — I was inspired by the recent movie release to read this. It’s a memoir about a 26-yr-old woman who hikes the pacific crest trail and comes to peace with her demons as she does. I liked the self-depricatory humor and fast-moving style of writing.
    * All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr — a beautifully-written and moving story about two young people’s experiences during WWII: a blind french girl and a smart German boy. This is very long,and a little slow, but still worth the read.
    * The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova — a historical thriller about Vlad Tepes (aka Dracula) and his descendants that gives beautiful descriptions of European cities, but does drag a little at the end.
    * Time’s Edge (The Chronos Series) by Rysa Walker — Part 2 of the better young adult series I’ve read in a while. It’s about a time traveling girl and her family, who must save the world from other, evil time travelers (who also happen to be family).
    * Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea — an account of wealthy young women living in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia and their ridiculous journeys to find love and an interesting life despite female repression. It was a little “sex and the city”/ beach-ready, but still fun.
    * Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares — I read somewhere that a 3rd Sisterhood of the traveling pants movie was coming out based on the 4th book, and I was like *what?* there was a 4th book? I read the first three books in this series as a teen, so I had to pick up where I left off. This one is about what happens to the “sisters” 10 years after the previous book left off. It’s true to the original series, but has some very sad moments, so don’t read it unless you want a good cry!
    * Destiny Disrupted by Tamim Ansary — I’m just starting to read this non-fiction account of the history of the world through Islamic eyes, and so far it is very interesting.
    * I am Livia by Phyllis T Smith — It’s actually been awhile since I read this book about Livia Drusilla, daughter of one of Julius Caesar’s assassins, but I definitely recommend it! It’s historical fiction, but still highly accurate, and all the more interesting for it. Just don’t google Livia Drusilla ahead of time if you don’t know her story like I did — it will spoil the book 🙂

    Here are some more books I’ve read but would probably not recommend:
    * Miramont’s Ghost by Elizabeth Hall — a kind of depressing historical fiction/fastasy piece about a young girl who can “see” the future. I was disappointed with the book because none of the characters really grew, but there were some great descriptions of the French country side and of the american West in its early European-settlement days.
    * The Moonlight Palace by Liz Rosenberg — This one I thought was pretty boring, but still finished it. It’s about a girl growing up in Singapore in a crumbling palace with several elderly relatives, who is trying to hold the family together. I was inspired to learn some things about Singapore after reading it.
    * The Void (Witching Savannah Series) by J.D. Horn — Part 3 of a 3 part young adult series about witches in Savnnah Georgia. The first book was good, the second okay, and the third was terrible, so maybe don’t get sucked into the series like I did.
    * It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini — This is a book about a privileged, but depressed and suicidal NYC teen. It is well-written, but had too many tangents where I got bored. It is also sad to read, especially because the author later killed himself as a young man.

    1. I went through all the math problems to log in, just so I could plug “All the Light We Cannot See”. It was my first book on my new Kindle, and it didn’t disappoint! I didn’t find it slow at all; I couldn’t put it down, and I’m still thinking about it weeks later.

      Recently I’ve also enjoyed “State of Wonder”, by Ann Patchett. After I finished that one, I picked up “Run”, and it was great too. Somehow I’d gotten the idea that she was a “chick lit” author (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but I was definitely wrong. I look forward to reading more of her work.

      I found a number of free Edith Wharton novels on the Kindle, and “The House of Mirth” reminds me of why classics have earned their reputation! It’s a funny and light read, so far.

    2. I loved Sisterhood Everlasting! I was the same as you, when I found out there was a fourth, I went to the library that day to get it. It was the kind of book I always want authors to do, where you find out what happened to the characters later. I did cry for a large portion of the book though.

    3. Avatar photo the_optimist says:

      All the Light We Cannot See is easily the best and most beautiful book I’ve read in a LONG time, and I read a ton. Definitely a must-read.

  5. Avatar photo Boobs Magee says:

    Wendy – You might enjoy a collection of short stories called ‘And Thereby Hangs a Tale’, by one of my very favorite authors, Jeffrey Archer, an Englishman and former Member of Parliament. He has quite a scandalous past, and his writing has a way of consuming me. I’ve read at least a dozen of his novels, and I recommend ALL of them. His short story collections always leave me thinking days later about what I’ve read.

    Three other books that stand out for me are:

    The Thirteenth Tale – by Diane Setterfield
    This Much I Know is True – by Wally Lamb
    Angela’s Ashes – by Frank McCourt

    1. Avatar photo Boobs Magee says:

      Dang it! I forgot to use asterisks to separate paragraphs. Ugh.

    2. I met Frank McCourt once many years ago. He was just as awesome in person as he was a story teller.

      1. Avatar photo Boobs Magee says:

        I’m jealous! 🙂

  6. I usually read nonfiction, often memoirs, or books about current issues. I’ve just started Unbroken. One of the best ones I read last year was Redefining Realness by the trans activist, Janet Mock. Even if you aren’t interested in trans issues, it’s a great book that discusses identity, womanhood, and living an authentic life. My husband really enjoyed it too.
    Another book that came out a couple of years ago that I finally got around to reading recently is Salt, Sugar, Fat by Michael Moss. Kind of a Fast Food Nation for the whole food industry. Quite fascinating and I love anything about food.

    1. Avatar photo Skyblossom says:

      I read “Unbroken” when it first came out and loved it. I haven’t seen the movie but plan to see it and compare.

    2. Unbroken has been on my list for a while!

  7. Currently I’m reading An Echo in the Bone, which is the 7th book in the Outlander series. One of my coworkers had recommended Outlander about 8 years ago, and I’ve slowly been working my way through the series since then. They are all very long books, but I love how much detail she goes into with the characters, and I love historical fiction in general.

    I was really excited when the TV series started, but I only saw the first episode because I don’t get Showtime, so one day I’ll have to sit down and watch the whole thing.

  8. Last year I got really into Jhumpa Lahiri. For Wendy, this might answer your need for something shorter! Her books are really collections of short stories, all centred around Indian people and Indian-American-British culture. I think she has good insights into human emotion and character, and is a fantastic writer. I definitely recommend her books! I started with “Unaccustomed Earth” and then went on to “Interpreter of Maladies.” Both were great!!

    1. I’m reading all Lahiri right now! I’ve read “The Namesake” and have one short from “Interpreter of Maladies,” and then I’m on to “The Lowland.” I am absolutely loving Jhumpa Lahiri right now. And all I want to eat is Indian food.

      Fun fact: Mandy Kaling named her character on her TV with a nod to Lahiri.

    2. I love The Namesake! I’ve been meaning to read more of her work.

  9. I’m currently reading the MaddAdam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood. I believe that was someone’s DW recommend. I’m loving it so far. Up next, I’ve got the Giver Quartet. I loved the Giver as a kid, and I’m really hoping the other books in the series are good.

    1. I freaking love Margaret Atwood. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is also amazing.

      1. RedroverRedrover says:

        That one is totally crazy and I still think about it over 20 years after I first read it. I also really enjoyed “The Robber Bride”. I should get more of her stuff, I’ve really liked what I’ve read of it.

      2. Avatar photo Boobs Magee says:

        My daughter is reading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ for her English Literature class in high school. She really loves it!

      3. Yeah, even though I’m not completely opposed to Hunger Games, Handmaid’s Tail totally beats it as an interesting future dystopia novel! I will look into the MaddAdam trilogy.

    2. MaddAdam is next in my reading queue. 🙂

  10. I love reading and I really hope that after the baby is born, I’ll still have some time to do it. Fortunately, I have a 40 minute bus commute to and from work, so that’ll probably be my reading time. Right now I’m reading Volume 3 of the Morganville Vampires series (don’t judge!). It’s… interesting? It’s not Twilighty (thank goodness) and it doesn’t really fall into the “romance” category most of the vampire books do.
    I also just finished reading Child At War – The True Story of Hortense Daman and that was awesome. It was about a young girl who joined the Belgian Resistance during WWII. It was a very draining read.

    1. Oh yeah, and the 40th book in the JD Robb “In Death” series is coming out in like 3 weeks, so I’ll be reading that pretty much the day it comes out.

      1. Avatar photo Boobs Magee says:

        Oooooooo…. I’m a fan of the ‘In Death’ series, too! 🙂

      2. I was just on FB and the new one comes out in 19 days. The JD Robb fan page is doing a “countdown” and is posting the original covers of all of the books leading up to it. I’ve read the entire series…. way too often. At least 10 times.

    2. I actually read a ton on maternity leave, because I mostly spent my days sitting and holding/nursing my daughter. I would also read out loud to her, so she could hear my voice/develop her brain. She heard a significant portion of “The Hunger Games” series… 🙂 (Congrats on your pregnancy!!)

      1. I think The Hunger Games would be a great book for us to bond with! 🙂 I actually usually re-read all of the J.D. Robb books right around that time, so he or she might get to hear those.

      2. Reading to babies is a great idea, it’ll definitely help with their verbal development.

      3. RedroverRedrover says:

        I just recently saw an article that said that talking to them is actually better than reading, for verbal development. Personally I’m a quiet person and don’t like to talk much, so I found this really difficult with my son. 🙁 I have to make a real effort to talk to him, since he’s not really responding back that much yet.

      4. What it really comes down to is the number words they are exposed to. Natural speech is best, but you don’t have to talk directly to a baby for them to pick up on it. If you have conversations around the baby, they’ll pick it up all the same. There’s some culture I think in Southeast Asia where they don’t talk directly to a child until they can respond (and I’m not talking cooing or babbling, but actually stringing words together). Those kids develop at the same rate, so there’s nothing about child-directed speech itself that’s better (I’ve gotten in a lot of discussions with non-linguists about motherese).
        So, yes, reading to a baby might not be as much natural speech as talking to a baby, but it’s better than nothing (words are words). Words from a TV don’t count (there have been studies about that, like the whole Baby Einstein thing). What’s probably best is having a conversation around a baby or maybe just narrating your day, since it’s natural speech. Reading out loud will still have a positive effect, though, just not a video.

      5. Oh, and source: I have a PhD in linguistics and have studied child language development at the graduate level.

      6. RedroverRedrover says:

        I agree it’ll have a positive effect, just that they’ve found that conversation is better. Probably because it’s more interactive and the baby gets more engaged. And that’s why videos are the worst, because the level of engagement is so low. I’m not saying to NOT read to your baby, I read to mine constantly. Just that if you can talk to them instead, or in addition, it’s better. I try to but I struggle. At least the reading is there as backup. 🙂

      7. It’s very true, exposure to natural speech wins every time. I’ve also read some research recently that there might be something about the prosody of usual child-directed speech that helps them separate out words a little easier. Of course, it’s probably one of those things that was statistically significant and in 10 years they’ll come with some slightly altered theory. At least the sign language fad is over – I’m all for second languages, but there was so much misinformation in that one….

      8. RedroverRedrover says:

        I saw something about second languages not being as good as they’d thought too. They don’t hurt, but they don’t give as many benefits as they’d initially reported. But we’re still putting our little one in french immersion. I mean, we live in Canada, it’s always good to know french anyway.

  11. Avatar photo Moneypenny says:

    I’ve been reading a lot lately, and it’s one of my favorite things to do!
    The last few books I’ve read are part of the Inspector Lynley crime novels by Elizabeth George. There are a number of novels in that series, and I have read a few in the last few years but all out of order! Her novels have also been turned into PBS Mysteries, which I also love to watch too. The books are very detailed, take place in London and various locations in England, and really develop the recurring characters and their personal lives as well as the case at hand. I also enjoy PD James’ novels, which have their own set of characters and crimes to solve. I guess I’ve grown up and graduated from devouring Nancy Drew when I was a kid…
    Also, I’ve been slogging my way through “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914” because I love history and have been especially curious about that time period. However, the book is very detailed and it’s been a bit hard to get into. I guess I’m used to reading more quickly, and I have to really concentrate when reading this one.

  12. I’ve probably said this before but I love the books that JK Rowling has written as Robert Galbraith.

    The Dublin Murder Squad books by Tana French! Lame name for a series, but they ares seriously amazingly well written suspense.

    If you’ve read Gone Girl,or have yet to, try Gillian Flynn’s other books, “Dark Places,” and “Sharp Objects.” Both were ten times more amazing than Gone Girl, in my opinion.

    I love all Barabara Kingsolver. I’m rereading “the Poisonwood Bible, ” but there are no bad Kingsolvers. “The Bean trees,” “Prodigal Summer, ” “Flight Behavior,” “Pigs in heaven!” Oh, I love her work.

    Donna tartt got really famous with “the Goldfinch, ” but her earlier works “the Little Friend,” and ” the Secret History, ” are really enigmatic, too.

    And if you haven’t read “Geek Love,” by Katherine Dunn, get thee to the bookstore or library or Kindle and read it now. It’s a life changer.

    I read while I’m breastfeeding, while my baby is napping, or in the rare time I get to take a bath or something. Also, late at night while everyone’s snoozing and my mom-spidey sense won’t let me sleep.

    1. Omg, and Junot Diaz! “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” was just named the best novel of the 21st century so far! All his novels are great.

  13. Avatar photo something random says:

    So I just read The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi. It is set in Afghanistan and follows two females perspectives.

    The first is Rahima, who is ten years old in 2007. Rahima and her sisters are barely able to ever leave their house. Their father is an opiate-addicted fighter for a local warlord. Because of their father’s addiction and because they have no brothers to help, Rahima’s mother allows her to become a bacha posh which means she gets to dress and be treated like a son until she is of marriageable age. Enjoying the freedom to go to school and walk unescorted around the village, Rahima experiences a new world. When she is abruptly changed back from Rahim to Rahima, the freedom she had as a bacha plants a seed of hope in her that ultimately stays with her throughout her tumultuous life experiences.

    Rahima’s story is interwoven with the story of her great-great-grandmother Shekiba who was also a bacha posh. Shekiba was disfigured as a child and had a difficult life but ultimately rose to be a guard of the Kings harem (men were not trusted to guard the women).

    The book examines a lot of female relationships in large Afghanistan families. Its fascinating (and sad) to hear about the competitive and usually hostile relationship between multiple wives and abusive mother-in-laws.

    1. RedroverRedrover says:

      If you liked that, try Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She’s a Somali-born muslim who also lived in Saudi Arabia for a time. It’s extremely interesting. There is some graphic stuff in there though, the worst for me was the female genital mutilation. 🙁

      1. Avatar photo something random says:

        I’ll have to check it out. I like historical fiction like Shanghi Girls or The Invention of Wings for a leisurely escape. But I’ll eat up the occasional memoir. Thanks for the rec.

  14. I just read The Maze Runner recently. I love dystopian novels (and dystopian movies… and dystopian tv shows…), and dystopian YA novels have really taken off as a genre. Some are great, most are decent enough (which is the category I’d put The Maze Runner in). Thankfully, adult dystopian novels are becoming more common place as well.

    Now I am reading Runner by Patrick Lee. He’s one of my favorite new authors, and I first got into him when I read The Breach trilogy (which is excellent, in my opinion). He writes mostly in the sci-fi/thriller genre. Runner is about a man, Sam Dryden, who literally runs into a mysterious girl who is fleeing for her life and decides to help her. She can’t remember anything beyond 2 months ago. She doesn’t know why these people are chasing her, or who they really are, or even who she really is. She just knows that she’s supposed to play some role in a horrible event that is going to happen. The reason she knows this is she has a ‘gift’ of sorts–telepathy.

    1. RedroverRedrover says:

      I love dystopian novels too, although mainly older stuff. Have you read ‘The Chrysalids’? That’s one that doesn’t seem to get mentioned much. Most people read 1984 and Brave New World, maybe Fahrenheit 451, but not The Chrysalids. I think you’d like it.

      1. I’d also suggest On the Beach by Nevil Shute. Slightly less dystopian, more of a “What if”, as it’s about nuclear fallout after the northern hemisphere essentially blows itself up. It does a great job of capturing the human spirit, which is what I love about dystpoian literature.

      2. RedroverRedrover says:

        Sounds kind of like the first part of Stephen King’s “The Stand”, which I loved for exactly that portrayal. I wasn’t actually as into all the supernatural stuff in the second half (and I usually like thatstuff), because I’d loved the first half so much. I’ll give it a shot!

  15. I’ve been meaning to get into reading more again. Maybe if I spent less time on DW I’d be able to! Hah. 😉
    I just started reading Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult. I found it at the bookstore for not even $2 so I thought I’d give it a shot. It’s about a teacher who is wrongly accused of rape by a student and he goes to jail for 8 months. The book starts when he’s trying to restart his life after being in prison, and it revisits the story of how everything all went down with the accusations. So far a good read. I find her writing to be hit or miss…I’ve loved some, but not all of her novels.
    I’m a sucker for a good mystery. A year or so ago I picked up the Kate Burkholder series, written by Linda Castillo. I read the first two, but haven’t gotten to the third and fourth yet. The whole series is set in an Amish community and they are definitely page turners. I think I read the first one in less than 24 hours. So good. Tana French is also on my list of mystery writers to check out.

  16. I really liked the Kate Burkholder books, too, Lyra. In fact, I think someone on here recommended them last year. I just finished re-reading some of Laurie King’s Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes books. Tonight I started a Longmire book because my nephew recommended it. So far, I really like it.

    But I’ve been pining for a new Game of Thrones. C’mon, George!

    1. RedroverRedrover says:

      I’d love to read Game of Thrones, but I’m not gonna until I see if he finishes it. I already was a Wheel of Time reader, and it took like 20 years and then the author died. At least he knew he was dying and he left notes so another author could finish it. Poor guy. 🙁 But I don’t think Martin has prepared anything like that. Although I gather the TV show might end up going past the books, so maybe he’s told the producers the story.

      1. Martin has let the show runners know how everything ends. So at least we’ll know who wins, even if it won’t be as masterful as his writing is.

      2. RedroverRedrover says:

        Yeah, so I’m definitle going to wait on the books then. If he doesn’t finish them, I’m fine with just leaving it as a tv show in my mind. I just hate unfinished books.

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