January 2018​ Reading Wrap Up

This month I put my focus and attention on making sure I dedicated as much of my reading time on more Jewish and Nonfiction reads. And I subsequently discovered a lot of noteworthy gems along the way.
In total, I read 13 books this month:

Books I haven’t stopped thinking about: Pumpkinflowers by Matti Friedman.

It’s been months and months since I had the experience of a book imprinting such a palpable reaction on my everything. I feel like I can reach out and touch the pain and hurt reverberating off Pumpkinflowers.

It was one small hilltop in a small, unnamed war in the late 1990s, but it would send out ripples still felt worldwide today. The hill, in Lebanon, was called the Pumpkin; flowers was the military code word for “casualties.” Award-winning writer Matti Friedman re-creates the harrowing experience of a band of young soldiers–the author among them–charged with holding this remote outpost, a task that changed them forever and foreshadowed the unwinnable conflicts the United States would soon confront in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

No book has so drastically changed the course of my thinking in a single day as this one did. The intimate look at the soldiers’ lives hasn’t left me since. Avi’s story, in particular, hasn’t left me since. I got to know him gradually through his own letters, and I just can’t stop spinning back to how his surroundings rendered him aged beyond his years, yet simultaneously so full of youthful hope.

“It is said in their honor that they were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the rest of us, but of course they weren’t, not most—they just thought it wouldn’t happen to them, and the lucky ones weren’t given time to realize they were wrong.”

Ultimately, Matti Friedman carried out his novel with the utmost care and devotion.

Honorable Mention:
On a lighter note, I rediscovered my love for one of the most hilarious shows with the most lovable cast of characters. As I mentioned in my review for Unqualified by Anna Faris, thanks to watching a bunch of bloopers of Chris Pratt’s character in Parks and Recreation, I decided to go back to rewatch season three (THE BEST!). Similar to The Office, which I finished binge-watching in April 2016, my favorite seasons remain the second and third.

Since I only rewatched season three in January, that’ll be the main focus of my rambling thoughts:

  •  April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer (or should I say Janet Snakehole and Burt Macklin?) are the only romantic couple I care about from now on.

My favorite episode of theirs has to be the one where they learn to adult, courtesy of Ben Wyatt because I LOVE domestic scenes. Going grocery shopping, doing laundry, going to the bank…my kind of jam.

  • Ya Heard? With Perd! is such an unexpected favorite, but my heart sings whenever he puts his hand to his ear after the catchphrase.
  • Speaking of side characters, Jean-Ralphio Saperstein shines as bright as ever. I’ve yet to meet a more fleshed-out, eccentric, and lively persona. Years after I stopped watching the show, he was the one that remained on my mind. He’s basically the male version of Ilana Wexler from Broad City (which I raved about in September).
  • Whereas Chris Traeger is LITERALLY the most wholesome (and intense) character I’ve ever met. You know a situation is worrisome when even Chris can’t find a reassuring solution with his chipper outlook.
  • Ethel Beavers. ETHEL MY ONE TRUE QUEEN. She shows up only once throughout the third season, but my love for her character returned in a second.
  • And last but not least, the no-nonsense Ron Swanson who is one of the most irreplaceable characters on TV.

Favorite current episodes include: “Media Blitz” (3X05), “Harvest Festival” (3X07), “Andy and April’s Fancy Party” (3X09), “Jerry’s Painting” (3X11).


That was my January wrap-up, thank you for reading!

 

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Favorite Books of 2017

This was the year of discovering a bunch of family-centric stories that quickly moved their way into my heart. There’s something about these quietly moving portraits of contemporary life that affect me most of all. In total there are seven stories I’d like to feature on my favorites of the year:

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you want to buy any of the books I mentioned in this post, just click on the images below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

“It came, over and over, down to this: What made someone a mother? Was it biology alone, or was it love?”

I joined a bit late to this hyped up party, but once I started reading Little Fires Everywhere, it didn’t take too long till I couldn’t put the book down. Centering around a a memorable cast of characters whose lives intersect in complicated and sometimes surprising ways, while grappling with nuanced notions such as motherhood, interracial adoption, racism, and so much more.

Nothing in the book is ever done without intention; every detail has meaning. And it was a pure pleasure, watching the author click everything into place. I highly, highly recommend giving it a read just to experience it firsthand from the source. In the meantime, I went ahead and read Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng because I cannot get enough of her exquisite character studies.

2. Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin

This here is another family-driven read that kept me dazzled from start to finish. In all honesty, Zevin had already won over my adoration earlier this summer when I read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry. Naturally, I was beyond hopeful with expectations to see what this one would hold in store.

Why Young Jane Young shines: The dynamic mother-daughter duo that was captured perfectly on paper. Like, when asked how Ruby came to be so wise, her answer gives it all away:  “Books,” I said. “And I spend a lot of time with my mom.”

Plus, Gabrielle Zevin’s sly humor full of unflinching candor and brilliant wit shines as bright as ever.

3. The Beauty Queen of Jerusalem by Sarit Yishai-Levi

This sweeping multi-generational story explores mothers and daughters, stories told and untold, and the binds that tie four generations of women.

The fascinating thing about this book is that I was fully devoted to one particular generation, one particular love story:

“The extraordinary love story of Rochel Weinstein, the Ashkenazia from Mea Shearim, and Gabriel Ermosa, the Spaniol from Ohel Moshe, was the talk of the town.”

Something about the youthful years of Gabriel Ermosa had me head-over-heels unlike anything before. I was so utterly invested in his story with Rochel that I still, months after, feel it taking my breath away. I have yet to find a love story that can succeed at evoking such strong and real emotions out of me as that one did. It was a visceral reading experience. And I’m considering checking out the Hebrew version for my reread, so that I can revisit it in the original tone intended by the author, Sarit Yishai-Levi.

4. Letters to Talia by Dov Indig

Featuring another outstanding Israeli book on my list, Letters to Talia details the extensive correspondence Dov maintained with Talia, a girl from an irreligious kibbutz in northern Israel, in 1972 and 73, the last two years of his life. Dov Indig was killed on October 7, 1973, in a holding action on the Golan Heights in Israel during the Yom Kippur War.

The concept of a secular girl from a kibbutz writing letters to a soldier/ yeshiva boy about Judaism, and consequently learning more about faith sounded almost too good to be true. But it wasn’t, all thanks to the many shared insights from Indig’s brilliantly thought-out and put-together letters that made me want to SHOUT IT FROM THE ROOFTOPS. For readers that love to expand their horizons, I’d recommend this read.

5. One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter by Scaachi Koul

How am I supposed to pass up a title like that?

I’ve yet to find a more hysterical and comical read than Scaachi Koul’s essay collection. Her subjects range from shaving her knuckles in grade school, to a shopping trip gone horribly awry, to dealing with internet trolls, to feeling out of place at an Indian wedding (as an Indian woman), to parsing the trajectory of fears and anxieties that pressed upon her immigrant parents and bled down a generation.

The true stars of the show are, of course, her parents.

Why her mother shines:

“My dad first saw her at his cousin’s house—my mom was her friend—and was flustered by her beauty. Ask my dad and he’ll wax poetic about my mother’s cheekbones, her rich eyes, her long hair, how he needed to get to know her. My mom didn’t even know he was there.”

Why her father shines:

“Papa ends most of his calls with me the way you might close a conversation with someone you want to menace. “Anyway,” he’ll say, “I’ll be here. Staring into the abyss.” Or, when I have given him good news, “The talented will rule and the rest will perish in the sea of mediocrity.” Or, when I have given him bad news, “I am sorry for everything that happens to you, as everything is my fault.”

Scaachi Koul with her biting humor is definitely one to watch for the future.giphy-6

6. Natasha and Other Stories by David Bezmozgis

This was my last read of 2017, and I couldn’t have chosen a better one.

Set around a Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Toronto, Canada, I’ve never felt as heard and seen as when I read this book. Like I mentioned in my review, Natasha and Other Stories is home in literary form for me. Certain turns of phrases in this collection of interlinked short stories brought me right back to my childhood, and I haven’t gotten to experience that feeling with a book in a while.

To give you a little taste, here’s just some of the memorable lines:Natasha and Other Stories 2-- bookspoils

Natasha and Other Stories 1-- bookspoils

7. Motherest by Kristen Iskandrian

motherest-bookspoils

Last but not least, I’ll end my list on the book that started off my reading year on a bang. I was in a state of pure bliss with Motherest. I recently went back to reread the review I posted in February, and I can’t stop thinking about how relatable this tiny piece of writing I included of the main character seeing the guy she likes:

“Hey.”
“Hey.”
I keep walking. He slows down a little as if to chat, and I move faster. I want to turn around so badly that walking feels like pushing through the heaviest revolving door in the world, but I keep going.”

Motherest deserves so much more recognition than it has received. The blurb describes the book best as an inventive and moving coming-of-age novel that captures the pain of fractured family life, the heat of new love, and the particular magic of the female friendship — all through the lens of a fraying daughter-mother bond.

This moving passage on adolescence and growing up captures it all:

“I want a friend. I miss everyone I’ve ever known. I miss Tea Rose and Surprise and Joan. I miss that part of my life that happened not so long ago but that already feels ancient, older than my childhood, and I do miss my childhood also, or at least the childhood co-created by my memory. I want someone who will always stay and never die and never leave and never turn into a ghost.”


That concludes all my favorite books of the year, thank you for reading! Be sure to let me know your highlights of 2017. And check-out my 2016 edition of my favorite books of the year.

November 2017 Reading Wrap Up

November of 2016 introduced me to some of my favorite Nonfiction reads, so coming into it the following year, I was giddy with excitement for what’s in store. And Nonfiction November 2017 did not disappoint, thankfully.
In total I read 13 books, including collections of poems and essays, short stories, and graphic novels:

Favorite current listen:hiddenbrainI discovered this podcast thanks to Meghan Hughes mentioning in her recent vlog a fascinating episode on coincidences (aka my favorite topic to discuss). I looked the podcast up online, went on to listen in rapid enthralment, and then checked out five more episodes consecutively in a single day. My curiosity was endless, and I found Hidden Brain best heard in a single uninterrupted sitting to get the most out of it.

The Hidden Brain helps curious people understand the world – and themselves. Using science and storytelling, Hidden Brain’s host Shankar Vedantam reveals the unconscious patterns that drive human behavior, the biases that shape our choices, and the triggers that direct the course of our relationships.

We have carefully curated topics, impossible to predict from episode to episode, ranging from the correlation and causation of loneliness and social media (Prisons of Our Own Making), to the “catfishing” con performed in 1985 (Lonely Hearts), and the effects that happen to your mind and body after prolonged periods without sleep (Eleven Days Without Sleep).

I highly, highly recommend giving Hidden Brain a listen as soon as possible.

Special posts featured this month on my blog:24348742I featured my first TV review on Netflix’s American Vandal, talking about why it’s the perfect show to binge-watch if you’re a fan of theories, conspiracies, and in-depth investigations. You can read my review in full here. Plus, watch the trailer below:


That was my November wrap-up, thank you for reading!