August Book Finds

It’s the end of August, which basically means the end of summer and that feels like a strange place to be. So much changed for me over the past few months — I finished grad school, I had a few months of self-reflection, vacation, and frankly, unemployment, and then I started a new job. Getting this blog going was also something new for me that happened over the summer, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.

Here are a few books that I’m looking forward to reading that I discovered in August:

The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy
My mom recommended this, saying that the audiobook in particular is really great. It sounds like it takes place for some of the novel in the South, which is a region I’ve been wanting to read more about over the last year or two.

A Is For Alibi by Sue Grafton
Alright, so this is less of a discovery and more a remembering that I want to give Sue Grafton’s famous mystery saga a try. I don’t read too much (or really “any”) mystery books these days, but I used to read some mysteries when I was younger. This definitely might be a fun way to explore that genre again.

11/23/63 by Stephen King
Another genre that I haven’t read too much of lately is thrillers. I used to be a pretty big Dean Koontz fan, and I read a few Michael Crichton and Stephen King stories back in the day as well. This one involves time travel and some pretty bizarre events that should keep it interesting.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
This book has definitely been making its rounds on the book blogging circuits over the past few weeks, and it’s built up a good reputation. I like that the book seems to throw a lot of different cultures into conversation with each other, and I usually enjoy books that develop female friendships.

Anything you’re looking forward to reading soon?

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (Review)

I have an embarrassingly huge literary crush on Junot Díaz. As a sometimes creative writer, I think often about his uncanny ability to blend personal truths with fiction, though my style is nothing like his spare and in-your-face first- and second-person narration.

This Is How You Lose Her is the third work that I’ve read of Díaz, the others being Drown and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (my favorite thus far). This Is How You Lose Her picks up with the character Yunior who we have seen before in his other works, as he flounders and bumps his way through relationships and family. Each story tends to jump in at a different time period, yet you can feel that they are connected by underlying threads.

I enjoy that Díaz writes about Dominican American culture, as many of the books I read by Latino authors focus on other nationalities. Díaz unpacks both stereotypes and truths through the lens of romantic relationships.

Additionally, I love Díaz’s prose. There is an immediacy and freshness to his writing that makes you feel less like you are reading and more that you are listening to a conversation or a story being told aloud. It’s cliché to say so, but his characters truly come to life. I read through the book in a day-and-a-half for this very reason.

While I read this work several months ago, I’m writing a review now because a) it’s great writing, and b) because I recently got to meet Díaz in person, including getting my book signed, and I’m still ridiculously excited about that. He’s a remarkably personable guy for the misogynistic characters that he writes (though of course I know he himself holds different views than his characters). He also swears just as much in person as he does in his books, which was hilarious and refreshing to see.

So with all this gushing praise, why four stars and not five? Maybe because of how much I loved The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. While This Is How You Lose Her was impressive in a lot of ways, it didn’t quite draw me in as much as his former work. I missed the ways in which he wove the history of the Dominican Republic into his work in The Brief Wondrous Life, which wasn’t nearly as present in This Is How You Lose Her. But this is still a strong, clear Díaz work, with all of his trademark signatures and plenty of wondrous, heartbreaking stories to be explored.

 4/5 STARS

Wednesday Quote: Junot Díaz

I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds–defensive, unscrupulous–but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good.

–From p.3 This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

I’m a sucker for great first lines, and this is one that, well, it drew me in right away. It sets the tone for the rest of Díaz’s novel explaining the imperfections that challenge one Dominican American man’s search for love.
Check back Friday for my full review of This Is How You Lose Her.Also, I’m excited to announce that I’ll be participating in Aarti’s “A More Diverse Universe” blogging challenge, where I’ll read and write about a book I read by an author of color toward the end of September. Hopefully that won’t be too much of a hurdle, since I already love reading works by authors of all shades!

And last, but not least, I have a Facebook page now! Feel free to follow my post updates there as well as on Twitter.

PaperBackSwap: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Most everyone in the world of books has heard about by now. For those who haven’t, the site is a way to trade books with others anywhere for free (well, for the cost of postage). When I first found out about the site I was ecstatic–the words FREE and BOOKS when connected have always held magical sway over my actions (for better or for worse).

And what I’ve discovered since signing up is that PaperBackSwap is a pretty great site in a lot of ways. Here are my findings:

The Good

  • The cost. It’s free to join, and it’s free to receive the books that you request. You do pay the cost of shipping your books to others, which is a bit of a pay-it-forward system, and since credits are typically exchanged on a 1-1 basis, I basically consider each book you order to cost about $2-3, since that’s how much I generally put into shipping one.
  • PaperBackSwap makes it dead easy to send a book to someone. When another user requests a book, you go through the online system which will calculate the cost of sending the book based on the weight associated with the ISBN. You can then print out a wrapper from home with the postage on it after you pay by credit card. And then you just wrap the book up with the postage showing and drop it in the mailbox. For extra protection I generally wrap my books in a manilla folder and tape it with packing tape. Here’s the video I learned this technique from.
  • All of my books have arrived in great condition. At this point I’ve probably received 5-7 books from PaperBackSwap, and while some of the books look a little newer than others when they arrive, they’ve all looked pretty good. No highlighting or underlining, which are some of my pet peeves. (The honor code rules of the site say that you shouldn’t send books with those qualities, nor those which are water-damaged, excessively worn, etc.) I like this policy, because it makes me happy to pass a book on again after I’ve received it from the system and read it.

The Bad

  • PaperBackSwap doesn’t have the most terribly user-friendly interface. In fact, I almost didn’t sign up when I first saw it. But I can assure you that it’s well worth your while to register, since most of the links and menu items on the website are things you won’t end up using anyway. The most important link is the Wish List, where you can look up the books that you’ve requested and how many people are ahead of you in line. When you want to add a book to your Wish List you can just use the search box to find it. And when you need to mail a book to someone, you’ll get an email with a link to the page where you can get the process started.
  • I mentioned waiting in line… okay, this is probably the toughest part of PaperBackSwap to handle. Getting a book from the website can take a really long time, depending on a few things. First of all, you have to think about the fact that it’s not Amazon, so what’s available is what people are finished reading and have on their bookshelves (though you can order books immediately through a system of credits and actual money combined). Also, true to its name, most books people send are paperbacks, since shipping is cheaper on those items than hardcover books. Audiobooks are available for more credits. In my experience the books that you’re most likely to get fastest are classics or books that were bestsellers but have been out for a little while. For instance, Middlesex was a book I’d been intending to read since it got popular, but I didn’t get around to looking for it until I joined PaperBackSwap a year ago. The wait was very short, and I believe I received the book in a week or two. Popular books that just came out or books that not very many people have read are harder to get for obvious reasons–high demand in the former case and scarcity for the latter. Despite the wait though, you can always add books to your wishlist and forget about the site for a while. It can be somewhat fun to check your status in line periodically on the Wish List. When a book becomes available that you signed up for you’ll get an email, and if you’ve already read the book by then you can simply say that you don’t want it anymore.
Wish List item

The Ugly

  • Oh, let’s be honest, it’s almost-free books. Where would The Ugly be?
  • Okay, okay maybe if I had to pick one thing I might move the waiting issue to here, since for some books it can be completely unlikely that you’ll ever get them in your lifetime.
  • Another thing that worries me a little is wondering if the site will survive in the age of e-books and e-readers? Will it become obsolete eventually? I’m not sure.

Overall, while PaperBackSwap might not be the site for you if you’re trying to get a book for your book club next week, it’s a great option for those ones that you’ll probably get to someday. And it adds some spice and surprise to reading when a book you’ve forgotten about becomes suddenly available. An example is that I should be getting Bossypants in the mail soon, which I had idly picked up in a bookstore the other day before deciding I didn’t need to buy it. Later that week PaperBackSwap emailed me to say the book had become available. Wish List success!

What have your experiences with PaperBackSwap been like?

Redefining Realness by Janet Mock (Review)

Some books are hard to write reviews for because you’re afraid that what you publish won’t be anywhere near persuasive enough to get others to pick up the work when you really want everyone to read it. Redefining Realness is one of those books.

Janet Mock wowed me with her ability to create a cohesive and deeply self-reflective memoir of her personal experiences with gender identity, poverty, being multiracial, experiencing sexual abuse, and so much more. When she opened her book with a disclaimer that her experience is not “the” trans experience, but “a” trans experience, I knew I was going to appreciate what she had to say. She doesn’t write from a doom-and-gloom point of view, instead she is deeply unapologetic about the life she has led and the mistakes and bumps she’s had along the way. Yet at the same time, she doesn’t sugar-coat her life either. She is able to connect her own personal experiences to the spectrum of experiences that trans individuals may face, and identify the aspects that made her situation unique. In particular, her insights about how poverty impacts one’s ability to fully realize one’s gender identity were quite vivid.

In spite of the heavy issues at stake throughout the book, Mock also manages to create a story about family, connection, and love. She takes the focus away from what “parts” you have and draws you into the emotional importance of embodying your gender identity. Growing up in Hawaii, Oakland, and Dallas, Mock has unique experiences in each location related to her social fabric and her emotional welbeing. We see how important it was that Mock had a few very supportive friends and mentors in her life, particularly in Hawaii, that made her journey much easier, even while other factors of her personal circumstances created challenge.

I love that Mock punctuated the various sections of her book with words of wisdom from black literary gods such as Audre Lorde and Ralph Ellison. They help illustrate how her ethnic identity is critical and inseparable from her experiences with gender.

Beyond the weighty matters, Mock seems plain cool. Someone who you’d love to meet and who is clearly good at the work that she does. She’s willing to go after what she wants and needs, and I felt personally inspired by her courage and honesty. Do yourself a favor and pick up this book to put yourself temporarily in the shoes of one very impressive woman.