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Books | Winter Reading 2014

As I travel back to Bremen from Malta today, how about we talk books until I’ve had a chance to pour over my photos and settle in?

For Christmas this last year, I wished for a Kindle and I must admit that it has become my favorite thing ever. Although there is something really satisfying about the heft of a book in my hands, I am undoubtedly reading way more with the Kindle than I did before. Mostly because I carry it with me wherever I go (related to this, I am WAY behind on my New Yorker issues). Since Christmas I’ve already devoured three books and I would love to hear what you think of them!

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg

Ok, so Lean In is pretty old news, but I thought I would at least see what the fuss is all about. I totally get what the critics are saying — there is so much more at play in women’s successful careers than what they themselves can influence with their own behavior. This is so clear when looking at successful family policies in European countries which support women in both their careers and families (e.g., guaranteed paid maternity and family leave, subsidized childcare). The US remains the only Western industrialized nation that does not support women in this way. Particularly for women in the US without a great deal of disposable income, this can dramatically limit the choices they make in their careers.

With that said though, I don’t think Sandberg is ignoring these issues completely. She acknowledges that these are real obstacles that need to be addressed, but that she’s focusing directly on women’s choices within these constraints. Of course the book has its limitations, but the intention was to spark debate and discussion around these topics, and it has clearly been successful in that.

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The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

Though nearly 800 pages long, I tore through The Goldfinch and would have been happy to read an extra few hundred pages more. One of my favorite reads in a very long time, it’s so clear to me why The Goldfinch has been the *it* book of the season — and why Tartt won the Pulitzer Prize for this novel just a few days ago. The prose is beyond beautiful. Her descriptions of people, events, and objects go on for days, but never feel excessive. I often found myself rereading passages — not in order to better understand, but in order to enjoy her words even more.

The book starts with 13-year-old Theo surviving a terrorist explosion in a New York City museum. Somehow in the chaos of this event, which takes the life of his mother, he comes into possession of a masterwork. The next ten years of his life center around the secret of this painting and his attempts to survive, moving from family to family. It’s absolutely heartbreaking what Theo goes through, but Tartt painstakingly describes his experiences, rather than applying social labels to them. It is much like how we live our lives. No one really thinks of themselves as addicted, abused, or victimized — instead we live these experiences moment-for-moment, incorporate them into our own narratives, and continue living our lives.

Anyway, absolutely fantastic book. You won’t be disappointed.

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Wake by Elizabeth Knox

The Wake, by Elizabeth Knox

Anyone who loves end-of-the-world quasi-science fiction stories will love this book. Set in modern day New Zealand, citizens of a small town are overcome with madness. There are only a few survivors who are trapped in the town by a strange force. They attempt to understand what has happened and how they can escape. Definitely entertaining (although the first chapter is absolutely horrifying — don’t read it before going to bed), but somehow the book fell a little flat for me. I think this has everything to do with the fact that I finished The Goldfinch directly before starting The Wake, and a comparison of the two books really isn’t fair. But I had a hard time keeping track of the cast of characters and most of them seemed very underdeveloped. Still, I could easily imagine how this novel could be turned into a successful Hollywood blockbuster.

What are your thoughts about these books? What are you reading at the moment?

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