The Sunday Salon: My nightstand over the past one month

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Sunday

One thing I was worried about while pregnant was how much my reading was going to suffer after baby arrived. It may seem like the least significant thing to worry about (and some have told me so); and post-baby, I did (and do) have bigger things to worry about, such as SIDS, weight gain, head shape (my mom has made me paranoid about this one), nanny or daycare?, why is she spitting up?, how will I leave her and go to work?, and countless others that any mom could probably relate to. To even mention books or reading when there is a new baby in town seems somewhat selfish. Heck, there is even an expectation that you shouldn't be entertaining yourself (reading, phone browsing, watching TV) while caring for a newborn.

But I wanted to continue reading as well as I could after having a kid. The best way to pass on a love for reading to your kid is by you reading. Read with her, but also read for yourself when you can. I found that there was not much I could do while nursing her, so that was my favorite time to read. Next week, once I return to work, I expect my reading time to reduce even further - that's probably when the real challenge starts, but I'm glad I have been able to read plenty until then.

The first thing I did just before baby arrived was to load my Kindle and nightstand with books I considered lighter fare - fast-paced books with either cozy or exciting plots - books I can read when I'm fighting a general state of sleeplessness. It was a little difficult finding the right books - there were a few that I started reading and abandoned right away. If a book didn't fascinate me from the first sentence, I didn't try to spend more time with it - the main reason for this was because many times I've had to drop the book to attend to the baby and I didn't want to have to reread passages to reacquaint myself with the book. 

With that in mind, these are the books that graced my Kindle and nightstand over the past month and a half.

I've read (and loved) A Window Opens, My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry, My Man Jeeves (cannot wait to read more Jeeves), and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. I started reading both Seveneves and The Girl on the Train - both are from the library and due back in a little more than two weeks. Seveneves is turning out to be an awesome read but at 800+ pages, it is practically a doorstopper and I'm not sure if I will have the time to read it cover to cover. Armada is the only one I haven't started yet but that's because I have it in print and I haven't yet mastered the art of reading a physical book (especially a hardback) and nursing a baby.

All the above books are entertaining even in bite-sized chunks. (They actually made cluster feeding something to look forward to.) They also had short chapters that provided a sense of conclusion whenever I put the book down. I'm now hoping to squeeze in some physical books. I've been mostly reading ebooks on my phone so it will be nice to hold a book for a change.

I am most looking forward to reading Salman Rushdie's latest, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights. (I have read only one of his books, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which was fabulous.) I'm not sure Between the World and Me will be a nursing- and sleeplessness-friendly read but I'd love to give it a try - maybe I will read it during an upcoming road trip. Pretty Baby should be exciting to read - all thrillers are wins with me as far as their attention-holding power is concerned.

What do you think of these reads? Are there any others you would recommend?

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry
Every seven-year-old deserves a superhero.

Thus begins Fredrik Backman's latest novel about a little girl named Elsa whose grandmother is essentially her superhero. Elsa and her grandmother are very close, so close that her grandmother has built a whole fantasy world called the Land of Almost Awake and the two would head there every night at the moment they are almost asleep. She has conceived fairy tales from this land that sort of mimic real-world experiences involving Elsa and some of the people they know in real life. Elsa has been getting bullied at school and these tales and this fantasy land is a way for her grandmother to teach Elsa to be strong and how to battle real-life demons.

But her grandmother is ailing of cancer and dies soon, leaving Elsa very heartbroken and angry. But she has been left a last task by her grandmother - a treasure hunt that involves finding some letters she has written to be delivered to some people in their building. For there are several strange and interesting characters who live in the same building as Elsa - among them, a reclusive man who is obsessed with cleanliness, a huge hound that doesn't seem to have an owner, a couple who seems to have a surplus of cookies, and a man who seems to drink coffee all the time.

Remember last year's phenomenon that was A Man Called Ove? (What - you haven't read it yet? You better get hold of that book somehow because that is one of the most amazing books out there.) My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry is written in the same vein of innocent humor as A Man Called Ove was. It's really hard to explain Backman's writing style, except to say that it is endearing, quirky, and fun to read.

Elsa is an almost eight-year old who describes herself as different throughout the book. It is never mentioned how she is different and for a quarter of the book, I kept waiting to find out. But then I realized that it doesn't matter - every kid is different somehow and probably gets teased for it. This book is for those kids. This book is to show those kids that they can be heroes too and make a difference in the world.

I loved her grandmother's Land of Almost Awake. It was a fabulously constructed world that could be in a book of its own.

If there is one thing I didn't like about this book, it was the pacing. I thought the story could have moved a little faster and still retained all its charm. One of Backman's techniques is to use repetition to make things a little cuter and while it worked well in A Man Called Ove and works pretty well in this book too, it was a tad overused in a few cases - this seemed to slow down the book a bit.

That aside, this is a highly recommended read. If I had to pick a favorite between Backman's two books, A Man Called Ove is the clear winner. But this one is also very engrossing. The only thing I would worry about is whether Backman's writing style will get tiring, the more we read his books. I hope not.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

The Evening Sunday Salon: It's been a month!

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Sunday

Wow, I've been writing this post since this morning. So much for a yay, I'm blogging post. On the plus side, as someone commented on this blog a month ago, I am discovering a new normal around here. I can't say the current routine (or lack thereof) is making me super happy, since I am a creature of routine and predictability and babies scoff at routine and predictability. But, I'm finding comfort in being able to spend even a minute doing something I always took for granted, be it taking a shower or brushing my teeth (yes, this!), or even reading blogs or writing a blog post. The only thing I've been able to do without any trouble is read.

Shreya at her naming ceremony
Shreya turned one month old last week. I said this before and I say it again - time is flying too fast when I don't want it to! Maybe I'm enjoying a vacation, or having a great time with friends or family, or it just happens to be the weekend - but the Time God makes sure that it goes by soon. On the contrary, if it's exam season, or a tough work week, or a really long labor, I sure end up feeling every single minute of that torture.

Past few weeks, I've enjoyed holding this beautiful girl and watching how she expresses her needs and desires. She LOVES to feed (maybe all newborns do?) and she loves staring at points of bright light. Which means, she is usually up at dawn (and us with her) to welcome the sun. Those few early morning hours are when she's most active and I spend a good part of that time begging her to go to sleep. Of course, newborns don't understand begging.

I have been busier during the past two weeks than I was during the first couple of weeks. I've been reading less too, mainly because I haven't been as interested in reading. Still, I did finish two books (My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry and My Man Jeeves) and am halfway through a third (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy). I also managed to write two reviews, so maybe it's not all bad.

I return to work in two weeks. Although I'm ready for the routine, I know I'm going to miss my girl terribly. I keep praying for these last two weeks to go by slow but we know how that's going to happen. We started making short trips with the baby (to restaurants and stores) and so far they have been uneventful. I've been trying to squeeze in daily walks in the evenings but she has not been napping too well this past week, making for a cranky evening baby.

Last week, I started properly cataloging the books I own. I've always had some kind of a list at Goodreads and as an excel spreadsheet but both haven't been updated in months. It's a slow going project but hopefully will be the final up-to-date catalog for now. Part of what prompted it was a missing book scare - I still don't know if a book is missing, and if yes, which one it is but I decided it was time to keep a list somewhere.

What's happening at your end?

A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan

Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Window Opens
I'm not sure of your belief system - Georgie says she is "Half Jewish, half Christmas."

A Window Opens isn't exactly my kind of book. I generally try to stay away from books focusing on the do-it-all or have-it-all kind of woman, because they can be quite depressing and unrealistic to read. But for some reason, I accepted this book for review - maybe my pregnancy hormones contributed to that decision or this was just the read I was looking forward to.

Alice is living the life she loves. Mom to three kids, she worked part-time at a magazine and was heavily involved with her kids' school lives. Her husband, Nicholas (never called Nick or Nicky), was working at a law firm, hoping to be made partner someday. However, the partnership doesn't work out and Nicholas quits his job to start his own law firm. This would involve a few months of no pay while he established his reputation and client-base, so they were going to be short on cash for a while.

To make sure they don't run out of money, Alice takes up a full-time job at Scroll, an Amazon-like company that was going to launch reading lounges across the country where customers could sample an ebook and later purchase them - something that was bound to be stiff competition for independent bookstores. Although everyone is proud of her initially, things go downhill pretty soon. Her job gets so busy that Nicholas isn't happy, her kids feel as if her work is more important to her than they are, her best friend, who is an independent bookstore owner, feels that Alice is now competition, and her boss is very pushy and not very respectful of employee needs.

There is a lot of ground covered in this book, so let me start with what I didn't like. I work a full-time job, and will soon contend with full-time-employed-mom challenges. I know there are some moms who prefer to stay at home, some who prefer part-time employment, and some who want a full-time career. I wish A Window Opens was a little sensitive to this personal preference. Instead, Alice's decision to go full-time isn't really received well. Her kids start reflecting on her absences (understandable after having a mom go from part-time present to hardly present) and family members voice that she is always too busy. I wanted this book to admit that any kind of lifestyle (stay-at-home, part-time, or full-time) is challenging for any mom and that they all work well as long as the parents are involved with the kids. Instead, Alice received much angst for going full-time, which she did only so that her family will be able to ride it out while Nicholas gets his company afloat.

The other thing that bugged me was that there is a lot of victimizing of moms. (Sure, there are mom jokes in the real world just like there are gay jokes and Jew jokes and blond jokes and you-name-it jokes.) There are no non-moms in this book who don't ridicule moms. Moreover, almost every mom in this book either don't work or work only part-time, and the women who do work seem very inclined to not having a family. The former group tends to scorn the latter and vice versa. It was a little unpleasant to read all that.

Something else that bugged me was Scroll's portrayal. There was nothing good about this company - even the employees had no heart. While a company like Amazon would appear evil on the outside (looking from an independent bookstore's point of view), I am pretty sure that it is a delight to work in this company. Plus, the employees definitely have feelings and opinions. Not everyone who works at Amazon hates print books or would never visit a brick and mortar store, even if their job "appears" to put these stores out of business. There are always two sides to a coin.

With that out of the way, here's the stuff I liked. This book was a delight to read - it was fast-paced and engaging. I was worried I wouldn't be able to relate to Alice at all - that she would be a have-it-all-do-it-all kind of mom or at least a wannabe. She was the very opposite however. She wanted to do more but knew her limits and tried to make things better within those limits. Of course, her efforts were never viewed as enough by her family or her boss.

What I loved most about this book was how well it explored all of Alice's relationships - those with her kids, her husband, her friends, and also with her parents. None of the relationships were compromised in favor of another one. Essentially, Alice was being painted as a more well-rounded character. I did wish for a deeper portrayal of her husband. He was sidelined quite a bit, which was a bit awkward considering that he was also going through a career upheaval.

I also loved that this was set in New York. The city is as much a character in this book as the people are. A Window Opens is definitely an engrossing read. Although, I had issues with the book, on the whole, I thought it was a very unputdownable and enjoyable read. The issues I had did not come in the way of my reading pleasure.

I received this book for free for review from the publisher via NetGalley.

The Sunday Salon: Currently...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Sunday

Happy Sunday! It's been a little more than three weeks since my last regular post though it doesn't feel that long. The last three weeks have been a blur of sleepless nights, a ton of feedings, and trying to get some rest whenever I can. Shreya will be three weeks old tomorrow and I'm amazed that she's even been here that long, especially considering how impatient I was during the last few weeks of my pregnancy waiting for this perfect bundle to arrive.

I wrote this blog post yesterday, when I was running on a productivity high and had plenty of time to do a lot of things. That was a good thing because I didn't sleep a wink last night, and only just now got a few minutes to load this post into Blogger. We had a looooooooooong feeding session going on and Shreya was wide awake through the night, which was both exasperating and frustrating. But funny, in retrospect. I managed to catch up on some zzz's a while ago, so I feel a lot refreshed now than I did this morning.

Later this week, we have family coming over for Shreya's naming ceremony (similar to a baptism) next weekend. The house is going to erupt at the seams so I'm hoping for plenty of good sleep this week - the only way I can have a sane head nowadays.

The one thing I was most curious about pre-baby was reading. Thanks to all the help around the house, I have been able to read - a lot. Those feeding sessions are turning out to be very conducive for some quality reading. I finished a full-length novel - A Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan - a week ago, and promptly started reading another novel - My Grandmother Asked me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman - which is as quirky and fun as A Man Called Ove, though maybe not as unputdownable. I'm just about 10 pages from finishing this book. Over the past few days, I've also been reading several shorts - J. K. Rowling's Very Good Lives, two short stories - A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez and Phoenix by Chuck Palahniuk, and the graphic series - Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson and Grace Ellis.

So yep, that's more reading than I was doing pre-baby. I have also been reading your blogs but commenting is turning out to be a little difficult to do with just one hand.

Honestly, it feels great to be able to blog. I know I am nowhere near having any kind of routine established. Shreya wakes up often at nights for feedings though we had one blissful night when she slept through as soundly as I could hope for. I'm expecting her schedule to be random for a few more weeks but fingers crossed that by the time I have to return to work (four weeks from now), I will be getting more sleep than I am now.