Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Review: The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

What is the true power in a person's stories?  I'm not talking about the ones we make up or read to children before bedtime.  I mean OUR stories; the stories of our life that build the unique individuals that we really are inside and out.  There are the things that have happened to us, the things we have been taught, and then the things we tell ourselves about both--which really shape our perception of the world and who we end up being.  It was in this layering of identity that we get Thrity Umrigar's, The Story Hour.

Synopsis:  Our two main characters, Maggie and Lakshmi, come into contact with one another after an attempted suicide by Lakshmi, the lonely arranged wife of an Indian man running a local Indian restaurant and store.  The marriage was one of distance, hurt, misunderstanding, and distance.  Lakshmi felt so alone and so unloved or even seen, that she attempted suicide, which landed her in a state facility.  There, she met Maggie, the psychologist who came to learn the reasons behind her attempted suicide, and in the process crosses the boundary between doctor and patient to care very much about Lakshmi's "stories" that have built her life.

Review:  The Story Hour is one of those novels that sneaks up on you, and before you know it, you care deeply about the characters involved and want to sit with them to hear more about their lives.  Complex and yet quiet in its complexity, our two main characters, Maggie and Lakshmi, create a friendship out of a shared understanding of what it means to feel alone, feel overlooked, and/or even feel unheard.  Maggie learns about Lakshmi's past in India, and what brought her to the marriage that has left her so lonely; a journey that somehow feels relatable, regardless of where you're at in life.  Maggie, who has a spectacular marriage and husband, also feels that something is off-balance in her own life, but examines it more quietly, through her visits with her patient, Lakshmi.

The thing I found most appealing about this novel is the way that the story binds and connects the characters and readers to one another.  That is a powerful metaphor and symbol, throughout the novel, that represents and speaks for that lifeblood that connects us all as human beings.  While the characters were subtle, and not without their flaws, we can relate to them.  These are qualities which make me take their stories to heart.

There were moments in the story where I worried about the direction it might head, and I worried we would be left hanging at the end, yet there is a satisfactory conclusion to the problems and concerns our characters find themselves in.  Lakshmi is a woman of courage and deep emotion.  Maggie is a woman filled with conflicting emotions and a lack of foresight.  Together, their lives--stories, help to heal wounds they both carry, and help them to understand things about themselves they would have ignored had they not been bound together.

Overall, I was captured by the language and emotion of the "story" told.  It made me think deeply and to feel deeply.  In short, I walked away with a greater appreciation for the lives we lead and a respect for the journeys each person must take. 

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Blatherings: Maybe It's Time...

It's been awhile, and I finally found myself missing the space here to write and share what I'm reading, so I thought I'd give this another shot and see where it goes.  Who knows?  All I know is that I want to talk about what I'm reading, and thankfully I have my own space to do that!

To be honest, work stole my mojo for awhile, and I felt like I just wanted to shut it down and focus everything I had into getting the things completed that needed completing, and then shutting out everything that needed shutting out.  Books were not on the "shut out" list, but the pressure of finding time to post and separate everything in my life was definitely on that list!

Things are good now.  While I was sad to lose my grandfather this fall,  saying goodbye to the last of my grandparents, I felt better equipped to handle it in comparison to where I was at last year.  In general, I've fallen back on working hard, playing hard, and embracing the positives in life--not the negatives.  That has been a real life-saver for me.  Thankfully, I have great family, friends, and co-workers who also embrace that spirit.  And at the end of the day, I seriously don't let things bother me. 

Having said that, books never went off the radar.  Where would I be without the different perspectives and viewpoints that books afford us?  This last year has been a good one for reading, and I've loved so many of the books I've read or listened to.  Having discovered BBC Radio 4 has turned work time, whether during my prep hour or after school, into something magical!  They have had some amazing books and plays broadcast on there, so much so that I'm always scouring their page for upcoming pieces.

I've also fallen in love with FutureLearn's free online courses, where I have taken a number of amazing literature & history courses.  Seriously, as a teacher I sometimes feel like I need to feed the engine that got me into teaching in the first place--the passion behind the practices--books and history.  I quickly found that after taking these courses, I feel more knowledgeable in my own classroom, as well as inspired to learn more on my own.  What could be better than that?  (Okay, so I have some classes that took me a year to get through, but I'm not paying for them, nor getting any credit.  It's all good!)

Okay, let's get to the real deal now and talk about books!  I've been on a modern/contemporary classic binge this year, and finished a number of great novels and am in the process of reading some great contemporary reads.  Here are a few:


The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, forced me to read with an attention to detail that I haven't in a very long time.  The number of characters and story lines were so tightly interwoven that you really had to pay attention with this one.  I won't lie, that this book took me well over a year to complete, but so worth it for the richness of the mystery set in New Zealand, and the intriguing characters in that time in history.


This book, Redeployment by Phil Klay, I listened to as I drove to and from work.  Let me not lie here.  It was a tough book to hear.  The pain, sorrow, anger, and emotional pain that came through each soldier's story made it difficult for me to hit play each day, and yet I couldn't silence their stories.  This collection really reshaped some of my thinking about our vets and the psychological toll they suffer by going to war.
**This is a really gritty novel, full of language and graphic experiences.  I'm not sure how you would separate that from their lives or characters and still get the full impact of their stories, and I wouldn't ask anyone to.


All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr is a jewel of a read that I'm currently in the middle of reading.  My school is using this text for honors classes, and I have put it on my AP reading list, even without finishing it!  There are certain books that grab at you from the very first page or chapter, and this is one of those.  I'm eager for Christmas Break to get here so I can binge-read the last half!


What can I say?  Thrity Umirigar has won my heart and spirit.  Both of her novels I received through the Amazon Vine program, and although I'm slow to get through most novels (no thanks to my crazy reading habit of reading about 20 books at once), her novels and characters REALLY speak to me.  I love her characters and her ability to craft a story about women and men that you can grow to understand and care about on such a deep level.  I'm a little over half way through The Story Hour, about an Indian woman in counseling with her female psychiatrist after an attempted suicide, and I really can't say enough about Umrigar's rich narratives that keep giving.  I feel like these women are very real.  What can I say?  Go look this one up!


Finally, I recently started, and immediately binge read a huge chunk of The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.  Confusing at first, I stuck with the splintered narrative to gather who these characters were and the connection to Tasmania, Australia, and the time period--WWII that we get through the narrative.  Each character is nuanced, so you have to stick with them so that they will reveal what drives them and why they do what they do.  It's an amazing novel so far, and one that sticks with me for days after I read even a short chapter or two.  I can't wait to finish this one!

There's the gist of what I've been up to and what I've been reading, listening, or studying!  I'm excited for the holidays and for this next year.  What about you?  What have you been reading or doing the most of this past year?

Monday, April 27, 2015

Spring Readathon Wrap Up--Finally


Yes, I'm FINALLY posting my wrap up for the readathon.  Between work that I could be doing around the clock right now, holding a practice test on Saturday, and then trying to stay awake to read, this was probably my least "reading" productive readathon in a very long time.  Having said that, I was still happy to get to participate for just a bit.  Besides that, I got involved doing a bit of cheering this year, which was fun!

Let's talk stats real quick, so you see what I mean by a not-so-hot readathon, this go around!

End of Event Meme:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  All afternoon & evening after I jumped back in to the readathon.  When you don't get a enough sleep from the week before, pulling through the day was tough!  I kept falling asleep and ended up taking several naps.
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  Some years I say read graphic novels or short reads, but I'm starting to think that you just have to read what you love most.  That's it.  In the end, it's not about finishing things quickly, unless that's what you want to do.  Otherwise, find what you love most!  I like to rotate books, which means my #'s are low, but I rotate until I find something I enjoy.  A good Laura Florand, Lauren Willig, or Harriet Evans novel will always keep me flipping pages.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?  Nope.  The readathon is awesome!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  I love how cooperative it always is, so that we feel supported and part of a group.  That really is the best part of it all.
  5. How many books did you read?  0 =  Although I did rotate through about four different books and am close to finishing a couple. 
  6. What were the names of the books you read?  I spent some time reading the following:  I Was Here by Gayle Forman, Not Without You by Harriet Evans, Bella Fortuna by Rosanna Chiofalo, The Chocolate Temptation by Laura Florand, and My True Love Gave to Me by Stephanie Perkins.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?  Because I'm nearing the end, My True Love Gave to Me.  I've really loved reading those short stories, and it's been fun getting into each individual story to see where it take you.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?  None of them.  Life's too short!
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?  No.  They were awesome, and I enjoyed helping out with that as well!
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  I'll always participate, even if it's just for an hour!  I would always love to come back around to hosting a challenge or something, but October might find me just participating, since school will be gnarly this fall!
Well, there's my verbose discussion of my somewhat jumbled readathon this year.  While I didn't get as much reading done as I would have liked, it sure did jump start a bit more reading on my part.  Here's hoping I've turned over a new leaf!

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Readathon Starting Point--Kind Of


This morning I'm proctoring our last full-length practice AP Literature test at the high school, so I had to get up and get here for that.  While I should be doing a number of other things first, such as grading this massive stack of quizzes, essays, and annotated bibliographies looming beside me, I thought I'd hurry and check in!  As per my usual style, I thought I'd juggle things a bit and try to rotate my work a little so that I can still participate to refuel my batteries.  I'll be a much more efficient teacher--overall--if I can at least do a little "readathoning" today.

Since the school has blocked the "24 Hour Readathon" site (strangely), I looked it up on my smartphone and will just keep it moving so that I can get back to grading, which will then lead to READING.

I'll say that I really wish I would have known Dewey.  I think I came into the blogging scene right after she passed away, but know that her enthusiasm for the book community was what pulled me in back then.  It is THAT community that from time to time I still yearn for and sometimes think I'll come back to.  Obviously, I haven't given up my book blog and do think I'll bring it back at some point, but just haven't had the energy or time to do so.  For now, it's my readathon central, and that's okay.  I can say thank you to Dewey for the legacy of readers and camaraderie she left us with.  For that, I feel like I knew her, for sure.

As for getting started, here we go:

1)  What fine part of the world are you reading from today? 
Well, obviously I'm at a high school in Utah--administering an AP practice test.  :)  By noon, I'll be back to SLC doing some reading, both of the bookish kind, as well as the AP essay sort.
2)  Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
I actually just picked up Gayle Forman's newest, I Was Here from the library, and I'm really looking forward to mixing it in!  I'm a big rotater with all things in my life, including books, so I know I won't just read it straight through.  I am, however, eager to start it and see how this new book goes.
3)  Which snack are you most looking forward to?
I haven't picked anything up yet!  :(  We're going to stop on our way home, and I'm going to pick up some chips and guacamole, some roasted cashews, and some dark chocolate.  I think that will tide me over, right?
4)  Tell us a little something about yourself!
As you can tell, I'm a high school English teacher, with a bit of a crazy grading and work schedule at times.  I really love my students though, which makes all of the essays and grading worth it!  I grew up in Idaho, out in the boonies, but ended up going to school in Kansas to get my MA in English.  I guess you could say, my entire life has been about books in some way, as that's what I flourished around as a little kid, and that's what I studied as a young adult, and now that's what I teach for my career. 

As for beyond work, I live a pretty quiet, but full life.  This summer I'll be heading to Italy and France on a much-planned for trip.  We've been saving and planning for this trip for over 10 years, in anticipation of my mother's retirement and my best friend getting out of med school as an anesthesiologist.  It's going to be epic!  I can't wait.  :)  And yes, I have a pile of books and e-books that I've been rifling through, deciding what I'll take on the trip.
5)  If you participated in the last readathon, what's one thing you'll do different today?  
I actually don't think I'll do anything different.  I've learned to just go with the flow and do my best.  I know that I can't participate "perfectly," so why stress?  I'll proctor this test, and then head home to do a little grading and read a bit, back and forth.  It's just nice to have a community of readers and friends to join up with for this!  So many of you I don't talk to as often, so I just enjoy meeting back up with through this forum!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

End of Readathon Wrap Up


This year I crashed around 4 am, which was pretty good for me.  I still got up at a normal time though, so I'm not sure how happy I'm going to be about this whole thing today.  We'll see!  I did feel, however, that I got back into my reading mojo.  That was SO worth it!  I've been so out of the loop and down and out in my reading, that this was an excellent way to get back to it.   Let's see where I go from here...

End of Event Meme:

  1. Which hour was most daunting for you?  First, at 9pm, which is a normal bedtime for me.  Once I got past that, 4 am--when I noted that I kept blanking out on what I was reading and realized that I kept falling asleep in the middle of my reading.  I would literally have to shake myself back awake and re-read what I had just read.  That got a bit too annoying and I finally just tossed in the towel!
  2. Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?  I've thought about this from year to year and can now say that you should pick whatever you feel you can finish.  There really is something to be said for feeling like you can finish something (at least it is for me).  I left a couple of books for the readathon that I was within 100-150 pages of finishing.  That helped me feel a bit more successful and left the high point of the novel for the readathon.
  3. Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?  Nope.  I really appreciate all the hard work that goes into it.  I always feel guilty for not taking more of a role in helping out in some way!
  4. What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?  I really liked the Goodreads page.  That was a nice addition this year.  :)
  5. How many books did you read?  4, although I only read one from cover to cover.  The rest were books that I finished up from various stages in reading them. 
  6. What were the names of the books you read? 
    Love Life by Rob Lowe, Always Emily by Michaela MacColl, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz, and I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis.
  7. Which book did you enjoy most?  Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe was really amazing.  I knew it was an award winner and so I had high expectations for it, but I was really surprised by the story's direction and the sensitive way it handled the main character's personal growth.
  8. Which did you enjoy least?  None of them.  I passed up a book if it didn't interest me.  The readathon is too short to stick with something for too long!  :)
  9. If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?  N/A
  10. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?  Very likely!  I really enjoy and appreciate the focused time the readathon gives me.  It's a great time to get back into the reading groove.  In the future, I need to get more involved and try out some mini-challenges maybe or even host.

Readathon: Hour 19 Update


This just might be my last update for the night, as I know myself too well!  I took about a five hour break to finish laundry, make my bed, go get dinner, and do a bunch of grading.  Once I felt I had done my duty, I picked up something really short that was one the children's Beehive Award nomination list, I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis.  I've been trying to make my way through some of the children's and YA nominees this year, so it was a nice little walk back into the readathon.  Talk about a gripping little tale.  I really hope grade school children and middle schoolers are getting the chance to read this one and others in the series.

To be honest, I hit my "fatigue" point about 9pm, which is when I generally get ready for bed during the week.  I had some caffeine and a huge glass of water, so I'm feeling pretty back to my normal speed.  We'll see how long that lasts.  I doubt I'll be finishing anymore books, but I'd like to make a good dent in a couple more before I call it a wrap for the night.

Here's where things are at for the moment:

Hours Read:  
 Once again, this is tough.  I haven't really kept track very well.  My guess is that I'm somewhere around 8?  It's still not very good though.  I've had a lot of little interruptions all day.

Books Read:
4--Love Life by Rob Lowe, Always Emily by Michaela MacColl, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Saenz, and I Survived Hurricane Katrina, 2005 by Lauren Tarshis.

Essays Graded:
5--Which isn't so hot.  I would have liked to have done more than that, but I'll take what I can get.  :(

Drinks & Snacks:  Surprisingly, no more snacks, just Wendys for dinner (bad, but so good) and then water, water, water all evening.  I'm honestly going to float away at some point, right?

Number of Readathons I've Participated In:  Just for record keeping sake, I went back to see how many of these I've participated in.  This will make my 10th readathon.  I started participating back in April of 2009, which is amazing and awesome to me.  There were two that I couldn't join in on over the years, but otherwise, I've always been here. 

Well, enough nostalgia.  I don't want my sleepiness to catch up to me.  I have a little energy left and would like to keep it as long as possible.  For now, it will be book rotating time.  Best wishes to everyone who might still be hanging in there!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Readathon: Hour 11 & Mid-Event Survey


What an awesome day so far!  This has been my most productive readathon, no question.  Sometimes I feel like being a social butterfly and zooming around the net to see how everyone is doing, but this time I really wanted to just escape everything and just read!  It's been a bad 6 months for reading, so this has been a great time to dive back in--and boy have I.

Here's what I've been up to!

Books Read:  3--Granted, I was 1/2 way through all of them before the readathon began, so it would be more like 1 1/2.  Still, I'm saying 3.  :)
Pages Read:  390
Hours Read:  This is always hard to calculate, but I've been reading pretty steady today.  I've taken a few breaks here or there to do laundry, get a drink, go outside to read, etc.  I'd say at least 4?  Not great, but still good for the various interruptions, right?
Challenges or Cheering:  Zip.  I know!  It's really bad this time, but I HAD to get myself out of this reading slump.  :(  I keep saying I'll host another challenge down the road.  Maybe I'll join something later tonight???  I did go stop in on some blogs to say hi and see how they were doing, so that might count?!?
Drinks:  1 Diet Pepsi, 1 16 oz lemonade, and 1 huge glass of water.
Snacks:  Well, since I've skipped eating normal meals today, in place of reading (yes, I should go eat something), 1/2 of that bag of Doterra chips & 1/2 an apple.

UPDATE:  I should have realized the Mid-Point Survey was going up right around when I posted this.  I just came back in and attached it below.

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now?  I'm going to grade some essays and then I'll dive into a few chapters of Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison until I rotate on to something else.
2. How many books have you read so far?  3
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon?  I'm still waiting to get back to Landline by Rainbow Rowell.
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those?  Well, just household interruptions and the pressure to get my grading finished.  That will always be there, so I've been going back and forth between the two.
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far?  How much better I do if I stay away from the internet.  Sometimes I really like to feel connected to everyone, so I stay online a lot more, but I feel bad about how little reading time I get in.  This time, I swore to myself that I would spend as much time as possible reading.  I really needed it, so it has been great.

All right.  I think I'm off to go scrounge for some food, get my bed remade after cleaning my sheets, and grading some papers before I can sit back down and read in earnest.  I'll be back a bit later though!  Good luck to everyone!