Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Nightstand Books. But, first, What I Read in January.

Nightstand Books is a meme hosted by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt. On the first Wednesday of every month, we share the books that currently reside on our nightstands!
But before I share my nightstand, I want to share what I read in January:

1. A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck (audiobook).
My family and I listened to this on our way home from Minnesota after Christmas. Richard Peck wrote two of my favorite books EVER: A Long Way From Chicago and A Year Down Yonder. A Season of Gifts if the third installment in the "series," in that it follows the character of Grandma Dowdel out of the 1930s and into the 1950s. I highly, highly recommend these books if you are looking for a light, hilarious read filled with small-town charm.

2. The Martian by Andy Weir.
This book—originally self-published, and then picked up by a publishing company—gained even more popularity than it had originally when the movie came out last October. My dad and two of my friends read the book and gave it glowing reviews, so I decided to pick it up, too. I wasn't disappointed! The Martian is about an astronaut who is stranded on Mars after his teammates presume him dead. He uses his ingenuity and training to survive on the Red Planet. The book is, I have heard, very scientifically accurate. It is also very entertaining. My only complaints are the strong language and the occasional innuendos.

3. Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad by M.T. Anderson.
One of my goals for 2016 is to read forty (which I just changed to thirty) minutes of nonfiction a day. I started by reading the above book about Dmitri Shostakovich, who is one of my favorite composers. M.T. Anderson's book astounded me. It was so good that I have a hard time talking about it. It was as much about Russia's history in the first half of the 1900s, and about the suppression of the arts under Stalin's reign, and about the power of music, as it was about Shostakovich's life. Whether you are interested in Dmitri Shostakovich's life and music (as I was), or are interested in Russia's revolutions and Russia's part in World War Two, I recommend this book to you.

3 and 4. Joseph Stalin by Sean McCollum and Joseph Stalin by Janet Caulkins.
After reading about Stalin as a "side character" is Symphony for the City of the Dead, I wanted to know more about his life. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any long biographies about him, so I had to settle for two short books designed for school children doing reports. As such, these books were fact-filled and dull. Though I didn't appreciate the dry writing, I did enjoy the information.

5. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.
This year, the calendar in my room is book-themed. Each month features a different classic, and I am trying to read them all. January's book was The Great Gatsby. Every time I read it, this book improves in my opinion. The first time I read it, I couldn't see past the plot, which focuses on several people having affairs. The second time I read it, I had more context about the 1920s and was also able to appreciate the themes in the story. This time, F. Scott Fitzgerald's prose captured by attention. He writes so beautifully. Here is my favorite quote: "The wind had blown off, leaving a loud bright night with wings beating in the trees and a persistent organ sound as the full bellows of the earth blew the frogs full of life."

6. Star Wars: Shattered Empire
This comic book is a part of the Journey to the Force Awakens movement, which aims to fill in the thirty years between "The Return of the Jedi" and "The Force Awakens." Shattered Empire has several stories which directly follow the destruction of the second death star. The central character is Poe Dameron's mother. Both my dad and I thought this comic was just "meh." You're not missing much by skipping it.

So, what's on my nightstand this month?

On Writing Well by William Zinsser.
This is my current nonfiction read. As the title suggests, it is about writing well. Specifically, writing nonfiction well; however, some of his points can be applied to fiction writing as well. If you write nonfiction, if you write fiction, or if you just write papers for school, I recommend this book to YOU. Yes, you. It has fabulous tips, and William Zinsser is (or, was, as he died last year) an entertaining narrator.

Winter by Marissa Meyer.
Winter is the final book in the Lunar Chronicles, which is a series of fairytale retellings. I've been trying to get through this book since November, when some friends and I went to the launch party. It's so long! This is a great series if you're looking for something Star Wars-y and romantic.

Below Winter is my journal, and, below that, are two other books on writing that I am planning on reading this month. Below those, is a poor, discarded, Tintin book that I started reading last spring and never finished. Finally, on the bottom of the stack is a book about the Gershwin brothers that I also started last year and never finished.
I'm also reading a book called The Explorer's Guild by Jon Baird and Kevin Costner, but I think I'm going to bring it back to the library because I'm just not enjoying it as much as I hoped I would.

What are YOU reading this month?


  1. Hmm, looks like a very *educational* stack of literature. Can't wait to hear back which ones you found most useful and what you've learn.

    As for audiobooks, have you ever had a chance to listen to Focus on the Family Radio Theater's version of The Chronicles of Narnia. It brings the books to life like nothing else! Definitely a family favorite of ours.

    1. Oooo, that's a great idea for a post. Thanks. :)
      I haven't listened to Focus on the Family's Chronicles of Narnia, but I just checked and we own them, so maybe next road trip? I've been meaning to re-read Narnia anyway. This would be the perfect opportunity! Thanks for the recommendation.

    2. I read a couple of the Narnia books to my boys when they were little. Caden started reading them for himself last month and is on the last book. (He'd be done but we have the last one on hold at the library and are still waiting). I'll have to find this audio book version for our road trips! :)

  2. I got The Martian for my birthday and am quite looking forward to reading it. We went and saw the movie in November, and I'm declaring it the "Best Movie I Saw in 2015" which is high praise indeedy.

    I have never been able to muster up the desire to read The Great Gatsby...

    Your stack does look quite educational! Happy reading!

    1. What a great gift! Enjoy it. I have yet to see the movie, but it's high on my priority list.

  3. I know there is a book out there which was written by Stalin's daughter concerning her life with her (in)famous dad. I'm not sure what it's called. My friend read it years ago and said it was very good. Also, I just finished Tender is the Night by Fitzgerald. Also very good and beautifully written - a little more long-winded than Gatsby. Subtle themes of insecurity and purposelessness. I don't think I'll read more of his. I've heard these two are his best. I'll be helping several students with Gatsby this spring - at least one who won't bother reading it and neither will get anything out of it, I'm sure. These high-school kids never read, hate it, and one has such bad English skills, I wonder how he'll even get through the course, even with help. Pretty sad.

    1. I'll have to look up that book. It would be super interesting to read a book by someone so close (as in proximity) to Stalin.
      I've always wanted to read more Fitzgerald, but never knew which book to pick up next. Maybe I'll try Tender is the Night. Is that the one that's a little bit autobiographical?
      I'm glad that your students have you to tutor them, so that they have at least a little bit of a chance at doing well or getting something out of the process.

  4. Yes, I believe Tender... is semi autobiographical. The main characters, especially the husband and his wife are well-developed and complex. It starts off a bit confusingly though. I read you should always give a book 40 pages before you give up. This one isn't that bad and I 'got into it' before the 40 pages.

    1. That's a good method for deciding if you want to stick with a book. I might have to start using that...

  5. I never really liked reading nonfiction when I was younger, but it's fun reading them now, and doing it out of choice instead of a "have to" for school. I would especially like to read more writing books, and I should find a copy of Writing Well.

    I'm reading Outling your Novel by K.M Weiland right now, which I'm finding really helpful, but it has a to do list at the end of each chapter that I don't always have time to do. That makes reading a little slow, but I'll appreciate it in the end I'm sure.
    I'm also reading Middlemarch by George Elliot, and really enjoying it. I've watched the BBC version first, and that's been me favorite way of getting into classic books. Then I can picture the actors in their parts, but the story is so much deeper and the writing is so lovely and descriptive.

    1. It makes such a difference when you can choose to do something instead of being made to do it for school or work or something else!
      Those both sound like good books. George Eliot is on my list of "to-read" authors. And that's a great way to read classics! It helps get an overview of the story, too, so you don't get lost in the language.

  6. Not every person is interested in reading or writing. But this is also the case sometimes that a person wants to read but then he couldn't pick up the right book or choose any wrong that minimizes his interest in reading with every passing page. Also some times this is also the case that students don't like reading in the early childhood and start developing interest in books in their start of teenage.