One “upside” of quarantine (ha ha ha, what a privileged thing to say) is that I have a lot more time to read! After a long day of working, I’ve taken to soaking up the sun on my front porch with some ice water and a good book. I’ve also started to wind down at the end of a long day in bed, curled up with my kindle (and away from my phone!). Routines are everything!
I’ve actually gotten through a lot more books than I thought I did over the past few months – take a look at the list below, along with some mini reviews!
The Hidden Power of F*cking Up
Your enjoyment of the book will probably depend heavily on your opinion of the Try Guys and the content they create. They have a very particular, sometimes corny, style that appeals to an audience that is generally younger than I am – I’m not ashamed of liking them, but I am acutely aware of this fact when I read comments from their other fans. That being said, I love the Try Guys, so I loved their book!
Between them and Yes Theory (among others), I feel like a lot of the YouTube content that I consume deals with getting out of your comfort zone, trying new things, and not being afraid of failing. This book heavily leans into that mentality, and talks about specific points in each Try Guy’s life where he had to overcome some sort of adversity or get out of his comfort zone for the sake of growing as a person.
There are sections about how to overcome struggles in different parts of life – the love life one definitely stood out, again probably because I’m fans of the guys and their partners anyway! – as well as challenges taken on by specific Try Guys, as prescribed by the other guys. In particular, Eugene’s challenge to be more genuine with his family was, by far, the highlight of the book. It really shined as a truly uncomfortable challenge to get through, especially for myself, another person who is not super close to my own family either.
Again, my enjoyment of this book really hinged a lot on already knowing each Try Guy from their YouTube videos. While the book provides a lot of the necessary backstory, so you don’t need to know them before going in, I’m not sure if I would recommend it to anyone who isn’t already familiar with them, especially not someone in their late 20s like myself. At the very least, I’d watch a couple of their videos before diving into, essentially, an entire book that is just about them.
I love Michelle Obama, so I loved this book – and this is not a negotiable like the last review!
Let’s get a little personal for a second: I was raised on mostly conservative political media. Now, because my own views are completely different from those I absorbed growing up, I’m never too surprised by and try not to be emotionally affected by political vitriol and mudslinging displayed on either end of the spectrum. For some reason, though, one horrible headline has always stuck with me: someone calling Michelle Obama a ‘monkey’. Why?
Reading this book only solidified my admiration of Michelle Obama, my anger at that past remark, and my own disdain of political discourse in general. Why would you call a woman who went to Princeton for undergrad, Harvard for law school, worked in corporate law in Chicago, and eventually became First Lady of the United States a monkey? It always made me feel so hopeless – like, I would never be able to study at Princeton or go to law school at all, what does that make me?
All that in mind, I was happy to know that the book is really more about Michelle’s life as an individual, with Barack as a side character (a very powerful and influential side character, putting it lightly) that she doesn’t shy away from voicing her disagreements, disappointments, and frustrations with. (Celebrities! Arguing with their spouses! They’re just like us!)
I also don’t really read a lot of straightforward autobiographies (though there’s another one in this post – I swear, those are the only two!), so it was interesting for me to read about her life from the very, very beginning. For example, I even put myself in her shoes as she took piano lessons, just like I did!
Anyway, even though I try to stay away from anything remotely related to American politics, for my own sanity, I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and honestly wish that more people would read it!
Never Let Me Go
I had no idea what this book was going to be before going in. I just knew that it was well-known, enough to be adapted into a movie. Really, from the title and book cover, I thought it was just going to be another straightforward love story. Wow, I was so wrong!
Instead of a love story, little by little, I realized that the story actually involved questions of… (SPOILERS!) medical ethics? The best way to describe it seems to be a state-sanctioned, large scale version of My Sister’s Keeper. Again, not what I expected at all!
The book also moved very slowly, especially in the first half when the truth of their reality had not been fully explained yet, so I considered stopping reading it several times because I couldn’t understand what was happening. However, once the big reveal is dropped, I absolutely couldn’t put it down, and wanted to devour more and more about this world and its secrets.
At the end, I was still left wanting more! The main story line doesn’t drift too far from the triangle of main characters, and I really just wanted to branch out from them to learn more about their world. While I didn’t dislike the book, I think I would only recommend it to people specifically interested in its sci-fi themes. I also know that there’s a movie floating around somewhere, and I’m not particularly interested in watching it after reading the book. (Even though it stars Andrew Garfield! What!)
Sorry I’m Late, I Didn’t Want to Come
Unlike other books on this list, I started this book before the beginning of quarantine. I distinctly remember reading it during my shifts working at Improv Boston and gushing with others in the comedy community over how the author tried improv and stand-up as ways to get out of her shell. Because of this, it was bittersweet to finish the book while in the throes of quarantine.
I started improv as a way of getting out of my shell and meeting new people (and, maybe someday, planned to try stand-up for the same reasons), so I was excited to read about the author’s experiences and challenges while doing the same thing. Around the time of reading the book, I was also in a similar boat as the author – while I enjoyed the act of doing improv and was learning a lot about myself in the process, I wasn’t exactly making a lot of strong connections with new friends. By the time I finished the book, my improv classes had been postponed at least for a few months, and my goal of meeting new friends and gaining new skills seemed further and further away.
External factors aside, I did think this was a very compelling book, if not uncomfortable-in-a-fun-way, especially for myself, a person who usually skews introverted. Pan, the author, doesn’t shy away from sharing how mortifying many of her attempts to try new things were, and is honest when sharing if things do, or don’t, go well. Her entire arc is, if nothing else, genuine, and though Pan is likely more extremely introverted than most people, there are still elements of her story that I’m sure that anyone with any personality type can relate to.
(Honestly, after doing improv for almost a year – I still think doing stand-up is one of the scariest things in the world – so I have to give her props for at least trying that out!)
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?
This was another book that I knew nothing about before buying on Kindle except that it’s been made into a movie, so it at least has to be good enough for Hollywood!
This actually ended up being my favorite book that I’ve read in quarantine so far. Though I’ve tried to be pretty strict with my sleeping schedule, I did once find myself up until 4 in the morning plowing through the book because I needed to know what happened next – because time flies when you’re having fun!
In retrospect, not one part of this entire story is believable, but I think that’s what made it such a fun, silly world to get lost in. Is there really a universe where (SPOILERS!) a woman can get so worked up over the PTA that she loses her home to a landslide? where parents actually give in to their child’s wishes to travel to Antarctica for Christmas? where a world-famous architect can disappear off the face of the Earth without a trace? (Maybe! Don’t ruin this for me, I’m naive!)
Part of my fondness for this novel comes from its storytelling style as well – I’m a sucker for a narrative-by-letters, what can I say? Hearing everything told in bits-and-pieces from different points of view definitely kept me engaged, even as plot lines spiraled into the more and more unbelievable. (I did read a Goodreads review that noted that every character had the exact same “voice”, which ruined it for me a bit, but not enough to completely write off the entire book.)
Perhaps, like The Vacationers below, I enjoyed this because quarantine is a great time to distract myself from the real world by diving into the world (and problems) of superficial, rich people. No shame!
Welcome to Night Vale
I was a very avid listener of the Welcome to Night Vale podcast for a couple of months a few years ago. I blazed through the first 100-something episodes before getting very sick of it very quickly. Looking back, I think that it’s a tiring world to live in – the rules of real life simply do not apply, and while it’s a fun world to explore at first, it definitely feels like I got a little too much whiplash after a while and wanted to retreat back into a more realistic world, where I could (at least, kind of) predict what would happen.
While I grew weary of the world, I still couldn’t resist buying the book when I saw it on sale. I think having some time between listening to the podcast regularly and reading the book helped a lot because the vibe of the book is very, very similar to the book. Even outside of the “radio” segments, I mentally read the entire book in narrator Cecil Palmer’s often-menacing voice. It was actually kind of comforting – Night Vale and its residents were waiting for me to return, after all this time, exactly as they were when I left them.
In terms of the story, it does take a long time to get off the ground. I read some reviews saying that the authors take a lot of time making nods and references to the podcast, which could delight longtime listeners but, at the same time, be very tedious to someone jumping into the universe for the first time. As someone in the in-between, I enjoyed the references for a bit but did feel myself waiting for the action to start for quite a while. Things don’t really start accelerating forward until the last third of the book. However, once they get going, it’s a very fun and very wild ride! It really just felt like a test of my patience – how long was I willing to wade through the world-building (especially being familiar with the world already) to get to the highlights?
Like many of the other books on this list, I would recommend that someone familiarize themselves with the Night Vale universe by listening to the podcast first before diving into the book. Because I know firsthand that the tone can be grating after a while, I’m sure there are others out there who may have their own opinions on it that are probably better off learning that it’s not for them by listening to a 30-minute podcast instead of starting an entire book.
This was a perfect quarantine read! It’s literally just about a bunch of rich people on vacation and their interpersonal problems (which mostly boil down to “I need to communicate better with my significant other!“) No stakes, really, and I could pretend that I was in Mallorca with them when I was really sitting on my same porch, where I always read the book, every evening. The book was an escape for me.
Did I learn anything about the world? Nope! Did I learn anything about myself? Not really, just that I want to go on vacation, preferably to Mallorca! But sometimes you just need a simple, mindless read to get your mind off of things. That was The Vacationers for me this summer!
Another book whose Goodreads reviews made me think twice about my experience! I really need to read more books!
I was a big fan of Marcus Samuelsson back in my Food Network-watching days, and I’ve always wanted to eat at Red Rooster in Harlem, even before reading this book. I was happy to learn a lot about his life, from his surprisingly harmless? upbringing in Sweden as a child adopted from Ethiopia, to his travels around Europe and the United States, and eventually the rest of the world as his celebrity status grew, and the struggles that came with that. Though I know that becoming a chef is not a vocation for the faint of heart, it was illuminating to have that path laid out in the book. I got tired at some points just reading about it!
There were some points that I incredulously shared with my boyfriend (SPOILERS!) – Did you know that he had a daughter when he was just a teenager? Did you know that he was in a car accident that killed his best friend? – but didn’t look too deeply into besides, wow, such obstacles that he had to overcome! Later on, several Goodreads reviews made me realize, wow, he had a daughter that he paid child support to but never really otherwise acknowledged until she was a teenager and he was a fully-fledged celebrity chef? Perspective is everything! He really got me thinking that he had no skeletons in his closet!
I did enjoy the book a lot, if only to peek into the very foreign world of the culinary arts. I’d recommend it if, like me, you’re familiar with Samuelsson, but if you didn’t watch much Food Network, you probably won’t find his story as inspiring or engrossing as I did.