Surznick Reads: January 2014 - The Surznick Common Room

Friday, January 31, 2014

Surznick Reads: January 2014

One question that I love/hate getting asked is, "Can you give me any good book recommendations?" It makes me happy that my friends think to ask me, but I hate that I can NEVER think of anything off the top of my head. Since this happens every so often, I thought it would be a fun idea for Nick and I to write a monthly post about the books we read that month. Hopefully this will help people who want to read more but don't know where to start, or maybe it will at least introduce new books to readers that they may not have heard of before.

In our Hey There, 2014! post I mentioned that every year I set a reading goal for myself. This year that goal is 36 books! I've already picked out 24 books we have on our shelves that I haven't read, plus I joined a book club so I'll read 1 book per month for that. So for me, this is 3 books a month (at least! I'm always looking to surpass my goal.) Nick's goal is to read 12 books total, or 1 per month. (He thinks he's a slow reader, though he's already on his 3rd book this month...)

Before we get started on our January reads, I want to share more about how Nick and I have acquired our (ever growing) library. Nick and I don't have any sort of e-readers, all of our reading is done with actual books. So if we purchased all of our books brand new, it would get rather expensive. Our absolute favorite resource for finding cheap books is thrift stores. We go to Goodwill about every other week and search the shelves for books we want to read/own, and the best part is that they only cost $1! Plus, we're not just picking up any sort of random books that we think sound interesting, we almost always find books that are on our "Want to Read" lists. You'd be surprised at what thrift stores have to offer. Most of the books are relatively new and look as if they've only been read once. If we can't find a book in a thrift store, our next stop is usually Amazon. Half Price Books is a great option too! We pretty much never buy new books unless we have a gift card or something, but we don't mind buying used.

Also, I am obsessed with Goodreads. It's an awesome way to track what you've read, what you're currently reading, and what you want to read. You can also find great book recommendations based on what's on your "shelves", you can review the books you've read, read other reader's reviews, enter giveaway contests, and make reading goals. Plus, you can connect with friends and see what they're reading too. I love that Goodreads is a place I can keep track of everything since my Want to Read list is so extensive. Everyone should go get a Goodreads account!

But now... find a cozy chair and grab a cup of tea... it's the moment you've been waiting for...

Sarah's Reads!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
From "The extraordinary #1 New York Times bestseller that will be in movie theaters on November 15, 2013, Markus Zusak's unforgettable story is about the ability of books to feed the soul. It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still. Liesel Meminger is a foster girl living outside of Munich, who scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak, author of I Am the Messenger, has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time."

This book was recommended to me by a friend as "one of the best books she has ever read." I got a really nice hard back copy from Nick's dad for Christmas and I started reading it immediately. It's 550+ pages, but I read it in less than a week because it is that good. So captivating. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll have all the feels. It's also narrated by Death, which is unique and shows an interesting perspective. Now I can say that it's one of the best books I have ever read too.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
From "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the best chronicle of drug-soaked, addle-brained, rollicking good times ever committed to the printed page. It is also the tale of a long weekend road trip that has gone down in the annals of American pop culture as one of the strangest journeys ever undertaken. Now this cult classic of gonzo journalism is a major motion picture from Universal, directed by Terry Gilliam and starring Johnny Depp and Benicio del Toro."

Well, I didn't love it but I didn't hate it. Most of the time I wasn't even sure what was happening, but that was probably the idea since it's centered around their drug-fueled escapades. I also just didn't really see the point in the story, but I guess parts of it was humorous to read. After reading some of the reviews on Goodreads, it seems like I'm not the only one who felt this way. Maybe someday I'll give Thompson another try, we'll see!

My Rating: 3 Stars

Little Bee by Chris Cleave
From, "We don't want to tell you too much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don't want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: It is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn't. And it's what happens afterward that is most important. Once you have read it, you'll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don't tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds."

This was my January book club selection, but it was on my to-read list anyway because it was also recommended to me by my friend who loves The Book Thief (she has good taste!) The blurb above is also what is on the back cover of the book. After reading the back cover, I decided to not even tell Nick what it's about as I was reading it (solidarity, Chris Cleave!). I didn't really know anything about the book before I read it, but it is an incredible story and an excellent read. It's true that the beach scene was awful, and actually many other parts of the book are sad, but there's a lot of funny mixed in too. I really, really liked this and am excited to read another Cleave book that we recently purchased.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
From, "Mary Shelley's timeless gothic novel presents the epic battle between man and monster at its greatest literary pitch. In trying to create life, the young student Victor Frankenstein unleashes forces beyond his control, setting into motion a long and tragic chain of events that brings Victor to the very brink of madness. How he tries to destroy his creation, as it destroys everything Victor loves, is a powerful story of love, friendship, scientific hubris, and horror."

Nope. I understand that this is a literary classic and all but it was just 100% not my flavor. Every time I sat down to read this, it felt like I read about 20 pages when it was actually only 3. My mind wandered so much and I just couldn't grasp any interest in the story. I found myself thinking about one bajillion different things while I was reading other than this book. This review on Goodreads should tell you everything you need to know.

My Rating: 1 Star

Nick's Reads!

Chronicles Volume One by Bob Dylan
From, "'I'd come from a long ways off and had started a long ways down. But now destiny was about to manifest itself. I felt like it was looking right at me and nobody else.' So writes Bob Dylan in Chronicles: Volume One, his remarkable book exploring critical junctures in his life and career. Through Dylan's eyes and open mind, we see Greenwich Village, circa 1961, when he first arrives in Manhattan. Dylan's New York is a magical city of possibilities -- smoky, nightlong parties; literary awakenings; transient loves and unbreakable friendships. Elegiac observations are punctuated by jabs of memories, penetrating and tough. With the book's side trips to New Orleans, Woodstock, Minnesota and points west, Chronicles: Volume One is an intimate and intensely personal recollection of extraordinary times."

I had no idea Dylan would be this inspiring. Folk music in the 1960s has always been an interest of mine, but even if it isn't one of yours, this book is still a fantastic read. The way Dylan perceived the world around him, and the ideas that crept through his mind are wildly interesting and inspiring. I've never been so motivated to pursue a passion of mine as I was when reading this book. I would recommend this book to anyone.

My Rating: 5 Stars

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Do I really need to review this? It's Harry Potter, for crying out loud! Practically perfect cover to cover. I will say, though, that this particular book had an extremely interesting plot, that had a nice steady, slow reveal. The book allowed me to make my own discoveries regarding the plot while keeping me on my toes, which made it extremely enjoyable to read. Even though it is already number six in the series, it is perhaps one of my favorite Harry Potter books to date. I am so excited, and very sad to be approaching the end of the series (finally), and this book sets up the finale so perfectly that I cannot wait to jump right back in to the world of Harry Potter.

My Rating: 5 Stars

So what do you guys think? Have you read any of these books? We love a good book discussion, so if you have thoughts/comments/opinions about any of these, let us know! We're already reading our February books and I can't wait to share those. Check back in four weeks!

Sarah & Nick


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