A Man Called …

There’s a book you may have heard of in recent years. It’s called A Man Called Ove and it was a worldwide bestseller.

The main character is a fellow named Ove who has known heartbreaking tragedy and who is getting on in age. He recognizes, as many of us do at a certain time in life, that the world has left him behind.

The book was written by Swedish author Frederik Backman. Published in 2012, it has been on my reading list for nearly a decade. A Swedish movie was made a few years ago. Last year, every time I went to the movies, there was a preview for a new American version that looked really good.

It opened nationwide earlier this month so I had to hustle to read the book first.

The book was one of the best I have read in the last two years. It was actually exactly what I needed. Ove’s character and his motives are layered and complex. His actions, while foreign and misunderstood by many around him, made perfect sense to me.

The story is told from his perspective so you get tremendous insight into the man. I laughed out loud in many places and found others quite sobering.

You get less of that with the new movie. Tom Hanks does a nice job translating Ove to the big screen as he stars in A Man Called Otto. Don’t ask. I have no clue why they changed the name. Regardless of what you call the character, the film shows some of the complexities of the man. It mixes the bad with the terrible, the funny with the cranky and the good that is this man. It’s not as funny as the previews might suggest. I did laugh. It is amusing but I felt like whoever made that trailer didn’t see the entire movie or understand the point.

Two days later, I was able to see the original film, the Swedish made A Man Called Ove which requires subtitles since I don’t understand the language.

I thoroughly enjoyed this rendition as well. It could be the subtitles throwing me off but this Ove doesn’t come off as complex as he is simply angry. All the same, actor Rolf Lassgård gives a great performance and I enjoyed this one too. You should see it as well.

It got me thinking about life and temperament and how we manage the things life sends our way. It’s rarely all good or all bad. If you take someone else’s interpretation of a story as fact, you’ll get the things they want you to know or consider.

If you get the whole story, in this case the book version, you’ll find much more detail and opportunities to judge for yourself. As much as I enjoyed both movies, I’ll take the book any day. In fact, read it first and I promise you’ll better appreciate both movies.

2022 Reading Goal

I fell short of my reading goal this year and that’s ok. Actually, that’s a lie. I’m not falling short. I’m missing it by about a fourth.

That’s still ok.

I began setting a Reading Goal for myself a few years ago when the Goodreads app asked if I wanted to. I had no idea how much I could read in a year so I just randomly chose 100 books.

I met or exceeded my goal a few times but this year was different. My interest in reading ebbed and flowed. I sometimes tore through two or three books quickly. Then would fall into a rut where I couldn’t finish anything.

Part of it has everything to do with me and my health. The brain fog has improved drastically but continues to be an occasional problem.

Part of the problem is that my go-to fiction category is historical fiction. A lot of the newly published titles have been formulaic and frankly, terrible. It’s like the publishing world caught on to the fact there’s money to be made in this genre and just started churning it out as quick as possible. It has become the Hallmark Christmas movie of the publishing world. Bleh.

Long story short, a lot of the historic fiction I attempted this year got tossed in the DNF pile – Did Not Finish for all of you who aren’t excited about reading.

My friend Johnna jokingly suggested I dive into the stack of vintage storybooks that I collect to hit my goal. While tempting, it isn’t really within the spirit of what I’m trying to accomplish.

This year will end at 75 books. That’s not shabby considering I work full time, travel and have other hobbies.

The 2023 goal will remain at 100. We’ll see how that goes. Meanwhile, here are the ten books I enjoyed most. In random order:

Fiction

Bambi: A Life In The Woods by Felix Salten – most people think that Bambi was created by Walt Disney. Instead, the classic cartoon fawn was created by an author and critic in Austria. Early children’s literature wasn’t what it is today and this 1926 is downright dark. It it’s also beautifully written and poetic in places.

A Christmas Memory by Richard Paul Evans – Evans is the king of heartwarming Christmas stories and this one is no exception. It’s a story of tragedy and survival, kindness and unlikely friendship. It’s also an easy heartwarming read.

Final Girls by Riley Sager – this author has taught me to enjoy a good thriller. His books usually keep you guessing and turning the page for more. I didn’t see this ending coming.

A History of Wild Places by Shea Ernshaw – this is another one that kept me hooked despite the fact the title has nothing to do with the content. It involves a missing person and a reclusive community known as Pastoral where a man disappears while searching for that missing person. I was a little sad when it ended.

The Good Left Undone by Adriana Trigiani – so far, I haven’t met a Trigiani book that I didn’t like. Her books focus on rich characters and beautiful settings. From Appalachian Virginia to New York City to old world Italy, every book is special. This one is no different, weaving stories of past and present that draw the reader in and inspiring thought.

As a side bar, listen to the Big Stone Gap audiobooks. This series was my gateway into the Trigiani universe and they’re still among my favorites.

Nonfiction

The Deepest South Of All by Richard Grant – the author is an award winning journalist who moved to Natchez, Mississippi and wrote this amusing book about the life and characters of this town. This wins the award for one of the strangest reads of the year.

Dirt by Mary Marantz– I bought this book at Ollie’s for $3 and had low expectations. Turns out, it is one of the best pieces of contemporary Appalachian nonfiction that I have read. This memoir was written by a woman who grew up in a single wide house trailer in the mountains of rural West Virginia. Generations of her family were loggers but she escaped this harsh and dangerous lifestyle to attend Yale Law School. It is well done and I recommend it to any child of Appalachia.

Gift From The Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh – this is a slender volume and an elegant meditation on solitude, relationships and contentment. She wrote it while on vacation at the sea and it is teeming with wisdom. And yes, she is that Lindbergh. The Lindbergh baby was her child.

The Growing Season by Sarah Frey – this was another standout. Sarah Frey grew up dirt poor, helping earn the family money as a young child selling produce to store managers. Today, her family company, Frey Farms, is one of the largest fresh produce growers and shippers in America. If you have bought a watermelon in this country, you likely have bought one of her melons. If you’re looking for a “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” story, this one is extraordinary. I admire her work ethic, creativity and good old fashioned scrappiness.

The Face Of Appalachia by Tim Barnwell – this was a souvenir from Asheville, North Carolina. I bought this volume of local photography because the images are extraordinary and the book is signed. The photographer spent years convincing strangers to let him make their portraits in their natural environs. Think homes, storefronts and even chicken yards. These images all seem to be from the eighties and captured scenes and the faces of people who are likely almost all gone now.

But it’s not just images. He captured oral histories too. This guy’s work is the stuff of dreams, the kind of photography that I would love to practice. The author has published other books and I’m dying to see them all.

I feel pretty uninspired when looking back over this year’s reading. You wouldn’t believe the stack that I couldn’t finish including one in particular that was truly disappointing.

There’s a lot of good stuff in my To Be Read pile and I’m excited to get started again. What are you reading? I’m always up for a good recommendation!

The Saturday Night Ghost Club

My current read is The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson. I’m nearing the end and, in typical Brandi fashion, find myself slowing down because I hate to turn the last page of a quality read.

This book has been on my radar for a while but I have been on a non fiction kick for several months, struggling to get into most fiction pieces I have tried. My fiction reading is consequently falling far behind.

To be completely honest, I picked it up this weekend specifically because I like the title and cover. A Saturday Night Ghost Club sounds awfully fun, doesn’t it?

This is a coming of age story, set in 1980s Niagara Falls. It reminds me a little of Stranger Things or Stand By Me and is chock full of great one liners and beautifully crafted paragraphs.

Here’s one of my favorites:

Reality never changes. Only our recollections of it do. Whenever a moment passes, we pass along with it into the realm of memory. And in that realm, geometries change. Contours shift, shades lighten, objectivities dissolve. Memory becomes what we need it to be.

This book is deceiving because it seems like a short, simple story but it is humorous, sad, beautiful and poignant.

Here’s one more quote that is appealing to me:

As far as I was concerned, there was nothing wrong with being an odd duck. I figured some people have edges that don’t allow them to slot into the holes society expects them to fit into, that was all.

That’s right. There’s nothing wrong with being an odd duck. Embrace your odd duckness (no, that’s not a word but I’m going with it) and know that you’re always welcome here.

What are you reading now?

Missing The Mark

This year’s reading challenge goal was again 100 books. I missed my goal by two.

Yes, I could have fudged things and read a couple of kids books just to say I got there but that didn’t serve the spirit of the challenge.

Instead of mourning the failure, I’m choosing to be glad that I read 98 books and that I enjoyed most of them. There was again a nice mix of fiction and non fiction including a handful of photography books.

Out of them all, there were just a few I didn’t like. There were probably eight or ten others that I started but didn’t enjoy. Life is too short for mediocre books. I don’t have time for that and will shamelessly put down any book that clearly will not serve me.

Here are the fiction books I liked best.

William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land was my favorite because it was so beautifully and thoughtfully crafted. It’s a coming of age story with a journey that is full of twists and turns. Components reminded me of many other wonderful books like The Wizard of Oz, Homer, Huck Finn and more.

City of Girls was written by Elizabeth Gilbert who also gave the world Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn’t what I expected but it’s a page turner. I was surprised to realize I only read the one Adriana Trigiani book this year. Her work is all excellent. Give her a try if you ever have a chance. My gateway to her world was Big Stone Gap a few years ago. While I haven’t read her entire catalog, I have read most and enjoyed them all. They’re easy reads that pull you right in to the beautiful worlds she creates and keep you promising just one more chapter.

I also really liked The Four Winds which chronicles a family’s Dust Bowl experience. Many readers complain that it starts slow and that it’s depressing. Honestly, I felt like author Kristen Hannah made it purposefully slow to emphasize the desperate monotony of life for the main characters. Also, it’s hard to gussie up the Great Depression. Her last few books of historic fiction have all been extraordinary and I would recommend giving her a chance if you haven’t yet.

These were my favorites on the non fiction side.

I have come to appreciate memoirs. Nerves of Steel tells the story of Tammie Jo Shults whose entire career has been record breaking. You might remember her from the news a few years ago when she successfully landed a badly crippled Southwest Airlines flight. Before that she was one of the first female fighter pilots for the US navy. She’s humble and a great storyteller.

Another interesting woman I read about was Dorothy Kilgallen. I already wrote about her and this book earlier this year and you can read that story here.

Tulsa 1921 recounts the race massacre that destroyed a huge swath of Tulsa, Oklahoma a century ago. This is a devastating story not told in history class and one we should all know. Read the book to find out why.

Joy At Work taught me a lot of things including how to keep my inbox manageable to improve my work life. I’m planning to read it again this year because there’s still much opportunity for improvement.

Hill Women tells the story of a young Appalachian woman who credits those who helped on her road to success. It was written in response to Hillbilly Elegy which preaches a bootstrap mentality and which many Appalachian people like myself found to be just another stereotypical depiction of the region. Hill Women was my favorite nonfiction book of 2021.

With 2022 there’s a new reading challenge and I’m again aiming for 100. The challenge keeps me moving forward, always reaching for a book when there’s free time and happily picking up a new book as soon as the old one is done. I have a bunch already lined up for the year and look forward to diving in.

Have questions? Ask them in the comments. I’m always happy to talk books!

Missing The Mark

This year’s reading challenge goal was again 100 books. I missed my goal by two.

Yes, I could have fudged things and read a couple of kids books just to say I got there but that didn’t serve the spirit of the challenge.

Instead of mourning the failure, I’m choosing to be glad that I read 98 books and that I enjoyed most of them. There was again a nice mix of fiction and non fiction including a handful of photography books.

Out of them all, there were just a few I didn’t like. There were probably eight or ten others that I started but didn’t enjoy. Life is too short for mediocre books. I don’t have time for that and will shamelessly put down any book that clearly will not serve me.

Here are the fiction books I liked best.

William Kent Krueger’s This Tender Land was my favorite because it was so beautifully and thoughtfully crafted. It’s a coming of age story with a journey that is full of twists and turns. Components reminded me of many other wonderful books like The Wizard of Oz, Homer, Huck Finn and more.

City of Girls was written by Elizabeth Gilbert who also gave the world Eat, Pray, Love. It wasn’t what I expected but it’s a page turner. I was surprised to realize I only read the one Adriana Trigiani book this year. Her work is all excellent. Give her a try if you ever have a chance. My gateway to her world was Big Stone Gap a few years ago. While I haven’t read her entire catalog, I have read most and enjoyed them all. They’re easy reads that pull you right in to the beautiful worlds she creates and keep you promising just one more chapter.

I also really liked The Four Winds which chronicles a family’s Dust Bowl experience. Many readers complain that it starts slow and that it’s depressing. Honestly, I felt like author Kristen Hannah made it purposefully slow to emphasize the desperate monotony of life for the main characters. Also, it’s hard to gussie up the Great Depression. Her last few books of historic fiction have all been extraordinary and I would recommend giving her a chance if you haven’t yet.

These were my favorites on the non fiction side.

I have come to appreciate memoirs. Nerves of Steel tells the story of Tammie Jo Shults whose entire career has been record breaking. You might remember her from the news a few years ago when she successfully landed a badly crippled Southwest Airlines flight. Before that she was one of the first female fighter pilots for the US navy. She’s humble and a great storyteller.

Another interesting woman I read about was Dorothy Kilgallen. I already wrote about her and this book earlier this year and you can read that story here.

Tulsa 1921 recounts the race massacre that destroyed a huge swath of Tulsa, Oklahoma a century ago. This is a devastating story not told in history class and one we should all know. Read the book to find out why.

Joy At Work taught me a lot of things including how to keep my inbox manageable to improve my work life. I’m planning to read it again this year because there’s still much opportunity for improvement.

Hill Women tells the story of a young Appalachian woman who credits those who helped on her road to success. It was written in response to Hillbilly Elegy which preaches a bootstrap mentality and which many Appalachian people like myself found to be just another stereotypical depiction of the region. Hill Women was my favorite nonfiction book of 2021.

With 2022 there’s a new reading challenge and I’m again aiming for 100. The challenge keeps me moving forward, always reaching for a book when there’s free time and happily picking up a new book as soon as the old one is done. I have a bunch already lined up for the year and look forward to diving in.

Have questions? Ask them in the comments. I’m always happy to talk books!

Happiness Is….

Happiness is a good book, a thunderstorm and an early bedtime. This new-to-me author has been surprisingly good and I’m on the edge of my seat, ready for the rest of the story.

Sadly, life has been too busy lately to do much reading so I take advantage of whatever free time is available after work to plow through.

What small thing brings you happiness?