Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

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Never Let Me Go” has been on my reading list for a long time. I remember adding it to my list back when I still kept track of books that I wanted to read on the Notes app on my iPhone. But somehow, over the years, it kept slipping further and further down my list, and it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I decided to read it on a whim.

On the night that I bought it, I had plans to meet a friend for dinner after work. But dinner reservations were for that awkward time that would make me too early by going straight from the office, but not really worth it if I went home first. So naturally I stopped at a bookstore on the way to kill some time. I’m participating in a book exchange that one of my friends started, so I needed to stop there anyway to pick up a copy of “The Alchemist” to send off. I remember wandering around the bookstore aimlessly, going from the fiction section to biographies to business books, trying to find something for myself. And then I noticed “Never Let Me Go,” and I remembered how long I’ve been wanting to read it, so I grabbed it and left.

I’m rambling a little bit about why I bought it because I don’t want to go into too much detail about the book itself. The basic summary of the book is this: Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy grew up together at an exclusive boarding school in the English countryside. Now they’re adults and have reentered each others’ lives, and Kathy finds herself reflecting on and trying to understand everything about their past. That’s not much of a description, but I feel like that’s all I really knew when I started reading the book. And I think I enjoyed it so much because I didn’t know too much about it- which is why I’m trying to avoid talking about the plot here. This is one of those novels that doesn’t really have an introductory scene, it just picks up with one of the characters going about their day. You don’t really know what’s going on, or why they’re doing what they’re doing, or to some extent what they’re talking about. But you figure it out as you keep reading, and everything settles into place.

Another thing that took some getting used to was the conversational tone of the book. It’s written in Kathy’s point of view, and it’s as if she’s sitting with you and telling you a story. But it’s just like any story that a friend or family member tries to tell you; sometimes she backtracks to explain other details before starting on one topic, and at other times it feels like she’s getting ahead of herself and talking about things you don’t understand yet. But once I got used to her tone, it almost made the book seem more intimate. I felt more connected with the characters, and to everything that happened to them.

Once I started to understand the characters, and what the premise of the novel was about, it became more and more heartbreaking. And it wasn’t sad in the sense that I was crying over any particular scene (there were no tears shed, I’m not much of a crier when it comes to books). It was more of a growing sense of pity and compassion for the characters. But I don’t want to say too much about it, because I think not knowing is part of the beauty of the novel.

This book is one that I’m really trying to encourage my friends to read, mainly because I want to talk about it! But I also think it would be great for a book club; there are a lot of topics presented that would make a good discussion. When it comes to enjoying books I think some are meant to be consumed all at once, and the thrill is in reading the story as it happens. For other books, I think the pleasure is in the way they sit with you after you finished reading them. “Never Let Me Go” is definitely one of the latter, at least for me. I’m so happy that I finally decided to read it, and I can’t wait to hear what other people think.

All the Single Ladies by Rebecca Traister

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I must admit, I’m starting my 2017 reading list much better than 2016. I started this one on New Year’s Day and finished the other night. My reading challenge goal on my Goodreads Account last year was 50, and I only read 39 books. This year I adjusted to 45, and if I keep up this pace then hopefully I’ll meet my goal!

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book! Reading it put me in a very “Girl Power” kind of mood, and I felt so much more comfortable with myself being a twenty-six-year-old single woman. On a very basic level, one of the things that struck me about “All the Single Ladies” was that most (if not all) of the women interviewed are so successful, and they are all relatively young! I was so impressed with the accomplishments of these women, and just reading about them has given me motivation that I’ve been lacking recently. I’m not going to lie, since I started this book I’ve begun putting together a new five-year career plan, something which I’ve never bothered with before. I feel like I have always been a “go with the flow” kind of person, and since I’m reasonably smart and hard-working I’ve just always assumed that things would work out in good ways. But reading about the amazing women in this book who are starting companies and nonprofits, and they’re socially and politically active, it just really hit me: I could be doing so much more. Instead of just reading about amazing women I could actually be one myself.

“All the Single Ladies” also provided a view of women’s rights that I’ve never really considered before. It never occurred to me that by default, the system is pretty much designed to make it much harder for single women to live a happy, independent life (compared to married couples and men). And I’m a single lady myself! You would think that I would’ve thought about this, but I haven’t. And now that I am thinking about it, I’ve realized that I’ve had conversations with co-workers and colleagues circling these ideas, though framed in different contexts. One of the things I really appreciated was the appendix of this book, where Traister listed policies and attitudes that she believes must change as single women move forward in the world. It’s a good resource for talking points, as well as what to look out for in politics.

When it comes to feminism and what that means socially and politically, sometimes I feel like I’m just not as knowledgeable as I would like to be. Though I’ve always identified as a feminist, it wasn’t until I joined Our Shared Shelf (Emma Watson’s feminist book club on Goodreads) last year that I really started learning more about what that actually means for different people. Feminism is all about equal rights for men and women, and there are so many different perspectives you can examine. That book club has really opened up my eyes to women’s experiences that are vastly different from my own, and it’s been a great learning experience. This book, however, looks at it from the perspective of single women in the United States, who face their own set of troubles and limitations, which is something I relate to very much.

In its most general sense, “All the Single Ladies” is an investigation of the current trend of delaying (or opting out of completely) marriage. In this book, Traister has put together a comprehensive study of all aspects of single women: history, politics, relationships (both friendships and sexual), poverty, independence, city life, and more. Some of the chapters I felt really hit home, and I was able to identify with them very well. Other chapters, not so much, but I was still invested in the discussion.

In the introduction, Traister quotes Simone de Beauvoir’s observation about real life women: we “are married, or have been, or plan to be, or suffer from not being.” For most of history (and often still today) women are expected to marry and raise children, and if they don’t they are viewed as incomplete or damaged or selfish or any combination of these. This topic came up at work yesterday, and was directed at me. One of my (female) co-workers said that she was “looking out for a man for me.” Trying to speak lightly about it, I responded by saying that I wasn’t really looking anyway, and her answer was that that’s why she was doing it for me. And that conversation isn’t the only time my singlehood has been discussed at work; it happens on a fairly regular basis, which becomes very annoying and sometimes hurtful. But seriously, I’m happy that I’m not married or trying to get married anytime soon. I’ve come to the realization lately that I am generally more unhappy when I’m in a relationship, compared to when I’m not. And for the first time in my life, I’m really focusing on myself and what I want, and it’s freeing! I feel like I’ve been much more excited about things lately, and this book added to that feeling. It was probably one of the best ways to start off a new year, and I’m looking forward to seeing what I accomplish, as well as all the other single ladies across the country.

The Best Simple Recipes from America’s Test Kitchen

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First things first, I didn’t really intend for my first post of 2017 to be about a cookbook. But last night I cooked one of my favorite meals and it occurred to me that it was a recipe originally adapted from one in this book.  With it being a new year and people making resolutions to be healthier, maybe it’s a good time to post about a cookbook.

I generally enjoy cooking, but I’m not one to buy cookbooks all the time. I probably only purchase one a year, if that.  But I’ve had this one for about 4-5 years now, and it’s without a doubt the one that I’ve used most often throughout the years.  I first discovered it through a recipe I found on Pinterest for a spicy sausage pasta bake.  The blog post indicated the recipe had originally come from this book, and when I enjoyed the meal I thought it was worth it to buy the cookbook itself.

Like I said, that was about 4-5 years ago, and it was just after I finished college. Back then, I really wanted to start cooking decent meals that were more elaborate than the “make-it-a-meal” option on the back of your standard boxed side dish.  I had grown up in a household of really good home-cooked dinners and I wanted that for myself, but life was getting in my way.  With my job, I wasn’t getting home from work until close to 6, and my evenings were spent trying to juggle friends, networking, and dating as well as basic adulting skills like cleaning, cooking, and working out.  And that’s not including the downtime I wanted for myself to read books, binge Netflix, and learn to knit/play guitar/speak Spanish/insert random hobby (I’ve had a lot of “learn how to” goals over the years).

My biggest problem with cooking was finding the time to make a meal, and that’s why this cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen was perfect.  All of the recipes in here are designed to be made in 30 minutes or less, so it’s not like I was spending a huge chunk of my evening to make a gourmet meal.  And the recipes are good!  Thinking about it now, I can list at least 5 or 6 meals that are some of my favorite go-to’s now, and they’re recipes that are either straight from or slightly adapted from this cookbook.  And as an added bonus, there are so many helpful tidbits throughout the book about buying fresh vs frozen, what to look for when buying different types of meat, how to prepare different foods, etc.

One thing to note though, some of these recipes do take a bit longer than 30 minutes (at least for me!). Sometimes I think the prep time takes a little bit longer than it should.  I have to acknowledge the fact that my vegetable-chopping skills are below average, so in my case that’s where some of the extra time comes from.  Though I have improved since I got a Slap Chop, I would highly recommend it if you have the same problem!

The other thing to note is that the recipes in this book typically make 4 to 6 servings. This isn’t a problem if you have a family or group of people to cook for, but as a single person living alone I always make adjustments.  Usually I half the recipes and eat the balance as leftovers, which has worked out well for me over the years.  I did take a quick look at other cookbooks that they offer, and they have a Cooking For Two and a Make-Ahead Cook version which might be worth taking a look at as an alternative.

So in the spirit of New Year’s, if one of your resolutions is to cook more at home then I would definitely recommend this cookbook! For me, one of my resolutions is to update this blog more often, so hopefully I’ll be posting more about regular books soon!  Happy New Year and hopefully we all keep up with our goals!