As soon as I found out that Maria Semple — author of Where’d You Go, Bernadette and writer for TV shows including Arrested Development — had a new book coming out, I was overcome with a need to read it as soon as possible. It might have edged its way into obsession territory. Edelweiss to the rescue! As soon as my copy came through, I dove right in.

And Today Will Be Different did not disappoint. Semple’s clear eye for detail and sharp wit carry through this book delightfully. There are some similarities to Where’d You Go, Bernadette in that it’s another great observational critique of this one kind of community, but in many ways this is a horse of another color. Today Will Be Different is not as charming as Where’d You Go Bernadette. Eleanor Flood, our protagonist, is frustrating, if funny, and she is quirky, but not always as endearing. In some ways I think this book is more relatable. The (seemingly) promises one makes to oneself — I will shower and get dressed, I will make an effort with people, I will try — ring very true to my ears.

The struggles Eleanor face bring extra depth and dimension to a refreshing and funny read. There is history and feeling and art and connection in this book and I really enjoyed it.

Today Will Be Different comes out October 4 and you should read it if you like fun, funny books full of heart and hilarity.

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I finished reading Mat Johnson’s Loving Day way back in the beginning of June, but I’ve held off on writing about it. I wasn’t sure how I felt about it. I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

The writing is superb, that’s not the issue. The characters are complex and interesting. And infuriating and discomfiting.

I am bi-racial. I am the product of an interracial, interfaith marriage. This is how I have always identified and I wouldn’t know how to claim any other identity.

The assertion that by claiming my bi-racial identity I am denying a part of myself or my history (or cultural history) offends me.

And so reading some of the ideas expressed by characters in this book seriously got under my skin. Yet the characters embracing their combined heritage also irked me. They seemed blinded by their rhetoric, unrealistically idealistic, and downright cultish. Basically, all of the characters said and/or did things that I found wrongheaded and upsetting.

And ultimately, that’s why I think that I might have liked the book. The reading experience was uncomfortable and sometimes difficult; it’s hard to hear unflattering opinions about a group with which you identify, but reading those things helped me think about the various kinds of racial identity in a different way. I haven’t changed my mind about how I identify myself, but I appreciate the glimpse into a different perspective.

 

The project I’ve been working on for the past two years is over at the end of this month. It has been an amazing experience and over all, I’ve really enjoyed it. Now that the project is coming to an end, I’m mostly panicking, but there is a teeny tiny part of me that is relishing the idea of having a bunch of “free” time in which to read more. Obviously I’ll be applying for every archival job under the sun and hopefully going on interviews, and maybe doing other kinds of work to pay the bills, but I imagine there will be more reading time ahead.

And so, I have devised this reading list for myself, if only to have a bright spot in the gloom of uncertainty. And if you happen to be in the market for an archivist or special collections librarian, call me (I’m kidding {I’m not kidding}).

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace — I have started this, only to abandon it for other (shorter) books on multiple occasions, and more time = more progress, right? When I came up with this idea, this book was the first that came to mind, but as I’ve added to the list I think it might end up bumped down a few spots.

Adulting: How to Become a Grown-Up in 468 Easy(ish) Steps by Kelly Williams Brown — I bought this book back when I lived in New York and then, predictably, got distracted. Since I still feel like I’m mostly just doing an impersonation of a functional human being, I think I could really benefit from reading it right now. And maybe I’ll learn some helpful tips to apply to my job search and living more frugally/successfully while looking for a job.

Negroland by Margo Jefferson — A book that’s about the past, but also about the present and something that our society continues to grapple with. I feel like I will learn a lot when I read this.

Mentors, Muses, and Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives — I find a lot of mentor-mentee relationships fascinating, as well as the everyday lives of writers (“they’re just like us!”), so I expect this to be like candy. And, there are probably tons of great pieces of advice, so I’m going to try to absorb the knowledge and wisdom of these people third or fourth-hand.

Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi — This is sort of a cheat since I technically started it earlier this month on a really shitty evening during a really shitty week. The details aren’t important, but reading about how literature is, and what it can teach us about ourselves and other people and life just might be.

The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector — An awesome woman being awesome and writing amazing, feminist works throughout her life? I’m here for it. I’ve been wanting to read more in translation and more short stories, and I’m always down for more feminist writing. This ticks all the boxes.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab — Because 1) I’ve been meaning to read this for ages and 2) I need a little magic in my life.

So there you have it. My Unemployment Reading List. Is there anything else you think that I absolutely need to add to this list? Hopefully I won’t be unemployed long enough to finish it, but as Scar says:

Be Prepared!

Sorcerer to the Crown Review

February 26, 2016

I kept hearing about this book. I kept meaning to read it. I finally got around to it. Now I get it.

Zen Cho’s Sorcerer to the Crown is the magical feminist fantasy novel I’ve been waiting for. It’s funny and fun and smart. Every time I thought there was something that was going to make me groan unhappily, it got flipped on its head. My only complaint is the continued use of “female” as a noun, and I think that might just be a pet peeve of mine.

The characters are strong and relatable and, occasionally, ridiculous. The plot is engaging and the writing is great. I wanted to keep reading — not only to find out what would happen next, but because it was an enjoyable experience.

Seriously, this book is delightful. It has something for everyone. I whole-heatedly recommend it. It’s the first in a trilogy and I don’t even care that I have to wait (OK, I care a little bit). I’m all in.

I’ve been meaning to write about Alexander Chee’s The Queen of the Night for a while, but I kept getting distracted. If the title sounds familiar, it’s possible that you’re a Book Riot fan and heard Liberty proclaim that she would eat James Patterson if this book doesn’t do well.

Well, I’m a lucky duck with *connections* and I managed to get my hands on an advance copy.

Guys, I think James Patterson is safe.

The Queen of the Night is so good. So. Good.

I love historical fiction and I love sort of epic, sprawling tales that follow characters through radically different stages in life. This book scratches all of those itches for me. I love how the protagonist is able to shift and adapt to new situations — she’s a strong, if somewhat selfish character. She is complicated and intense and I really liked seeing her story unfold. I also enjoyed how opera plays an ongoing role in the book. It added an extra sense of depth to the story. That being said, I don’t think that an interest in/knowledge of opera is necessary to enjoy The Queen of the Night.

I don’t want to say any more about it at this point (other than it’s fantastic and you should read it) because I want you to really be able to take it all in fresh when you read it.

It comes out in February 2016. Plan accordingly. Once you start reading it, you might not want to stop and it’s a hefty-ish book. But yeah, read it. Make sure James Patterson is safe.

A couple of weeks ago, I got home from a packed weekend and took the following Monday off to sleep, rest my incredibly unhappy back, and read my copy of Go Set A Watchman. I finished it in a single day, but I haven’t written much about it until now (partly because I’ve been busy and lazy, but partly because I had a lot of thoughts and it has taken me a while to sort them out).

OK. So, initial thoughts: I kind of liked it. I liked seeing this older Scout and I think that even though much of this was rough, Harper Lee’s talent for creating complex characters is evident.   There were scenes in Watchman that really shined. Atticus is a complex man and this version of him is harder to love, but I think Lee makes him that way for a reason (though that hedging toward the end made me uncomfortable).

Watchman feels incomplete. Because it is. This was an early draft before an editor got involved and steered Lee in a new direction. The pacing is off and while there are great scenes, there are cringeworthy ones as well.

This does not detract from To Kill a Mockingbird for me. I don’t think it mars Harper Lee’s legacy, though I do think that the publisher has done her a disservice in publishing Watchman without a disclaimer of some sort indicating the circumstances of its publication (i.e. early draft, little-to-no editing, etc.).

I think that there are many interesting papers/books that can (and probably will) be written about the evolution of the treatment of race in these two books. Even though Scout is horrified by Atticus’s segregationist ideals, she’s got some of her own issues that rub me the wrong way.

All in all, this isn’t a great book. It probably isn’t even a good book, but the novelty of it and looking at it through the scope of TKAM has brought it up a little bit up in my eyes.

 

So first things first, I have a confession to make: I haven’t yet read A Dance with Dragons (the fifth book in the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire series). At first I was waiting until it came out in paperback. Then, with no paperback release in sight, I caved and bought the hardcover. And now it’s just been sitting on my shelf. I think I’ve put off reading it because   I know that once I read it, I’ll be like all the rest of you schmucks waiting in agony for the new one. Also, have you seen this? It’s old, but it never ceases to amuse me.

All of this to get to my actual point: I’m still putting off reading A Dance with Dragons (though my resolve is weakening), but I wanted to read some sort of crazy fantasy. Enter Tuf Voyaging.

Originally published in 1986, Tuf Voyaging is a collection of linked stories by George R. R. Martin following the exploits of Haviland Tuf —trader turned ecological engineer— and his cats. Really, I think all you need to know about this book is that there’s a dude (who kind of reminds me of good ole’ GRRM) who flies around in space with cats. I could tell you more, but I kind of don’t want to. These stories are attention-grabbing, hilarious, and so much fun, with little bits of social commentary sprinkled throughout.

Each story chronicles a different one of Tuf’s adventures, so they can certainly be read in pieces, but I tore through this. It was such a treat and I just wanted to see everything that he got up to.

So yeah, if you’ve run out of A Song of Ice and Fire books, or if you just feel like it’s time for some other sci-fi/fantasy, definitely pick this one up.

As some of you may recall, I read Garth Nix’s Sabriel, and while I really enjoyed it, I initially decided that I wasn’t going to continue reading the series. And then there was so much buzz about Clariel and the other two books (Lirael  and Abhorsen) were right there at the library and… yeah.

I enjoyed Clariel, but if I’m being honest, not as much as the other books in the series. I liked the concept behind the book and how it took a different direction than the other books, but somehow it didn’t all mesh the way I wanted it to. Some people were disappointed with Clariel  because they found the character to be unlikable in whatever way. I can see how she is not the most likable person, but I think much of it is a fair representation of a certain type of teenager — somewhat selfish and wrapped up in her own interests, but fiercely devoted to her family, despite any disagreements. Clariel reads like a hard-headed teenager for a lot of the book. That doesn’t necessarily make her actions any less infuriating though.

Even though Clariel takes place in the same world, it feels like such a departure from the rest of the series because of the tone and the way the story progresses in a different direction. I certainly would not discourage a fan of the other books from reading this, but they should be prepared for something a bit different.

Dinaw Mengestu’s All Our Names got a number of rave reviews, and while I found parts of the story compelling, it just felt oddly familiar and a little too vague. Generally, those two don’t go hand-in-hand, but in this case I think the vagueness led to the familiar feel.

So much of the book — the characters, the plot, the setting — was so vaguely expressed that an otherwise moving tale fades into the background of “young man from a war-torn country struggles to create a new life in the US.” I’m not saying that these stories are unimportant or boring, but with no distinguishing details and similar storytelling techniques, it can be difficult to differentiate.

I even found myself wondering time and again if this was a book that a movie I’d seen a few months ago (the name of which has completely left my head) was based upon. Eventually I decided it wasn’t, but there were some striking similarities.

So it’s not that I didn’t enjoy reading it, it’s just that I felt something was lacking. Sorry I can’t give you more than that…

I’ve been trying to read more short story collections and I heard such a great things about Julia Elliott’s The Wilds.

So first things first, I enjoyed the book. Elliot is a talented writer and she knows how to tell a story. My problem is that The Wilds had been described to me as “weird.” And when I think “weird short stories,” I think of Karen Russell and how much I loved Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Every time I pick up “weird” short story collections, I think I’m hoping it will be that book. I know that isn’t fair at all and I think it’s coloring my reading of the other collections.

Because The Wilds is good. It is weird. It’s also funny and sinister and a bit… off.

I think the thing that Vampires in the Lemon Grove had that I’m still looking for is that touch of whimsy sprinkled in with the sharp edges and dark humor. Without it I’m just left with a slightly bad taste in my mouth.

So now I know what I’m looking for in my short stories: whimsy.

Now accepting recommendations.