Readathon? Readathon!

April 22, 2016

DEWEYsReadathon

I’ve been a bit preoccupied lately and so I didn’t even realize that Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon was happening this weekend until I got the Twitter notification that a bunch of people were talking about it. But I’m always down for a bookish party, so I quickly registered and am now throwing together my readathon stack o’ books.

As luck (or, you know, my predictable browsing habit) would have it, I just picked up three books from the library that I’ve been dying to read. They’re all a fairly manageable length and super interesting. It also helps that they’re all different genres (and one is a collection of short stories), so I’ll have a book for every mood.

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth, Scary Old Sex, Pandemic

Woo! Library books!

 

 

 

Pandemic: Tracking Contagions, From Cholera to Ebola and Beyond by Sonia Shah

The Penny Poet of Portsmouth: A Memoir of Place, Solitude, and Friendship by Katherine Towler

Scary Old Sex by Arlene Heyman

 

 

 

To round things out and be my usual over-ambitious self, I’m also going to keep Uprooted by Naomi Novik and What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi nearby (also because I’ve been meaning to read Uprooted for ages and I love everything Helen Oyeyemi writes).

And in case that wasn’t enough, I’ve got a few e-books as well. I’m currently in the middle of The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion and I have Aziz Ansari’s Modern Romance and Loving Day by Mat Johnson sitting on my kindle app.

Given that I am lacking in both a time-turner and superpowers, I don’t actually expect to finish even a fraction of this stack. Since I didn’t remember that the Readathon was happening, much of this weekend is double booked (see what I did there). I don’t really mind though. I’ll get through what I get through and that will likely be more than it would otherwise be. Also, it’s always fun when the bookish community gets to rally and pour all our enthusiasm into an event like this, so seeing everyone else’s posts will also be great.

If you want in on the action, it’s not too late! You can sign up here and also follow the progress of the Readathon through the 24 hours.

To follow any progress that I do make, you can check my Instagram and Twitter feeds (I’m @poindextrix on everything) as that’s probably where I’ll be updating. Also on Litsy, because that is my new obsession. It’s like a mix of Instagram and Goodreads, so how could I not love it?

So who else is participating? What are you reading? Inquiring (bookish) minds want to know!

Now that we’re firmly entrenched in 2016 (I say this as if we could somehow slip back in time…) I’m taking a moment to look back on my year in reading and figure out my 2016 reading goals/resolutions.

I use a combination of Goodreads and a variation on Book Riot’s ultimate reading spreadsheet to track my reading. It has been super helpful, but I’m often pretty bad at adding books to my spreadsheet in a timely fashion. I’m going to try to be better about this — mostly for my own sanity; it’s way less overwhelming if I add books as I go and not in giant batches every few months.

In 2015 I finished reading 112 books. 26 were by people of color. 71 were by women. 5 were in translation. There is clearly room for improvement here, so diversifying my reading is a main goal for me. In addition to people of color and works in translation, I want to read more books by and/or about people who are LGBT, disabled, and otherwise outside the “norm” as defined by mainstream publishing. I’ve added columns in my spreadsheet to cover “other author diversity” and “diversity representation” to try and track this (I know it’s flawed, but it’s the best I’ve come up with so far. I’m open to suggestions if you have them).

I’ve also been tracking where the books I read come from because I think that’s incredibly interesting (and/or I’m a colossal nerd). 34 of the physical books I read came from a library (I’m extremely fortunate in that I can borrow from both the public and university libraries). 26 of my books consumed were audiobooks and 32 were e-books (only 4 of which were not borrowed electronically from the Free Library of Philadelphia). I really started exploring audiobooks this year and it has tremendously enhanced my reading life, so I plan to continue that practice in 2016.

In addition to getting better at tracking, reading more diversely, and reading more in translation, I’d also like to branch out more when it comes to genre — especially comics. Maybe I’ll even go crazy and start a pull list this year.

And, of course, I want to blog more. I’m working on it, really. But I’m also all over bookstagram, so if you get too impatient waiting for me to post here about the stuff I’m reading, follow me @poindextrix for books, cats, and other random bits of whimsy.

Now I’m heading back to the Alexander Hamilton biography by Ron Chernow. It’s the book on which Hamilton (the musical) is primarily based (sort of). In addition to scratching that Hamilton itch, it’ll check off a few boxes for the Book Riot 2016 Read Harder Challenge!

What are you reading right now? Do you make reading resolutions? If so, what are they? Do you have suggestions for books in translation that I should read? Put ’em in the comments!

Happy reading, friends!

Playing Catch-Up

June 29, 2015

So I’ve really fallen down on this blogging job. It’s not like I haven’t been reading or talking about books. I just kind of forgot to write about them. Whoops.

Anyway, now I’m so far behind that the idea of writing reviews for all the books I’ve read since I last posted is overwhelming and crazy-making, so instead I’m just going to give you a list of the things I’ve read. If you want to know more about a specific book, comment and I’ll write more about it.

The Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

Masters of Sex: The Life and Times of William Masters and Virginia Johnson, the Couple Who Taught America How to Love by Thomas Maier

The Empathy Exams: Essays by Leslie Jamison

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley

The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Euphoria by Lily King

Smoke Gets In Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach

Dress Your Family In Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris

Find Me by Laura van den Berg

The Mime Order by Samantha Shannon

Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Year of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez

How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis

2 A.M. at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino (I just finished this one today. It was so much fun and it takes place in Philly, so it gets a little extra shout out)

Wow, it’s even more intimidating when I have it all written out like that. Yep, I think I made the right call in terms of starting fresh from now. That’s way too many reviews to write while I’m still reading stuff.

And yes, I am, as usual, reading many books at once. Hopefully I’ll finish a few of them and get reviews out in a timely manner this time around. Meanwhile, I read on.

I was checking the little free library website because one day I want to have one of my own and I found out that they have a kickstarter campaign.

Their priorities for the money, as listed on the campaign site, are as follows:

  • Install hundreds more Little Free Libraries that ‘kick start” brighter futures for thousands of children through the power of literacy,
  • Water book deserts – rural or urban areas where books are difficult to access or afford,
  • Help teachers provide books to their students that they can take home to enjoy and build their reading skills during summer and year-round,
  • Provide police departments with Libraries of Understanding that will help them engage with youths and encourage them to read.
  • Positively impact at least 100 communities through the power of reading.

Now here’s the thing, they have 10 days to go and are over $30,000 short. If they don’t reach their goal, they don’t get any of the money pledged throughout the campaign (they don’t charge the credit cards, so there’s no risk to people who pledge).

The Little Free Library Big Book Access Campaign is a great endeavor that I encourage you to throw your money at. Think of all the kids (and adults) that will benefit from increased access to books. To back this campaign and learn more about what their goals are, visit the campaign page, then check out the organization’s website.

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.

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.

The Last Illusion by Porochista Khakpour started out with a bang. A loud, explosive bang with colors and light and heat. But as our protagonist Zal gets more “normal,” I got less interested (I’m going to skip right past what that says about me). The biggest draw for me was the parallels of his life with the Shahnameh, or The Book of Kings — an Iranian myth introduced in the preface — and how things worked on the fringes of reality.

A huge event hangs over the majority of this book, and while I get that that’s the point, it was sort of unsettling. There’s what we know happens in real-life history, but the book has this aura of surreality that made me wonder if maybe, just maybe things would play out a bit differently.

I’m being vague on purpose because I found it interesting (if stressful) to watch it all unfold and slowly figure things out, so I don’t want to deprive anyone of that.

I did really enjoy this book, I guess it’s just a weird feeling since I absolutely loved the beginning.

I picked up Will Chancellor’s A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall after seeing it pop up on a couple of “Best of 2014” lists. It was also short-listed for the Tournament of Books, so there was some promising buzz and I was intrigued.

The book started out really well for me, but as it progressed I found the characters to be less sympathetic and significantly less interesting. Much of the conflict that occurs in the book felt so contrived and farcical. By the end of the book it starts to get interesting again, but it certainly doesn’t make sense.

Maybe this just diverged too much from where I expected the narrative to go, but a huge chunk of this book (let’s say the middle third or so) was just not up my alley. I think I wanted more mythology and less young, possibly sociopathic artistic life.

…Reading that back to myself, that sounds like something I would normally go for. I’m clearly at a loss. Is there some fancy scientific machine that can scan me while reading and tell me why I do or do not enjoy a particular book? That would be splendid, I’ll take two thanks!

This review is qualified by the fact that I have not yet read Caitlin Moran’s How to Be a Woman, which incorporates tales of her adolescence with social commentary and observations of women’s lives. How to Build a Girl, though not strictly autobiographical, appears to draw on many of the same experiences as an adolescent music writer. I cannot personally speak to any similarities, but some Goodreads reviews (which should generally be taken with the largest possible grain of salt) suggest there are enough to be distracting.

There you have it. That’s my disclaimer/fair warning/what-have-you. Onward!

I really enjoyed this book. It felt bold and awkward and earnest and so very teenaged. So many of the experiences (particularly with her exploration of early sexuality) and her reactions/rationalizations are incredibly cringeworthy. Johanna, our protagonist, does not experience her feminist awakening quite as early as I want her to (despite her nod to the Riot Grrrl movement), but as much of this book reads like a reflection I can almost view this as her older self looking back with a “hindsight is 20/20” attitude.

Johanna reinvents herself as a drinking, smoking, hellion as a way not only to save her family, but to escape emotionally from her poverty and uncertainty-ridden family life. When she is her alter-ego she is a shameless and ruthless— talking explicitly about sex with rockstars and ripping bands to shreds.

But what happens when Johanna stops to look at this persona she has built and realizes that it isn’t so great?

How to Build a Girl is speckled with words of wisdom about growing up, getting better, and becoming the person you want to be.

The Luminaries — Review

November 24, 2014

Eleanor Catton won the Booker Prize for The Luminaries and while it took me a few tries to get into it, it is undeniably an impressive work of literary and historical fiction.

The book might be over 800 pages, but I don’t really have that much to say about it. It is a bigliterary fiction book. In listing the approximate page count I think I’ve lost some of you already and that’s fine, but for those of you still with me I do think that it is work the time investment.

The Luminaries is an intricate web of stories woven together with mystery, revenge, and fortunes lost and gained. There are pieces that don’t appear to be connected until the very end, which makes the last bit of the book really pay off.

This book definitely isn’t for everyone. It takes a while to get going and at first there isn’t much to really suggest why the reader should actually care about what’s happening, but if you give it a chance the intrigue of it all will pull you in.

If you have the patience for literary fiction that takes a little while to find the right pace, and enjoy historical fiction with different settings (New Zealand! Gold rush!) then I would definitely recommend this.