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!

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.

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!

The Last Batch of 2014

January 14, 2015

In my life I am constantly reading and though I try to stay consistent in my reviewing, I am usually a bit behind in that area. Yes, I’ll pause for your gasps of shock and disbelief. It’s a new year and there’s a new crop of books, so I figure why should I bring my backlog with me? So now you’re getting little snapshots of many of the books I read in the latter part of 2014. Some books won’t be mentioned here because I plan to talk about them in a slightly different context. But more on that later.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah follows Nigerian teenagers Ifemelu and Obinze into and out of other countries as they enter adulthood and navigate race, romance, and relationships. Sharp, funny, and fearless, it’s a great read fro pretty much anyone.

 

The Woman Who Would Be King: Hatshepsut’s Rise to Power in Ancient Egypt by Kara Cooney

Hatshepsut was the longest reigning female pharaoh in Ancient Egypt, but her rise to power and the circumstances of her reign are shrouded in secrecy. The language of this book kind of bothered me — the whole thing was necessarily somewhat speculative, but the continuous hedging irked me. I would have preferred a disclaimer at the start that allowed it to be written with clearer, more certain language.

 

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird is an enchanting reimagining of a classic tale. This book is masterfully inventive and Oyeyemi’s strong, brilliant, beautiful voice shines through.

 

St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves by Karen Russell 

This collection of essays is just as weird as I would expect something from Karen Russell to be. I didn’t like this collection as much as Vampires in the Lemon Grove (which is newer). There is a kind of extra melancholy streak to these stories besides the dark twisty-ness of other stuff of hers that I’ve liked.

 

Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture by Dana Goodyear

Dana Goodyear jumps —tastebuds first— into “foodie” culture and the world of extreme eating, following devotees of ultra-authentic ethnic cuisines, raw food aficionados, and so much more. I would eat maybe two of the things described in this book, but I’m bizarrely fascinated by these people and their lifestyles. Sometimes I wish she would have dug a bit deeper or described a bit more, but this was an enjoyable read.

 

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A superflu wipes out huge swaths of the population. Fifteen years later, a roving band of actors and musicians travels between communities of survivors performing Shakespeare. The narrative hops between the Traveling Symphony and the decline of civilization immediately after the pandemic. It’s a vivid and utterly transfixing novel.

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

Due to a series of unfortunate events, astronaut Mark Watney is living alone on Mars. And no one knows. With no way to signal Earth, a limited food supply, and a dogged determination to stay alive, Watney puts his skills and smart-assert to the test. I read this in 24 hours. I did not stop. I completely blew off familial obligations while reading this over the holidays. I have no regrets.

 

A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean

This is the first romance novel I’ve read in quite some time, and I really enjoyed it. It’s the first book in the Rules of Scoundrels series which revolves around London’s most exclusive gaming hell. I won’t say much about it, but it’s significantly less ridiculous than a lot of other historical romance tends to be.

 

So now you’re mostly caught up to where I am now with my current reading. As I mentioned before, this isn’t a complete list of everything I’ve read this year, but I think it gives a pretty good picture. There will be a few other things that mention books from 2014, but my 2015 book reviews will start popping up here pretty soon. We’re moving onward!

Lungs Full of Noise is a mesmerizing short story collection by Tessa Mellas. I first heard about it while listening to the Book Riot podcast. I’ve been trying to explore more short story collections recently and this one sounded so fascinating that I decided to give it a shot.

Many of the stories in this collection have a weird, creepy, almost sinister sense to them. They remind me of Karen Russell’s work, but a bit darker.

The Goodreads blurb gives a good idea of what to expect

This prize-winning debut of twelve stories explores a femininity that is magical, raw, and grotesque. Aghast at the failings of their bodies, this cast of misfit women and girls sets out to remedy the misdirection of their lives in bold and reckless ways.

Mellas explores the struggles and relationships in women’s lives with an edge that makes the stories all the more exciting to read.

I really enjoyed Lungs Full of Noise and I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to read some fantastic short stories with a little edge. These stories might not be everyone’s thing, but if you really enjoy Karen Russell and slightly twisted fiction this might be in your wheelhouse.

I don’t read many short story collections. I don’t know why and I suspect that it’s just because I forget about them. After reading Vampires in the Lemon Grove I suspect I’m missing out. I believe my first sentence must be amended to “I don’t read enough short story collections.”

This book is phenomenal. It’s the perfect combination of funny and whimsy and creepy and unnameable/unidentifiable awesome.

Karen Russell appears to have completely mastered writing a story just to the point where it’s allowed to end, but where readers want it to continue. This collection is compulsively readable and the characters stay with you. I still want to know more about those titular vampires and their time before and after Russell captured them on the page.

That’s all I’m saying. You have a short story collection to get. Go forth and read my friends!