Pre-Holiday reading catch up

December 18, 2016

I have been reading up a storm, but I have been negligent when it comes to reviewing. To make up for it, here are some of my thoughts on a few of the books I’ve read in the past couple of months. I’d call them non-denominational stocking stuffer reviews, but that’s a bit long…

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was an absolutely amazing read. Set in France during WWII, the story was kinetic and engaging. The characters are complicated individuals with complex relationships, and as the war progresses they must make increasingly difficult decisions. It took me a bit longer to get through this book than usual. You see, I got to the part where the SS was taking over and things were getting increasingly more violent and troubling in France…right around November 9. It was an upsetting time and I had to take a step back for a while, but eventually I finished the book and it has stayed with me. It was at times a difficult read, but a very good one.

 

I have sort of mixed feelings about The Mothers by Brit Bennett. The storytelling and writing style are magnificent, but many of the characters really annoyed me. After a while I got really frustrated wight he decisions they were making — not frustrated enough to stop reading, but frustrated nonetheless. I wouldn’t say the ending felt particularly satisfying for me, but since I struggled with other parts, that isn’t surprising. Even though the characters and their choices bothered me, I liked the book because I really enjoyed Bennett’s narrative style.

 

Jhumpa Lahiri (of The Namesake and Interpreter of Maladies fame) wrote In Other Words in Italian. She writes of her love for the language, her experience learning it, and why and how she has chosen to write in this new (to her) language. This book is about language and identity and belonging. It is quiet and lovely and I really liked it.

 

I read What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours by Helen Oyeyemi in one day, in one sitting. I always love Oyeyemi’s writing, but the stories in this book are on another level. The all felt complete, yet I didn’t want them to end. I might be re-reading this one soon, just to re-immerse myself in Oyeyemi’s fantastic prose.

 

So there you have it. A few of the books I’ve read recently and non-denominational stocking stuffer sized reviews. As 2016 draws to a close, I will be pulling together my stats for the year and making my goals for 2017. Once I have everything tabulated and decided, I will write some sort of end of the year mega-post.

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.

 

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!

Readathon In Review

October 14, 2015

I’m a bit delayed in this, but I’m finally sitting down to recount my Popepocalypse Readathon experience. I think it ended up going really well. It was nice to have a few days in which I decided to just devote the time to reading and relaxing. Also, the weather was great, so I spent a ton of time out on my balcony (did I mention my new apartment has a balcony? It’s fantastic and I’m kind of obsessed with it) and at the local coffee shop’s outdoor seating just enjoying the lovely weather with tea and books.

Yeah, yeah, I get it. I should stop blathering on about the weather and tell you about the books.

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First up was Woman Rebel by Peter Bagge. It’s a graphic … biography? (like graphic novel, but a biography. Can I just call it a graphic novel even though it’s a true story?) about Margaret Sanger, who is generally regarded as the mother of birth control. She’s was a bit of a complicated woman and remains a polarizing figure since she wasn’t super intersectional in her feminism, but I think that this was book was a fair representation of her. The art style of this wasn’t my absolute favorite, but I think that’s just personal preference.

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After that, I moved on to Peter Pan. I mean, it’s a classic. I don’t even have much to say about it beyond that. It’s a good deal darker and a kind of more bizarre than all the Disney-fied versions that we see these days.

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The next book I read was Bloggess Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy. I honestly recommend that everyone read this because it is touching and inspiring and hilarious and so many other things that I don’t even have words for. But careful reading it in public because after a while it becomes really difficult to stifle all the laughter.

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Then I moved on to Half-Resurrection Blues by Daniel José Older. This had been on my list for a while and I realized that this readathon was the perfect time to dive in. You guys, this book was so good and so much fun. So. Much. Fun. It’s part of the Bone Street Rumba series and I’m excited to read the other books that take place in this world.

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The book I closed out the readathon with was Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine. Again. So good. This is one that I think I want to read again even though it’s only been a couple of weeks since I finished it.

I had so much fun doing this readathon and sharing pictures of what I was reading and my progress on social media (and if you’re not following me on Instagram, why not? You’re missing out on some awesome bookish pics. And random shots of food and my cat for variety). Can I just have a three-day weekend to do this every couple of months? That would be spectacular.

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 read all the time and in a perfect world, someone would pay me to do that. We don’t live in a perfect world, but I still have a pretty kickass job. As you may recall from my post Cataloguing NYC via PHL from over a year ago (WHAT), I am working with the Gotham Book Mart Collection. There are so many amazing things in this collection, I couldn’t even begin to tell you — but I do post a lot of the cool things I see on my other social media accounts (hint hint).

Anyway, the point of this post is to tell you that I wrote a thing about a piece in the collection for one of the library’s blogs. You can read it at the Provenance Online Project. And after you’re done reading my post, you should peruse the rest of the site. There’s a bunch of fascinating stuff up there!

I feel like I’ve been kind of negative recently and it’s bumming me out, so instead of prolonging it I’m just going to briefly mention the books I’ve read recently, but that, for whatever reason, didn’t totally thrill me.

Young God by Katherine Faw Morris is sharp and raw and I read it very quickly, but it just wasn’t for me. In my reading life I don’t tend to shy away from difficult subjects, but it felt disjointed and like things were thrown in for shock value. So yeah, not my thing.

Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is also a short book, but it took me much longer to read. I think my biggest obstacle was really the style. Some people really love the way this book is written, but my brain just couldn’t parse it. In addition to the style, I didn’t fully connect with the story or characters.

It pains me a little bit to say that I didn’t love Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend. There were parts that really did grab me and keep me enthralled and then other sections dragged and felt aimless. The book wasn’t about what I thought it was going to be about, but it was like it didn’t want to admit it. Add in some uncomfortable race stuff (it’s set in the south in the 60s-ish) and this was another miss in my book.

So there you go. Some of my recent no-love books. Onward to more excitement.

BEA14 Recap

June 3, 2014

Let us rejoice, fair readers, for I have returned triumphant. Book Expo America — the one day of it that I could attend — was a success!

I arrived in New York Friday night after quite a few wrong turns and extra bridges (my GPS and I had a disagreement — she really wanted me to go to Staten Island) to my friend’s lovely and welcoming apartment. After some food and conversation it was off to bed and a few hours later we were up, grabbing bagels (oh, how I miss NY bagels) and heading to the Javits Center.

I checked in and got my badge and we waited in line until the exhibition floor opened at 9. Then it was GoGoGo until the show closed in the afternoon.

Unlike in previous years, the Power Readers (or Book Con-ers, this year) were segregated to one section of the floor. While this made certain parts blissfully open, the other section, where much of the action was happening, was horrifically crowded and claustrophobic.

Even with all the extra people, I got tons of books.

I’d like to think I was more discerning this year, and perhaps I was, but all the same, I am already out of bookshelf space. There are just so many books and they all look so good! So yeah, this should prove interesting.

Now, I know you actually care very little about my experience at the expo. You just want to know what books I got. So, without further ado, I present my BEA14 Book Haul:

The BEA14 Book Haul Pile

The BEA14 Book Haul Pile

The Tastemakers: Why we’re for cupcakes but fed up with fondue by David Sax
The Happiest People in the World by Brock Clarke
Nothing is True and Everything is Possible by Peter Pomerantsev
How Star Wars Conquered the Universe by Chris Taylor
Birth of a Bridge by Maylis de Kerangal, translated by Jessica Moore
Zac & Mia by A. J. Betts
The Magician’s Lie by Greer Macallister
Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole
Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett
On Immunity: An inoculation by Eula Biss
Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen
The Black Butterfly by Shirley Reva Vernick
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A writer’s life by Pamela Smith Hill
Pioneer Girl edited by Pamela Smith Hill
Mrs. Lincoln’s Rival by Jennifer Chiaverini
My Real Children by Jo Walton
All Roads Lead to Jerusalem by Jenny Jones
City of Lies: Love, sex, death, and the search for truth in Tehran by Ramita Navai
The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy
The Dogs Were Rescued (and So Was I) by Teresa J. Rhyne
Empire’s Crossroads: A history of the Caribbean from Columbus to the Present Day by Carrie Gibson
Alice + Freda Forever: A murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe
Madame Picasso by Anne Girard
Straight White Male by John Niven
Let’s Get Lost [excerpt] by Adi Alsaid
Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf
Misdiagnosed: One woman’s tour of and escape from healthcareland  by Jody Berger
Good Chinese Wife by Susan Blumberg-Kason
The Last Breath by Kimberly Belle
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
Stars of the World Cup
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
Fridays at Enrico’s by Don Carpenter, finished by Jonathan Lethem
Brutal Youth by Anthony Breznican
Rebel Souls: Walt Whitman and America’s first bohemians by Justin Martin
If Only You People Could Follow Directions by Jessica Hendry Nelson
The Girl Who Never Was by Skylar Dorset
Turkish Coffee Culture
A Millennium of Turkish Literature
The Aegean Mythology
Fire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow
Rainey Royal by Dylan Landis
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle
Drawing Amanda by Stephanie Feuer
Turkish Coffee by M. Sabri Koz and Kemalettin Kuzucu
The Geek’s Guide to Dating by Eric Smith
Jackaby by William Ritter
The Black Hour by Lori Radder-Day
Neverhome by Laird Hunt
The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
Liberty’s Torch by Elizabeth Mitchell
Stitching Snow by R. C. Lewis
The Jewel by Amy Ewing
10:04 by Ben Lerner
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
The American Plate: A history of the United States in 100 bites by Libby H. O’Connell

If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram or Tumblr (and really, why aren’t you? I’m fantastic on social media. It’s all books and my cat and food. What’s not to like?) then you’ve probably figured out by now that I am employedIn my field! It’s very exciting.

I’m working on a project to sort/catalogue the Gotham Book Mart Collection. The Gotham Book Mart was an awesome independent bookstore in New York that closed around 2007 and the books and records all came to us. Now we’re sorting and cataloguing all the material and while some of it is your run-of-the-mill trade stuff, a huge portion is small press material and rare/limited editions and it’s all so cool and I just get to nerd out all day while working/getting paid.

It’s also kind of funny to me that I moved to Philly, but I’m cataloguing a very New York collection. Go figure.

So yeah, my reading time has been cut down a little bit. But fear not! Reviews shall continue. I have an absurd backlog (that pre-dates my employment. I’m bad at planning. We’ve always known this) of both books to read and books that I need to review. All these things will (probably) happen. I just wanted to give everyone an update on my life and librarian-ness.

If you want to see my pictures of some of the materials, but don’t feel like following me (though I can’t imagine why not) just search the hashtag “gothambookmart” on the various social media platforms and things should pop up.

Iris Has Free Time — Review

February 17, 2014

I’ve been reading a lot lately because, well, you can only spend so much time looking for library jobs in the Philadelphia area. And it’s cold and snowy and gross outside, so I’ve become an accidental hermit.

There are a bunch of reviews coming up, but this one is long overdue. I was reading Iris Has Free Time back when I was still in the midst of finishing my last semester of grad school/finding an apartment/holiday/moving to a new state insanity. So yeah, I forgot to write the review. And then I neglected to include it in my 2013 wrap-up.

Since this was a BEA book that the folks at Counterpoint actually mailed to me after the fact, I kind of wanted to get this review out, even if it’s woefully late.

And so, here we go: Iris Has Free Time…

I think the best way to describe this book would really be “HBO’s Girls in book form.” That may or may not be a selling point for you, but it is a very clear point of comparison.

Iris is an NYU graduate trying to make it in the city. My biggest pet peeve was that she didn’t seem to be trying all that hard. Iris’s narrator reads a bit like a [for lack of a better term] hipster millenial who complains a lot about her shitty lot in life, yet she refuses to make positive changes or act like a person with even a modicum of self awareness.

Now that I’m writing/reading this it sounds harsh, but that’s honestly how I felt. The characters are by and large vapid and insufferable.

None of this is to say that the book isn’t entertaining. For all her flaws as a character (or human being), Iris’s antics make for some decent reading. There is just a fair bit of prattling on in between.

I think this book is very hit or miss depending on your ability to tolerate this kind of character. For me, there was a lot of excessive eye rolling and it probably took me twice (if not three times) as long to finish as it should have because sometimes I just could not deal with it and needed to read something else.

It’s certainly worth a shot and there are some funny life in New York bits, but other times are shining examples of why people moan about millenials.