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1. On Beginning to Read Oreo

I need to start another book like I need a hole in my head, but Oreo by Fran Ross arrived for me at the library and there is a hold queue so I can’t renew it and I couldn’t remember what it was about or where I heard about it only that I really wanted to read it when I put a hold request on it and Bookman is working late tonight so I decided to read while eating dinner and what should I read? Oh look! There is this new book from the library! Let’s see what it’s all about! And OMG, I almost choked on my dinner because I was laughing so much. I still have no idea what the book is about but is it ever funny!

I take that back, I do have some idea what the book is about. It’s about Christine (aka Oreo) whose father is Jewish and mother is black. Yiddish everywhere! Jokes and humorous situations galore! The back of the book tells me it is a modern parody of the odyssey of Theseus with a feminist twist, pop culture, black vernacular and Yiddish wisecracking.

I have not gotten far, I am only on page 12, but I am hooked. Here is how the book starts:

First, the bad news
When Frieda Schwartz heard from her Shmuel that he was (a) marrying a black girl, the blood soughed and staggered in all her conduits as she pictured the chiaroscuro of the white-satin chuppa and the shvartze’s skin; when he told her that he was (b) dropping out of school and would therefore never become a certified public accountant — Riboyne Shel O’lem!— she let out a great geshrei and dropped dead of a racist/my-son-the-bum coronary.

The bad news (cont’d)
When James Clark heard from the sweet lips of Helen (Honeychile) Clark that she was going to wed a Jew-boy and would soon be Helen (Honeychile) Schwartz, he managed to croak one anti-Semitic “Goldberg!” before he turned to stone, as it were, in his straight-backed chair, his body a rigid half swastika, discounting or course, head, hands, and feet.

And it just gets zanier from there. This is going to be fun!

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Fran Ross, Oreo

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2. Crazy September Ahead!

Can you believe the calendar says September already? Seems like I say that every month, not that’s it’s September, but you know what I mean. August was a decent month for reading. I didn’t finish a huge number of books but I did start reading a huge number! Yes, yes, there is definitely an imbalance there, but I suspect that even if there were some sort of magic pill or vitamin supplement to right the imbalance, I would refuse to take it. Besides, it all works out in the end anyway and there is no reason to get ruffled about it.

What’s on tap for the month? Should I repeat myself from a few August posts? Sure, why not, you may not have read those, or maybe you have forgotten unless you are creepy weird and keeping diligent track of all the titles I mention that I am reading.

Ok, so this is what’s going on:

  • Rare and Commonplace Flowers: The Story of Elizabeth Bishop and Lota de Macedo Soares by Carmen L. Oliveira. Thank goodness I got this one from the university library so I don’t have to rush through it! The book goes along with my study of Elizabeth Bishop. I am also reading the Complete Poems and have made it through the first two books she published. In addition, I am reading her letters, One Art. So very good!
  • The Rider by Tim Krabbé. A classic in the realm of cycling memoirs. The opening is fabulous. It begins just before a race and you can really feel the tension and excitement.
  • The Republic of the Imagination by Azar Nafisi. I am about to begin on her close reading of Huckleberry Finn and I expect it will be good. Even if it isn’t, the introduction of this book is fantastic and is alone worth the price of admission. I plan on writing about that introduction soon because its themes have popped up in a few other places recently.
  • Still Time by Jean Hegland. I am enjoying this one very much. It is about a Shakespeare professor who has Alzheimer’s and is slowly losing his memory. Rich with Shakespeare quotes and references, celebratory, yet sad.
  • I am sorry to say I failed to finish reading The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. I have not intentionally dragged this one out so long. Hopefully September will see me getting to the end of it!
  • Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I am loving this book so much right now. I am reading it on my commute and at lunch and I have almost missed my stop a couple times and have been a tad late returning from lunch once or twice.
  • Oscar Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons. This is for a Library Journal review and is about the women in Wilde’s life who influenced him.

Phew, got all that?

Now, just arrived and about to arrive from the library, a number of books that I placed hold requests on at the beginning of the summer!

And speaking of the RIP Challenge, it’s on! This year it is being hosted by The Estella Society. And it is the ten-year anniversary of what has become an annual event for a good many people. Given that pile of in progress books I just listed, I am not certain how much creepy reading I will get in this year, but I will manage at least one book. It runs until October 31st, so maybe I will be able to slip in something else that’s short. You just never know!

Filed under: In Progress

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3. August Reading

At the beginning of July I was astonished at how fast June went by, now here we are in August and it seems like July flew by even faster. How is that possible? I had better get to work on building that chicken coop or I will be SOL when the temperature plunges and the snow begins to fall and frantic to get it done in the uncertain spring weather. Of course, the chickens have to be about 10-12 weeks old before they can be moved outside, but I’d rather not have to feel rushed. Have I mentioned I borrowed Building Chicken Coops for Dummies from the library? I have always looked down my nose a bit at the “Dummies” books but no more! This is one fantastic book! So much useful advice on every aspect of building a coop. Of course it has a basic plan as well, and while it is not exactly what we are planning, it is still very useful. So yay!

July didn’t afford long hours on lazy hot days for reading. Instead I was sweating in the garden or sweating on my bike or collapsed on the sofa recovering from said activities. August will likely follow the same route. Does that keep me from planning all sorts of reading? Of course it doesn’t!

I am currently in the midst of and almost done with a bunch of books. I am about 90 pages away from finishing Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. This is one fantastic book! I am on tenterhooks about the ending. It feels like there is something ominous ahead. If this turns out not to be the case, I won’t be disappointed because the anticipation has been sweet and I really like Isabel Archer.

I am also very close to finishing a review copy of a book called Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor. It is told in alternating chapters from the perspective of an Irish maid-of-all-work to the Dickinson family and Emily herself. Once I finish it, the publisher has kindly offered a second copy for a giveaway. So look for that, probably next week sometime.

A third book I am almost done with is The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson. This is one of those slim books you have to read slowly. It is a mixed genre sort of book written in an episodic/collage kind of style. It is thought provoking in all kinds of ways and I am liking it very much even if sometimes I feel like I am not quite getting it.

I am still enjoying The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. Sadly when a book needs to be set aside, this seems to be the one. I don’t know why but that is how it is. Hopefully I will be turning the last page by the end of the month. It is time to set something else aside instead if I have to.

I am not close to finishing but am in the middle of Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear. I’ve not read Bear before and am greatly enjoying this steampunk tale with sassy women and no good politicians.

I have Kelly Link’s newest collection Get in Trouble from the library and didn’t think I would actually get a chance to read it before having to return it and get in line again. But as luck would have it, the holds queue completely evaporated by the time the book came up for renewal so I renewed it and should be able to finish it. I have read one or two stories and they are typical Kelly Link weird.

One book I have from the library I know I won’t be able to read is Mark Danielewski’s newest, The Familiar. It is a big fat book and like his past books it is not a straight forward text. It looks interesting but I haven’t had the chance to spend much time with it to know whether I actually want to read it. If I do decide to read it I will have to buy my own copy so I am not forced to rush through it.

I have also begun a little study of Elizabeth Bishop. I have her Poems and finished the first volume of her published work, North & South, last week. Already I like her much better than Keats. I also have One Art, a collection of her letters and have begun reading that. What a good letter writer she was! So smart and funny, a completely different voice than in her poetry. And as luck would have it, there seems to be a bit of an Elizabeth Bishop revival in the works. I’ve seen numerous articles and essays about her around the internet in the last several months and the inimitable Colm Tóibín has just published a slim book called On Elizabeth Bishop. I just borrowed it from the library yesterday and am greatly looking forward to reading.

That should keep me going for August and into September too! Any good books on your plate?

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Whoever said summer was for hours of lazy reading didn't live in a four-season climate with long cold winters

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4. The Multiple Book Problem

Do you ever get frustrated that you can’t read faster? I don’t usually. Most of the time I putter along happy as can be and only get frustrated that I don’t have more time to read. I don’t often wish I could read faster, there is a real pleasure in reading at the speed a book asks me to and for many of the books I like best, that is generally slow.

Lately I am in the midst of so many good books and I want to be reading all of them at the same time and it is hard to decide what one to pick up. So I end up doing the sampler thing. If you are of the one-book-at-a-time ilk, you do not have this problem. I, however, have wandering eyes and book monogamy is next to impossible. Then I get myself in a situation like I am now where I have about six books in progress, all of them really good, all of them I want to be reading. But while my eyes wander, I still only have two of them and can read just one book at a time. Thus, the sampler happens and I pick up book A, read a few pages and put it down for book B. I read a few pages and book B is replaced by book C. You get the idea. I get to read them all but it is completely unsatisfactory.

I can hear you one book people say, Stef you know there is a simple solution to your problem, right? Yes, yes, I know, just choose a book and stick with it. But when I am reading book D, book A begins calling to me, singing a Siren song, don’t you want to know what happens next? Forget book D, you want me. I do! I want you so bad! Except book now book E is singing to me and I can’t concentrate. Sorry book A, gotta go.

A couple days ago it struck me that if I could read faster then at least it would be a partial solution. Except you can’t read poetry fast. Or thoughtful essays. Or weird short stories. Or Nathaniel Hawthorne. I get nowhere. Oh how I suffer! But what’s a girl to do? Why start another book of course!

Filed under: Books, In Progress, Reading

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5. A Poor Excuse If You Ask Me

One of the many books I am currently reading is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter. I have not read it since my freshman year of high school and so was really surprised by the “sketch” that precedes it, “The Custom House.” I had no recollection of this whatsoever. It’s no wonder really since it has not much of anything to do with the novel itself. Yes, there is some set up, but it is mostly Hawthorne writing about his time working at the Custom House as a Customs officer. It is mind numbingly dull for the most part so I skimmed.

I normally don’t skim, but good gravy, Hawthorne really drones on! There are, however, some rather amusing bits. Like when he complains about how soul-sucking his work is:

I had ceased to be a writer of tolerably poor tales and essays, and had become a tolerably good Surveyor of the Customs. That was all. But, nevertheless, it is anything but agreeable to be haunted by suspicion that one’s intellect is dwindling away, or exhaling, without your consciousness, like the ether out of a phial; so that, at every glance, you find a smaller and less volatile residuum.

Now you’d think he spent long days toiling away by the sound of that, yes? Unfortunately I can’t find the highlight in my ebook at the moment, but I burst out laughing as he goes on and on and then comes out that he works about three hours a day and is so exhausted by it that when he gets home he has no energy left to write.

Was time different back then? Was an hour longer than sixty minutes? Three hours of work a day and he can’t muster up the energy to work on his book? I think there aren’t many writers who wouldn’t love the chance to work three hours a day and then have all the rest of the day to themselves! Clearly Hawthorne was a sensitive soul and it is best he lived when he did because he would be completely crushed in today’s world.

Or perhaps he was just making excuses for a bad case of writer’s block. I think that likely to be the case because he touches that note of despair a few times throughout his sketch until he finally decides that he will never get The Scarlet Letter written unless he quits his job. Which he did. And obviously he managed to get the book written too.

But wow, I’d really like one of those three-hour work days to despair over!

Filed under: Books, In Progress, Writing Tagged: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter

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6. So Glad to Have You

It is days like today when I am so glad I have this space and bookish friends like you. Why you ask? Well remember last week when I was fretting over all the books I have in progress? You’d think I would pull back a little right? Finish a few, not start any new ones for a bit until I felt less overwhelmed. Yes, you would think that and I even thought that. However, what did I actually end up doing? I doubled down of course!

And this is why you all make me happy because if I told this to almost anyone else I know they would look at me as if I were completely bonkers. And while I may indeed be bonkers it has nothing to do with books. Books are what keep me sane. But even I have to admit I’ve gotten a bit reckless. But it makes me happy and hurts no one so I can’t really be argued with.

Within the last week-ish I have added to my in-progress pile the following:

Tomorrow I will be adding Ms. Marvel Volume One,No Normal. It just won a Hugo earlier this week. And in a few days I will be receiving a book to review for Library Journal called Wilde’s Women: How Oscar Wilde Was Shaped the Women of His Life by Eleanor Fitzsimons.

I want to break out into fits of hysterical laughter from the sheer number of books I am attempting to juggle at one time. For even more interest and some real danger, maybe I should toss in a fiery torch or two and a chainsaw! Wouldn’t that be something? Now you know if I suddenly disappear my juggling went awry; I will have either gone up in flames or sawed myself in half. There are other possibilities too so stay tuned. You never know what might happen!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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7. Reading in March

February is the worst month of the year in my opinion. It’s the last solid month of winter in which all the fun things about cold and snow suddenly become terrible. It’s the month every year during which winter overstays its welcome. Good thing February is short! Now March, March is a month of wild weather swings that can bring us t-shirt wearing weather one day and a blizzard the next. But the thing about March is, no matter snow, ice, sleet, or cold, there is an end of winter in sight.

In mid-February I came to a realization about my reading this time of year. Starting around the end of January when the cold begins to wear me out, my reading begins to go all wonky. Any classic or serious book, any heavy nonfiction is impossible for me to focus on. This pretty much happens to me every year but I have just now bothered to recognize it instead of fighting it. So I gave myself permission to not bother with a couple books I have on the go and totally indulge in what made me feel good. Mostly that has been gardening books and science fiction and fantasy.

Even though I had been enjoying it, I decided to give up on Steven Pinker’s The Sense of Style. When I kept picking up everything but that book it became clear that I lost interest. I feel bad about that because it is a good book, but I just need to move on to something else right now. Maybe I will pick it up again another time.

I didn’t read more than a few pages in Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything, and I didn’t read one page of Proust.

What I have been immensely enjoying is Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Sword. I am about twenty pages from the end and oh, do I love this book! I also started reading A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin. When I finish it, which will be a little while, I will be all caught up and waiting with the rest of the world for Martin to finally finish the next book. I fear when that book comes out Bookman and I might have to arm wrestle to determine who gets to read it first. Or we will each have to by our own copy.

I am reading a number of books for review in other places. It makes things a bit complicated for writing about those books here since I am reading and writing for someone else. It’s fun, but I have to figure out some kind of balance so I don’t get overwhelmed. One of the books I am reading is for Library Journal and is called The Great Detective: the amazing rise and immortal life of Sherlock Holmes by Zach Dundas. It is off to a marvelous, nearly perfect start which has me so very excited about it. I hope it manages to sustain that excitement. Don’t worry, I will let you know, I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that.

Just as in February I spent time reading about chickens, I will be reading more about chickens this month too. I’ve also got a couple gardening books to peruse. One of them is about biodynamic gardening, Culture and Horticulture by Wolf-Dieter Storl. I am only marginally familiar with biodynamic gardening so the book should be interesting. Part of this gardening practice is to plant according to the lunar calendar. I do not believe in astrology, but I am curious to learn more because it also emphasizes an integrated practice of soil fertility, plant growth and animal care to create a sustainable system. Stay tuned.

Technically I can now also start placing library hold requests again. I am pretty surprised I managed to make it two months without putting any new books on hold. I still have six or seven outstanding hold requests though and haven’t even begun to make a dent in the books I own that are sitting on my reading table. So I have decided to not go crazy and request books. I’m going to try very hard and limit myself to no more than five outstanding library hold requests at a time. That means until two or three of my current requests make their way to me, I will not be placing any new ones. Seems like a good idea, right? We’ll see if I can stick to it.

I hope March turns out to be a happy reading month for everyone!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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8. April Reading Plans

Can you believe March is over already? February always goes so slowly and then March comes and time suddenly speeds up. Or maybe it’s me that speeds up as I begin to thaw out from winter and emerge from hibernation? Yes, that seems the more likely explanation. And now we are a few days into April. Oh April is going to be such a busy reading month! But then what month isn’t a busy reading month? If you find one, let me know!

In addition to the advanced reading copies and the library book holds that have arrived for me, I am still in the midst of This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin.

Martin released another chapter of the next-to-be-published book that everyone has been eagerly awaiting for a few years now and fretting over what would happen if Martin died before finishing the series. I must say I feel sorry for the man who says he has no health problems, but no one seems to believe him. It’s almost like people want him to die just so they can be right. Martin has released a couple chapters now from Winds of Winter but I have refused to read any of them. I will wait for the whole book to be published, probably next year. I suspect the chapter release is just a ploy to get fans off his back for a little while.

I’m also still reading volume three of Proust. Actually I don’t think I opened the book once in March so technically I haven’t been reading it but I have not given up on it and plan to keep going, there’s just so many other books and distractions and Proust does go on and on.

I’m also still reading the poetry of Keats as well as his letters. Is it my imagination of does Keats go from being competent to amazing in the span of just a few poems? I mean, one second he’s writing silly poems to his friends and the next he’s writing “Endymion.” Where did that come from all of a sudden?

And if that isn’t enough, I am planning on reading a book along with Danielle, a book leftover from 2013 when we were both subscribers to the New York Review of Books book-a-month fun. We both still have a couple unreads from that year and we decided to finally read one of them, The Bridge of Beyond by Simone Schwarz-Bart. I’ve heard excellent things about it and I have yet to be disappointed by a NYRB.

There’s April in a nutshell. Now with my four-day weekend beginning I should be able to — I want to say make a dent, but really it will be more like a scratch given the number of books. Nonetheless, it will be fun to see how far I can get!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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9. May Reading – Plan? What Plan?

Here we are in May already and as I sit down to think about my reading plans for the month I find myself keeling over in laughing hysterics. Plan? Oh that’s rich. I ask myself all innocent like, Self, what’s going on? And Self says, there ain’t gonna be no reading plan sweetheart. In case you haven’t noticed, you’ve been trying to cram in all kinds of activities into days where there just aren’t enough hours. But Self, I protest, I can do this. And then I find myself hysterically laughing on the floor again.

It’s not that I don’t plan on reading anything, goodness, I am still reading, but instead of dark evenings and cold weekends under a quilt reading for hours, reading has become more like something I do as a linking activity between activities. Reading on the train then at lunch then on the train again and then before bed. On weekends it is reading in order to rest after being in the garden or on the bike; there are no long hours of just reading right now. Once the summer heat and humidity arrive in a month or so then there will be slow days again but until then sitting for too long is pretty close to criminal when I’ve been sitting since last November.

Therefore making any kind of plan for May will only make me feel bad when the calendar changes to June and I see that all the books I planned on reading have not been read.

I can tell you I am still reading Keats. I am also still reading George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. Supposedly I am also reading volume three of Proust but I didn’t open the book once during April. I am also reading The Bridge of Beyond but haven’t read far and haven’t picked it up in a couple weeks.

I am almost finished with The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. I am enjoying it very much. We are the same age — both of use were born in April in the same year. This is a woman I can relate to in so many ways. But she is also much weirder than I am and an extrovert. So while there is this total sympatico feeling, I’m also disturbed by how neurotic she is and know we could never be friends in real life because I’d forever be restraining myself from strangling her. But reading her “diary” is a real hoot.

What book I might pick up next is anyone’s guess. I’ll probably continue to dip in and out of the ongoing books and then concentrate on whatever library book hold request comes up next for me. Or who knows? May might turn out to be a really rainy month giving me more hours indoors to read. No plans either way. We’ll just see what happens!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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10. June Reading Ahead

I wish I could say I was out and about doing something fun last night so blogging took a backseat, but alas, I was a bit under the weather with a mystery illness that left me exhausted. I feel a bit beat up today but otherwise fine so hopefully it was just a passing indisposition.

Of course, when not feeling well we reach for something comforting and in my case it was books. First I tried Molecular Red by McKenzie Wark. It is a heady theory kind of book that is interesting but not good reading when one feels as though she has been run over.

So then I tried When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds. This is a collection of darkly funny linked short stories. It is a delightful book but the darkness did not sit right.

Then I turned to Jo Walton. I managed to get a copy of Among Others on my Kobo and have been reading it on my commute. I like it very much and just the other day I was thinking how it is like her book What Makes This Book So Great only incorporated into a fiction story. Because the narrator of Among Others loves science fiction and fantasy and talks about why this book is good and how and she doesn’t like that author and I can’t help but notice many of the same titles pop up in What Makes This Book So Great. Since Bookman bought me that book when I was down with a very bad cold a year or two ago and it served as great “chicken soup,” I thought Among Others might also serve. So I retrieved my Kobo from my work bag and settled in and yes indeed, it was perfect. I read it for perhaps an hour before I was completely out of energy and went to sleep.

Other books in progress that I will be reading this month include more Keats poetry, more Keats letters and more Keats biography. Maybe I will get back to Proust. But then again, inertia might be too hard to overcome. Still, I have a week’s vacation later this month and I am not going anywhere and should the weather be too hot or too rainy so that I am kept from the garden and my bike, well, Proust might get some attention. It could happen!

I am still reading The Art of Daring as well. I want to gobble this book up but am forcing myself to read it slowly because it is so rich and yummy.

I’ve got two books from publishers that I received at the end of April and should have been done with already but haven’t quite managed because neither has been really wowing me. Still, I read on because I feel kind of obligated. One is Matthew Pearl’s The Last Bookaneer. How can a book about book pirates not be exciting? I mostly read it before bed and my eyes start to grow heavy within minutes and it is a constant struggle to not fall asleep. The other book, The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak is a bit more promising though I am having a hard time getting into it.

When all else fails there is Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin. The book is made up of diary excerpts and I had planned to read only a month at a time over the course of the year but that has not happened. I start reading and can’t stop and now I am reading October’s entries. Better that I don’t want to put it down than that I don’t want to pick it up, right?

There are the books in progress for June. I will very likely wiggle in one or two more books during the month; I will need a new book to read on my Kobo. I’m thinking of browsing NetGalley to see if there is anything especially appealing there. If not, it might be time for a good old classic, perhaps Henry James, Edith Wharton, or E.M. Forster. Just thinking of all the possibilities is half the fun.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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11. Vacation Looms

I finished reading Notes from Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin last night but I think I will wait a couple days to write about it. It is one of those beautiful books over which it wouldn’t do to be hasty. There are no other books on the finished or near finished horizon, at least not at the moment. I hope to change that next week.

What’s special about next week? Vacation! I’m not going anywhere, Bookman wasn’t able to swing a matching vacation, our garage may get knocked down during the week, there will be many long bike rides, hours of gardening, letters written, and, of course, reading. I also hope to update the links in my sidebar. I haven’t done that in years. Really, it has been that long. Yikes!

I am certain I have over planned all the things I can possibly accomplish during a one week vacation but it is good to dream big, right? As for the reading, here is the goal:

  • Finish reading The Last Bookaneer by Matthew Pearl. It has dragged on long enough and I must make an end of it. That sounds terrible doesn’t it? We both need to be put out of our misery. Well not misery exactly, just not a whiz bang good time.
  • Finish When Mystical Creatures Attack! By Kathleen Founds. This one is a whiz bang good time even if it is pretty dark. There is an absurdity to it that makes the darkness bearable.
  • Decide whether or not I actually want to read Molecular Red by McKenzie Wark. In theory this is an appealing book. But the book itself is very much theory and I am not sure I am finding it interesting. So I need to spend an hour or so dedicated to reading it and figuring it out. Then if it is a go I have to do some major reading of it since it is a library book with no renewals that will be due at the end of next week.
  • Make some headway into The Architect’s Apprentice by Elif Shafak. I haven’t spent enough time with it to get much into the story and I want to like the book. It deserves some attention.
  • Read some Keats poetry, letters biography.
  • Catch up on all the interesting articles that have appeared in my daily email from LitHub. Do you get their emails? They round up interesting book news from around the internet and send a daily email with a one sentence synopsis and link. I have accumulated quite a lot of unread stuff. Will I be able to catch up? Highly doubtful. I might end up just deleting it all and cleaning the proverbial slate.
  • Start a new book. Because, why not? I just got Naomi Novik’s new book Uprooted from Barnes and Noble. Maybe it will be that. Or perhaps The Martian by Andy Weir? Or something else from the TBR pile? I wonder what it will end up being?

So there is what I plan on doing for my summer vacation. Heh. I remember when summer vacation was three months long and after a month I missed school. If only I had known then how marvelous all that free time was.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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12. Thrilling! Adventures! Fun!

cover artI have been waiting my turn in the library holds queue quite some time for The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage. It is a graphic novel by Sydney Padua. I’ve just begun it and it is so much more than I ever could have hoped for.

It is not your average graphic novel. There is as much text as there are pictures. There are footnotes. There are endnotes. The art is great and the whole thing is absolutely bonkers and laugh out loud funny.

Don’t know who Lovelace and Babbage are? Charles Babbage invented the first computer but for various reasons mostly to do with Babbage, it never got built. Ada Lovelace is the daughter of Lord Byron and the first computer programmer. Lovelace died at age thirty-six. Babbage lived to be a crotchety old man.

After writing a story about Lovelace and Babbage, Padua thought it a real shame the computer never got built and the pair didn’t get to work together for very long. So she went all wibbly wobbly timey wimey and discovered a pocket universe where Lovelace and Babbage built the computer, have thrilling adventures, and, of course, fight crime, because why not? The first adventure has to do with the person from Porlock.

As I said, I have not read much but what I have read has been pure delight and I couldn’t keep it to myself until I finished. So I am telling you about it now. Check your library. If they have the book, get yourself on the list for it. Now. Go. No dilly-dallying.

Filed under: Books, Graphic Novels, In Progress Tagged: Ada Lovelace, Charles Babbage

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13. The Writing Process

I’m about two-thirds of the way through a book I am reading to review for Library Journal. The book is called J.M. Coetzee and the Life of Writing by David Attwell. It is a sort of writing biography of Coetzee and is quite good. If you are a fan of the writer, this is one you will probably want to look out for.

I am also still working my way through all the lessons in the James Patterson Master Class.

Over the weekend Patterson and Coetzee provided a fascinating opportunity to glimpse and compared the writing process of two well-known writers. The writing process has always fascinated me. Everyone has one and goes about putting words on paper or computer screen in a variety of ways. Some writers fetishize certain objects —they have to write with a particular pen in a certain color on a particular kind of paper, or while pounding away at the keyboard there has to be particular piece by Mozart playing and there has to be a cup of tea/coffee in a certain mug placed just so on the desk — and claim to not be able to write without them. Some writers need to have a title first, or write the last sentence first or start in the middle or always begin a new project on the same date or sit down to write at the same exact time every day.

The actual writing part though, there are only so many ways a person can go about it, nonetheless, it remains a perennial and dreaded question at book readings, the moment someone in the audience stands up and asks, “so how did you go about writing this book?” What is wanted, of course, is the secret that only “real” writers know. The password, the handshake, the mystery revealed, the drug, the prayer, the key to it all so that said audience member can go home and write that novel they have inside them and make millions doing it. No one wants to hear an author say the truth, I sat down and wrote for six hours every day, seven days a week for four months (or more) and wrote and rewrote and wrote some more and tossed out and started over and wrote some more and rewrote over and over until it was done. What’s an author to do? Tell the truth no one wants to hear or make something up? The third option is avoiding answering the question entirely. I have heard all three answers at one time or another.

Of course in Patterson’s online writing class he has to address the question, he is the teacher and it is his job to explain how to write a novel. Patterson takes the truthful route but at the same time he makes it sound rather easy. To write a novel, one must first write an outline, do not begin writing without an outline, your book will be doomed. For Patterson, an outline is not the kind you had to do in school with the Roman numerals and the letters and headings and subheadings. He means a narrative outline. There are still numbers but the numbers correspond to chapters and basically what you are writing is a summary of the chapter. With such an outline you can work out plot and pacing before you get in too deep. You can find the slow bits and the holes and fix them before they grow out of control. That’s the idea anyway.

And it seems like a good idea that is really useful for a plot-driven James Patterson sort of novel. Heck, it is probably a good idea for a variety of novel types. It is neat and tidy. And of course once you have your outline, you know how you are going to get from point A to B to C. You know what happens in each chapter. All you have to do is fill in the details. Easy!

Coetzee’s approach is so much messier. No outline, just write. Draft after draft after draft. He makes notes as he goes. He changes character names and locations and plot and then he changes them back again and then he changes them again to something else entirely. It is organic and labyrinthine. It is a journey in which the ending is not known in advance, but is rather a sort of quest; a quest for a story, a quest for an answer to a question, a quest for understanding, a quest for any number of things. No bones about it, it is a lot of work.

And I find myself wondering, do the two approaches reflect the differences between commercial fiction and Nobel Prize winning fiction? Could an author whose process is like Patterson’s win a Nobel? Could someone whose process is like Coetzee’s be successful at commercial fiction and spend 24 weeks on top of the bestseller lists? Which comes first, the process or the desire to write a certain kind of fiction? Do people who make outlines naturally make a course for more commercial fiction? Do the messy organic writers automatically find themselves in literary fiction? And what about other kinds of writing, genre and nonfiction in all its variety? Is this a chicken or egg question?

Maybe. Probably. Likely the answer is a combination of all sorts of factors but it is interesting to consider.

Filed under: Books, In Progress, Writing Tagged: J.M. Coetzee, James Patterson, writing process

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14. July Reading

Can you believe it’s July already? I can’t. I was just getting used to June, just starting to feel like I was in the June groove, and now it’s time to move on. I am not ready. Can we turn the calendar back to June 15th please? That should be enough for me to get my fill of June and then when July 1st rolls around again I will be ready. Not going to happen you say? Where’s Marty McFly or the TARDIS when you need them?

Well, let’s barrel into July then. What will the month hold for reading? I get a 3-day holiday weekend coming up for Independence Day. Groovy, some extra reading time.

Even though I have been (mostly) good about keeping my library hold requests down to a manageable number, two books I have been looking forward to reading that have long waiting lines have, of course, both arrived for me at once. I now have to either a) rush through The Buried Giant and Get in Trouble in three weeks, or b) choose one to focus on and not worry about the other and get in line for it again if I run out of time. Choice “b” seems the most likely one I will go with which means Ishiguro’s Buried Giant will get my attention first. I am looking forward to it.

Carried over from last month, I am still reading Elif Shafak’s The Architect’s Apprentice. I am enjoying it much more than I was before even though I am making my way through it rather slowly.

In June I began reading Portrait of a Lady by Henry James and The Martian by Andy Weir. Two very different books and I am enjoying each of them quite a lot. James manages to be funny and ironic and ominous and can he ever write! I know people make fun of his long sentences but I get so involved in the reading I don’t even notice the length of the sentences. I do notice sometimes the paragraphs are very long, but that is only when I am nearing my train stop or the end of my lunch break and I am looking for a place to stop reading. And The Martian, is it ever a funny book. The book itself isn’t funny I guess, there is nothing very funny about being left for dead on Mars, the character, Mark Watney is funny; humor as survival tool. Weir, I must say, does a most excellent job of writing about complex science in such a way that is compelling and interesting and makes me feel smart.

I have a review copy of a new book called Miss Emily by Nuala O’Connor on its way to me. The Emily in question is Emily Dickinson. It’s a novel from Penguin Random House and they are kindly going to provide a second copy for a giveaway. Something to look forward to!

I will also begin reading Elizabeth Bishop this month. I’m still reading Keats letters and biography and poetry but he will get a bit less attention as I start to focus on Bishop. Much as I wanted to like Keats, it seems I like the idea of Keats more than the actuality; enjoy his letters more than his poetry. Not that his poetry isn’t very good, it is, at least some of it because there is quite a bit of mediocre stuff he wrote to/for friends that makes me wonder why I decided to read the collected rather than the selected. Hindsight and all that. But even the really good Keats poetry left me with mixed feelings. I mean, I appreciate it and sometimes I have a wow moment, but it generally doesn’t give me poetry stomach (the stomach flutters I get when I read a poem I really connect with). We’ll see how it goes with Bishop. I have her collected as well as her letters to work my way through over the coming months.

Without a doubt there will be other books that pop up through the month, there always are! The unexpected is all part of the fun.

Filed under: Books, In Progress Tagged: Andy Weir, Elif Shafak, Elizabeth Bishop, Emily Dickinson, Henry James, John Keats, Nuala O'Connor

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15. A Little Laugh

Because even a book on climate change needs a little humor:

Not surprisingly, the Kochs [siblings David and Charles, inheritors of the second largest privately owned company in the US, Tea Party supporters, and opposed to action on climate change] are the number-one hate figures of the progressive left and environmentalists alike, and the grinning brothers are often portrayed in activist literature as the twin heads of the “Kochtopus,” surrounded by the spreading tentacles of their gas, oil, and chemical interests. This is the latest in a long cartoon history of rampaging corporate cephalopods, which have included railroad monopolies, ice monopolies, Tammany Hall crooks, [and] Standard Oil.

Heh, rampaging corporate cephalopods. Makes me laugh every time I read it.

I have a few writing and reading commitments I must attend to this week so posts might be skimpy. If only there were enough time in the day to fit everything in! I’ll try, but, well, we’ll see.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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16. October Reading Plans

I was going to write about the ridiculousness that is Rider Haggard’s She this evening but I am just not in the right frame of mind. Earlier in the week the weather forecast was predicting moderate but still warmer than usual fall weather. And dry. Now it has turned cold and has been raining off and on since yesterday and there are threats of snow flurries on the weekend! The forecasters are all backpedalling and declaring that we should all know by now how unpredictable Minnesota weather is this time of year so don’t blame them. Yeah, right.

The good thing about the sudden change in weather is that it makes me want to snuggle up and read which is good because it seems like I didn’t do all that much reading in September. Or Rather, I did, but just not as much as I planned. Story of my life.

Part of the trouble that is not really trouble at all, is that two books I finished in September I have not written about here because they were for review elsewhere; a book of essays called Icon for Library Journal and a book called Mind Change the review of which you will soon be able to read at Shiny New Books.

I have lots of carry over books this month. I am still reading Gathering Moss by Robin Wall Kimmerer. I am determined to finish it this month, it has been lingering far too long. I am almost done with Don’t Even Think About It, a book about climate change. It is pretty interesting in terms of human psychology and behavior and kind of sad too.

I continue with House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski and continue to be creeped out by it. It’s one of those evil house-type stories, at least so far, in which the home that is supposed be comfort, love, and safety for the happy family, does a turn about and causes all sorts of problems even when it is not actively doing anything.

I’m about halfway through Mantel’s short stories, The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher. I know the titular story is getting lots of criticism and so is Mantel, but I have been avoiding reading about it because I don’t want to be biased when I finally get to the story. The ones I have read so far have all pretty much been really good.

Other than finishing the introduction to the Selected Letters of John Keats, I haven’t read any further in the book. I hope I can manage to get in deep with it this month.

October will be a good month for reading, I just know it. Next weekend is the Twin Cities Book Festival and the following Saturday is Dewey’s Read-a-thon. Bookman usually works on Saturdays but he managed to get the day off to attend the book festival with me. He wants to do the readathon too, but can only manage it around his work day. We’ve decided to donate ten cents for every page we read to First Book. One of the things I plan to read during that day is Euripides’ Medea, finally!

There are a number of library holds in my queue that have been outstanding for quite some time that are now all getting close to being my turn all at once. Isn’t that the way of it? So other than keeping on with what I am already in the midst of and reading Medea, I am not going to plan on any other books because they will just get tossed over in favor of the library books with reading due date deadlines. It all feels hectic, but that’s okay, it is still quite fun. If it weren’t fun, then there is not point in it, right? Reading should never be a punishment.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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17. November Reading Full Steam Ahead

October was a fantastic reading month. Other than The Selected Letters of John Keats, which is a massive book that will be ongoing for awhile, I have no “leftovers.” Wow, does that ever feel good. And now here we are in November. I can hardly believe the year is winding down. It seems like it was February just last week. With the garden put to bed and an “arctic outbreak” heading into Minnesota with forecast temperatures at or below freezing starting this weekend and into next week (we are a cold place but this is about 15 degrees below the normal average for this time of year), I am heading into to prime reading season. I’ve already got the quilt out in my reading “nest” (as Bookman calls it) and the cats hover around me waiting for me to sit down so they can pile on top.

The month looks like it will be crammed with bookish goodness. A long time ago I had this idea that I would read Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I made it through the first two volumes, loved them, began the third and got stuck not quite halfway through. Guermantes Way sat around with my bookmark in it for — dare I say? —two years — before I finally decided that if I were to ever pick the book up again I would have to start over. Well, the time has come and I have begun again on page one thanks to Arti and Dolce Belezza who are also reading it. If it weren’t for them, well, I’d still be promising myself to read it “some day.” We don’t have any set dates, but we hope to be through the first part of the book by the end of the month.

Another novel I will be starting soon, perhaps this weekend, is A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing. Whispering Gums is reading it this month for her book group so I thought I would read it too. Maybe I will make a surprise appearance at the book group. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia. At the very least I look forward to having someone to compare notes with.

Just received in the mail for review for Library Journal is a book called The Temporary Future: The Fiction of David Mitchell. I’ve not read all of Mitchell’s books and it appears that there is a chapter focusing on each one of them including his newest, The Bone Clocks. I suspect plots will be “spoiled” but I don’t think that really matters with Mitchell.

On the poetry front, I am reading An Invitation for Me to Think by Alexander Vvedensky. He was arrested in 1941 for “counterrevolutionary literary activities” and died of pleurisy on a prison train not long after. He was only 37. Just published in 2013, this is his first collection of poetry to appear in English. I have only read one longish poem so far. It’s good, but a thinker. I will have to read it a few more times. I get the feeling much of this book might be like that. An invitation to think indeed!

I am also in the midst of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. I am not sure what to think of this yet. It starts off at a college for magic and nothing much has really happened. On the go as well is Being Wrong by Kathryn Schulz. I am over halfway and enjoying the book very much.

I requested the next Scott Pilgrim book from the library, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. And checking my library account I have a few holds that will shortly be making their way to me. Unspeakable Things: Sex Lies and Revolution by Laurie Penny is about gender and power in the twenty-first century. This will be ready for me to pick up in the next day or two.

I am the next one in line for The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan. Thanks to a wonderful review at Whispering Gums, I got myself in the queue before it won the Booker Prize. I am also next in line for Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mande. This has been getting such good buzz in book blog world that I am very much looking forward to reading it.

Wow, that’s a lot of books for November. It’s a good thing I get a four-day weekend at the end of the month for Thanksgiving. I’m going to need it!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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18. In the Middle

The trouble with finishing so many books in October is that November has so far been a month of starting new books and being, it seems, forever in the middle but not quite at the end. What’s a person to do? No reviews to write at the moment. Shall I talk a little about what I am in the middle of and how I am enjoying it? Sure! Let’s!

I’ll begin with Jane Austen’s Emma. I am reading the book on my Kobo, a free download from Project Gutenberg. Six years ago I reread Pride and Prejudice for something like the fourth time. I’ve read all of Austen’s novels at least once but it had been such a long time that after the pleasure of P&P I decided I would reread one Austen a year until I made my way through all of them. Emma is the last. It has never been my favorite book, pretty much always ranked for me as number 5. I was kind of not looking forward to rereading it. Emma annoys me and so does Mr. Knightly. I expected I would be cringing. A lot.

But I haven’t. I’ve been enjoying the book. A good deal of that pleasure is because I just finished Being Wrong and Emma is such a perfect example of error, not only in Emma herself, but in many of the other characters too, that it has almost been funny. Also, I never remembered Mr. Woodhouse being such a hypochondriac along with a few others. They are not funny. They make me feel ever so sorry for Emma and the others who have to put up with them. I fear that I would not be so kind. I would crack so fast I’d be the scandal of the neighborhood for screaming obscenities at the top of my lungs and smashing Mr. Woodhouse’s evening bowl of gruel against the wall. I just got past the part where Mr. Elton had the nerve to propose to Emma. Horrors all around!

Emma is my daily commute and lunch break book. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is my before bed book. I’m about halfway and really liking it. The writing is solid, the characters believable, and the premise for the end of civilization all too real. In case you don’t know, there was a very contagious and deadly flu outbreak that killed about 90% of the world’s population. The book moves easily between pre-outbreak and twenty years later. Something that really caught me up last night as I was reading, one of the characters who was eight when the epidemic began walked into an old abandoned house looking for supplies and flipped the light switch, knowing nothing would happen but also hoping something would. Oh how we take electricity for granted! That moment in the book gave me chills.

My on the weekend and when I can fit them in books are many. I’m about a third of the way into A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride. I am really loving this book! It is a book that demands full attention while reading it and because of the style cannot be read quickly. But I am glad. I want to pay attention. I don’t want to read fast. It is a book that is all kinds of disturbing.

Also disturbing but in a different way is Unspeakable Things by Laurie Penny. Irreverent and unabashedly in-you-face feminist it has me alternately laughing, crying, and pissed off. I haven’t felt so charged up about feminism since my early twenties when I was young and idealistic and thought the wave was going wash patriarchy down the drain once and for all. Well that never happened and it suddenly amazes me how, even though I have never been afraid to call myself a feminist, I have, over the years, become almost resigned to the way things are. Penny is getting me all fired up and paying attention again which also means for the last week or so since I started this book I have been regularly getting pissed off about things I hear in the news and things I have heard male students say to female students in the library where I work. Getting angry about so many things is distressing but wow, does it ever feel good too.

In addition I am pecking away at Proust’s Guermantes Way and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians. Proust is amazing and I am hoping that soon I will find more time to dedicate to it. Grossman, not sure what to make of it yet. I don’t not like it but I’m not really liking it either. I’m sitting on the fence waiting for something to happen that will tip me over one way or the other.

And of course there are many books waiting in the wings from Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North to Women in Clothes and Margaret Atwood’s short stories and Murakami’s latest. I feel so rich!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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19. December Reading Plans

Wow, can you believe it is December already? And in just a little over two weeks I will be enjoying a two-week vacation. Awesome! So it’s a good thing I have lots of books to read. Take a look at the state of my reading table:

Need more books!

Need more books!

This little table sits next to my reading nest. I have no idea how all those books got there. Ok, well maybe I know how a few of them got there but I think other books have either snuck onto the pile of their own accord or the books that were already on the table are reproducing. Isn’t that an interesting thought? Imagine what the results would be if A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing hooked up with Guermantes Way. Actually, that is kind of scary to think about so let’s just talk about what I hope to read in December which includes not a few on the books piled on that table.

Why not begin with Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing? I am over halfway through it and liking it very much. I would have been done with it by now if I had been able to renew Narrow Road to the Deep North. I will be returning to it very shortly and expect I will soon be turning the last page.

Sadly, Guermantes Way slipped by the wayside, getting very little attention. It got some and I can honestly say I am enjoying it much more than when I first attempted it a number of years ago. But because I have been inundated with library holds, I could not give dear Proust very much attention. I hope December will allow me to rectify that.

Also falling by the wayside in November were Keats’ letters. I plan to get back to those too because I will be making a little study of Keats in 2015. And The Magicians by Lev Grossman has also suffered neglect due to all those library holds. It too is a library book but it is one I can renew which means its deadline is a bit farther out. Still, I don’t want to let it linger too long and I am about halfway through it so it shouldn’t take too much effort to finish up. Remind me I said that come January.

I had really been looking forward to reading Women in Clothes edited by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits and Leanne Shapton. It’s an exploration of the things we ask ourselves while getting dressed each day. I expected there to be more analysis and social commentary, more discussion about appearance and body image and all that. There is some of that but it is mostly light and girlfriend-y and I am not sure I will keep going with it. I must admit to having a good laugh as one woman described her style as a “post-apocalyptic Audrey Hepburn My Little Pony sort of thing.” Since there is no photo that leaves one to imagine all sorts of possibilities.

I recently began reading Claudia Rankine’s newest book Citizen: An American Lyric. With all of the jaw dropping racist mess the Ferguson police and legal system have made of Michael Brown’s murder by a white police officer, Rankine’s is a timely book about the sorts of racism that take place on a daily basis in America. It is one of those wonderful cross-genre sorts of books that is easiest to put in the category of essays but these are no ordinary essays.

Also on the piles to read in December is a review copy of Dirty Chick, about a couple who leave their urban life to try farming without ever having had any experience. From the library to read under deadline is F by Daniel Kehlmann and The Sense of Style: The Thinking Person’t Guide to Writing in the 21st Century by Steven Pinker. Pinker is a linguist and cognitive scientist so I am not sure why he wrote what amounts to a style guide, but it has the potential to be interesting if for no other reason than it might have a different point of view than your standard writing manual.

I’m also in the mood for some good science fiction. I’ve been hearing so much about Ann Leckie’s Nebula and Hugo Award winning Ancillary Justice that I could no longer ignore it. The story is about Breq, an artificial intelligence that used to control a huge starship that is now stuck in a human body. She’s out for answers and revenge. Fun!

And just in case all that is not enough, I also have on hand another Euripides play, Iphigenia in Tauris, because, you know, it would be horrible to not have enough books to read. Don’t laugh, I have a two-week vacation remember? So much time to read. I can hardly wait!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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20. Writing with Style

I finished two books this weekend and began reading two new books. Reviews of the two I finished forthcoming this week. Today, one of the books I started reading, The Sense of Style: the thinking person’s guide to writing in the 21st century by Steven Pinker. Yet another style manual you say? I know, I know, I said the same. But it is Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist, linguist and author of The Language Instinct and other books. So I thought, let’s see what he has to say.

I’ve only read the introduction and even if the rest of the book ends up being a big stinkeroo (and it might because flipping through I see the dreaded sentence diagramming), I will like him for the intro. Why? Because he is a descriptivist. He praises the ever changingness of language, pooh-poohs the old straightjacket grammarians who tried to force English into nonsensical constructions based on Latin grammar, and he pokes gentle fun at the monumnet that is Strunk and White. What’s not to like about that?

He says wonderful things like:

Style manuals that are innocent of linguistics also are crippled in dealing with the aspect of writing that evokes the most emotions: correct and incorrect usage. Many style manuals treat traditional rules of usage the way fundamentalists treat the Ten Commandments: as damnation. But skeptics and freethinkers who probe the history of these rules have found that they belong to an oral tradition of folklore and myth.

The reason a good writer wants to know about grammar rules is so she knows when and how to break them to best effect.

To those who complain that the internet and Twitter and texting is ruining language, he thumbs his nose. Pinker quotes people going back as far as 1478 complaining about how the English language is going to the dogs; these young people today who can’t spell or use punctuation, blah, blah , blah. Century after century it is a recurring refrain. He even notes that according to the scholar Richard Lloyd-Jones, “some of the clay tablets deciphered from ancient Sumerian include complaints about the deteriorating writing skills of the young.” Oh that made me laugh!

Pinker on writing might just turn out to be fun. He’s off to a good start at any rate. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Filed under: Books, In Progress, Nonfiction Tagged: Steven Pinker

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21. Vacation in Progress

Ah, vacation.

It actually began at 4:00 on Friday last week but it hasn’t felt like vacation until today. That’s because somehow I’ve been pretty busy. There was regular grocery shopping and Solstice ingredient shopping. There was cooking. There was the dentist. Other things I can’t seem to remember but that sucked up time. Oh and the library. To pick up books I did not expect to be getting until next year. Which means my vacation reading plans have been all messed up because these books can’t be renewed. Story of my life!

The books? How to Be Both by Ali Smith and Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay. These are okay things to have mess up my reading plans. I began reading Smith today and am really liking the book a lot. I have not read Smith before, have always meant to, but you know how it goes. Now, of course, I find myself wondering why I didn’t read her sooner! The good part is she has lots of books I haven’t read.

Vacation reading also includes Dirty Chick, which is proving to be hilarious, Proust, which is not hilarious, and finishing The Magicians by Lev Grossman. Oh there are plenty of other books on hand but these are the ones I will be focusing on.

I am also wallowing in the pleasures of seed catalogs. Man, do I need some acreage!

Also on this vacation time, I am playing catch up with my book database. I have been pretty good all year at keeping my Books Read page updated but not so much my personal database that allows me to track books at a glance across the years. I spent a couple hours today entering books and I am only up through July. Halfway, right? It appears I have had a personal record breaking reading year. But more on that later.

Other events this vacation will include: a trip to a bookstore or two and a viewing of the final Hobbit movie. The movies have been pretty good, but I am so glad this is the last one. There is absolutely no reason they had to take this mediocre book and turn it into three movies. Oh wait, there is a reason: money. And I couldn’t help but give them some of mine. Sigh.

It will be light posting through the New Year. I’ll pop by with books I finish and an end-of-year roundup, but blogland gets quiet this time of year anyway and I’d like to take a mini-vacation from my computer. So in case I don’t manage to get round in the next day or two, I hope all of you celebrating Christmas out there have a wonderful day filled with love and good food and lots of new books!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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22. Welcome 2015

Day two of 2015. How’s it going so far? Good I hope! I’ve been visiting blogs and reading yearend wrap ups and New Year plans and it is all so very exciting. January 1st is an artificial new year date imposed by our calendars because when you think about it, ever day can be said to be the first day of a new year which means every day provides the opportunity for a fresh start. Just something to keep in mind when the excitement from making fresh goals begins to wane. I have all sorts of plans for 2015. The ones you will want to know about are my reading plans.

I like my 2014 plan so well I am going to do it again this year:

Read good books.

Part of reading good books is a project my friend Cath and I are doing for the year. We both love poetry and keep up an enriching correspondence around it. This year we decided to each focus on two poets in depth and make a study of them. The two poets I chose for my study are John Keats and Elizabeth Bishop. Keats will start off the year. I’ve got his letters and complete poetry making their way to me through the mail from online bookshops. I’d like to read a biography of Keats too. Can anyone make a recommendation of a good one? The second half of the year will go to Bishop. I have her complete poems and I’ll be reading One Art, a book of her letters. I know she wrote some prose too but I don’t know that I will get to that. Perhaps I will be able to dip in, but it’s her poetry I am most interested in. I’d like to read a biography of her too. Can anyone make a good recommendation on that?

Besides Bishop and Keats I will continue working my way through Euripides’s plays. If I am remembering and counting correctly, I have six of his plays left. A couple of the remaining ones are of disputed authorship but I’m not sure that matters so very much since the number of complete Greek tragedies is so few to begin with. I doubt I will get to all six of them this year, but you never know.

That’s the broad outline for 2015.

January’s reading is going to be a pile-on of all sorts of things and I am exhausted just thinking about it. Currently I am in the midst of:

  • The Magicians by Lev Grossman. I am almost done with this. Have about 130 pages left.
  • The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. I am enjoying this very much.
  • Bad Feminist by Roxanne Gay. A wide-ranging book of essays not completely what I expected but extremely enjoyable nonetheless. I read about her competitive Scrabble playing a few days ago and I am still giggling about it. Gay has a most excellent sense of humor.
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. I’ve not gotten far but so far this is really good. It is an approach to climate change that is not about the environment so much as it is about the economic structures and wealth distribution we have created that are at the root of the problem.
  • Guermantes Way by Proust. Oh Proust, Proust, Proust. This is my second attempt at this book and each time I pick it up I am reminded why I didn’t make it through the first time. Our Marcel is such a whiny social-climbing wanker that he makes me want to slap him. Hard. A lot. Plus he is a stalker and uses people. And while Proust is a beautiful writer, sometimes his descriptions that start off lovely go on far too long and I find myself yelling at him to hurry up and move on. Nonetheless, I am determined to finish the book. It just might be a long and painful process.
  • Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Bookman has been raving about this one to me for forever so I finally started it last month. It’s getting a slow read since it is my work/commute book and I have been on vacation for almost two weeks. I will be returning to it when I return to work on Monday.
  • Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie. I’ve heard so many good things about this book and the sequel just came out so why not? I am really liking it so far even though I am less than fifty pages in. What I like best is that there is not much in the way of gender distinction, the language and culture in the world of the book doesn’t have it and so the story has everyone being called “she” no matter their biology. It’s kind of nice to read a book and have “she” be the default for a change.

There will also be some Virginia Woolf making her way into my reading pile in January. And I am going to start reading A Clockwork Orange along with Danielle. In addition, I have, gulp, four books to pick up at the library. Two of them are graphic novels, one is a gardening book and one is a nature book. We’ll see how or if I manage to actually fit them in.

Now, given all that reading and my quickly dwindling days of vacation, I had better hop to it!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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23. I Resisted!

I have to give myself a little public pat on the back because I did something today that was really hard and once I tell you about it you will completely understand.

All but five of my library hold requests out of something like eighteen have come home to roost in the last three weeks. Most of these books are not renewable because there are others who also want a turn at them. My little reading table is buried beneath books and it is so bad I am having a hard time pulling books out of the piles to read without knocking several over onto the floor. Also, there is hardly any room for a glass of water or cup of coffee or tea. It is out of control. But with the two books that are currently at the library waiting for and one more for which my turn will come quicker than I want it to, the remaining hold requests all have me at number 40 or higher.

So I determined the other day to not make any further book requests from the library for two months. That will give me a chance to get through all my current library books and, I hope, a few of the books on my reading table that I own that I really want to read but have been buried under all the library books. I made this determination before around Thanksgiving in November but didn’t tell anyone because the next I placed hold requests for two books!

Today, however, today I resisted! I had my mouse hovering over the “request” button at my library but I remembered my book table and my determination to not place any holds for two months. The devil and the angel on my shoulders had quite the brawl and this time the angel won. Personally, I think the angel has been doing some serious lifting since Santa left her some weights for Christmas. Or maybe it was the strength of moral superiority guiding her and giving her the power to finally overcome. Then again, she’s had so much practice she may have finally perfected the art of guilt and shame and made the devil feel so bad she didn’t stand a chance. Whatever the case, instead of clicking “request” I clicked “add to list” and added it my library list.

If the angel manages to keep the devil down for two months then I will allow myself to request a few books off the list. I don’t want to get ahead of myself though. I resisted today. Will I resist the next temptation? Very likely I will find out tomorrow. Until then, I get a pat on the back and a victory dance. Yay me!

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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24. Playing with Gender

I’m in the middle of reading Ann Leckie’s fantastic book Ancillary Justice. One of the things I like about it so much is that it plays with our gender expectations. The story takes place in a fictional universe in which the Radch regularly annex planets to their empire. The language spoken by the Radch has no gender, it does not recognize male or female anything. This presents a conundrum for Leckie since English requires gender designations. How do you translate? Leckie has decided to make the default pronoun “she” serve for everyone.

The story is told from the point of view of Breq who used to be a starship. She knows many different languages but she is Radch and as such always has trouble figuring out gender when speaking a language that requires it.

What is super-duper fascinating is to read everything through the “she” pronoun. I picture all the characters as women and there is nothing in any of the characters’ actions that give away what their biology might be. Nor does anyone get described as curvy or beautiful or brawny or any of the other myriad ways gender and biology get marked. Everyone is just people who happen to be referred to as “she” when a pronoun is required. But, as I said, I keep picturing all the characters as women because that is what “she” asks me to do in English.

So you might be able to imagine then how disconcerted I was while reading last night to discover an important character is actually a biological male. He was only referred to as “he” once in a conversation Breq was having with someone in a gendered language and then it is right back to “she” again. My brain went all wobbly trying to replace a she with a he but it didn’t last long. The further I got away from “he” and the more “she’s” that got piled on in referring to this character, my mind reverted right back to picturing a woman.

The cool thing is there is no reason why all the characters couldn’t actually be women. In the context of this world, there is no question about whether a woman can lead an army or captain a starship or beat the crap out of someone or rule the empire or do anything else. Gender is not recognized and when there are no gender boxes to fill it is amazing what kinds of other things can be focused on instead.

Reading a book in which “she” stands in for the universal gender points out how fallacious English is to insist that “he” can be used as a universal pronoun meaning men and women. It can’t and it doesn’t and I never believed that it did. Whenever I’m reading and come across a “universal he” I am always brought up short. I have to stop and take the time to mentally insert myself into the equation because “he” is not me. I wonder, any men reading this, when you come across “universal he” do you think, oh that means men and women? When you see “he” standing in for everyone do you picture everyone as being male? And if you are a male who has read Ancillary Justice, what was your experience reading a book where everyone is “she”?

I can’t begin to say what a pleasure it is to read a book like Ancillary Justice. It’s no surprise Leckie won the Nebula and the Hugo for it. I can’t wait to find out how it ends and I am greatly looking forward to reading the second book, Ancillary Sword.

Filed under: Books, In Progress, SciFi/Fantasy Tagged: Ann Leckie

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25. February Reading

Review a book or talk about books in progress and the state of my reading plans for February? Well, since we are almost a week into the month, let’s talk about the latter. The book review can wait.

So for the last couple days I’ve been moaning quietly to myself about how January was a terrible month for reading, that I read hardly any of the books I planned to. Then I looked at my January plan and realized the month was significantly better than I thought. I finished four of the seven books I was in the middle of. Not bad, right?

The carryovers:

  • The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker. Even though I like this book it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the in progress pile. I mean, nothing against Pinker, but when it’s between him and Roxanne Gay, or him and Ann Leckie, or him and Patrick Rothfuss, Pinker loses every time. Right now he is losing out to Mallory Ortberg. I do want to finish the book, I really do.
  • This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate Change by Naomi Klein. I got halfway through this very good, hefty book before I had to return it to the library because my three weeks were up and there is a long line for it. I checked the university library system where I work and there were a couple copies there checked out but with no holds and both due soon. So I put in a hold request. Now, a mysterious disaster has struck.

    When I arrived at work Monday morning I discovered that the book was supposedly on the hold shelf at my library. Hooray! I went to retrieve it and it was not there. Hmm. The computer says the hold arrived on Saturday so I questioned my Saturday colleagues and none of knew what I was talking about, there had been no book courier delivery on Saturday. So I emailed the circulation person at the library from which the book was sent. She checked her shelves. The book was not there. We thought perhaps a student worker had goofed and the book might still be in transit through the courier. Monday and Tuesday came and went and it still did not arrive. Today I sent out a system-wide email to all the library circulation departments asking if the book might have ended up on their hold shelves. Nope. So the book is AWOL.

    Here’s the bad part, if the hold expires before the book makes its way to me, I lose my chance to have it and have to place a new hold. While there were no holds when I put one in a month ago there are now four hold requests for two books one of which is now AWOL. University checkout periods are much longer than at the public library. My fingers are crossed the book arrives before the hold expires and I have to get at the back of the line.

  • A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. If I hadn’t made it to part two of the book when I did, I was going to stop reading. The first part is so raw and horribly violent it was making me sick to my stomach reading it. People on my metro train were probably wondering what was wrong with that scowling person reading her Kobo. Was her breakfast not agreeing with her? Did she have a bad day at work? Even though I am past the first part, the book still presents a problem: I don’t like it. Intellectually, I can see why it is considered an important book. Emotionally it is all kinds of messed up. But I keep reading because intellectual me says my discomfort is probably a good thing. Thank goodness the book is short and I only have about 100 pages left.

Then there are the two ongoing project books: John Keats’ Complete Poems and Proust’s Guermantes Way (which is suffering from the same problem Pinker is).

Got all that?

Now for new books in February. I am laughing my way through Texts from Jane Eyre at the moment. I like to read it before bed. I have frequent outbursts of laughter and sometimes I interrupt Bookman’s reading to read to him. This book will probably be done by the end of the weekend. The next one that gets picked up will be Pico Iyer’s The Art of Stillness.

I just got notice today that waiting for me to pick up from the public library is On Immunity: An Innoculation by Eula Bliss. I’ve been waiting my turn since November and now my turn comes in the midst of an ever growing measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in California a couple weeks ago. I am safe from measles, I have been vaccinated against them twice. Once as a child and then again when I was 18 and heading off to college. At that time you had to provide proof of vaccination in order to attend and exceptions were rarely granted. For whatever reason my childhood health records did not show I had been vaccinated. The university needed proof in writing, not my mom’s solemn promise, and so I had to get vaccinated again. Ow. There’s a reason they give all these shots to kids, it’s so you don’t remember how much they hurt! The book will no doubt be even more interesting now given how relevant it is proving to be at the moment.

Finally, I have a new book to read and review for Library Journal. It is one that makes me very happy. It’s called First Ladies of Gardening: Pioneers, Designers and Dreamers by Heidi Howcroft. It is filled with gorgeous color photos of beautiful English gardens and teeny tiny print about the gardens and the women who created them. I began reading today and is it ever wonderful.

Well that should do it for February plans. Since it is still winter here I have lots of hours of reading under a quilt with the cats to look forward to.

Filed under: Books, In Progress

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