Regular Rumination

Quotes & Notes: Things I’ve Learned From Dying by David R. Dow

Posted by in Books

things i've learne

 

QUOTES

High school English is where I first learned not everybody can be understood by everyone. It’s in As I Lay Dying, chapter 19. Vardaman says, My mother is a fish.

That’s it. End of chapter. My teacher wanted to tell us what Faulkner meant. I didn’t feel the need to know. You can like a rhythm or savor a sound, and not have a clue what it means.

Not knowing is itself knowledge. At the beginning I think I can learn. At the end I know I cannot. It is the middle where I see the truth.

Perhaps it is merely fortuitous that Vardaman’s soliloquy begins the middle third of Faulkner’s book

The deepest knowledge, I’ve learned, can be awareness of the chasm separating you from someone else. (87)

NOTES

I declared that David R. Dow’s book The Autobiography of an Execution was the book that had the greatest impact on me in 2011. It opened my eyes to injustices in the legal system, especially on death row, and I still think about the book, now 3 years later. When 12 asked if I wanted to talk about Dow’s newest book Things I’ve Learned from Dying, I didn’t even think twice.

The Autobiography of an Execution is an important book, but the writing style got in the way. If I remember correctly, it is disjointed and occasionally metaphorical in a distracting way, and just generally in need of a better editor. Fortunately, Dow seems to have found one. I had none of those concerns with Things I’ve Learned from Dying. It’s beautifully written, elegant prose, that doesn’t mask Dow’s unique voice.

Things I’ve Learned From Dying is about death row and an inmate named Waterman who most people decide doesn’t deserve to die. It’s also about Dow’s father-in-law’s short battle with terminal melanoma. It’s also about their family dog Winona’s sudden death from kidney failure. It’s not an easy book to read, you know how each of these stories end. In a way, Things I’ve Learned From Dying is a way to keep all three living, immortalized; it’s also a rumination on what it means to know that death is near, for yourself, for a loved one.

This is a hard book to recommend, but I do think you should read it. It is a book that is filled with tragedies, but it is also filled with love.

4

Graphic Novels/Comics February

Posted by in Books

Last year, one of my favorite reading months was Graphic Novels/Comics February, the brainchild of Debi. She commented on my State of the TBR post asking if I would forego the TBR during February so I could participate and the answer is: OF COURSE. I wouldn’t miss this month for anything! I loved reading different types of comics/graphic novels the entire month. I’ve been thinking about what I want to put on hold at the library since I don’t think I have any unread comics hanging around the house. Those are read almost as soon as they are purchased!

It’s time to start thinking about my library requests for Graphic Novels/Comics February since they can take a while to come in.

sunny locke key same diff julio

Locke & Key Volumes 2 & 3 by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez - I really want to start buying these, but they are so expensive! I don’t think I can justify it on my current budget, so library it is. I remembered sometime in 2013 that I really like ghost stories – even if they really freak me out. I also very much like Joe Hill and the art by Gabriel Rodriguez, so I’ve been meaning to continue this story pretty much since I read Volume 1.

Julio’s Day by Gilbert Hernandez - I read a few year-end best comics list and this was high on the AV Club’s list and the Comics Alliance list. It begins in the year 1900 and ends in 2000, with each page representing one year in Julio’s life.

Same Difference by Derek Kirk Kim - Co-author of The Eternal Smile with Gene Luen Yang, Same Difference is his first comic and one that is considered a classic now 10 years after its publication. 

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto - In the epic Comics Alliance article on the best comics in 2013, they give Sunny the superlative “The Best Comic About Actual Human Beings With Actual Human Feelings God Dammit” and that just appealed to me.

super prime saints boxers ncpgw

Prime BabyBoxers, & Saints by Gene Luen Yang - Prime Baby is Gene Luen Yang’s NYT comic strip about Thaddeus and his new baby sister, aliens, and math. Boxers and Saints, a two-volume series about the Boxer Rebellion. I already have a copy of Boxers and I don’t think I’m going to be able to wait until February to read it!

Super Graphic: A Visual Guide to the Comic Book Universe by Tim Leong - I think it was Melissa of The Feminist Texican Reads that made me put Super Graphic on my wishlist right away. I can’t wait to read this!

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Faith Erin Hicks and Prudence Shen - I loved loved loved Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks last February, so I’m very much looking forward to reading this one.

jane matter castle french

A Matter of Life by Jeffery Brown - Well, when NPR compares you to Blankets by Craig Thompson, I sit up and listen.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley - I adored Relish by Lucy Knisley this year and I must read more.

Castle Waiting Vol. 2 by Linda Medley - I was thinking that this list is filled with too many dudes, so I went looking for comics penned by women and then I remembered that the Castle Waiting series exists! I read it so long ago. Remember when I read a comic a week? I should do that again.

Jane, The Fox & Me by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault - This sounds lovely and it’s also a translation! Just look at that cover. Beautiful.

I happy with this list. There are a lot of favorite authors I’ve been meaning to return to, a couple translations, several writers of color. I wish it were easier to find women on these best-of comics list. It was hard to find a list that included women other than Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel. Obviously those two women are immensely important in comics and they should be on every list, but it was so hard to find new-to-me comics written by women and when I did find them, the library did not have a copy of the book. Once I’ve read my way through my TBR it’s going to be time to seriously think about the books I’d like to have on my shelves permanently and I would like to have a whole section devoted to women in comics. So, what should I buy? I’d love to hear your suggestions for women in comics I MUST be reading!

22

Quotes & Notes: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Posted by in Books, review

the goldfinch

Quotes: 

The other section of Honors English was reading Great Expectations. Mine was reading Walden; and I hid myself in the coolness and silence of the book, a refuge from the sheet-metal glare of the desert. During the morning break (where we were rounded up and made to go outside, in a chain-fenced yard near the vending machines), I stood in the shadiest corner I could find with my mass-market paperback and, with a red pencil, went through and underlined a lot of particularly bracing sentences: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” “A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind.” What would Thoreau have made of Las Vegas: its lights and rackets, its trash and daydreams, its projections and hollow facades? (234)

I was too disoriented by my surroundings to listen very closely and with almost painfully heightened senses I stirred at the potato mess with my fork and felt the strangeness of the city pressing in all around me, smells of tobacco and malt and nutmeg, cafe walls the melancholy brown of an old leather-bound book and then beyond, dark passages and brackish water lapping, low skies and old buildings all leaning against each other with a moody poetic, edge-of-destruction feel, the cobblestoned loneliness of a city that felt – to me, anyway – like a place where you might come to let the water close over your head. (649)

Notes: 

If I had to tell you in just a few words what The Goldfinch is about, I would say it is about grief and guilt. It’s about all the ways we punish ourselves  because we think we deserve it.

It was difficult not to compare The Goldfinch to The Secret History and I have a general question about both:

  • Do people really talk that way? Or do Theo and Richard from The Secret History just wish they do? Both are people who come from humble beginnings and find themselves thrown into a group of wealthier people and everyone seems to talk with this almost  caricature intonation of what I imagine wealthy people sound like. Is that intentional on Donna Tartt’s part?

Theo was a very frustrating narrator. Not in a bad way, I think it was very intentional. Theo feels very real to me in a way that Richard did not.

I was talking to a friend at work about Donna Tartt’s two books and I feel like they are always presented as being big and important and inaccessible when really they are long, plot-driven books about all the different ways a perfectly normal person’s life can be derailed until it is unrecognizable through a mix of fate and their own choices. I don’t think the cover of The Secret History really does it any favors in terms of changing this reputation. I do love the packaging of The Goldfinch. It’s a beautifully designed book.

The Goldfinch is a good book, but I just liked The Secret History more. The first two sections of The Goldfinch are amazing and I’d like to go through and reread the first one again. I often feel this way, because I don’t really get into the swing of a book until I’m about a third of the way in and I always wonder what I missed in the beginning. I wish I had quoted something from the first section.

It looks as though the actual painting The Goldfinch is in The Frick? I think I’ll go see it.

14

The State of the TBR

Posted by in Books

It’s time to get serious.

This is the year I get rid of my TBR! (I can hear you all laughing from here, don’t worry.) I’ve decided to take stock of my TBR now at the beginning of the year to see if there is some way I can prevent books from entering my home this year as fast as I send them out the door. Can it be done? We’ll see!

First, let’s talk about the books I got for Christmas. My most recent additions to the TBR:

IMG_20140101_151909

Yes, my Christmas tree is as big as the pile of books. For Christmas this year, I’m very excited to add the new Harry Potter box set with the covers designed by Kazu Kibuishi. I love these. I got chills opening the box and looking at all the covers. Thank you, Michael! I also got:

  1. Duplex by Kathryn Davis
  2. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Mitford
  3. From the Forest: A search for the Hidden Roots of our Fairy Tales by Sara Maitland
  4. Horoscopes for the Dead by Billy Collins
  5. The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll Through the Hidden Connections of the English Language by Mark Forsyth
  6. Canada by Richard Ford
  7. Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
  8. An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth by Col. Chris Hadfield (This was technically a gift from me to Michael, but I’m so excited to read it.

Now, onto the TBR. Let’s start with nonfiction. I cannot believe how much nonfiction I had on my shelves. I should have a Nonfiction Year instead of just a Nonfiction November:

nonfiction

  1. The Language of the Night: Essays by Ursula Le Guin
  2. Time Traveler by Michael Novacek
  3. Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia by Blake Butler
  4. A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
  5. Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett
  6. Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue by James McWhorter
  7. The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus
  8. The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
  9. The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want by Garret Keizer
  10. Migraine by Oliver Sacks
  11. The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
  12. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
  13. Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vaill
  14. Escape on the Pearl by Mary Kay Ricks
  15. Things I’ve Learned from Dying by David R. Dow
  16. A North Country Life by Sydney Lea
  17. Rocket Men by Craig Nelson
  18. Life After Murder by Nancy Mullane
  19. A Voyage Long & Strange by Tony Horwitz
  20. Island Practice by Pam Belluck
  21. The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble
  22. The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell
  23. Wendy & The Lost Boys by Julie Salamon
  24. Unnatural Selection by Mara Hvistendahl
  25. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Now fiction:

  1. The Green Mile by Stephen King (which I have read, but would very much like to reread in the coming year)
  2. Tokyo Cancelled by Rana Dasgupta
  3. City of Women by David R. Gillham
  4. Sacred Games by Vikram Chandra
  5. The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
  6. The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett & Stephen Baxter
  7. A Happy Marriage by Rafael Yglesias
  8. Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes
  9. Blood Fugues by Edgardo Vega Yunque
  10. Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
  11. Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan
  12. The Chaperone  by Laura Moriarty
  13. 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
  14. The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
  15. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
  16. Lost & Found by Carolyn Parkhurst
  17. Daughter of the Blood by Anne Bishop
  18. The Reconstructionist by Nick Arvin
  19. Waterline by Ross Raisin
  20. Snow Angels by Stewart O’Nan
  21. The Wrong Blood by Manuel de Lope
  22. City of Tranquil Light by Bo Baldwin
  23. The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster
  24. Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman
  25. A Severed Wasp by Madeleine L’Engle
  26. The Small Rain by Madeleine L’Engle
  27. The Bone People by Keri Hulme
  28. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  29. Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh
  30. I Am Forbidden by Anouk Morkovits
  31. An Atlas of Impossible Longing by Arnuradha Roy
  32. Schroder by Amity Gaige
  33. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  34. Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
  35. The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
  36. The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin
  37. Tandem by Anna Jarzab
  38. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey
  39. Starry River of the Sky by Grace Lin
  40. The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan
  41. A Wish After Midnight by Zetta Elliot
  42. Above World by Jenn Reese

That’s a total of 75 books that I would like to have to pass the shelf-worthy or not test by the end of 2014. Fortunately, quite a few of those are from international authors or are translations! Not as many as I would like, but a decent number. I also have more books at my desk at work that I use for when I finish a book on the subway and need something to read on the way home that I’m not including in this list (though I’m going to try not to add to that pile in 2014!) Let’s say I read 104 books in 2014. That leaves me with 29 books I can get from the library, acquire and read immediately, or borrow from friends.

Suddenly this feels VERY manageable! It helps that today I got rid of all of these books:

2014-01-01 12.48.36

 

These are all books that I have given a fair shot, were unsolicited review copies, or books I grabbed from the free pile at work without really giving it a good thought. Back to the free pile they go!

I think I’m going to start out with a few highly anticipated chunksters: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. From the nonfiction pile, I’ll pick Things I’ve Learned from Dying by David Dow and Everybody Was So Young by Amanda Vaill. We’ll see how it goes from there!

Wish me luck. If prior years are any indication, I don’t necessarily have high hopes for this one! But getting rid of so many books I was probably never going to read makes me feel like I’m taking a huge step in the right direction. Plus, organizing all these books got me VERY excited to read them again!!

What’s the state of your TBR?

25

2013 Reading Stats

Posted by in Blogging, Books

I haven’t posted reading stats here in a while and I didn’t do a very good job of keeping track the past few years. Life just got in the way. In 2013, though, I made it a point to keep track of a few things: date finished, page count, publisher, pub date, male/female ratio, where the author was from, and whether or not the book was a translation. I think it is interesting to see how my reading changes over time and how it shifted throughout the year. It’s mostly for me, but I know that I love reading other people’s stats posts. I’m fascinated by what people decide to keep track of. As for my 2013 reading, I’ve talked already about how I only read one translation this year and how I want to make it a priority to read more in 2014, but how did my other stats fair?

Total Books Read: 104. One hundred seems to be my magic number. Sometimes I read a little bit more, sometimes a little bit less, but it is always around 100 books, no matter what I do.

Total Pages: 33,259! I loved how Care pulled out her chunksters (books with more than 450 pages) to see what percentage of this year’s page count was chunksters. I read 14 chunksters, which were a total of 11,477 pages or 34.5% of my total reading for the year.

Age range: 65 books for adults (62.5%), 24 YA (23%), 3 Middle Grade (3%), 1 Children’s (1%) and 11 that were vague crossovers that could have fit into two or three categories (10.5%). I’m pretty happy with this split, though I wouldn’t necessarily mind if there were more YA books next year.

Genre: This is so hard to pin down, I’m almost hesitant to even track it every year. This is, in reality, a combination of form and genre, to make it a little bit easier.

  • 27 comics, 5 of which were nonfiction/memoir (26%)
  • 17 fantasy/science fiction/speculative fiction (16%)
  • 28 general fiction (27%)
  • 7 horror (7%)
  • 18 nonfiction (17%)
  • 3 poetry (3%)
  • 2 historical fiction (2%)
  • 1 romance (1%)
  • 1 book of short stories (1%)

I’m so surprised that the comics number is so high! I did read a lot this year, but I didn’t think it was that many. Once again, I’m happy with this, but I wouldn’t mind if fantasy or horror jumped up a bit. And definitely poetry! I want to read more in 2014. Why did I split out horror from the fantasy/science fiction/speculative fiction category? I don’t know. I just did.

Female vs Male Authors: 54 female (52%), 46 male (44%), 4 both (4%)

Book format: 90 print books (86%), 6 ebooks (6%), 8 audiobooks (8%). This number is more for curiosity’s sake than anything else. I might try to listen to more audiobooks, but I’m not overly concerned with my print vs ebook number. Though I would like to see more of the print books I own heading out the door! I have way too many.

Library books vs my books: 29 library books (28%), 65 books from my shelves (62%), 10 borrowed from other readers and returned (10%). This number LOOKS really good, but I’m pretty sure I acquired just as many as I sent back out the door.

Author nationality: 

  • 75 from USA (72%)
  • 12 from UK (12%)
  • 8 from Canada (8%)
  • 3 from Australia (3%)
  • 2 from New Zealand (2%)
  • 1 each from the Netherlands, Nigeria, and Spain (3%)

The remaining three were essay collections that featured several authors, so I did not track them. This is the number, along with the number of authors who are POC (only 10 books!) and the number of translations (just 1), that I’m most disappointed with and is something I’m seriously going to work on in 2014. I should be reading books from around the world by a variety of people, not just my own familiar corner.

So, I’ve told you about my blogging goals for 2014. Now for the reading goals! Like with the blogging resolutions, it’s all about keeping it simple:

  • Read more books that I own! And stop buying as many as I send out the door!
  • Read more books from around the world, in translation, and by people from a variety of races.
  • Blog about each book I read in some way, but not necessarily a review. I started keeping a book blog to remember the books I read, so even if it is just a monthly wrap up of what I read, I’d like to have some kind of post that at least mentions each book I read in 2014.

And that’s it! If you keep stats about your reading, were there any big gaps you noticed in 2013 that you’d like to fix for 2014?

15

Goodbye 2013, hello 2014!

Posted by in Books

best-books-2013

Happy New Year! I hope you have a safe and happy holiday. With only a few hours left in 2013, here is my End of Year Book Survey, hosted by the lovely Jamie at The Perpetual Page Turner. I’ll see you next year!

1. Best Book You Read In 2013? (If you have to cheat — you can break it down by genre if you want or 2013 release vs. backlist)

I obviously do have to cheat.

Fantasy - Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones – Holy cow, friends. I know you’ve been telling me for (literally) years to read Diana Wynne Jones and I don’t know what kept me away for so long. I loved LOVED loved this book. Everything about it.

Middle Grade - The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly – I want to give this book to every man, woman, and child that I know and love, it was that good. I’m so glad I received this for my birthday. Alyssa knew I would love it.

Nonfiction - Parasite Rex by Carl Zimmer – SO GOOD. This is the kind of book that sticks with you long after you read it. So so good.

True Crime - People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry – I totally admit to cheating right now. This is the only true crime book I read this year, but I wanted a reason to talk about both Parasite Rex and People Who Eat Darkness. This book is so interesting because not only is it a story of a crime that shocked two countries, but an in-depth look at the Japanese justice system and how it works.

Comic - Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire – I read so many comics this year, it was hard to pick just one. This one, though, is brilliant and I still think about it all the time. It shows up in my dreams. It’s drawn in Lemire’s signature style and there are many things about it that feel familiar – cold landscapes, absent families, innocence shattered by the real world – but it is set in a disease-ravaged future where mutant children are either a sure sign of our destruction or our only hope. It’s just perfect.

Poetry - Dear Darkness by Kevin Young – Perfect, perfect, perfect. I wrote about this one for a BookRiot Buy, Borrow, Bypass post.

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

The Dinner by Herman Koch. I love literary thrillers about bad people behaving badly. I also love books that are contained in a short time period, so the framing of the story in one meal appealed to me, too. But overall, this really fell flat for me.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 

Someday, Someday Maybe by Lauren Graham. This is definitely not the kind of book I usually read, but Someday, Someday, Maybe is funny and nostalgic in the best way.

4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

I’m desperate to get non-fantasy readers to read Seraphina. I’ve also recommended the audiobook of The Raven Boys more times than I can count. Will Patton’s voice makes that book sing.

 5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

Definitely Sweet Tooth by Jeff Lemire. And, of course, The Raven Boys.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Kelly Braffet. I read and loved Save Yourself. I can’t wait to read her other two novels!

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I read a regency romance for the first time this year and I had a blast reading it. Nine Rules to Break While Romancing a Rake by Sarah MacLean is ridiculous and charming and fun, just as advertised.

 8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

I didn’t love everything about Night Film by Marisha Pessl, but I still could not put it down, especially the last third. I just had to know what happened.

 9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman. I listened to the audiobook and it was a good audiobook, but I do feel like I missed things. I want to read this one again before the sequel comes out. 

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

9780307718969

You just need to see this in person. It’s stunning. The cover actually looks water damaged and the front and end papers are full color photographs of the hospital during the flood.

11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

Sophie, Howl, and Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?

Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet.

13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 

I’ve been thinking about this question a lot. I don’t know that there are any books that have really changed my life or made me think about something in a new way. I’m hoping that I do have a book like this in 2014!

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 

Howl’s Moving CastleThe Great Gatsby. I Capture the Castle.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

I wish I had been better about keeping track of quotes from the books I read this year, but I did really love this quote from the poem “Ode to Catfish”: “Remember the day, po boy,/you fried up catfish/with grits for breakfast, your mother/& sisters surrounding us/& you declared it/perfect? Sweet Jesus/you were right./Fish hooks in my heart./My plate full of bones/I’m scared to swallow.”

And this one from Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter:

Weren’t movies his generation’s faith anyway — its true religion? Wasn’t the theater our temple, the one place we enter separately but emerge from two hours later together, with the same experience, same guided emotions, same moral? A million schools taught ten million curricula, a million churches featured ten thousand sects with a billion sermons — but the same movie showed in every mall in the country. And we all saw it! That summer, the one you’ll never forget, every movie beamed the same set of thematic and narrative images — the same Avatar, same Harry Potter, same Fast and Furious, flickering pictures stitched in our minds that replaced our own memories, archetypal stories that became our shared history, that taught us what to expect from life, that defined our values. What was that but religion? (21)

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

Shortest book: Secret of the Stone Frog by David Nytra and Double Shadow by Carl Phillips (both 80 pages)

Longest: A Storm of Swords by George RR Martin (1177 pages)

 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

The ending of Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet. Ugh! Can we talk about this SOMEONE PLEASE? I also squealed a lot about dramatic turns of events in Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Sassmasters Sophie and Calcifer from Howl’s Moving Castle. Franny and Dan from Someday, Someday, Maybe.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Locke & Key by Joe Hill. I’m really excited to continue reading this series.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones recommended by the entire blogosphere. Even though I loved the movie, I don’t know that I ever would have read this book if you hadn’t told me how much you loved it.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

I’m actually surprised by this: it’s adult contemporary fiction. But really not by much. Next up after that was fantasy.

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

I totally have a friend crush on Lucy Knisley after reading Relish. Lucy, can we be friends? And we can cook and you can teach me how to draw? Ok?

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

I didn’t read a ton of debuts, so I’m going to pass on this one!

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

I know, I’m sounding like a total broken record here, but the world-building in Howl’s Moving Castle was just spectacular. Also Seraphina. And The Raven Boys. 

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

Honestly, one of the most fun books I read in 2013 was the absolute worst book I read this year. My coworker and I have a book club of two, and we decided to read Indiscretion by Charles Dubow. We spent the whole time we read it texting each other about how unbelievably bad it was. I nearly threw it across the room when I finished it, but I was in the subway and I probably would have hit some poor commuter. It was only fun because there were two of us reading together and, fortunately, we both agreed about its terribleness. Otherwise I never would have finished!

As for more traditionally “fun” I’m going to go with Nine Rules to Break When Romancing A Rake by Sarah MacLean and Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

The only reason I didn’t outright sob my way through the ending of A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is because I was on the subway and I didn’t want people to have to do the awkward “is this girl in serious trouble or is she just crying because of her book?” glance.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

I really want more people to read Save Yourself by Kelly Braffet. It’s a beautiful, dark, suburban tale that I loved. I read it because Joe Hill recommended it on tumblr, but I haven’t really heard much about it other than that. Go out and read it!

25

5 Years Later

Posted by in Blogging

Five years ago today, I was a sophomore in college and without a thing to read over my winter break. I wanted something new to read, so I got online to find book reviews and discovered that there was such a thing as a book blog. I knew that this was how I wanted to spend my time and a baby blog was born.

Since then, a lot of things have changed, but one thing is still the same. I feel so fortunate for that day, because book blogging has changed my life in more ways than I can count. I have met amazing people, been fortunate enough to have many opportunities, and hope to be a blogger for a long time.

Usually, I don’t do much for my blogiversary, because there is just so much going on. It’s the end of the year! There are year-end surveys and book lists, New Year’s Resolutions, and holiday posts. But lately I’ve felt the blogging bug and I thought I might share some of my blogging resolutions.

  • Blog at least once a week. I know this won’t happen every week, but I’d really like to try to make this a priority in 2014.
  • Blog about books, but not necessarily reviews. I like my book lists, my conversations about books, but I’ve been tired of writing reviews for a long time. I think it’s time to just let them go.
  • Post a quote from every book I read. Weekly post about this, maybe?
  • Blog about other things. I’ve thought about blogging about NYC, crafting, recipes. I’d like to find a way to do this consistently. I want my blog to reflect my life.

And that’s it. I want resolutions that are doable. I want 2014 to be the year of getting it right in all aspects of my life. Or at least trying my best. Will you join me?

13

Parasite Rex

Posted by in Books

parasite rex

After reading Parasite by Mira Grant, I couldn’t help but be curious about the real science behind the story. She even mentions Parasite Rex in her author’s note. When Aarti mentioned that she had Parasite Rex on her shelf and wanted to read it sooner rather than later, we decided to read it together. I’m so glad we did! This is a fascinating book that I think I’m going to be thinking about for a long time. The first portion of our discussion is featured here and the second part on Aarti’s blog.

Aarti:  I’m so glad to be doing a joint review of Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex because there was so much information in this book that was BIZARRE and I feel like both of us talking about it together will make it easier for people to believe that these things are true.

I think what made this book so interesting to me is that we know SO LITTLE about parasites at all!  Here we are, amazingly complex beings who can get to the moon and map the genetic code, but we can’t quite grasp how these tiny, super-simple organisms live and get around.  I love that.  I love that we are completely flummoxed by these things.  Part of the reason, of course, is that they change form so many times in traveling from one host to another, one life stage to the next.  But part of it also is that science neglected to understand the impact that parasites can have on an ecosystem for so long.  Since they are basic, simple creatures, they can’t possibly have a huge impact on life, right?  But they DO!

What did you think of the book?  Anything that stood out particularly to you?

Leslie: I really loved it, especially the final half. One of the things I really look for in a nonfiction book is the desire to sit up and say to the person next to me, “You’re not going to believe what I just read.” Not that every nonfiction book I read has to be shocking, but I want to learn things so cool, so fascinating, or so surprising that I want to share it with everyone I meet. Parasite Rex was definitely that kind of book. It even came up at Thanksgiving! My family started talking about peanut allergies and allergies in general and I got to share one of the theories in the book that one of the reasons so many more people have allergies in the developed world is because we don’t share our guts with the same parasites that were once so common. There’s even a study mentioned in the book where parasites were reintroduced to people with Crohn’s disease and a lot of their symptoms went away.

I was much less interested in the biochemical ways that parasites work, but I think that’s because a lot of it went over my head. My only real complaint about the book is the structure – the first third was so heavy on the minute details of how each parasite worked that it was a little difficult to get through. I was very happy when the book took a broader view of the parasitic world and how it interacts with daily life for plants, animals, and humans. The book would have been incomplete without the how, and it was definitely important for explaining the parasites later, but I wish it had been spread a little bit more evenly throughout the book. I bring it up mostly just to warn other readers like me: don’t give up! I might have if this weren’t a buddy read with Aarti and I’m so glad I didn’t.

Was there any fact that you kept sharing with people you talked to you?

Aarti:  I completely agree with you.  It was tough going through the parts that explained the development of one species vs another and where exactly in an animal a parasite wants to settle down for a particular life phase.  I admit that I skimmed those probably more than I should have so that I could get to the parts that were more interesting to me.

I think what really stood out to me was that parasites, without really having any thoughts of their own are able to so completely manipulate another creature’s thoughts and its free will.  They can lead beetles to their death, castrate caterpillars and eat them from the inside, cause crabs to mother completely foreign animals and so much more.  It was so easy to imagine them as evil masterminds when, in reality, many of them really don’t even have minds.

I also was really interested in the way that scientists now are trying to solve ecological problems with parasites; introducing them in the wild to fight invasive species, for example.  It seems like an idea that could go really well or horribly wrong, similar to your comment above about Crohn’s disease.  What do you think of this type of “natural” medicine?

To continue this discussion, head on over to Aarti’s blog BookLust!

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2013 Was the Year of the Audiobook

Posted by in Books

Sometime this year, in an effort to save money, I tried really hard to cancel my Audible membership. “Libraries have audiobooks!” I reasoned. But when I went to cancel, Audible gave me $20 to spend to stay on… and well, that was saving money, right??

All in all, though, I really like the ease of Audible and the excitement of getting a new credit and their deals and I’ve so far been very pleased with my membership. Did you know that you can return audiobooks that just aren’t doing it for you? This has been my favorite feature so far, because I’ve been really disappointed with a few books I’ve started and I just sent them back.

Plus, having an audiobook always ready to go makes my commute in the morning so much better. I would say that most days I get a seat on the subway, but there is the occasional particularly crowded day when I am standing all the way to Midtown, which is about 40 minutes. It can be really difficult when the train is crowded to hold a book, especially if I’m reading  a hardcover. Audiobooks have saved me on days like that! Plus audiobooks just make the elliptical so much more appealing.

audiobooks in 2013

The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater, read by Will Patton: I’m not sure I’ve talked enough about this audiobook? It was my absolute favorite so far. Will Patton’s voice is so smooth and relaxing and wonderful. When The Dream Thieves came out and I read the physical book, but I read the whole thing with Will Patton’s smooth, dreamy voice in mind. And I used one of my Audible downloads on the audiobook anyway, because I’m sure I’ll want to reread this series when the third one comes out, but also because I’d just like to listen to Will Patton talk to me some more. Also, this series is just amazing even without Will Patton’s voice. 

Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party by Max Blumenthal, read by William Hughes: This book is so far out of my comfort zone. I don’t really read about politics, but my good friend and I wanted to know more about the current political landscape and the modern Republican party and this was the book we settled on. It, honestly, wasn’t the right one, but it was an interesting read about how corruption among Evangelical Christian leaders infiltrated the party at large. It is a book with a very very narrow scope that was not quite what I was looking for. I don’t think it’s the kind of book you would want to read if you had never read a book about US politics before. Narration by William Hughes was great, but I had a hard time distinguishing between when quotations began and ended, which left me feeling very confused for much of the audiobook. I think it’s also much more obvious when authors overuse obscure words when you listen to the audio and I cringed every time he used the words cadre and scion.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, read by Mandy Williams & Justine Eyre: I loved this book as much as you promised I would, though I don’t know that audio was really the way to go. It was a lovely audio, the narrator was great, but I think it would have really helped me visualize this world to read the book. With the audio, I had a harder time understanding what was going on. I’m definitely going to be rereading this one in print, but if you have already read it and you are interested in the audio, I do recommend it. I have to say, this was the kind of book where I was finding excuses to listen.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, read by Tim Robbins: I listened to this right before the movie came out, because I had somehow never had to read it in school and then never picked it up after. I really liked it! Everyone knows the story by now, so I don’t think I really have much else to say about it. The narration by Tim Robbins was a little odd at first. I can’t remember what I didn’t like about it, but I do remember it being off-putting at the beginning. By the end, though, I couldn’t imagine it being read by anyone else. Then there were the delightful “I’m the greatest” letters from Fitzgerald at the end. Those were a lot of fun to listen to.

Shadow & Bone and Siege & Storm by Leigh Bardugo, read by Lauren Fortgang: This series is not perfect and I have a lot of qualms about it. Some of it is structural: the pacing is downright awful in some parts and the main characters we are supposed to be rooting for are frustrating and not in a complex character kind of way. Some of it is cultural: the location and characters are based on Russian/Eastern European/Chinese cultures and they often feel like caricatures. I would have appreciated a much more nuanced and well-researched fantasy world. I do think the magic itself is interesting and I wanted to like this series so much that I kept listening. The narrator is great and makes me care about Alina in a way that I don’t think I would have if I were reading it on my own. I don’t think I’ll be continuing this series for the third one. The more I think about it and the more I read about it, the more disappointed I get.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill, read by Paul Ansdell: This was a perfect spooky read for Halloween! I listened to it during October and it really set the perfect mood for a creepy read. Plus, it is on the shorter side, so it was good for a time when I didn’t have any long car trips to get a big chunk of listening in. It was also good for dipping in and out of the story and for occasional distracted listening. There was one scene that definitely scared me when I was walking home in the dark! Paul Ansdell was a good narrator and I think what stands out to me is his way of sounding completely terrified during his narration. This is a very traditional ghost story, so don’t expect to be blown away by what happens, but it was a fun, seasonal read.

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, read by Jenny Sterling: Saving the best for last! There are so many of you who have recommended Howl’s Moving Castle to me a hundred times and I just never got around to reading it. AND WHAT WAS I WAITING FOR? This was amazing, absolutely everything about it. I really loved the movie, so I didn’t even think it was possible to love the book more, but I did. A lot more. Calcifer is great, Michael has a much larger role, and Howl is just so fussy and wonderful. But best of all was Sophie. Lovely Sophie. How soon can I listen to this book again? Plus! I just had no idea about the world building. I thought it made the story so much more interesting! Jenny Sterling is a dream and completely brought Sophie to life. I love this book to pieces.

Eight audiobooks is definitely a lot for me, but I am planning on listening to a lot more in the next year. I already have The Shining by Stephen King, The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey, Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen, The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan, Horns by Joe Hill, Angelmaker by Nick Harkaway, Feast of Souls by CS Friedman, and The Golem & The Jinni by Helene Wecker waiting for me.

Did you listen to audiobooks in 2013? Which one was your favorite?

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Translations I Want to Read in 2014

Posted by in Books

translationsOne of my primary goals in 2014 is to read more translations. I barely read any this year – I think I counted one. So for the past few days, I have been researching translations and deciding which ones are high on my list for 2014. Here are a few options that have me wishing I had a bigger book budget!

The Light and the Dark by Mikhail Shishkin - Two lovers separated not only by space, but also time, exchange love letters. Shishkin is the only writer to have won all three of Russia’s top literary prizes. This Guardian review convinced me that this is a book that I will fall in love with.

Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Kai-cheung Dung - A fictional world with a lost city called Victoria and the future archaeologists who try to reconstruct it. Dung has been compared to Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, and Italo Calvino.

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino - When I mentioned my quest to read more translations, Aarti suggested Italo Calvino and her favorite of his, Invisible Cities. It seems like there are some similarities between Atlas and Invisible Cities, so I think it might be fun to read them side by side.

If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler by Italo Calvino - This has been on my TBR for so long! It also happened to be the Kindle Daily Deal the other day, so obviously the universe wants me to read If On A Winter’s Night A Traveler.

A Dictionary of Maqiao by Han Shaogong - The reviews of this one sound amazing, so it breaks my heart a little bit that I’ve never heard of this 2005 novel set in a fictional Chinese village. The novel is organized like a dictionary of the dialect of the town, with each entry a vignette.

The World of the End by Ofir Touche Gafla - This post over at Tor.com has been a great jumping off point for finding science fiction and fantasy novels in translation. For once, I am recommending you read the comments. Ben is destroyed by his wife’s death and is determined to find her, even if that means joining her in the afterlife.

The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma - This book looks like so much fun! Here is the copy from Goodreads: “Set in Victorian London with characters real and imagined, The Map of Time boasts a triple play of intertwined plots in which a skeptical H.G. Wells is called upon to investigate purported incidents of time travel and to save lives and literary classics, including Dracula and The Time Machine, from being wiped from existence.” Obviously I will be reading this.

I’m hoping to read  a lot more translations in 2014, though, so if you have recommendations, please share!

20

How I Read

Posted by in Blogging, Books, Life

In 2008, I read almost exclusively books from the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list. I read a lot of important books. I also didn’t enjoy myself very much.

When I began blogging, I read books to fulfill challenges, books recommended by other bloggers, and, as I got on a few publishing and book tour lists, galleys.

This past year, I read whatever I wanted, when I wanted.

Those are three very different ways to read. I probably read more translations and classics the year of the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list than any other year – I’m not sure I’ve ever been more well-read, in terms of what society and the canon consider to be important reads. But that list can’t sustain me. I need fun; I crave it.  I need balance between the important because someone else said so and the important because I said so.

I also didn’t read a lot of recent releases. Receiving galleys of books not even published yet really made me feel up-to-date with what is being published now. I read books that ended up on year-end lists! This year I’ve hardly read any. As nice as it was to feel like my reading was current, I didn’t like feeling like I was reading on someone else’s schedule.

This year, for the most part, I read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and in a lot of ways it was pure bliss. I bought a lot of books and read them immediately – when was the last time I did that? Instead of letting them sit on my shelf waiting for “the perfect moment,” that moment was the day or week they landed in my mailbox. But I found that I only read one translation, not nearly enough books by people of color, or books set in different places around the world.

This is a long way of introducing how I want to read things in 2014. I really only have one goal for next year: I want to learn things. I want to practice things. I want to get things right. There’s not really a wrong way to read, but this year I want to find that sweet spot between new releases, difficult, important reads, and books that I want to read. I want to read more books by women and I want to read more translations and I want to be a lot more well-informed when it comes to what is showing up on year-end lists.

I want to write down at least one quote from every book I read. I used to start out every review this way and I miss having a record of the piece of the book I loved the very most. I want to read more purposefully, but at the same time, not feel trapped by my purpose.

I don’t want to set myself up for failure. I don’t want to say I’m going to read one translation a month or read 30 books from around the world. I just want to be aware of what I want, of the kind of reading year I want to have. I want to keep up with the themed reading months. Comics in February, gardening in March, horror and thrillers in October, Nonfiction November. Those months were amazing and focusing so closely on one topic made me feel like I was really learning something about a genre or a topic or a form. I’m not sure what my themed months will be, but I know I’m already looking forward to them.

2014 is going to be the year of learning, the year of practice makes perfect, the year of balance. Or at least the year of trying for all three.

22

ABCs of Thankfulness

Posted by in Life

abcs of thankfulness

My favorite holiday blogging tradition is here! Happy Thanksgiving (or Thursday, if today is not a holiday where you are!). Originally started by Trish way way back in the day.

Andes Mints. When I was little, my amazing, wonderful, missed grandmother kept a box of Andes Mints in her dining room. I remember spending most of Thanksgiving sneaking Andes mints before dinner started and trying to stay out of the way. I thought it was a memory all my own, something that no one else really remembered. Then, when my family and I got together for an early Thanksgiving a few weeks ago, my aunt pulled a HUGE box of Andes Mints out of her purse. I realized then that the memory wasn’t only mine, it was shared with everyone, and that made it all the more special.

Blog. Okay, so I haven’t been the most consistent at this blogging thing this year, but I’m thankful that Regular Rumination is always here for me when I need a place to write down my thoughts.

Crochet. There are a lot of reasons I’m thankful for crochet, but my number one reason is because it is the only thing that will really calm me down when I am in an airplane. I’m a nervous flyer, but the repetition and focus required for crocheting keeps my heart rate down.

Dear Michael, You are someone I am forever grateful for. 

Evenings. The day is winding down, I don’t have to worry about work, dinner has been cooked, there’s just a book to read or a tv show to watch or some sleep to be had.

Feasts. How many times a year do you get to have a feast?

Ghost stories. I’m realizing that these might be some of my favorite kinds of stories. Why did I ever stop reading them?

Health. I am, for the most part, pretty healthy and I am always grateful for that.

Ice cream. So, Michael and I got our own ice cream maker about a year ago and it’s amazing! I love making ice cream at home. I’m thankful for the ice cream, but also for trying out new recipes.

Jam! This year, in addition to making our own ice cream, Michael and I have experimented making our own bread and our own peanut butter. Next on the list? I think it should be jam. So I’m thankful that I still have some homemade goodies to try out and learn how to make, but also because PB&J is just so so good.

Kickstarter. I’m thankful for Kickstarter, among many other things online, to remind me that there are amazing, creative people out there doing new things every day. I’m also really excited for the Veronica Mars movie and for this hot sauce. 

Love. I try to choose different things every year, but I can’t help but give love a special shout out every year. I’m so thankful for all the people in my life whom I love and who love me in return.

Mail order catalogs. I haven’t talked about this much here, but my job in publishing is as a sales rep to mail order catalogs. So, for keeping me gainfully employed, I’m very thankful to mail order catalogs!

November. You are just such a great month.

Oatmeal. Breakfast of champions! I can’t wait to make my first big batch of oatmeal for the season.

Pho. My favorite cold-weather food, not feeling great food, who-am-I-kidding-every-day food.

Quilts. Nothing better than curling up on the couch with a big, warm quilt someone made with love.

Raven Boys, The. This was such a fun book for me this year, but it really represents any book I can get lost in. I’m so thankful for those books that make my commute melt away into nothing.

Siblings. You guys don’t even know how much you mean to me. I love you and I’m so thankful for you!

Too Cute! Guys, have you seen this show? It’s amazing. I can’t have a puppy in my real life, so I’m thankful for Too Cute! to give me my puppy fix.

Unexpected, The. I’m thankful for the times when life throws me something unexpected, whether it’s a new friend when I wasn’t expecting it, a book I didn’t think I was going to love but do, or when something totally surpasses all my expectations.

Variety. I’m thankful for the fact that I relish in variety: I’ll read any genre, try any food, watch any TV show once, etc. etc.

Winter. I’ve always thought I loved every season except winter, but every year I like winter a little bit more. It’s just so nice sometimes to sit in a warm room while the snow is falling outside and you have a hot drink in your hand. Bonus points if there is a fireplace involved.

Nan Xiang Dumpling House. One of the best places to eat in NYC. I’m thankful for you!

YOU. If you’re reading this blog, I’m thankful for you!

Zillions of books. No matter how much I read, I’m always thankful that there’s another book on the shelf waiting for me!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. May it be full of family, food, warmth, happiness, and, of course, a good book.

What I was thankful for in 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009.

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