mini-review · Overdue Reads · stuff I read

The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris by John Baxter

Summary from Goodreads:
“A man with a great appreciation of what makes Paris tick.” —Newsday

Fromthe author of Immoveable Feast and We’ll Always Have Paris comes aguided tour of the most beautiful walks through the City of Light, includingthe favorite walking routes of the many of the acclaimed artists and writerswho have called Paris their home. Baxter highlights hidden treasures along theSeine, treasured markets at Place d’Aligre, thefavorite ambles of Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, and Sylvia Beach, andmore, in a series of intimate vignettes that evoke the best parts of Paris’smany charms. Baxter’s unforgettable chronicle reveals how walking is the bestway to experience romance, history, and pleasures off the beaten path . . . notonly of La Ville-Lumière, but also, perhaps, of life itself.

Proof positive that I never get rid of an advance copy until I’ve read it – The Most Beautiful Walk in the World got lost in the jumble of moving about 5 years ago and I only just recently unearthed it.

This is a nice, easily digestible book about a non-native, resident Parisian’s favorite way to enjoy the city – by walking through its various neighborhoods and enjoying the strangeness of history. A fun read for winter.

Dear FTC: I got a galley of this book FOREVER ago and I finally found it and read it!

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Overdue Reads · Read Harder · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Diversely · Reading Matters · SRC

Smell ‘ya later, 2015! Get on in here, 2016! (Come for the books, stay for the pie!)

2015 is being crammed in the recycle bin, hello 2016!  This has been a year of amazing reading and life and I think it was pretty damned excellent.

So, how did I do on non-reading resolutions posted back in January 2015?

1. Be mindful in my reading and bookish purchases – keeping this up will help so much with financial responsibility and the general amount of excess stuff in my house that I will never get around to reading/liking/re-reading. – This resolution went well until about fall and then ALL the books were published, so not terrible but not great.
2. Be timely on reviews – such a big deal, especially for books that I have requested as a reviewer (I know that there has been a lot of discussion in the book blogging community about what is “owed” to a publisher but, in my opinion, if a publicist, etc. has taken the time to send me an ARC or DRC then I should return the gesture by reading and reviewing the book in a timely manner). – Slightly better, but I tend to have review-writing binges because, let’s be honest, I like to read books far more than write about them even if I do like to write about them.
3. Drink more water – do I need to drink as much Dt. Pepsi as I do? No. Although, #deathbeforedecaf is still a mantra (you cannot separate me from my coffee). – eh, I did better not buying two+ mochas per day? I made my own coffee?  Didn’t drink that much more water.
4. Move more – the hip (and knees and back) and I have come to an agreement on ways of moving so I should be able to at least get on the elliptical and basic weights at the gym. – The hip got worse (in fact, I had two cortisone shots last week) so gym was not an option but I did walk a lot.
5. Cook for myself – I got a Dutch oven and new pots and pans for Christmas so this year the goal is to wean myself off of frozen dinners for 2/3 of my meals (they are handy, but my MSG-sensitivity is much less of an issue if I cook food for myself). – This went really well.  Fell off a bit in the summer but got back in the cooking groove in September.
6. Be brave – I still hate having my picture taken or meeting new people but I need to keep putting myself out there. Nothing gets accomplished by holing up in my house with the cats and books and not interacting with actual people in a social setting.
7. Take a vacation – I hope (HOPE HOPE) to have the finances sorted out enough to visit my friend Kate and see Rhinebeck (aka New York Sheep and Wool) this year. ALSO, Book Riot announced their first live event in early November in NYC and I really, really, really want to go to that, too. (And see my friend Beth! And maybe Karen!)
8. Relax – cf. resolution #7. – For 6, 7, and 8, this is all down to Book Riot Live.  I took a real vacation and flew out to see Beth for a few days then we went to BRL which was amazing.  And I rode the subway all by myself.

And now for the pie!!  Pie charts!

To start, I blew past last year’s total of 195 books with 269 books (I had a brief spat with Goodreads, who thought I’d read 270 but it turns out the site had recorded a “finish date” for a book in progress…data, man).  I read so much great stuff this year, too many to pick a favorite, but standouts include runs of ODY-C and The Wicked + The Divine, Between the World and Me, Citizen, Come as You Are, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, The Rogue Not Taken, Dancer, Edinburgh, When a Scot Ties the Knot, and The World Between Two Covers, which influenced a lot of my book purchasing and reading for the rest of the year and beyond.

How many different genres did I read?  More books = more genres!

 

I leaned farther toward physical formats than digital this year, mostly due to a dislike of how Comixology was redesigned after the sale.  I let my subscriptions expire there and transferred them to my LCS (Geek City Games and Comics, holla!) if I wanted any of the new runs.  This will also be the last year for Oyster in my stats (boo!) but in July the three local libraries pooled their digital resources to make Digital Johnson County – now I can borrow ebooks and e-audiobooks using Overdrive!

Speaking of library use, I put that library card (all three) to good use this year and started snagging library books and audio CDs instead of buying all the things.

This year I started tracking whether the book was translated into English, a result of my having read The World Between Two Covers.  An informal count for last year puts my number of “books read in translation” under 10 so this is an improvement.

How about the percentage of genders?

This was the first year in a long while – since 2006 –  that male authors crept up to the 50% mark, due to the runs of ODY-C, The Wicked + The Divine, and Wayward where the writers and authors are male (white males, too, which will come up again in a bit), to the tune of 20+ issues read in physical comic form.  In contrast, my aversion to the Comixology format caused me to forgo reading Ms. Marvel in issues and wait until the last two trades were available in paperback to read them – changing approximately 11-12 issues into two books.  It changes the “opportunities” in the data for G. Willow Wilson.  Also worth pointing out, to my knowledge all of these authors are cis-gendered; I don’t really track orientation, though I know a number of authors I read in 2015 are gay or lesbian.

So here’s the big, big deal: did I read more authors of color?  Last year, only 11 of 195 (5.6%) authors were non-white so I gave myself a D- in Diversity.  This year:

Not a great jump, 15.5% non-white, but at least it didn’t go backward.  So I will advance myself to D+ status.  Still, not a passing grade.

I decided to do a second breakdown, this time race by genre, to see where non-white authors are coming into my reading and where I really need to start looking (and actually reading – I have a lot of POC in my TBR stacks).  I deliberately didn’t combine comics and graphic novels/manga so I could see that all the comics issues have white writers (to be honest, the East Asian authors in the GN/Manga bar are all from the manga genre).  There are a lot of places to improve.  A LOT.

My reading is still very heavily from Anglophone countries, however, my reading The World Between Two Covers did prod me to widen my reading to include more authors with origins outside my very safe US/UK/Canadian reading borders.

What are my plans for 2016?

1. #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks
2. Be timely on reviews – I have made serious use of my OmniFocus apps to get the release dates for DRCs/ARCs I have organized and to help my organize my reading into individual tasks (GTD FTW!!) which should (ideally) help with getting reviews written and posted in a more timely manner.
3. Drink more water – the FitBit app can help track this, so I should use it.
4. Move more – the cortisone shots take full effect by the end of January so I hope to at least be back on the elliptical in a regular manner.
5. Cook for myself – this is going really well.  I also received My Kitchen Year by Ruth Reichl and I want to make all the things!  This is also good for the budget.
6. Be brave – I’m better at not hiding in general but if you throw me into a crowd by myself I tend to either not talk to people or glom onto the one person I actually know and talk A LOT (read: too much about nothing in general).  And in that vein…
7. I am going to BEA!!!  I just got registered for my very first BEA (ouch, the dollars) so I will have to be super brave, and network, and find my way around a huge convention center filled with people and not glom onto my roommates for the week.
8. Stop driving to work – last week was a bust with the cortisone shots, but this week in taking the bus to work rather than driving has been going well.  I hope to keep it up because $10-15 per day to park the car (plus the extra gasoline) vs. $2 per day riding the bus is a way better fiscal plan.
9. Last, but certainly not the least at all, I need to increase the percentage of books and comics I read that are written by non-white authors.  Some genres (like fiction) will be a simple matter of reading books already on my TBR, others (comics, romance, biography, sciences) need me to put forth a far more conscious effort.  I would also like to start tracking LGBTQIA as best I can – I use a relational database, so it’s not hard to add and even compare to previous years, but this might take more than just reading an author’s bio.  People do not fit neatly into boxes, and I certainly don’t want a world where each author fills out a form and checks all the boxes related to diversity just because that makes it easy for poor little me, but I need to think about how to look for that information.  (My default right now is “white, cis-gendered, straight, USA” if I can’t find information that is self-identified otherwise.)  I’ll try to take a look at reading stats at least halfway through the year, if not more, to see how I’m doing.

And that’s it!  Bring it, 2016!

Nobel Project · Overdue Reads · Reading Diversely · stuff I read · too many books

The World Between Two Covers by Ann Morgan

Summary from Goodreads:
A beguiling exploration of the joys of reading across boundaries, inspired by the author’s year-long journey through a book from every country.

Following an impulse to read more internationally, journalist Ann Morgan undertook first to define “the world” and then to find a story from each of 196 nations. Tireless in her quest and assisted by generous, far-flung strangers, Morgan discovered not only a treasury of world literature but also the keys to unlock it. Whether considering the difficulties faced by writers in developing nations, movingly illustrated by Burundian Marie-Thérese Toyi’s Weep Not, Refugee; tracing the use of local myths in the fantastically successful Samoan YA series Telesa; delving into questions of censorship and propaganda while sourcing a title from North Korea; or simply getting hold of The Corsair, the first Qatari novel to be translated into English, Morgan illuminates with wit, warmth, and insight how stories are written the world over and how place-geographical, historical, virtual-shapes the books we read and write.

Some time in late-2012 I stumbled across a blog titled A Year of Reading the World.  This very nice lady, Ann Morgan, was apparently wrapping up a year-long blog project wherein she read a book from every country in the world.  Plus a territory chosen by poll from her readers.  197 books in all.

197 books, one from each country.  Translated into English.  (2012, for me, was the year I read 192 books, mostly romance novels because my mother was undergoing treatment for cancer and I couldn’t handle much else.  So Ann’s project caught me attention simply for her level of ambition – I have blog projects, but I am absolutely the worst at reading to list or schedule or timetable.)  As 2013 rolled in, I backed up to the beginning of Ann’s blog and read it all from the beginning.  Not only did she find some really interesting books to read she also had a fair amount of trouble getting books to read from more countries than I would have guessed.  Ann’s experience led me to check and see how much in-translation work I read….which, like my percentage of POC authors, was pretty terrible.  And then Ann announced she’d been offered a book deal based on her blog….

https://www.tumblr.com/search/Kermit-flail#

(Full disclosure: once I found out that Norton’s Liveright imprint was going to publish the US edition I begged a galley off them.  I have no regrets.)

The US title of Ann’s book is The World Between Two Covers and if you thought it was going to be a potted, bound version of the blog you’re going to be disappointed.  What the book turned out to be is a very well-written examination of why the Anglophone (specifically UK via Ann’s experience and US by extension) reading population and publishing arm reads little world literature, particularly in translation.  At best estimate approximately only 3% of non-Anglophone world literature is translated and published in English.  Only 3%.  That’s terrible.

Ann touched briefly on many translation or publication issues on her blog but the book allows her to expand her topics in a very accessibly way.  There are a number of roadblocks one encounters when trying to find and read literature by authors (and, by extension, purchase legally) from, say, Burkina Faso or Nepal or Kuwait or Monaco or Lichtenstein.  New countries may not have a strong press or literature tradition (or even a written tradition as we define it in Western literature, as Ann found with some island nations).  Some authors turn increasingly to the ebook self-publishing industry for publication and access to readers, some are fleetingly available through small specialty presses. A huge list of books to read can be derived from Ann’s work both in the actual 197 books she read in 2012 and the books she references in mulling over her experience.  The World Between Two Covers will make you think and grow your TBR list by leaps and bounds – which is exactly what happened to me.  You can also watch me natter on about this in two videos – I talk about the book and then about some recommendations for literature in translation.

And I made a display at the store because, ugh, so much good stuff to read.

Recommendation: buy this sucker and read the heck out of it, pen in hand.

Dear FTC: I requested an ARC from the publisher, nearly read the cover off, and had to buy a nice, clean copy for my shelf.

Overdue Reads · stuff I read

The Marquise of O- and Other Stories (Penguin Classics)

Summary from Goodreads:

From ‘The Marquis of O–‘, in which a woman is made pregnant without her knowledge, to the vivid and inexplicable suffering portrayed in ‘The Earthquake in Chile’, his stories are those of a man swimming against the tide of the German Enlightenment, unable to believe in the idealistic humanism of his day, and who sees human nature as irrational, ambiguous and baffling. It is this loss of faith, together with his vulnerability and disequilibrium, his pronounced sense of evil, his desperate challenge to established values and beliefs, that carries Kleist more forcefully than Goethe or Schiller across the gap between the eighteenth century and today.

Francine Prose put me onto Heinrich von Kleist’s The Marquise of O- after I read her book Reading Like a Writer.  She recommended him for his sentences and the construction of his plot.  I was also intrigued how her students got into the story of the titular Marquise.  And then there is the story of von Kleist himself, a man who very likely had serious mental health issues (undiagnosed in early 19th century Germany) and died in a murder-suicide pact with a terminally ill young woman.

OK, I’ll bite.

In spite of an almost three-year gap – I read “The Marquise of O-” and “The Duel” then the cats managed to shove the book behind the nightstand – I finished this collection of von Kleist’s weird, dense, and occasionally supernatural stories of injustice.  Obviously, the Marquise’s story is going to have a lot of triggers for some people with it’s themes of rape, questionable incest, and the improbably happy ending (it works as a story, trust me, but then also raises the question of how many women throughout history have found themselves in such a position….chilling).  Likewise, “The Duel”, “The Earthquake in Chile”, and “The Betrothal in Santo Domingo” all deal with the supposed chastity or lack thereof of young women; one story ends happily (one of the few stories in this volume with an “up” ending), the other two do not.  “The Beggar Woman of Locarno” is a short-short piece centered on a persistent phantasm.  “St Cecilia or the Power of Music” invokes the supernatural in the form a saint’s protection of her cathedral by striking down trouble-making Protestants.  The longest piece in the book, “Michael Kohlhaas”, is the novella-length story of a horse-dealer’s long, treacherous, and tragic search for justice against a corrupt system.  Very moving.

Definitely a collection of stories to read alongside von Kleist’s contemporaries Goethe and Hoffman.

Dear FTC: I purchased my copy of this book.

Overdue Reads · random · stuff I read

Out with the old, in with the new: Hello, 2014!

The thing about New Year’s Day is that it always comes sniffing around when I’m not ready for it.  But, so long, 2013 – it was nice knowing you.

My goal was to read 120 books – so I read 167 books last year, of course, since I’m that sort of over-achiever.  That made 49,369 pages read (or so, I think a few things didn’t have a page count in GR).

I read books of all kinds, so definitely a different genre spread than last year, and so many great books came out this year that I couldn’t choose just one favorite book this year: When Women Were BirdsCloud Atlas, Eleanor and Park, Fangirl, A Sport and a Pastime, No Good Duke Goes Unpunished, The Secret History, Night Film, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Once Upon a Tower, and Sex Criminals (easily the best comic I read this year).  As to least favorite book, that one goes to Joshilyn Jackson’s Someone Else’s Love Story which I loathed with the fire of a thousand suns and wonder why I didn’t give it one star (if you want to know why I finished it, I had to review it for Brazen Reads).  I had one official DNF, Big Girl Panties, because I really couldn’t get past the “hero’s” i-can’t-be-seen-with-an-unattractive/overweight-person-because-it-will-make-me-look-bad attitude (sad, because I got it for review from Avon, but I really didn’t want to waste my reading time).

Speaking of Avon, I had some bookish adventures this year.  I lived up to my resolutions of “Be brave” and “Take a vacation” by taking an overnight trip to see Eloisa James and Tessa Dare at Anderson’s Bookshop (PS: we did not coordinate our clothes, haha).

I went all by my little lonesome and had a wonderful time at a pre-event meet-and-greet at a chocolate cafe nearby and met some of the lovely ladies from the Eloisa’s Ambassadors Facebook group.  That same day I found out that I had been accepted into the Avon Addicts program, which I had applied to on some wild-haired whim, thinking I’d never get accepted in a bazillion years.  Such a great group of ladies, editors, and authors!  It threw my romance reading-and-reviewing schedule into a tizzy, from which it still hasn’t recovered but I’ll catch up.  My third bookish adventure involves book subscriptions.  I decided to try on the new streaming/lending ebook service, Oyster, once it came available for iPad – it has a gorgeous interface and a ton of books to borrow for only $10/mo.  This has the backlist that my local public library can’t afford so it’s so worth the price.  I also subscribed to Melville House’s Art of the Novella series and it’s been fabulous so far.

The one project I didn’t do so well with was my Overdue Reads project and other ongoing projects I have (see the tabs up there? Those).  Although I tried to be more focused with my reading it was still all over the map, very mercurial, and my reviewing is shamefully behind.  To that end, here are my new resolutions:

1.  Be mindful in my reading and bookish purchases – I do not need to purchase every, single book I come across, which is a serious vice of mine.  I cannot single-handedly keep the book industry floating (that has to be the subconscious urge, I’m sure of it).  I already own a ton (literally, I’m surprised the house joists are holding firm) of books and therefore need to read or start/dnf what I already have rather than purchase more books to join them on the unread shelves.  I also need to stay more current with my reading projects so those actually move forward and be smarter at managing my “start-itis” with books (and knitting).  I have challenged myself to read 130 books this year.

2.  Be timely on reviews – reading a book will always be more enticing than writing a review, but I have so many unwritten/half-written/not-even-started reviews that I have some major catching up to do.
3.  Drink more water.
4.  Move more (the Fitbit is helping, but I need to be better at going to the gym).
5.  Cook for myself – ongoing, but I did much better in 2013.  I didn’t eat nearly as much fast food.  Coffeehouse lattes/mochas are still a weakness, though.
6.  Be brave.
7.  Take a vacation (I have plans….).
8.  Relax.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

ETA: It was actually 168 books in 2013 (with 49,401 pages read) – I had missed getting the date on the third issue of Sex Criminals. Oops.

mini-review · Overdue Reads · stuff I read

The Secret History

Summary from Goodreads:
Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning….

The Secret History is one of those books that opens with the climax of the action then rewinds to tell the story. You’d think that this wouldn’t be compelling but let me tell you, Donna Tartt can tell a story filled with detail like no one else.

Even having read this once before and knowing how all the loose ends tie together, I was unprepared for the level of detail I’d missed on my first reading.  It will likely take a third and maybe a fourth re-read to catch them all.  The details about the twins.  About Henry, about Bunny.  About how we are given some clues to the setting – mid-1980s – but that the protagonists as seen by Richard seem to exist in some time-less void that gives off a vaguely mid-century air.  About how absolutely none of the characters – primary or secondary – are even close to being likeable characters (as Maggie Stiefvater says, they are all terrible people) yet we start to feel sympathy for them against our will.

A fabulous book to wallow in when the weather is nasty and cold.  I finished my re-read of The Secret History during a snowstorm, so now I can move on to The Goldfinch.

mini-review · Overdue Reads · Readathon · stuff I read · YA all the way

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making (Fairyland #1)

Summary from Goodreads:
Twelve-year-old September lives in Omaha, and used to have an ordinary life, until her father went to war and her mother went to work. One day, September is met at her kitchen window by a Green Wind (taking the form of a gentleman in a green jacket), who invites her on an adventure, implying that her help is needed in Fairyland. The new Marquess is unpredictable and fickle, and also not much older than September. Only September can retrieve a talisman the Marquess wants from the enchanted woods, and if she doesn’t . . . then the Marquess will make life impossible for the inhabitants of Fairyland. September is already making new friends, including a book-loving Wyvern and a mysterious boy named Saturday.

With exquisite illustrations by acclaimed artist Ana Juan, Fairyland lives up to the sensation it created when the author first posted it online. For readers of all ages who love the charm of Alice in Wonderland and the soul of The Golden Compass, here is a reading experience unto itself: unforgettable, and so very beautiful.

Catherynne Valente’s new middle-grade series had me at the book name – The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making – and reading it paid off beautifully.  A fabulous concept that is well thought-out and doesn’t dumb things down simply because the intended audience is around middle school-age.  A fairy-tale series for the 21st century.

Also: WYVERNS!!  That is all.

Overdue Reads · stuff I read · YA all the way

The Battle of the Labyrinth/The Last Olympian

So, having read 3/5 of the Percy Jackson series, I still had the last two books to read.  Thence, the Overdue Reads project.  I’ll try not to spoil these two books too much if you haven’t read them.

Poor Percy is starting a new school at the beginning of The Battle of the Labyrinth – as is usual.  His mom’s new boyfriend, Paul, teaches there and he meets Rachel Elizabeth Dare again.  And fights off some empousai who’ve been sent to kill him – which is about normal, too.  Soon he’s back at Camp Half-Blood, training with the new teacher Quintas, and finding an entrance to the Labyrinth.  Annabeth receives the Quest (and the prophecy, of which she withholds a part) and leads Percy, Grover, and Tyson into the Labyrinth to find its Creator, Daedalus, with the hope that he can help them stop Kronos.

The Labyrinth is such a great convention – it is constantly changing, dimensionally amibivalent, and full of traps.  Even if you back up and reverse direction it isn’t the same.  It leads to a breeder of mythological animals (and an Augean stable), a death match, a long-lost god, and a reunion with Luke.  Or is it Kronos?

The Last Olympian starts as Percy and Beckendorf attempt to scuttle Luke/Kronos’s ocean liner.  Well, it turns out there is a traitor among the Camp Half-Blood faction and Beckendorf pays the ultimate price when he sets off the bombs.  His death is yet another set-back for the Campers who are facing division in the ranks when Clarice and the Ares cabin withdraw their support in protest of a division of spoils.  Meanwhile, Annabeth and Percy’s relationship is strained by his friendship with Rachel.  They must ovecome everything to mount a defense of Manhattan and Olympus.

There are such great overtones from The Iliad in the conclusion to the series: a conclusion to a long-standing war, a spat over war spoils leading to a sit-out of needed manpower, a doomed masquerade to lead that faction into battle, and a final fight between enemies.  The revelation of the “last” Olympian was so clever, I really didn’t see it coming.  I also like the history and outcome of the Oracle because it all ties up in the outcome of the battle.

Riordan did a great job tying up the series.  I’ll be going on to read the Heroes of Olympus books but not right away – I’ve got other Overdue Reads to finish.