mini-review · Read Harder · Read My Own Damn Books · Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Ladycastle, written by Delilah S. Dawon, illustrated by Ashley A. Woods and Becca Farrow

34466854Summary from Goodreads:
When the King and all the men of the castle die, it’s time for the women to knight up.

When King Mancastle and his mighty vassals ride off on a crusade, the women left behind are not at all put out—that’s a lot less armor polishing to do. Of course, when the men get themselves eaten by a dragon and leave a curse that attracts monsters to the castle . . . well, the women take umbrage with that.

Now, Merinor, the blacksmith’s wife is King, Princess Aeve is the Captain, and the only remaining (and least capable) knight, Sir Riddick, is tasked with teaching the ladies of the castle how to fight, defend, build, and do all manner of noisy things the men had done while the women assumed they were just drunk.

Novelist Delilah S. Dawson (Star Wars: The Perfect Weapon, As Wicked as She Wants) brings her first original series to the graphic novel world, and is joined by breakthrough illustrator Ashley A. Woods (Niobe: She Is Life) for a rollicking fantasy adventure in Ladycastle.

What do all the women of Mancastle do when all the terrible dudes they are married to/related to go off and get themselves eaten by a dragon and the castle cursed by a wizard? They do all the stuff the men were doing – but better, with more cooperation and much less violence. (The only dude left is the most inept knight who looks like the Santa Claus version of King Pellinore.) They take advice from a Lady in the Pond who dispenses swords, the Well-Hag Hagatha, and a badass castle librarian in a wheelchair to fight off salamanders, werewolves, harpies, and a surprising Big Bad. And they re-name the castle Ladycastle.

I really enjoyed this funny, rompy take on Arthurian legend-ish tales. There were a lot of riffs on Disney movies, musicals, and Monty Python jokes. The writing does hit you over the head with very obvious criticisms of gender norms/stereotypes, compulsory heterosexuality (maybe?, no one seemed to be in a happy heterosexual marriage but no one was in a non-hetero relationship, either, and no one was exactly bemoaning having no dudes around for sexytimes; it wouldn’t have hurt to put an explicitly non-heterosexual partnership or actual genderqueer character on the page rather than some implied coding), and toxic masculinity (all the dudes these women were related to or married to were the actual worst). But sometimes we need the blindingly obvious, though. I very much enjoyed reading Ladycastle and the art was excellent, very straightforward. This is an all-ages comic, not a whole lot of violence, no language or sex.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book to read for the Graphic Novel Book Group at my store. It fulfilled the “read a comic from a publisher other than DC, Marvel, or Image” task for Read Harder.

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mini-review · Read Harder · Reading Women · stuff I read · translation

Jagannath by Karin Tidbeck

35969593Summary from Goodreads:
An award-winning debut story collection by Karin Tidbeck, author of Amatka and heir to Borges, Le Guin, and Lovecraft.

A child is born in a tin can. A switchboard operator finds himself in hell. Three corpulent women float somewhere beyond time. Welcome to the weird world of Karin Tidbeck, the visionary Swedish author of literary sci-fi, speculative fiction, and mind-bending fantasy who has captivated readers around the world. Originally published by the tiny press Cheeky Frawg–the passion project of Ann and Jeff VanderMeer–Jagannath has been celebrated by readers and critics alike, with rave reviews from major outlets and support from lauded peers like China Mieville and even Ursula K. Le Guin herself. These are stories in which fairies haunt quiet towns, and an immortal being discovers the nature of time–stories in which anything is possible.

I had heard that Karin Tidbeck’s Amatka was a good book but I hadn’t got around to reading it, yet. So I was really interested in reading the new edition of her collection Jagannath, originally published by the Vandermeers’ indie press Cheeky Frawg in 2012. Jagannath is an unexpectedly lovely and unsettling collection of short stories that occupy a liminal space between reality and folktales (with a few dips into more mainstream fantasy). This is a collection for fans of Sofia Samatar, Margo Langergan, Amber Sparks, and Laura van den Berg, excellent company indeed. Tidbeck did her own translations for those pieces originally published in Swedish and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference between those originally written in English and the translations.

The new edition of Jagannath is available on February 6.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Read Harder · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi (transl. Jonathan Wright)

30780005Summary from Goodreads:
From the rubble-strewn streets of U.S.-occupied Baghdad, Hadi—a scavenger and an oddball fixture at a local café—collects human body parts and stitches them together to create a corpse. His goal, he claims, is for the government to recognize the parts as people and to give them proper burial. But when the corpse goes missing, a wave of eerie murders sweeps the city, and reports stream in of a horrendous-looking criminal who, though shot, cannot be killed. Hadi soon realizes he’s created a monster, one that needs human flesh to survive—first from the guilty, and then from anyone in its path. A prizewinning novel by “Baghdad’s new literary star” (The New York Times), Frankenstein in Baghdad captures with white-knuckle horror and black humor the surreal reality of contemporary Iraq.

Here is the problem with flap copy and blurbs: this description is only half the story. The novel opens with the description of a division of the Tracking Unit tasked with identifying and tracking threats to the new government and American occupying forces. However, this division has also secretly been using fortune-tellers, astrologers, fakirs, and all sorts of metaphysical methods to attempt to predict where a bombing might occur. They’ve uncovered a criminal who cannot be killed and a journalist who interviewed him and a writer who was provided with confidential materials from the department and wrote a novel about it.  Which has been confiscated.

What we proceed to read then, is that novel. It begins with the elderly widow Elishva, a woman of deep religious convictions, on her way to worship at the Assyrian Christian church and pray to St. George for the return of her lost son, Daniel, who was conscripted by the Baathists over twenty years ago. While she is gone, a bombing takes places near her home in Bataween, an old Iraqi Jewish neighborhood. Once the blast has cleared we meet Hadi, the junk dealer, who is grieving his former business partner lost in a similar incident. The journalist Mahmoud is sent to write about the bombing. And then another bombing happens, this time an attempt on a hotel, and a guard is killed, his body vaporized. Without a body, his soul cannot find rest. It finds a home in the patchwork corpse the traumatized Hadi has assembled from disparate body parts. Claimed by Elishva as her lost son, the creature embarks on a course of vengeance across the city.

Frankenstein in Baghdad is an outstanding metafictional work set in post-invasion Baghdad. Saadawi draws from not only Mary Shelley’s creator and monster but also the idea of the golem to explore ideas of retribution, causation, and responsibility. A wonderful cast of characters populates the Bataween neighborhood at the center of the story. It brought depth and detail to a place in the world so often presented in Western media as a monoculture. The plot is structured in such a way that I really couldn’t predict how it would wrap up. I have to compliment the translator Jonathan Wright for bringing this novel across into English – the language flows beautifully.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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!

Read Harder · Reading Diversely · SRC

Out with 2014, in with 2015! (With Pie Charts!)

2014 is fading into the background so that means its time for little old me to look back at my year of reading.  I had a few reading-related (and other) resolutions for 2014:

1. Be mindful in my reading and bookish purchases – I did really good on this in the second half of the year and really made good use of my library cards (I finally got signed up at ICPL and NL) and my Oyster subscription.
2. Be timely on reviews – I think this was kind of a fail.
3. Drink more water – also kind of a fail.
4. Move more (the Fitbit is helping, but I need to be better at going to the gym) – I was diagnosed with a probable tear in the cartilage in one hip and the gym going was really limited.
5. Cook for myself – I really limited my fast food consumption this year and started remembering to make my own coffee in the morning which helped with the mocha/latte consumption.
6. Be brave – I visited Rebecca of Book Riot when I went to Virginia for the AXS biennial Conclave (and met Amanda, too), I started a YouTube channel, and I also made sure to make use of the new FilmScene art-house movie theatre.
7. Take a vacation – I visited Washington DC with my parents and, of course, stopped by Politics & Prose in Georgetown.
8. Relax – maybe?

So, overall, I think I did pretty good with my resolutions this year.  Now, what about those pie charts I promised…. It’s taken me a few weeks to wrangle my book database but I did!  And I have stats!

This year I used the .csv file generated from Goodreads to build the backbone of my book database in Access (I have an analytics background and am teaching myself SQL so this was several hours of merrily wallowing in code and Google searches and spreadsheets back in February/March).  I’ve been tracking genre, format, gender, nationality, and race this year and I have a little historical data, too.

To start, I smashed my Goodreads goal of 130 books by reading 195 books.  BOOM.  (Yes, I counted comic books as “books” – who cares?)  Some of my favorite books this year were Jenny Offill’s Dept of Speculation, Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation, Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams, Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, Sarah MacLean’s Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover, G. Willow Wilson’s/Adrian Alphona’s Ms. Marvel, Brian K. Vaughan’s/Fiona Staples’s Saga, and Eloisa James’s Three Weeks with Lady X.  And those are just the ones I can remember off the top of my head!

I read a pretty wide range of genres:

And a pretty wide range of formats (I’m about 50/50 or so on paper/digital and that suits me just fine):

My gender breakdown is 60/40 ladies to gents, which makes sense given that a good chunk of my genre reading comes from romance:

The 60/40 split has been pretty steady for a number of years, with the exception of 2012 because romance novels were almost the only thing I could handle reading when my mom was being treated for cancer (a guaranteed happy ending can go a long way…).

Most authors I read come from the US (followed by the UK, Australia, and Canada so it’s really Anglophone up in here):

(and I’m super-sorry about spelling Malaysia wrong – it’s corrected in the database now so should be correct next time I do this).

And what about race/POC?  The issue of reading diversely was huge this year in the book community, particularly on the bookternet.

Yeah, not so good.  I read more POC authors overall, but since I read more books in general the percentage of POC authors I read didn’t go up.

(I deliberately didn’t make the denominator discrete “authors” but counted each book individually in these stats – if I read 7 books by the same author, and that author happens to be white, that should be counted the same as if I read 7 books from 7 different white authors).

So the takeaway here is that I get an A+ in reading but a D- in diversity.

Diversity is one of my big, huge goals for 2015.  I am going to be more mindful about reading authors of color (i.e. not-white) and authors in translation which (in theory) might help with reading more POC authors.  I was really struck by Ann Morgan’s blog A Year of Reading the World – she spent 2012 reading one book from each country on Earth (about 196 books total) – and now has a book coming out where she expands on themes and issues she encountered while trying to locate and read more books by non-UK/Commonwealth writers.  Reading the World will be published in the UK on February 5 and in the US as The World Between Two Covers in May.  I have a galley and am so excited and honored to have received one.  I’m also participating in the Goodreads Seasonal Reading Challenge group and the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge – a number of these tasks require reading non-white, non-US/Anglophone literature – so that will also help me keep my reading goal.

Other 2015 resolutions, which look suspiciously similar to 2014’s resolutions:

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.
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).
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).
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.
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).
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.

And that’s it!  Bring it, 2015!

You can see me holding my iPad up to the camera (and get a serious close-up of my face) in my BookTube video for my 2014 wrap-up – same thing as here, just more visual.