Sunday, December 17, 2017

My Reading Life

Just Finished

I finished listening to the audiobook this week. It was enjoyable, but I'm not sure whether or not I will continue the Dresden Files series. On the one hand, I'd like to learn more about protagonist Harry Dresden's world of technology-disrupting wizards; batlike, skinwearing vampires; and summonable demons in contemporary Chicago. On the other hand, I'm annoyed by Dresden's casual sexism and apparent belief that women are somehow different from people. I wonder if his character evolves in his conception of women throughout the series, or it's just an uninterrogated feature.

Currently Reading

Still enjoying this collection of Norse poetry and mythology! I didn't realize how big frost-giants were in the lore, or how many names Tolkien took from the Edda--Durin the father of dwarves is straight out of here; there's also a Greybeard, Gudrun, and many similar-sounding names. Also, didn't realize that Freya was a male god, who is not the same as the goddess Frigg/Freyja. Very much in the vein of Homeric poetry and Greek myths, but honestly, cooler.

I started listening to this audiobook from the library. It's historical fiction, narrated by the prophet Nathan, about his experiences with the Biblical King David, and so far does a lot of skipping back and forth in time, which is harder for me with audiobooks, but I'm willing to keep reading for now.

Up Next

My parents got me these books from my list for Hanukkah, so the hardest part is deciding what to read first!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2017

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Top Ten Favorite Books I Read in 2017

1. Resistance, Rebellion, Life 50 Poems Now ed. Amit Majmudar

2. The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

3. Fledgling by Octavia Butler

4. Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong'o

5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
6. Victims and Neighbors by Frances Henry

7. Diving into the Wreck by Adrienne Rich

8. The Magician King and The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman

9. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

10. Small Changes by Marge Piercy

11. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Sunday, December 10, 2017

My Reading Life

State of the Book-Buying Ban

My pre-NaNoWriMo  book-buying ban remains intact. I've bought no books for myself since late October, and plan to continue the ban at least through New Year's. As a result, I've been hitting my TBR shelf and the library...

State of the TBR shelf

I've made some progress since I took this picture in August 2016. Recently, I read and enjoyed Wizard of the Crow, and I finished the two Oz books not too long after this picture was taken. However, some of these books and others not pictured have remained unsullied on the shelf.

Just Finished

I finished Warp by Lev Grossman, which deserves its status as a little-known forerunner of The Magicians trilogy (to be clear, it's not a prequel, but I can see where its talents and influences bloomed into The Magicians).

I finished Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, a library audiobook, and now I see what the fuss is about. It's a clever mash-up of fantasy, contemporary, and romance set in a college environment. I especially loved how Rowell explored the world of fanfiction, and it read so real to me that I didn't realize she didn't grow up with fanfiction the way the protagonist, Cath, does, which makes it even more impressive.

I also DNF-ed The Sweet Dove Died by Barbara Pym. The writing style was delicious, like a twentieth-century Jane Austen, but I didn't care for the characters and couldn't find anything redeeming in them or particularly interesting in their actions.

Currently Reading

Currently, I'm listening to another library audiobook, Storm Front by Jim Butcher, the first in the Dresden Files series. So far, it's okay, although I'm not loving the narrator/protagonist Harry Dresden's "old-fashioned guy" persona (he goes on a rant about how opening doors for the 'fairer sex' can't possibly be wrong) in this day and age.

I'm also currently reading a translation of The Elder Edda, an ancient compilation of Nordic myths. So far, I'm enjoying it!

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Top Ten Books I'd Like for Hanukkah

Hanukkah starts Tues. Dec. 12 this year, so I'm jumping ahead from this week's Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Top Ten Books I'd Like for Hanukkah

1. Brave New Girls: Stories of Girls Who Science and Scheme Ed. Paige Daniels and Mary Fan

I found the first Brave New Girls book at Shore Leave con, where I met Mary Fan. I loved every. single. story. They were strong, adventurous scifi tales with female protagonists and next to zero romance. I hope the second anthology is just as strong!

2. Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

I need to finally finish this trilogy!

3. L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home by David Lebovitz

The Sweet Life in Paris makes me laugh so hard, and I've reread it so many times. I hope this is more of the same!

4. Blood of Elves by Andrzej Sapkowski

I enjoy watching my husband play the Witcher game that's based on this novel, so I imagine I would enjoy it!

5. The Gatekeepers by Jen Lancaster (or anything by Jen Lancaster)

I've enjoyed three of Lancaster's memoirs (Bitter is the New Black, The Tao of Martha, Jeneration X), so I'm willing to give her novel a shot. I've had mixed luck with crossing genres with authors, for example, I love Alison Weir's histories, but her novels fall flat for me. Still, if Lancaster can make me laugh as much with a novel as with a memoir, I'll be sold.

6. The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

I've read some intriguing reviews and excerpts!

7.  Best American Poetry 2017

Does poetry quality increase in correspondence to political terribleness? Or do I just need it more?

8. The Palace Job by Patrick Weekes

This seems like a cute fantasy novel meets heist movie, and I could use some escapism.

9.  Mandelbrot the Magnificent by Liz Ziemska

I read and enjoyed an excerpt on from this novel about mathematician Benoit Mandelbrot, and it fits with a push I'm planning to read more Jewish fiction  in 2018.

10. Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton

It's been described as Pride and Prejudice meets dragons. Enough said.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

NaNoWriMo 2017

This year, I hit not quite 29k. Better than last year, but no 50,000 word win.

I'm not feeling as disappointed as last year, however. As opposed to last year, I didn't restrict myself only to the novel, and so I've written a number of shorter pieces that I could edit and publish. Plus, I've learned that I need more research, and have a better idea of the details I need to finish. 

NaNoWriMo has been helpful in getting me to just write, and I realize that, even if 1, 667 words a day is unrealistic for my life right now, 500 or so daily words are achievable. 

I'm looking forward to writing more for the rest of this month and in 2018. The adventure continues. 

Friday, November 24, 2017

NaNoWriMo Update

It's Day 24 (secret Day 26), and I'm over 26k, already better than I did last year. However, I don't think I will hit the 50k goal.

This writing process has been messier and less productive, but it's taught me that I can write in a "pants" as well as "plan" style, although my hypothesis that planning works better for me remains supported.

After this month is over, I plan to see if my hypothesis that I needed more research for this project is accurate. I'm not sure how much I will need, but one month of research was clearly not enough. Three months? Perhaps.

I've found that updating my word count is extremely motivating for me. Competing for my personal best compels me. When the word counter ends on Nov. 30, I'll try tracking number of research hours, since hour-tracking is a new option on the WriMo dashboard.

As all the motivational messages sent to my inbox remind me, at the end of the month, I'll have more words written than I did on Nov. 1.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

NaNoWriMo and Research Books Pic

Day 6 of NaNoWriMo (really, Day 8, for me), and I'm up to 11, 112 words. I'm writing in bits and pieces, and I don't know what's coming each day, so it's a much more nerve-wracking process than the first time around, but it's working so far.

Below is a picture of my research books, all nonfiction from my novel's time period, with the exception of The Book Thief, which I've meant to read for years, and now turned out to be the perfect moment. My favorite of the nonfiction so far is Victims and Neighbors, a study of the surviving Germans and Jews from one small town in Germany: the author's grandparents' hometown. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the subject.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders

It's Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Top Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders

(I tried to think mostly of characters who are/were not actually leaders...yet)

1. Jo March

2. Harriet the Spy

3. Hermione Granger

4. Felicity Merriman

5. Kestrel

6. Faramir

7. Eowyn

8. Lauren Olamina


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts hosted by Bookishly Boisterous

1. I'm planning to start NaNoWriMo this weekend since Nov. 1 is a Wednesday. However, although I did a fair amount of research (I'll add a pic of my research stack later), I'm feeling anxious because I didn't finish 50,000 words last year.

2. I'm continuing the same historical novel from last year, but also have a couple of other writing projects in mind just to stimulate word count. However, although I finished my first NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words, finished the novel in under three months, and hardly even felt blocked, maybe this model doesn't work for this kind of book for me.  It was so cool for me to be like --OMG I can just WRITE a novel--but maybe I have to realize that I won't always be able to just bang out a novel!

3. I'm reading The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o right now, and I unfortunately forgot it for lunch today, and can't wait to get back to it tonight. It's been on my TBR for several years and I'm so into it, so, yes, KonMari is wrong about not keeping books you haven't read yet.

4. I've bought waaay too many books lately, largely because I've discovered eBay, which, yes I've been aware it exists, but I didn't start looking at it until wedding stuff and then I realized there are so many rare and used books, and it's so cheap...but I've bought about 14 books in the past two months (mostly for book research, which is my excuse) and I need to stop.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Things I Want to (Want to) Write About

It's been awhile since I've written here, but I haven't stopped reading.

1. In fact, as of yesterday, I finished my Goodreads goal to read 52 books this year:

I didn't know about the nifty 'Completed' sash, but it sure feels satisfying. After my first year of Goodreads, I'm overall satisfied but not impressed. The most addictive quality of Goodreads is ticking off your self-set reading goal one-by-one, similar to NaNoWriMo's word counter, but otherwise, there's less functionality than I thought in terms of categorizing books, and I've found Goodreads' recommendations less helpful than finding books from other bloggers or browsing in the library. Still, I'll probably continue for next year at least; I'm contemplating the slightly loftier goal of 54.

2. Similarly, after my first year of The Economist, I'm satisfied, but not impressed, this time, with my own reading abilities. I had hoped The Economist would provide more worldly and economic/financial knowledge for me, and also that I would manage to read a majority of the weekly issues. Although I do think my awareness of international issues has improved (for example, I've been following outsourced private schools in Liberia, charges against Brazil's president, the rise of Macron, and so on), I've found that I tend to skip and skim the boring financial articles, and I don't feel like I understand economics much better than I did before. Finally, although I read far more issues than I did when I subscribed to The New Yorker, I still don't feel like the price (or waste) is worth the number of magazines I toss unopened or barely skimmed. Instead, I'm planning to replace my Economist subscription next year with a subscription to three or more local literary magazines (because I can do that at the same price point). That leads neatly into my next topic...

3. Poetry feels essential at this moment. I'm drowning in it happily. Besides full-length collections, of which I've read at least as many as last year (2-3, not bothering to check), I'm subscribed to the Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day, sent directly to my inbox, and I find myself clicking on links to poems on Facebook, Twitter, everywhere. It's a refuge and an outcry that seems to find its expression best no other way.

4. I want to write more about The Cooking Gene, and also I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and attended an event to hear her talk in person about dealing (or choosing not to deal) with her daughter's hair because some things are more important than looks and how some of the characters in the book would have gone to New Zealand today instead of America. Adichie is a fabulous speaker, and I highly, highly recommend you try to attend an event with her, and furthermore, I'm proud of myself for finishing her book, and also it took two days because I was so entranced. And also, the book is set in Nigeria, and the food mentioned was familiar to me--not because I've ever eaten fufu or soup made with palm oil, but because I'd recently finished The Cooking Gene--and there was nothing like his descriptions matching up with the food in a completely unrelated African novel to drive home his thesis about the African origins of American Southern food.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Fall is always the big TBR when all the big doorstop bestsellers come out...but this year, I'm doing pretty well with what I wanted to read and feeling pretty laidback about the rest. Three books out this fall are from folks I know: in real life, The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty; in blogging life, Reading People by Modern Mrs. Darcy and Smitten Kitchen Everyday by Smitten Kitchen.

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

1. The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

Been waiting to read this for at least a year, maybe more, and now I'm almost finished!

2. Reading People by Anne Bogel

Also just finished this one, which I also preordered. I wasn't sure exactly what it would be like, but it was like a group of blog posts on different personality tests, which I did find interesting. A handy guide to dip into when I want to reflect on aspects of my personality.

3. Smitten Kitchen Everyday by Deb Perelman

This one isn't out yet, but she's coming to DC, so I'm going to hear her talk!

4. The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

Sounded like an interesting collection of short stories, and I'm a fan of Jane Yolen's children's book The Devil's Arithmetic from way back.

5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (or anything else by her)

I've read some short stories, but despite her popularity, haven't managed to read any of her books or full collections yet. Purple Hibiscus is the One Maryland, One Book for this year, and I'm planning to see her talk next week!

6. Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

I love everything I've read by James McBride, so I'm excited.

7. Future Home of the Living G-d by Louise Erdrich

I'm kind of so-so about what I've read of Erdrich's in the past, but this dystopian concept intrigues me.

8. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

It's supposed to be similar to The Handmaid's Tale, so I'm in for this. 

9. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hugely popular this year and representative of this era of refugees.

10. Tales of Two Americas, edited by John Freemen and Nasty Women, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

Two short story collections about current political divides; hoping for some grace and clarity. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Reading Life Continued

Finished This Past Week:

I found this at my local Little Free Library just a couple of days before I embarked on a train journey over Labor Day Weekend. It was the perfect slim size to bring with me and to read on the train. My second book of poetry in only a couple weeks. Highly recommend Adrienne Rich, and looking forward to reading more of her collections.

Currently Reading:

I'm about halfway through reading The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty, my former Hebrew school teacher turned African American culinary historian. Twitty uses his own family to define and describe the intertwined African American cultures and food, and as I was when I learned from him, I'm impressed by his bravery in confronting the horrors visited upon his ancestors. He doesn't shy away from the rape of his foremothers nor from claiming those white male fathers as his ancestors as well. Although his food typically has a healing, collaborative message, he also includes recipes for the cornmeal mush fed to slave children in a trough and the slurry sometimes force-fed to African captives on slaver's ships. I've never read anything quite like this before, and I'm glad he wrote it.

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it in an Instagram picture, but by the time I got it, it was summer, and it sat on my shelf for a while. I tried reading it, but I just wasn't in the mood. However, last night, after I had to put down The Cooking Gene, but still wanted something to read, I picked it up again, and it's clicking better. It certainly feels like fall around here already, and though I'm a sworn summer aficionado, I'm trying to be excited.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

More Reading Life

Finished This Past Week:

It's hard for me to talk about how I feel about poetry. But I read this straight through, and even though I liked some poems better than others, I was feeling the whole spirit of this anthology.

After a run of unusual reads for me (nonfiction, short stories, poems), I got back to my roots with an Octavia Butler science fiction novel. Fledgling was her last book and it didn't disappoint. Butler turns the myth of vampires among us into a thought experiment on mutualism and group marriage sustained by chemical bonds, plus darker skin as a genetic advantage. Like a lot of her other books, it thinks about how humanity and relationships would be different with different types of chemical and biological relations. Shori, a vampire-type creature known as an Ina, which in Butler's version is a distinct species, needs to drink human blood to survive, BUT her human symbionts benefit from pleasure, longer life, and improved healing. Both Shori and her symbionts are chemically bonded to one another--and she naturally needs several in order to sustain her without harming any. Unlike other Ina, Shori is genetically engineered with darker skin so that she is able to walk in the daylight. This causes the main source of conflict in the book but there are interesting undercurrents of gender, racial, economic, and political power dynamics as well. This was supposed to be a trilogy, and I wish Butler had gotten to finish it.

So, I finally read this. It's okay as fanfiction, which is what I consider it. I'm also sure it's better seeing it performed than reading the script. but I refuse to consider this the eighth Harry Potter book. There is no such thing.

Next Up:

Pretty amazing that I actually have this! I've had it on preorder forever. Twitty was my Hebrew school teacher, one of the only ones I actually liked, so I'm happy to support him. It's also kind of cool that when I go to a tavern in Williamsburg, his recipes are on the menu. Interested to learn more about his journey as a culinary expert in African American cuisine; also looking forward to learning more about his research on his family, which I remember learning about in Hebrew school!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reading Life

Recently Finished:

I finished Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun on the plane back from Boston. I bought it that day at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Although it's not at all what I expected (I thought it would be snarky toasts about her friends' misguided love lives), I devoured her reflections on the realities of her own marriage. As a newlywed, I enjoyed it and I'm sure others will too.

Almost Finished:

I enjoy travel writing, but these are overly focused on remote corners of Africa and Alaska for my taste. I did enjoy the story about saving the books of Timbuktu and the story involving writers and libraries in the American South.

Next Up:

Also purchased at Porter Square Books, I've already started dipping into these timely poems.