Month: December 2013

2013: The Year in Books

Here we are, at the end of 2013.  It’s time for my Grand Book List, which I skipped last year (as I skipped reading for the most part, but that’s a long story). I’ve read more this year than I have in the past several. It’s possibly the most I’ve ever read. I’m not quite sure how it happened since I have a job, and such. Palmer says reading is a waste of time and a way for unhappy people to forget that they’re unhappy, but I don’t think it is. I’ve had a good year, all told. There is, of course, the Elephant in the Room, which makes everything difficult, but I’ve been dealing with it long enough, now, that it’s not that big of a deal. Reading does help me forget about that, sometimes, which is both good and bad. But I digress. Here, by the way, is an excellent article from Slate about the psychological and moral benefits of reading. So there.

For the past three years, I’ve set a quota for myself: 50 books. I started because, at the end of 2010, I realized that I’d only read about twenty books, which seemed ridiculous. I thought that if I set a goal, I could get my reading back on track. And I did! I squeezed in at the wire, but I did, and I was very proud of myself. In 2012, I set the same goal, but I didn’t even get close. I blame the Elephant – I was sick, my vision was blurry, and I was exhausted. After July of 2012, my world stopped for a while. This January, I decided I could no longer use ye olde Elephant as an excuse, so I jumped in for another fifty. If you pay any attention to my blog, you’ll know that I easily surpassed that number this year. I’m not sure why or how, especially since so many of thee books I read were huge.

Which leads me to a title for 2013: The Year of Long Books. Until this year, I hardly read books over three or four hundred pages because I didn’t think I could get through them. Jumping into A Game of Thrones and getting hooked cured me of that, I think, and I think I’ve decided that I love long books the best because I can get more into them without feeling rushed. That’s not always easy to do with this quota, though.

So here’s my list. Yes, it’s long. I’ll use the same system I used for my 2010 and 2011 lists: Bold means I really liked it, and italics means I really disliked it. If it’s neither of those, it was good enough.

So there you have it. I read some pretty good books this year. But which one is the best? In 2010, the prize went to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, and in 2011, One Hundred Years of Solitude won. Last year, there was no winner, as, well, you know. Elephant. What could I possibly have chosen this year? Drumroll please…

stoner

Yep, Stoner. If you read this blog regularly, you probably saw it coming. Stoner is the best, most amazing novel I’ve read in years. It’s perfect on just about every level. I was crying and entirely speechless by the end of it. Oh, so good.

But Stoner wasn’t the only good novel I read this year, so I’m adding a couple of runners-up. I liked these novels almost as much, though they weren’t quite as mind-blowing as our winner.

orlandoericocean

First, there’s Orlando, which is hilarious and fantastic and addictive. I want to read it again. After some reflection, it definitely wins my top spot in the list of Virginia Woolf‘s novels. I know that a Discworld novel, of all things, probably doesn’t fit in too well, but I absolutely adored Eric, and I can’t help myself. It’s definitely my favorite Discworld novel so far. There’s also The Ocean at the End of the Lane, which is no my favorite of Neil Gaiman‘s because it’s an overwhelming fairytale that I couldn’t quite have understood when I was a child. This one qualifies as mind-blowing, too. I’ll make myself stop there, though I’m having a hard time not adding more.

2013 was definitely a good reading year. So many books make for so many interesting experiences, most of them good. Next year, I’ll do the same, and it’ll be especially pleasant because my super-awesome husband made me a library out of what had been a storage-bedroom in our house. It’s beautiful, but I still need to clean up a bit and hang art before I post official photos. I’ll be spending lots of 2014 curled up in my papasan, feet propped up and reading. I can’t wait.

2013 Book #60: Bleak House

bleakhouseBleak House has been languishing on my bookshelf for years, firmly established in the tl;dr pile. I’m pretty sure it’s even longer than the Game of Thrones books. It certainly took me longer to read. I decided to give it a try after I blazed through several books and wanted to slow down with a long one. That, and Dickens seems to be perfect Christmas-time reading. At some point when I was in high school, I read A Christmas Carol – or enough of it, at least, to pass a test on it. I liked it well enough. I also read Hard Times because a teacher I really respected recommended that I read it. When I was in college, I read exactly zero Dickens, which seems strange to me. The first book I read after I graduated with my English degree, though, was A Tale of Two Cities. Which I loved. I should read that one again, in fact. A couple of years ago, I tried reading Great Expectations, but I couldn’t get through it. And I think I tried David Copperfield at some point, also unsuccessfully. Last year, I reread Hard Times and thoroughly enjoyed it. Anyway.

I started reading Bleak House without really committing to it. It’s really long, and I thought it would be boring. It begins with a long explanation of a civil suit called Jarndyce and Jarndyce. Except it’s funny. I was hooked almost immediately. The plot is so long and complicated that I’ll just note the (early) highlights. There are two points-of-view: an omniscient third person and one from Esther Summerson in first person. Esther is a young orphan who lives with her very severe aunt until said aunt dies, and then she is taken by John Jarndyce, who refuses to be directly involved in said lawsuit, though it affects him. At the same time, he takes in two Jarndyce-related wards, Ada and Richard, who fall in love. We follow these characters and at least a couple dozen more through their lives, all somehow related to Jarndyce and Jarndyce. The title comes from John Jarndyce’s house, which is in no way bleak. We eventually find out where Esther came from, and every little thing is interconnected and resolved neatly by the end. Too neatly, I think, though I guess that’s what I should expect from Dickens.

I loved this book so much, which is especially surprising since I didn’t think I’d even make it through. I certainly didn’t think I’d enjoy every page. There weren’t even rough patches that bored me. My only problem with it is the end because perfectly tied-up endings annoy me. Bleak House made me want to reread A Tale of Two Cities and give David Copperfield another try. I don’t know why this one isn’t up there in popularity with the likes of A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations, except that it’s long as all hell. After reading so many long books this year, I’m amused that I avoided them so much in the past. But I’ll talk about that in my next post.

Also in my next post: the big reveal! Palmer and I have been repainting and otherwise upgrading the front room of our house, which fairly recently became my library. Here’s our grand beginning:

Painting time is fun time.

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The cats played Kitteh Fort with my displaced books. Much fun was had by all.

Here’s the damage. I’m hoping most of them will be back on their shelves by the end of today.

bookpiles

In other, non-book-related news, OpenEmu, a video game emulator (okay, an emulator platform?), was released for mac. This thing is beautiful and super user-friendly. I’d even taken the trouble to compile it when it was still in beta. Now I can play so many of my favorite games – like Zelda: Link’s Awakening. I still had the game, but I didn’t have a Game Boy old enough to play the original games. Fun!

zeldalinksawakening

Now, to finish my library so I can read in it!

Merry Christmas!

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Okay, I haven’t finished my book, so this isn’t a review because I don’t have anything to review yet. In my defense, Bleak House is an especially looooong book, and somehow Dickens doesn’t read as quickly as George R.R. Martin. I’ll probably finish by the end of the year. (I guess now’s the time to write my big end-of-the-year post, anyway. Which I skipped last year. I know.)

So. Since it’s taking me a long time to read this behemoth, and I haven’t posted in a while, I figured I’d offer a Christmas update (in the last half-hour before Doctor Who makes me cry. But that’s neither here nor there). So here goes. And since this post will be mostly photos (and thus very long), I’ll add a Read More here… Continue reading

I’m joining the 2014 TBR Pile Challenge. Yay Reading Things!

dalekread

Wait, you say. Lindsay doesn’t participate in anything, especially when it’s book-related. Book clubs? Bah! Comments? Hellz, no. Reading other people’s blogs? Only when looking for similar (often unpopular) opinions.

Well, in 2014, I want to change that, if only a little bit. I think that the reason I’ve kept this blog for so long is that I write it so selfishly: I started writing in earnest when I realized that I never remember what I’ve read for very long. You know, the time I got halfway through Franny and Zooey before realizing that I’d read it less than a year before? Yeah. It really started after Katrina, when I really got into digital preservation of memories, especially photos, since they can easily be lost. Remembering what I’d read came shortly after, but that was before the days of Goodreads, so I think I started with AllConsuming or, possibly, Shelfari. When I finally switched to Goodreads, I think I transferred all of that there. But the hurricane happened in 2005, and I didn’t start writing about every book I read until 2011. That’s a lot of years, and sometimes I forget what I have and haven’t written about.

Anyway. My blog is very insular because I generally don’t participate in the book-blogosphere since I’m only really writing for myself (except I’m explaining all of this to you, and you aren’t me, so…). In 2014, I’ll give it a whirl. In the beginning, at least. I think I found a good place to start: Roof Beam Reader‘s 2014 TBR Pile Challenge, which aims to help me get through some of the books that have been languishing on my to-be-read list for a while. Here are the basic rules: I have to choose twelve books (and two alternates, in case I can’t get through a couple of them) that have been on my tbr pile for at least a year, which means that they couldn’t have been published in 2013. I have more than enough books like that to fill such a list, so here goes:

  1. The Master and Margarita (Bulgakov)
  2. Under the Net (Murdoch)
  3. The Shadow of the Wind (Zafón)
  4. The Children of Men (P.D. James)
  5. The Ambassadors (Henry James)
  6. The Slynx (Tolstaya)
  7. Still Life with Woodpecker (Robbins)
  8. Pedro Páramo (Rulfo)
  9. Demons (Dostoyevsky)
  10. Ragtime (Doctorow)
  11. Wicked (Maguire)
  12. The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories (Clarke)

And the alternates:

  1. Warlock (Hall)
  2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (Riggs)

We’ll see how I do with these. They’ve all been on my list for a while, but, for whatever reason, I haven’t gotten around to reading them. I’ve been careful not to choose all long books, and I haven’t chosen books I know I’ll read like Wolves of the Calla or Dances with Dragons because I’d have read them anyway. What will be most challenging to me is planned reading: I’m the Netflix type. After I finish a book, I like to pick up whatever strikes my fancy at that very instant. Working in a library definitely helps, but you can get your hands on almost anything pretty quickly with an internet connection.

I own physical copies of the vast majority of these books, and if I don’t, they’ve been sitting on my Kindle or Nook for at least a year. I think what I’ll do, though, is put them all in one place: the sparkly new iPad Mini my awesome husband is giving me for Christmas. Tracking down digital copies of most of these shouldn’t be a challenge – and I have no qualms about not paying for a digital copy of a physical book I paid for. Paying once is enough, and at some point, I have paid for every one of the books listed above. Yay, Calibre (which organizes, converts, and transfers to various reading devices. You’re on your own for downloads).

I’ll also mention that I found the Most Awesome iOS eBook Reader Ever: Marvin. I wanted a wireless way to transfer non-Kindle books from my Macbook to my iPad, and somehow I ran across their website. It’s the most powerful reader app I’ve seen. As far as I know, the Kindle reader app only opens books you’ve bought from Amazon, and you have to plug in to transfer books you haven’t purchased from Apple into iBooks. Not cool. With Marvin, all you have to do is link it to your Dropbox account, and all of the epub books you have stored there show up on the screen, ready to download. And it even syncs your pages between devices! Better yet, it’ll sync with Calibre, which boggles my mind. End of gush.

So there’s my plan. I’ll stick with the 50, but at least twelve of those will be books from my tbr list, specifically the list above. I’m pretty sure I can do it with just a little reading discipline, especially since I’ll have most or all of them right in front of me in my handy-dandy Marvin app.

I can’t wait to start!

2013 Book #59: Snow Country

snowcountrySnow Country is a short Japanese novel that’s been on my list for quite a while. It’s another one that Goodreads insisted I’d like, so it kept popping up in my recommendations list. I really should listen to them more often because I really liked this novel. It’s just so short that I read it within about 24 hours, so it’s almost a blur.

It’s a traditional Japanese novel, and it was a refreshing change from the weird and messed up books I usually read by authors from that country (being the two Murakamis). It’s about a geisha who lives in a town in the mountains popular with tourists for its hot springs and skiing. Shimamura, the male protagonist, often leaves his wife and family to travel to this region, especially once he meets Komako, a geisha who lives there. They spend lots of time together, and she falls in love with him. All I’ll say after that is that the ending is amazing, and it’s worth reading the novel for the last few pages.

Snow Country was a welcome reprieve after The Magus. I don’t think I’d ever read a traditional Japanese novel before – my experiences before were with (all of) Haruki Murakami, one of my favorite authors; Ryu Murakami, who writes disturbing novels; and Banana Yoshimoto‘s Kitchen and The Lake. Haruki Murakami and Yoshimoto write magical realist fiction, and the former’s writing is full of American culture. Yoshimoto’s writing is much less influenced by America, but I think it fits best under the contemporary literary fiction umbrella and, in a lot of ways, is more similar to the Murakamis than to Kawabata‘s writing. Ryu Murakami is in his own effed-up world.

Anyway, it’s nice to read a novel so entrenched in traditional Japanese culture, about which I know very little. My knowledge of geisha, for example, mostly comes from Memoirs of a Geisha – and even there, the movie, as I didn’t, for whatever reason, finish the book. I had never thought about how they interact with clients and family.

And the novel is beautiful in so many ways. I found the translation a bit lacking in places, but I got a vivid picture of the mountain town, and I generally liked all of the characters. I wish I knew more about Japanese culture because Shimamura’s leaving his family to spend time with a geisha didn’t seem like it was a big deal, and, well, it would be for me. Anyway, the book is fascinating, if a little short. It’s probably one of the relatively few that I’ll read again every few years.

I read through this book so quickly that I didn’t have time for much else. I made one of my very favorite (and freezable!) soups in the crock pot. I make things with beans when Palmer is out of town because he doesn’t like them.

Soup stages

I stayed home from work yesterday because something is going on with my sinuses, so my head hurts and my blood sugar is wonky. I read and updated this blog while the cats chillaxed. I’m pretty sure they had a better day than I did.

IMG_3201

Speaking of updating the blog, what do you think of my new theme? It’s called Divi, by Elegant Themes, and I think it’s pretty neat.

Up next is Bleak House, which has been languishing on my tl;dr list for several years now. 70-ish pages in, and I’m hooked. It’s really funny!

2013 Book #58: The Magus

magusThe Magus wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and it’s a lesson in Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover (or its size). It’s a brick of a book, and the name made me think I’d be getting into something like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, which I loved. But no. It’s nothing like Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and by the end, I almost hated it.

It had a promising start: Nicholas Urfe, a young, directionless English womanizer gets a job teaching at a boys’ school on Phraxos, a Greek island. It’s beautiful, and John Fowles‘ descriptions are amazing. I was so into it. Anyway, almost as soon as he gets there, he hears about a mysterious man named Conchis, and he’s determined to meet him. Nicholas sneaks onto his estate, and there’s Conchis, waiting with lunch. He immediately starts playing mind games, and soon, Nicholas doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. He meets and falls in love with a girl who is alternately called Lily and Julie, and the mind games continue. Meanwhile, Nicholas is trying to get out of a relationship with Alison, the girl he was dating when he got the job and moved to Greece. She fell in love with him, but he seems to be incapable of love and is more interested in getting girls into bed. (I thought that would be a minor, introductory part of the novel, but, no, it’s not. The Magus is full of surprises). As usual, Things Happen.

This book is long. Way too long, I think, though this isn’t the first time I’ve said it about a novel considered very good, which this one is. It just goes on and on. And on and on. At the beginning, I was intrigued. What in the world was Conchis doing to Nicholas? But by the time the story played out and everything was explained, I had lost interest. At some point, Nicholas describes my feelings exactly: It’s like a Lawrence novel suddenly turns into a Kafka novel. I don’t like either of those authors (okay, I liked them both very much a long time ago, but the more I read, the more I grow to hate them). I can’t think of a better way to describe it than effed-up. In some ways, it’s like The Island of Dr. Moureau, and in others, it’s like “The Most Dangerous Game.” It made me uncomfortable and frustrated, and I wanted out. Yesterday, I read the last 150 pages just to get it over with. It’s a world of which I don’t want to be a part.

I’m not saying that The Magus is a bad novel. I just didn’t like it. Like Salem’s Lot, it’s just not my kind of book. I would have quit reading it much earlier if I’d figured it out within the first fifty pages, but Fowles keeps you guessing, gives a hint, then makes you guess again. It was interesting and strangely traumatic at the same time. I couldn’t look away even though I really wanted to.

So. If you like books about mind games, you’ll probably like this one. I’m not a fan, and I’ll probably stay away from Fowles in the future. Now, to read something mundane and comfortable.

SEVEN HELLS, THERE’S A MOVIE. Which I will NOT be watching. I’ll go ahead and, just based on the book, put it in the pile with movies (all from that era!) that Should Not Be Seen and Cannot Be Unseen, like The Wicker Man and Salo.

In other news, Shakespeare is feeling much better after a round of antibiotics. Also: the Pill Gun is my new best friend.

Shakespeare is feeling much better. 🙂

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I finally made jambalaya. It’s my Very Favorite Food, but it’s so high in carbs that I hadn’t made it since the beetus. Once I cooked and weighed it, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. A bowl is only about 55-60 carbs, which isn’t too bad.

Jambalaya

Most exciting, though, is our new fireplace! I was surfing around Pinterest a few weeks ago and saw this 8-bit Zelda fireplace (IT’S DANGEROUS TO GO ALONE! TAKE THIS.) and squealed. Palmer approved of the idea and even got the paint chips and foam board. I spent about six hours punching out squares and pasting them on the board. The fireplace is now my favorite part of the house. It’ll look so nice once we get that room repainted – hopefully, in the near future.

Fireplace!

Despite my efforts to slow down, I guess I’m still on a reading tear. I just started Snow Country, a short Japanese novel that I’ve been meaning to read. Thirty pages in, it’s a welcome relief after the horrors of The Magus.

 

2013 Book #57: The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

circumnavigatedfairylandI checked out The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making from the library on a whim because it looked like it might be fun, and fun is what I needed after the Dust Bowl. I was a bit skeptical, though, because I was burnt, fairly recently, on a kids’ book (Wait. That was two years ago?), and I didn’t want to waste my time.

As soon as I started reading The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, I was hooked. The protagonist is 12, so I assume it’s aimed toward kids that age, but the language is so fun and cheeky that an adult can enjoy it just as much. I figured out pretty quickly that it’s a Persephone story, and that was a draw, too.

This novel (which I promise I won’t name again) is the first in a series of I-don’t-know-how-many. A girl named September, washing dishes in her house in Omaha, Nebraska, finds herself whisked away to Fairyland, which is in disorder (or too much order?) because of a bitter Marquess. She meets various characters there, the most interesting of which is a Wyvern (pretty much a dragon) who calls himself a Wyverary because he’s half-library. Outlandish, but fantastic. They meet other characters and pretty much circumnavigate Fairyland to figure out what’s going on and help to fix it.

Sounds like your traditional kids’ Fairyland story, right? It kind of is, though it’s so much better than most of the similar stuff out there. September is like Dorothy in Oz or Alice in Wonderland, except she’s neither of those and smarter than both. Catherynne Valente has managed to write a new story that isn’t just a rehashing of the others. And have I mentioned that it’s fun!

I read through this book really quickly, and I’ll be moving onto the next ones soon. Three, plus a Kindle single, have been published so far. I don’t know how far Valente is planning to take this series, but I’ll definitely be along on the ride.

It might seem that all I’ve been doing is reading, but Palmer and I have been super-busy with house stuff. There has been scraping and painting and air-conditioner-installing and roofing and plumbing and assorted craziness. And there’s probably no end in sight. My non-reading activity has included hiding from people and crocheting a Christmas scarf for Palmer, which he got early because of the icepocalypse-that-wasn’t currently going on outside.

And that’s about it. Christmas is coming up soon. Shakespeare has a very uncomfortable bladder infection and is milking it for all it’s worth. Here he is in a basket shortly before his body so tragically failed him:

Untitled

I decided on a slower read to end this ridiculous tear I’ve been on, though I’m finishing it very quickly. I’m reading The Magus, by John Fowles, which is nothing like I thought it would be. But that’s another post.

2013 Books #54, 55, 56: Wheat Belly, The Worst Hard Time, World War One

Okay, here’s a threefer. You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m generally not a nonfiction reader, though I seem to have turned a 180, or at least a 90, since half of my last six books haven’t been “fake” (as my seventh-graders called fiction Back in the Day). I’m combining them into one big post because (1) I don’t have very much to say about them and (2) it’s almost the end of the year, and I’m a little burnt out since I’m well past the 50 mark now. There’s also a book of Billy Collins’s poetry that I read sometime around the middle of the year and am not including, but that’s neither here nor there.

So, in the order that I read them, and briefly:

wheatbellyWheat Belly is about how terrible wheat is for you. Over the past fifty, or so years, it’s become so genetically modified that it does terrible things to the human body. Don’t eat it. I read Wheat Belly because I went gluten-free for two weeks, and I needed encouragement. It makes a lot of sense: it raises blood sugar really quickly and causes various types of irritation. Two weeks wasn’t too bad, but it was very expensive and didn’t make a lick of difference for me, so I’m back on the wheat. Davis approaches it from the perspective of losing weight, and that makes sense, too, but while losing a few pounds wouldn’t hurt me, I was more interested in what wheat does to my stomach. He also makes lots of unfunny jokes and makes too many derogatory remarks about overweight people. I gave it three stars on Goodreads because I learned a lot, and it kept my interest.

worsthardtimeNext up was The Worst Hard Time, which is a fantastic history of the Dust Bowl, told in personal stories of the people who lived through it (instead of moving to California like the family in The Grapes of Wrath, who didn’t really fare any better). Around 1900, the government lied to get people to move out to West Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, saying that the soil was perfect for farming. They moved out in droves and planted wheat until there was so much of it that prices dropped, so they planted more. In the process, they plowed up all of the prairie grass, and after a few years of drought, the soil turned to dust and blew across the whole country in terrible storms, some of which even reached Washington, D.C. The book is really well-written and soooo interesting.

ww1Finally, there’s World War One: A Short History by Norman Stone. I didn’t know much about World War 1, and I figured that short was the way to go. That’s not entirely accurate: to keep the length down, Stone just had to rattle off historical facts rather than exploring their causes in any detail. So now I have an idea of what happened during World War 1 but only a vague one about why. Which means I need to read a longer, more in-depth book about it. This book is like a dry, extended Wikipedia article, and it’s best virtue is that it’s such a quick read. I probably would have gotten bored and given up otherwise.

I don’t know what got me interested in nonfiction all of the sudden. Next up, I think, might be a history of the Cold War because it’s always fascinated me. For right now, though, I’m back to fiction and breaking up my most recent tear with a long one, The Magus by John Fowles, which should take me a while. And I’m still one book behind on this blog, but I’ll get to that soon.

Bonus: Thanksgiving was a couple of days ago. More importantly, it’s Christmas season, and Palmer and I went on our annual voyage to get a Christmas tree. This year, he documented our adventure in a Youtube video, which I present here for your amusement.

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