Category Archives: Quarterly Reading Report

The 2017 Reading Project – January

This year’s reading project is pretty ambitious. So, first, I decided that I wanted to focus on books that I’ve always meant to read. Several books came immediately to mind. I own copies of a lot of them because in a strange bit of irony, I tend to ignore books I own in favor of library books. It’s not something I do consciously, though I am aware that I do it. Something about due dates just keeps me honest.

So. The plan was to read books I’ve always meant to read (and “always” means different things in each case). And I *am* doing that, but I’ve added layers to the 2017 Reading Project. More on that when I write about February’s reading.

For now, some highlights of my January reading:

The Winter Circus, me – The first book I read this year was my own. I finished a cover-to-cover re-read. It’s pretty good, in my very biased opinion. 


between-the-world-and-meBetween the World and Me
, Ta-Nehisi Coates – I’ve been wanting to read this book, a letter from Coates to his son, since it was published in 2015 and I decided that I would listen to the audio, which Coates narrates. I’m a big fan of audiobooks, especially when it comes to non-fiction, because there’s nothing like hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice, as if it was just the two of you having a conversation and you’re listening with everything you’ve got. Then, Tubby and Coo’s Book Shop selected Between the World and Me as the first read in the Brave New World Book Club, so I knew this was the right time. The book is slim, and it’s powerful. It’s a 3-hour listen and there’s no excuse not to read or listen to this book. If you don’t understand what people are talking about when the issues of police violence, microaggressions and systemic racism come up, you owe it to yourself, and to our shared world, to listen with everything you’ve got. If you do already know what’s up, I still recommend you listen to Coates’ academic, personal, rational and passionate letter to his son because there’s always something to be gained from hearing someone tell you their story in their own voice.

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline – This book’s been on my list since it was published, but what really cinched it for me was when several friends raved about the audio book, which is read by Wil Wheaton. As I mentioned, I’ve come to really love audio books over the years (since a job in 2011 where I drove 12 hours a day for a few weeks). The best ones are like old-school radio plays, and this one is very good. The book itself is really intricate and detail-heavy, with callbacks galore, which doesn’t usually make for good audio listening. However, it was such an immersive story and Wil Wheaton did a tremendous job with the narration. For a couple weeks, listening to this audio book made my daily commute go so much better. Plus, there’s a cameo where Wil Wheaton narrates a sly reference to a fictional version of himself and that was a treat for an 80’s girl to hear.

Revival Volumes 1-7, Tim Seeley and Mike Norton – I’ve been obsessed with zombies for a while and I came across this comic book series that is not about zombies, but a more mysterious version of what would happen if some people didn’t die when they died. It’s pretty bizarre and fascinating. The art is gorgeous, even though I found it confusing sometimes (two of the main characters are sisters and it was sometimes hard to tell them apart, as well as some of the other [mostly female] characters). I decided to chalk this up to my being a comic neophyte and I just trusted that I’d figure it out and I always did.

Feedback, Mira Grant – I’m a big fan of the original Newsflesh trilogy by Mira Grant (which *is* about zombies, well, as much as any zombie story is ever really about zombies). This is the fourth book in the series, but it follows different characters and a parallel story to the original trilogy. It was fun to return to this world and to see the protagonists of the original series and their journey from a different perspective, mostly as characters waaaay in the background. Rozencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead-style.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, Sebastian Junger – I read Junger’s essay “The Bonds of Battle” last November, in The Best American Essays of 2016 and I was really moved and obsessed with the ideas raised. Couldn’t stop thinking about the essay, which was the seed for this book, so I had to read it. It’s another slim title, but like a lot of short and focused books, it’s pretty devastating and captivating. I refer to it all the time in conversation because it covers a lot of ground. But really, the subtitle tells you everything – this is Junger’s extended mediation (with research) on why people need each other, need to belong to units (families, communities, etc.) in order to thrive. That humans are communal beings is information that is more important for us to recognize and reconcile than ever before.

Princess Princess Ever After, Katie O’Neill – This is a cute, quick juvenile graphic novel that matter-of-factly tells a fairy tale about two princesses being themselves exactly as they are, adventuring and falling in love, which is pretty cool. It reminded me a bit of the Princeless series (and I’m not the only one, from the Goodreads reviews), but this is a much simpler and streamlined story for younger readers, perhaps, which is cool. It also reminded me a bit about the lovely Three Thieves series, which I read last year (along with Princeless). I should also mention that I read Cleopatra in Space Books 1-3 by Mike Maihack this month, too, and it’s a pretty great companion series to the others mentioned in this paragraph (a time-traveling Cleopatra is teleported into space! makes friends and has adventures!). And Compass South, the first book in a new series about twins in 1860 who adventure (with a pit stop in New Orleans), by Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, which I also read this month. As far as I’m concerned, there can never be too many comic books about adventuring girls who are entirely themselves.

handmaids-tale-audible_The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood – When I initially conceived of the “always meant to  read” project, this was one of the first books that came to mind. I have been meaning to read this one for years, long before the new tv show and American politics took a sharp right turn toward the Republic of Gilead. But, once again, the time was finally right. I listened to Claire Danes’ narration of the book on my commute to and from work and I was entirely engrossed and enraged by the story. However, while I really enjoyed the way Claire Danes read the story, part of me wished I’d read a physical copy first because the structure of the book is intricate and there’s a lot of word play and subtly in the language that I think would’ve had more impact if I’d seen it on the page. So, I’m thinking about re-reading the book almost immediately. Like maybe next month, in March.

The Dark, Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen – True story, my co-workers and I are all fans of Jon Klassen’s “Hat Trilogy” of picture books, which are darkly funny and sly. So when I stumbled upon this one, I insisted one of my co-workers read it out loud to some of us and he did an amazing job without ever having read it before. He did wonderful voices for both Lazlo (the little boy) and The Dark.

The One Hundred Nights of Hero, Isabel Greenberg – This graphic novel is stunning. In the vein of (responding to?) A Thousand and One Nights and set in the world of her earlier book The Encyclopedia of Early Earth, this book is a story within a story within a story, so very meta. While looking up the book in Goodreads, I found this amazing quote from reader Chihoe Ho: “The moral of this story is: Tell stories to get out of dangerous situations. But not just any stories. Smart stories. Stories about brave women who don’t take shit from anyone.” That pretty much says it all. I was so moved reading this book.

awesome-9781781083246_hr  The Awesome, Eva Darrow – A friend and co-worker recommended this book last year and it sounded, well, awesome. The premise: a teenage girl is an apprentice to her monster hunter mother, but can’t get her journeyman license (particularly for vampire cases) until she loses her virginity. But I didn’t pick it up right away, for some reason. Once I did, I adored Darrow’s incredible sense of her world and characters. Maggie and her mother’s relationships is one of the best in fiction, and Maggie’s sense of her self (as well as her doubts) felt very real and very special to me. I wish I’d had this book at 16, but I’m glad it’s in the world now. Also, I should say that the book is very striking – the cover art, the black-tipped pages, the cover material, the size of the book, all of this made the book feel good in your hands and also very unique.

The Little Paris Bookshop, Nina George (translated by Simon Pare) – Another great audio book, this time read by three people – Steve West for the bulk of the story, as well as Emma Bering and Cassandra Campbell. Something about the multiple readers added to the radio play feeling. I’m always fascinated by books in translation (this was originally published in German), especially when there’s so much emotional nuance, like there is in this story. It’s hard not to love a story that features a “book apothecary” on a boat and a querulous bookseller who refuses to sell books people want to read, insisting they buy the books they need to read. But then the story becomes an adventure tale, as the lonely main character goes on a journey and ends up forming a family of sorts from strays and lost causes he meets along his journey. This book had so many unexpected layers.

Rejected Princesses, Jason Porath – This is one of the coolest books I’ve ever read – a heavy encyclopedia of animated princess-like illustrations to accompany biographic entries about kick ass women through history. It took me about two months to read, because I read it at work and purposefully let people “catch” me reading, so I could tell them about it. It started so many conversations and a lot of folks of all genders and ages wanted to read this after I told them about it. The book started as a website and gets updated every Wednesday, so there’s side stories about the badasses in the first volume and articles about current amazing women. It’s the best. Can’t wait for Volume Two.

Welcome to Deadland, Zachary Tyler Linville – I read this book in about 10 hours. I picked it up and read the first page on a whim and just didn’t stop reading. I basically got no sleep that night. It’s a zombie book that follows two sets of characters both before and after an illness starts infecting people. Like a lot of zombie books, it’s not really about zombies, but more about people, how they form groups and survive, but also what they suffer *before* the apocalyptic event. There were a few engrossing mysteries to keep me reading obsessively, but it wasn’t very gory.

Full disclosure: I read 33 books this month (well, one of those “books” was an issue of a comic book and another was a script, but still). Also, “read” is used whether I listened or read. But, the point is that I haven’t written about everything that I read in January.

I seem to be reading a lot of books about princesses and zombies. Or, I should say “princesses” and “zombies.” But basically, kick ass women (both fictional and real), as well as monsters. Plus, some very timely, long-awaited reads.

 

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Filed under 2017 Reading Project, books, Quarterly Reading Report

2014 Q4 Reading Report

Oh goodness, is this Reading Report overdue. I meant to post this early in January,  but here it is the end of the month and this is my first post of 2015. Ah well, better late than never, right? I read some great books during the last quarter of 2014, as you’ll see below. And I also tweeted about some of my reading as I read, so you’ll get some bonus photos, to make up for being so late.

October

My Sister’s Keeper, Jodi Picoult – I listened to the audiobook on the long drive from Philadelphia to Atlanta at the tail end of the Residency Road Trip. One of the most surprising things about this book, considering how sad the premise is, was that it was easy to get engrossed in the story behind the sadness. It was interesting on a legal, moral, emotional and very human level. I cared deeply about the characters, even when they were being totally annoying or foolish. It felt like a play that came alive in my car as I drove, which was really helpful considering I was on the road for over twelve hours.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes – Bought this at a sale at my hometown library. I was aware of it from how well it sold at the bookstore while I was working there, but I didn’t really know what it’s about before I started reading. It’s an incredibly grim subject matter (especially considering the book I read previous to this one), but it’s not a story that’s grimly told. Somehow, the book manages to have the blithe lightness of a romantic comedy, while very intelligently and responsibly addressing a controversial, highly charged subject. I flew through the pages, and got really invested in how things turned out.

Lean Mean 13, Janet Evanovich – I listened to the audio of this one on my way back to Nola from Georgia. I think this is the perfect way to engage with the Stephanie Plum books. I’d started to get impatient with the silliness and formulaic quality of them while reading them, but those very qualities make them such perfect stories to listen to while on the road. Not too distracting, but very entertaining. They keep me great company in the car. The lady who reads the books for the audio is very good as well.

Bad Feminist, Roxane Gay – Coming back from the residency, I was such a happy dork picking up all of the books the library was holding for me, especially when it came to this one. I’d been looking forward to reading it for months and it didn’t disappoint. Roxane Gay’s novel An Untamed State is beautiful and brutal and she brings those qualities to bear on these essays, which are also funny and silly and insightful and so, so unerringly smart. She’s one of my new favorite writers.

The Silkworm, Robert Galbraith – Was very eager to read this one after reading the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. I wanted to listen to the audio, like I had for the first, but it was unavailable, so I had to be content with old-fashioned reading, which was nice in its way, of course. I just soaked up this second mystery and the dynamic between Cormoran and his assistant Robin Ellacott. Once more, I was a tiny bit disappointed with the quick and tidy wrap up at the end — both endings have felt a bit easy and unfinished. But the journey to get there was delightful.

Practical Magic, Alice Hoffman – Read the ReReading post here.

House Proud, Valorie Hart – I introduced Valorie, a friend of mine from tango, during her talk at the Louisiana Book Festival last year. As preparation for that, I pored over this beautiful design book featuring Louisiana homes, including Valorie’s own home with her late husband Alberto Paz.

November

Gates of Thread and Stone, Lori M. Lee – If I remember correctly, I learned about this one on Goodreads, in a discussion about The Queen of the Tearling and Kiss of Deception Once more, a fantasy Y/A novel, really engrossing and interesting, the first of a series (why do I keep doing this to myself? At least the sequel to this one comes out relatively soon – in March). It reminded me a bit of the books by the German author Kai Meyer, which is a really good thing.

Seven Daughters and Seven Sons, Barbara Cohen & Bahija Lovejoy – Read the ReReading post here.

Sammy Keyes and the Killer Cruise, Wendelin van Draanen – I love these books, love Sammy Keyes and her friends and their hijinks. She’s really grown up in the last several books, finally discovering the identity of her father and having an adventure with him during the titular cruise of this book. While grabbing the link above, I realized another book in the series is already out – and it’s the last one! I’m looking forward to reading it and a bit sad I won’t be reading any more new adventures, but I have a suspicion that she’ll be in a good place by the time we say goodbye.

Yes Please, Amy Poehler – I knew I was going to love this book just from the table of contents. “Say Whatever You Like,” “Do Whatever You Want” and “Be Whoever You Are” happen to make fantastic mantras. Anyway, this book was, of course, hilarious, but also very insightful and inspiring. After writing about the day she was born, Amy Poehler recommends everyone go ask their parents about the day they were born, which made me realize I don’t think I’ve ever heard the story of the day I was born. Just one of many brainstorms and moments of inspiration.

Dark Places, Gillian Flynn – Whew, boy, this book in INtense, just like Flynn’s other books. Unlikeable women who are utterly human (and sometimes monstrous in such human ways) are Flynn’s specialty. It’s a lot to ingest and I usually need a break between books, but I stand in awe of this women’s storytelling ability. I always feel a little creeped out looking at her author photo – she looks so sweet and normal, to write such breathtakingly dark and weighty books. Of all writers, she’s probably the one I’d both want to have coffee with *and* avoid in dark alleys. Just goes to show you can’t judge a book by its cover or an author by her photo. 🙂

Worn Stories, Emily Spivak – This was a pretty cool book. Dozens of essays about articles of clothing and what they represent to the writers/wearers of the clothing. With pictures! It was an accidental find and I was curious. I thought I’d flip through, read a handful and then move on, but I ended up reading every last word. Some were twee and light, but most were (surprisingly, to me) interesting and impactful. It started out as a blog, before it was a book, and the blog continues.

December

Prelude to Bruise, Saeed Jones – I used to be a poet, once upon a time. Sometimes, I still find myself moved by poetry more than almost anything else. These days, while I may read a handful of poems occasionally, I almost never finish an entire book of poetry. I forget, each time, how emotionally weighty poetry tends to be. So I look at a slim volume and I’m like, “Oh, I’ll zip right through this!” But I don’t. I linger and dwell, sometimes for years and never finish a book. So, this is probably the first book of poetry I’ve finished in a long time. I “zipped through,” even though I felt like his poems were eviscerating me with razor wire. But I couldn’t stop. True to form, I obsessed over the lines and words, sometimes getting hung up for a few days before going back and moving on. [You’ll note I tweeted about picking this book up at the end of October, but I didn’t finish it till December.] I had a deadline to finish – this book was requested by multiple people at the library – and I couldn’t bear to return the book without reading it all.

Rooms, Lauren Oliver – Another of my favorite writers, though she’s so fast that I can’t really keep up. This is an adult novel from her, a gothic family story that reminded me of both The Family Fang and Tom Stoppard’s play Arcadia, my favorite play. The way Arcadia uses various portions of the house and estate, as well as time, really echoed here, in Rooms.

The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer – Oooh, this book was really important for me to read. I found myself sweating and trembling occasionally as I read it. Why is asking so freaking difficult? Why is owning your right to be and ask for what you want and need so hard? I am so very different from Amanda Palmer – in personality and demeanor and comfort zones, but I admire her so much and it turns out that she has been battling a fight that I’ve struggled with a long time. Need to re-read this every year, or maybe every six months.

Doing the Devil’s Work, Bill Loehfelm – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

Fearless Fourteen, Janet Evanovich – Listened to the audio on my trip to Atlanta to visit my parents for Christmas. It was perfect company, made the trip go smoothly (it’s always rough counting on the radio between Mobile and Montgomery).

My Sunshine Away, MO Walsh – Review forthcoming in 225 Magazine.

So that wraps up 2014. I read some really awesome books in 2014 (A little over a hundred! Roughly, 22 nonfiction books and 74 fiction, plus some other stuff.) In this first month of 2015, I’ve already read a six-book series, a screenplay and two books of essays, all really good stuff, so stay tuned for 2015’s Q1 Reading Report in early April.

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Filed under books, Friends, literature, musing, New Orleans, poetry, Quarterly Reading Report, review, what I'm reading

2014 Q3 Reading Report

My 3rd Quarter in reading was excellent. So far, the Re-Reading Project has really added so much to my annual reading. Even the books I’m reading for the first time have an extra edge now because I think about them in terms of whether I’d ever re-read them. Or, am I so invested in reading them that I’m willing not to read or re-read something else? It’s been kind of a game-changer. So much so that I’m considering continuing it into 2015. Not monthly the way I did in 2014, but sporadically. We’ll see… In the meantime, here’s my 2014 3rd Quarter Reading Report.

July

The Secrets of a Scoundrel, Gaelen Foley – Since I’ve outed myself as an occasional reader of romance novels in May’s Re-Reading posts, I might as well confess that I bought Foley’s newest the week it came out and spent an evening with the last book in her Inferno Club series. I’ve read a lot of romance authors in my time, but Foley is the only one I consistently buy new, as soon as they come out and read right away. I always consider it a mini-vacation, some entertaining reading that is for no other purpose but to enjoy. She’s writing great middle readers books with her husband under E.G. Foley and I’ve been having a lot of fun sharing these with the son of a friend. She’s a terrific writer, whatever name she publishes under and whatever genre she’s working within.

Dorothy Must Die, Danielle Paige – Another confession: I’m a sucker for a good book cover. This one is terrific and really illustrates the “hook” of this book: Dorothy has returned to Oz, gone mad with power and must be brought down. So, basically, I had to read it because I was curious about where this story would go. And it’s a really weird one that never went quite where I was expecting. I was a tad bored at times, but mostly I ripped through the pages. It got really good right before the end and then (damn) I realized it’s the first book in a series. Why do I keep doing this to myself? There’s a prequel available digitally, called No Place Like Oz.

Strangers, Dean Koontz – Read the Re-Reading post here.

The Queen of the Tearling, Erika Johansen – Something big was going on in my personal life and I needed a really good, absorbing story to distract me. I was trying to track down a copy of A Game of Thrones from the library (I need to get my own copies), but they were all checked out. Most of my books are in storage, so I turned to a pile of ARCs towering alongside my one remaining bookshelf and picked up a book I’d almost given to a friend to read, but had decided to keep. The next 24 hours and the rest of the world disappeared as I got sucked into The Queen of the Tearling. It’s simply one of the best books I’ve read in a very long time. It’s 400+ pages and I stayed in on a Friday night to read it, then I was actually disappointed there wasn’t more to read Saturday night. I didn’t want to leave this world. I’ve had the ARC for months, but it just came out, so after I read the last page, I took to Twitter and saw that a lot of people were feeling the same way I was at that moment: rabid for the next book in the series (groan). There’s also some backlash – mostly people seem to object to the marketing campaign around the book, which compares it to GoT and Hunger Games. The ARC informs me the movie rights have already been sold and Emma Watson will star. The nerd in me is breathless in anticipation.

Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman – I’ve seen a few episodes of the t.v. show and liked it, but mostly I wondered how a memoir about being in prison would be handled. It was a compelling read, mostly because Kerman doesn’t pity herself or expect her reader to. She mostly focuses on the women she was incarcerated with, the community that helped her survive her time in prison. The tone is calm and rational, at times light-hearted, but it still made me enraged by the current prison system: the inherent racism and discrimination (Kerman admits she most likely received better treatment in prison and a lighter sentence because she’s white), the waste of financial resources, as well as the waste of human resources. As I read and finished the book, I couldn’t stop talking about the book and Kerman’s points about the prison system and I ended up having some really fascinating conversations.

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh – My new book group selected this book. I fought against it, partly because I’d read it earlier this year and partly because I’d found the “white sections” (focusing on Brosh’s depression, etc.) pretty rough reading. But, I was outnumbered and it was our first book club selection. So, I re-read the book and the “white sections” were even tougher to handle the second time around, but this time, I got to talk about them with a great group of women who felt the same sense of connection with Brosh’s work. My connection with it is often unsettled and uncomfortable, but the other women in the group seemed to mostly take the stance, “Thank God someone is saying this out loud, on paper, for real.” We laughed a lot and it was a wonderful night.

Black and White, Dani Shapiro – My writing style isn’t a thing like Dani Shapiro’s, but as I was reading, I so wished I could write like her. I admire her writing immensely. It’s quiet and stripped down, yet fierce and vibrant. This story, about a famous photographer mother and the daughter she photographed nude throughout her childhood, was so painful and beautiful. It was utterly necessary.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, Jenny Lawson – Jenny Lawson is basically Allie Brosh meets Toni McGee Causey, hysterical and hyperbolic. Sometimes, I’d get a bit impatient with the storytelling (because it goes around in circles and on and on forever), but mostly I was laugh-snorting out loud and too damn entertained to mind that she wrote a book as if you were having one long, booze-infused conversation with her. With photographic evidence. Like with most comedy, there’s some real pathos buried underneath the humor and I admired The Blogess all the more for letting us see it.

August

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin – Once more, in the midst of a bunch of nonfiction reading, I was longing for a distracting novel and I turned to my pile of ARCs. This one was published in April, but though I picked it up “late,” I found that, as usual, I picked it up at just the right time. It’s a relatively slim book, but covers about 15+ years of a man’s life as he moves from isolated grief to become a central figure in a family and a community. I was continually surprised by how much story was packed into the book, yet it still felt light and easy, even when it was dealing with almost unbearably sad subjects. Writing a story that reads this effortlessly is hard work, I’m lucky enough to have learned, so the easier I skipped through the book, the more impressed I was with Zevin’s storytelling abilities. I could easily see this becoming a movie, something like Big Fish meets Amelie meets Chocolat.

The Young World, Chris Weitz – I’ve stumbled upon some very good dystopian Y/A and fantasy lately, each very good but each the first book in a series. So annoying cause I get hooked on the first book and then I have to have patience till another (and another…) come out. Anyway, this is another of those titles, written by the director of About a Boy, among other movies. The story is so easy to imagine as a movie and since Weitz is a film director, I was curious about why he decided to write it as a novel. I feel like the book answered my question. As the characters are searching for something vital in a library, they have a conversation about the value of books over electronic information/cloud storage. The characters in books have a longer life span than most people who live in our world and pretty much everyone in The Young World. It was the kind of perfect fictional moment that made me want to hug Weitz by hugging his book. So yeah, now I’m impatient for more books set in this world.

Lord of the Flies, William Golding – Read the Re-Reading post here.

The Kiss of Deception, Mary E. Pearson – I was talking books in a Facebook thread and mentioned how much I liked The Queen of the Tearling. A friend of my friend’s commented that she liked this book better. I looked it up out of curiosity and then immediately requested it from the library. I’d read 50+ pages just a couple of hours after I picked up from the library and finished it over what was a pretty active weekend. It has a lot in common with The Queen of the Tearling, but is also very different. Both feature royal girls fighting/embracing their destinies in a fantasy world that may actually be our own world hundreds of years in the future (I got that vibe from Kiss and TQotT drops some serious hints in that direction). Anyway, The Kiss of Deception is very compelling and also the first of a series (alas, more patience on my part).

The Ecstasy of Surrender, Judith Orloff, M.D. – This book applied to pretty much every aspect of my life the last few months. It took me a few weeks to read because I was trying to absorb as much of it as possible (and I was late returning it to the library because I had to finish it before I left for my trip). If you want to know more,  watch the TED Talk that was the origin of the book, though it’s just a taste of what the book entails.

Animal Farm, George Orwell – Read the Re-Reading post here.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury – Read the Re-Reading post here.

An Ember in the Ashes, Sabaa Tahir – I snagged this ARC before leaving on my Residency Road Trip. Something about it called out to me and I felt like I’d need an engaging novel at some point on this trip. Because it’s 400+ pages, I thought it’d be my fiction counterpoint to all the nonfiction I’ll be reading during September. But, I picked it up after I finished my August Re-Reading and I quickly got caught up in it. I read the first 100 pages relatively slowly (in about a day) and then quickly read 300 more pages in a few hours, unable to sleep because I was so engrossed in the characters and the world. On one hand, I’ve never read anything like this and on the other, it reminds me of A Song of Ice and Fire, The Queen of the Tearling and The Kiss of Deception, all “dystopian” fantasy stories set in some ambiguous alternate or future world that also feel like ancient myths and legends. The characters are constantly faced with impossible emotional and moral decisions and I care enormously about all of them. The one trouble with reading a book so quickly is when you never want to leave the story and you’re booted out by the last page. Since this book is coming out next April, it looks like I’ll have to wait a long while for the next book in the story (for surely there will be one since two of the major characters are setting out on an epic journey at the end). I’ll definitely be on the lookout for an ARC of the next book so I can pick back up with these characters as soon as possible.

September

The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith – I listened to the audio book of this one on the way from ATL to Soaring Gardens and it was the perfect companion for such a long trip, at least for me. As I learned years ago when I spent three weeks driving twelve hours each day, the best audio books for drives are those that are so interesting they keep you awake, but easy to follow while paying attention to, you know, the road. I was *almost* done when Anne and I arrived at the house, so after we made dinner and unpacked, I sat in the library and finished listening to it. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed with the wrap-up of the mystery at the end of the book, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters and story for days after I finished. I’m hoping to listen to the next Cormoran Strike book, The Silkworm, on my way back home. [Since Robert Galbraith is a pen name for Joanne Rowling, a.k.a. J.K. Rowling, I’d held off reading these books for a while. I was scared I wouldn’t like her non-HP books. But, no more fears here. She’s just flat-out a great writer, whatever she writes, under whichever name. And I think it’s brilliant that she wrote them under a male pseudonym.]

Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton – Read the Re-Reading post here.

Blind Faith, C.J. Lyons – I read Lyons’ Broken last quarter and really enjoyed it, so I bought copies of the three Caitlyn Tierney books as my pleasure reading during the residency. Blind Faith is a solid thriller and like with Broken, the writing is great, so I’m carried along with the momentum of the story, racing to figure out what’s going to happen next. Perfect to balance out the other reading I’m doing here at the residency.

Twelve Minutes of Love, Kapka Kassabova – A mutual friend recommended I read this tango memoir after I told him I had started dancing and writing about what I was learning from tango about my relationships. I ordered it forever ago, but wasn’t quite ready to read any tango books. When it was time to pack for the residency, I knew I should bring some of the tango memoirs and academic texts I’ve been collecting. Then, a tango friend started quoting sections of the book once I got to Soaring Gardens and it zoomed to the top of my to-read list. I was reading both with a professional mind (to situate my own writing on the spectrum of already existing work) and also personally. I enjoyed the book quite a lot and also appreciated it, how hard the gossipy, accessible tone must’ve been to achieve and sustain through the work. It was a quick read and teaches you about tango as you read, so the casual, curious reader can enjoy it as well. However, it was all the richer for me as a tango dancer, finding similar moments and realizations within the experiences of a dancer with a very different background than me. There’s a great book trailer you should definitely check out.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Rebecca Skloot – I’d meant to read this book when it was first published, but it’s taken me four years to do it. Just goes to show that there’s a time for every book in each person’s life. It coincided brilliantly with two other books I was reading at the same time: Jurassic Park (above) and The World Without Us. Though Henrietta Lacks covers a lot of complicated scientific information, it’s immensely readable, very accessible. Beneath all the science, it’s a human story. I was intrigued in particular by the way that Skloot included herself in the story (she developed relationships with Lacks family members over many years) without ever overshadowing their story and that of Henrietta Lacks. The beating heart of the book was always the story of the woman behind the infamous cell line, and her family. If anyone one is interested in what’s been happening since the book was published, as I was, there’s a wealth of information on Skloot’s website.

Black Sheep, C.J. Lyons – The first book featuring FBI agent Caitlyn Tierney began from the P.O.V. of another female character, who shared the narrative. This book also features a case with another female character central to it, but as Tierney is the returning character and it deals with tragic events from her childhood, she carries the book a bit more solidly. I like this structure, and as both of the cases so far have been unofficial, it places Tierney squarely within the “rogue agent” subgenre of thrillers and mysteries. Rogue agents are generally male, so it’s refreshing to see her operate as both a woman in a male-dominated field (which also includes the criminals) and as a smart investigator. This book also flips the usual script by making Tierney wary of commitment, trying to break it to her boyfriend and mother that she’s married to her job. While it pretty typical (and realistic) that a female agent would have to defend this choice repeatedly, it’s not typical at all to see one portrayed as being ambivalent about marriage and family. Only problem with this book is that it was a tad too short. I’m glad I have the next one to dive into immediately.

The World Without Us, Alan Weisman – This was one of the the books in the library at Soaring Gardens. I picked it up idly, but was immediately intrigued and engrossed by the premise: what will the world look like if the entire human race suddenly disappeared? How will nature react to our absence? You might assume this would be a depressing book, and it is in some ways, but not the ways you’d expect, probably. The most repeatedly depressing aspect of the book is the realization that we’re the bad guys, that we speed up survival of the fittest and evolution with technology, create poisons and products that don’t biodegrade and we don’t know how to dispose of safely. While we should make more strident efforts to “save the planet,” it’s not really for the planet’s sake, but for the own. The planet’s schedule is a bit different than ours and it has a lot more time to sort survive than we do. Beyond that depressing aspect of the book, it was absolutely fascinating and unexpectedly jovial (in a dark humor sort of way). This is the kind of book that takes a lifetime to research and write. Or several, as Weisman introduces us to an intriguing cast of characters, many of whom have jobs and passions you’ve probably never considered.

Hollow Bones, C.J. Lyons – This last book in the Caitlyn Tierney series shares the same format, splitting the story between Caitlyn and another woman at the center of Caitlyn’s investigation. I like that all of the “victims” that Caitlyn is helping are strong women in their own rights who are also trying to investigate and survive their situations. A character from the second book recurs here in very satisfying ways. The setting is really interesting, the crime really upsetting (organ harvesting) and the whole story moves at a quick pace. While I’d read more books about Caitlyn’s investigations, I’m also pleased with where she’s ended up in this book.

So that’s the 3rd Quarter. My 4th Quarter is already shaping up to be very strong. For instance, randomly, all three of the books I’ve read so far in Q4 were written by women whose first names start with the letter J. That wasn’t planned, by the way. 🙂

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2014 Q1 Reading Report

Now that the first quarter of the reading year is firmly over, it’s time for a Quarterly Reading Report. This year, the reports will also serve as an index for the Re-Reading Project posts from the previous quarter. The Re-Reading Project is adding an extra dimension to my reading this year, as I am re-reading selected books from my childhood and early teen years. But it’s also making me want to re-read many more books (I’ve been hankering to re-read the whole Song of Ice and Fire series, which I only read last year). It’s making me think about the books I’m reading for the first time in a new way. And it’s making me want to catch up with series and authors I might have taken a break on lately. I’m not done reading memoirs and nonfiction by any means, but fiction is calling my name in a big way. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the year brings in terms of reading surprises and epiphanies.

January

The Boxcar Children, Gertrude Chandler Warner – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

Sarah, Plain and Tall, Patricia MacLachlan – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

City of Bones, Cassandra Clare – This is another example of me seeing a movie and being intrigued by the source material. This time, I was intrigued because the movie was so spectacularly bad. It shouldn’t have been that bad, since it had good actors and decent visual effects. Without reading the books, I could feel that the story was off. It didn’t make any sense, the characters were inconsistent and the story logic betrayed itself several times. Once I read City of Bones, I was blown away by how much better the book was than its film adaptation (to be fair, this is particularly difficult book to adapt to film, partly because of subject material and partly because of length). I quickly got over my initial reason for reading (the intrigue about what went wrong with the film) and was completely hooked on the Mortal Instruments series. These books feel Biblical, like Shakespeare and all of the towering giants of canonical literature, but totally modern and relevant, juicy and funny.

Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

The Great Gilly Hopkins, Katherine Paterson – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

Sixth Grade Secrets, Louis Sachar – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

City of Ashes, Cassandra Clare – About two chapters into City of Ashes, I requested the next two books in the series from the library. I could just tell that it was going to be one of those experiences where I wouldn’t be content with having just plowed through a massive 500+ page book. I was going to still want more. I was going to want to know what happened next, need to know, as quickly as possible.

Snot Stew, Bill Wallace – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

Matilda, Roald Dahl – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

City of Glass, Cassandra Clare – Just to torture me, the fourth book arrived at the library before the third one did, but the third one arrived right on time anyway, right as I was returning the second book. And here’s where I have to make a confession. I could’ve read a few more children’s books for the first month of The Re-Reading Project (I considered Harriet the Spy and The Secret Garden, among others), but between packing for my move and wanting to dive into this book, it just wasn’t going to happen. Plus, I felt like I’d covered enough ground with the eight books I read to justify getting absorbed in this book.

The 2013 Best American Essays, edited by Cheryl Strayed – As I did with the 2012 Best American Essays, I read one essay per day, every day (except for one day I missed), usually first thing in the morning. Even if I wanted to read more, I forced myself to read just one, so that I could think about it throughout the day. After I finished 2012, I couldn’t wait for 2013 and now that I’ve finished 2013, I feel the same way. I’ve collected 2011 and 2003 and I’ll probably do the same with them while I await 2014 later this year.

Sammy the Seal and Danny and the Dinosaur, Syd Hoff – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

Some Nerve, Patty Chang Anker – This book came up in about a dozen conversations and magazines around the same time and it seemed like precisely the kind of book I needed to be reading as research for my memoir. I’ve gotten pretty good at listening to that “this is a book for you, now” voice. It’s a conversational book, based on experiences Anker wrote about on her blog, but for all the ease with which I sunk into the book, it was also one that challenged me, taught me a lot about voice and being honest.

Alice in Charge, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – I mentioned Alice in one of my re-reading posts and it made me go check to see how long it had been since I’d caught up with Alice, especially since I’d read recently that Phyllis Reynolds Naylor had published the last Alice book.  It was 2009, but I only had four books to catch up on, including the last one. So I checked them out from the library and dug in. Alice is such a strange mix between naïve and mature, a tiny bit sanctimonious but always well-intentioned. I think this is why readers have responded to her for so long, why I feel compelled to finish the series.

February

Sammy Keyes and the Wedding Crasher, Wendelin van Draanen – Ditto with Sammy Keyes. I’d last read one of these titles in 2009 as well, around the same time as my last Alice book, and I also recently mentioned her in a re-reading post. One thing I really enjoyed about this book was seeing Sammy’s relationships change as she’s gotten older. Watching plucky, tomboyish Sammy with a boyfriend is really cool, because while she is growing up, the relationship isn’t changing her essential nature. She’s a younger, way less proper Nancy Drew, mixed with a bit of Harriet the Spy.

Incredibly Alice, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – It was really interesting to read this book now, since the series is set in a suburb of DC and I knew I was visiting DC soon. In fact, I’m returning from my trip as I write this. The whole time I was visiting, I would occasionally think, “This is Alice’s stomping grounds. That could be her and her girlfriends over there walking down the street.” This was the first time I connected with Alice in quite that way, as a girl I might meet walking down the street, since I was already mostly grown by the time I started reading the books and didn’t grow up anywhere near DC.

Sammy Keyes and the Night of the Skulls, Wendelin van Draanen –This book dealt with the Day of the Dead and Sammy spends a significant amount of time in the cemetery, where both hijinks and healing occur. It makes me wonder if Sammy’s grandmother is going to survive many more books. Not that she’s sick or anything, but if she did die, it would completely destabilize Sammy’s existence. In this book, Sammy’s friendship with Marissa was further tested, as well as her relationship with Casey. It’s cool to see Sammy staying true to herself no matter what else changes.

City of Fallen Angels, Cassandra Clare – So… how to say this without spoiling anything? Something big went down in the last book that made me wonder how there was going to be another book in the series, let alone two more (I only knew there were five, the sixth book is published at the end of May). So I was intrigued to read this book, see how the story would continue after evil was pretty well vanquished in the last book (there’s a slight spoiler for you). I’m always impressed with series authors who can build a full and satisfying narrative arc in each book and find creative paths for the ongoing story.

Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh – While this book seems (on the surface) nothing like graphic novels like Maus and Allison Bechdel’s memoirs, I’d say that it’s not that far apart. The art is pretty basic and deceptively shallow, would be easy to dismiss except Brosh is a genius at pairing this simple art with universal themes and the perfect words and expression. In what seems like silly, funny comics (and are, on one level), Brosh tackles the curse of creativity, as well as mental health and depression. I enjoyed the webcomics and while I found the book very funny, I also found it a pretty painful read as well.

Dragon Sword & Wind Child, Noriko Ogiwara and translated by Cathy Hirano – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

The Chronicle of Secret Riven, Ronlyn DomingueReview in 225 Magazine.

March

The Priority List, David Menasche – I saw David Menasche speak at Words & Music last year and while the subject matter of his book (going on a road trip to visit his former students while dealing with the side effects and symptoms of a terminal brain tumor) is pretty grim, he was full of life and good humor. I doubt many people left the room without a desire to read this book. It’s a quick read, sometimes almost too light, considering the subject matter. I admire the instinct to be positive and inspire rather than dwell in negativity, and the book is very powerful.

The Clan of the Cave Bear, Jean M. Auel – The Re-Reading Project post available here.

The Bookstore, Deborah Meyler – I saw this book while working at the bookstore, ironically enough, and liked the idea of a Cheers-like indie bookstore being the center of this book. At first, I thought it might be too silly to hold my interest, but that was mostly me judging a book by its cover. I was quickly absorbed and read this book so quickly, invested so much in the characters, that I was disappointed when it was over. I could have read another 100 pages, easily.

The Show Must Go On! and The Greatest Show on Earth, Kate Klise and illustrated by M. Sarah Klise – I got an ARC of the second book in this series from the bookstore, so I checked out the first one from the library and read them both in an afternoon. I’m always interested to see how the circus is depicted in popular culture, especially for kids. It was Hilary Knight’s The Circus is Coming!, a picture book, that probably first sparked my own lifelong fascination with the circus. These are charming books, preposterous and goofy, and perfect for kids. They’re  written and illustrated by a pair of sister, which I love too, because Aimee and I always said we’d write and illustrate books together.

Alice on Board, Phyllis Reynolds Naylor – During the summer after they graduate high school, Alice and her gang of girlfriends all work on a cruise ship together. She’s still apart from Patrick, stressed out by the distance in their relationship and worried about their future, but having fun and adventures on the cruise ship. Sometimes, I really want Alice to be more assertive that that she’s older, but then I have to remind myself that just like any friend I have high expectations for, I have to let Alice just be herself. It’s not fair to expect her to be anything else.

Sammy Keyes and the Power of Justice Jack, Wendelin van Draanen – This book reminded me a little of the Kick Ass movies (I’d just watched the second one), because Sammy is confronted by an adult man trying to be a superhero, who is both inspired by her sleuthing and hoping to make her his sidekick. Sammy’s struggles, with other people and with her own conscience, feel very real to me and I think that’s something I really like about the books. Best of all, it’s amazing to see how far she’s come since the first book, when no one knew her secret living situation and she didn’t trust anybody. She’s brought together a community, a network of support for herself. Which really builds on my suspicion that her grandmother might die soon, or go into the hospital for a while. Something is going to happen that will force Sammy to count on the community around her. She’s resourceful, but the most amazing part of the books is when she lets others help her.

So that was my first quarter in reading for 2014. The second quarter is already pretty strong and I can’t wait to share the report with you. But first, I have to read all the books I’ll be reporting on, which is the best part of all.

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My end of 2013 homework

It occurred to me yesterday that 2013 has essentially been one long Friday the 13th, full of trials and trouble. However, it was also full of achievements. I’m so glad I’ve taken this opportunity to remember that. Jamey first suggested that I spend some time remembering what I accomplished back in 2010 and this year, she was instrumental in reminding me about most of this list. I’m grateful she did and I’m grateful I have her to make me do this homework every year. 🙂

Thirteen Amazing Things about 2013

1. I bragged on the wonderful, talented, hard-working people in my life, more than ever, and even had trouble keeping up with their achievements, there were so many.

2. I worked on my first t.v. show, which was an incredible education and a lot of fun. It premieres next month. Later in the year, I worked on a live, televised awards show, which was a short, crazy, enormously fun experience. I had the opportunity to work on my friends’ projects, which was very rewarding and inspiring. In the last of the year, I worked on a reality show pilot, another new t.v. experience.

3. I attended the weddings of dear friends, friends from the tango community and friends I’ve known for over a decade. I don’t talk a lot about my personal life on here, but I am so proud of my friends and families for all of the personal milestones they’ve achieved this year.

4. I co-wrote a feature-length script called Ostium, with writer Nick Cardinale, which was a Quarter Finalist in the Creative World Awards.

5. I organized and co-hosted a new tango series, Tango X. We had four installments this year, the last one was part of the incredible New Orleans Tango Weekend.

6. I moved for the first time in 6 years.

7. I was interviewed about my writing for the first time.

8. I performed my award-winning essay, “Tango Face,” for my tango community. It was an inspiring night of musical performances, readings and of course, dancing. Later, at Tango X, I had the opportunity to teach my first tango lesson, together with Casey Mills. And, “Tango Face” was published by the Double Dealer at the end of the year.

Orquesta Fleur Flyer, 2013-10-26 Cafe Instanbul(1)

9. I interviewed Josh Hanagarne in front of an audience and moderated Peauxdunque’s panel on writing groups, both at the Louisiana Book Festival.

10. I didn’t win NaNoWriMo, which ended up being its own awesome education.

11. I read almost as much nonfiction as fiction (27 to 34) this year, which is unusual for me. As I said in my last post, I became a student of the memoir in an effort to write a better one.

12. I took workshops and lessons from amazing professional tango dancers/instructors like: Damian Lobato, Rod Relucio & Jenny Teters, Silvina Valz, Tony Fan & Ilana Rubin, Ney Melo & Jennifer Bratt, and Homer & Cristina Ladas. I had the opportunity to study with these fantastic dancers and teachers because of the people in my tango community, who teach me every day. I’m taking all of the experiences and lessons I’ve had into my future in tango, looking forward to studying and dancing more.

David y Jessica Gentry (New Orleans Tango Weekend organizers), Homer Ladas and myself, Ney y Jennifer. Cristina Ladas took this great photo.

David and Jessica Gentry (New Orleans Tango Weekend organizers), Homer Ladas and myself, Ney Melo Jennifer Bratt. Cristina Ladas took this great photo.

13. I found my core. In tango (and dance), your core is what gives you balance and everyone’s is slightly different. It sounds like an easy thing, to find your core, but it isn’t. And even when you’ve found it, you have to continually work to access it, to use it to become a better dancer. I think I might’ve started on the road to finding my personal/emotional core this year, sorting through the junk to find the treasure. Now that I’ve found it, I look forward to working to access it, through my dance, my writing and my relationships.

I’m excited about 2014 and all that it promises to be.

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2013 Q4 Reading Report

My last quarterly reading report of 2013! I read so many great books this year and I’m in the middle of several more amazing books, so I know the first quarter of next year will be strong. Plus, I have plans for an awesome reading project, which I think you’ll all like.

October

Son of a Gun, Justin St. Germain – This book, about St. Germain’s emotional investigation into his mother’s life and death, as well as gun violence and machismo, was absolutely haunting. St. Germain takes an intensely personal story and turns it into a revelation about human heart. But the most impactful part is his willingness to say, “After all of these questions, I don’t really have answers.”

Poison Princess, Kresley Cole – I was completely surprised by this first book in a new series for teens. It spends such a long time as a relatively “normal” tale of teen life and then becomes a stunning post-apocalyptic tale.

Men We Reaped, Jesmyn Ward – This book is another example of how to transform personal stories and history into a universal revelation, putting personal faces to the argument that systematic poverty and criminalization haunts young black men, their families and communities. Ward’s writing is evocative, emotional and convincing. Everyone should read this book.

Too Good to Be True, Benjamin Anastas – I was blown away by Anastas’s ability (and willingness) to depict his rock-bottom experiences so bravely, with humor and openness. For a student of the memoir genre, which is what I’ve been this year, I couldn’t have asked for a better example of turning a small, humble recovery into brilliant revelation.

I Can’t Complain, Elinor Lipman – After some pretty dark reading this month, Lipman’s funny and short essays were the perfect remedy.

November

The Family Fang, Kevin Wilson – There are a few people who, when they recommend that I read something, I immediately put it on the top of my list. Okay, there’s 3 people. One of them, Maurice, recommended that I read this ridiculous, hysterical, searing book about an odd family of performance artists. I didn’t read much fiction this year, but I’m glad I made room for this book.

Endless Knight, Kresley Cole – I’m always impressed by authors who can take what seems to be a relatively limited premise and create a series of twists and redirects that feel both surprising and inevitable.

I Wear the Black Hat, Chuck Klosterman – Funny, dark, twisted and thought-provoking, these essays take a very open, blunt look at the nature of evil, the faces of it and our perceptions of it. I was continually impressed by the mental gymnastics Klosterman leads his reader through.

Mud Show, Edwin Martin & Don E. Wilmeth – During NaNoWriMo, I found this book an invaluable resource to help jump-start me back into the world of my novel. The book includes an essay and a collection of photos from several tent circuses during the 80s.

Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton – If there’s a theme to the nonfiction books I’ve read this quarter (and maybe all year), it’s “when things aren’t all right, here’s how I figured out how to be all right.” That’s pretty much this book. Doyle Melton does what the other authors on this list have done, bares her personal shames and mistakes and shows how she turned them around for herself. Despite some dark subject matter, the tone is light and humorous.

Coming Clean, Kimberly Rae Miller – I was absolutely blown away by Miller’s honesty, her ability to discuss being raised by hoarders, her ability to write about her parents and the way they lived with compassion and love, for them and for herself.

Innocence, Dean Koontz – I got my hands on an ARC of Koontz’s newest and dug straight in. I’ve been a Koontz fan since I was 10 years old – I credit him and his books with being my first teacher/lessons in writing. This novel reminded me so much of the early Koontz books that I loved as a kid, but conscious that the world has been influenced by Law & Order and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

December

“The Princess and the Queen, or the Blacks and the Greens,” George R.R. Martin, in Dangerous Women –  I’m desperate for the next book in the Song of Ice & Fire series, so I ripped right into this novella at the end of Dangerous Women, edited by Martin. The rest of the stories in the collection look very good, but I had to make this one my priority for the moment. The story is a prequel to the events in the Song of Ice & Fire series, written like a history text, and absolutely consuming.

Survival Lessons, Alice Hoffman – I’ve been a fan of Alice Hoffman most of my formative years, so I was intrigued to read this short text on grief and recovery. All of the “advice” is coming straight from a writer, so creativity in the wake of devastation is the real point, in my opinion.

I Am An Emotional Creature, Eve Ensler – These monologues are directed toward young women/girls, using their own voices. Sometimes I found them blatantly melodramatic, but I reminded myself that I’m not the ideal audience for these. My 12-14 self is, though, and I found much of this book spoke to her directly.

To be continued in the new year…

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2013 Q3 Reading Report

As I mentioned in my Q2 Reading Report, I moved during the summer, which meant that not only was I late posting that Report, but I didn’t do as much reading. In fact, I gave away and sold about half of my book collection, amassed over a long period of time as a Graduate Student Teaching Assistant (free textbooks!), a bookseller at Barnes & Noble (discounted books!), a reviewer (free review copies!) and most recently, a volunteer for the Friends of the New Orleans Public Library book sales (free or cheap books!). I’ve gone through different phases, collecting lots of titles as “research” for projects I was working on (Y/A, fairy tales, novels about music/musicians, books about the circus). Some of these titles had to be culled. I still have more than 1,000 books, so don’t be too alarmed.

Since the move, I’m reading more mindfully than ever, mostly memoirs. I’ve eliminated almost all other books from my reading diet at the moment. But most of what I’m reading is rich and powerful.

July

Beautiful Creatures, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl – I saw the movie, really liked it and was curious about the book. It’s a pretty fat book, so because of the move, this one book was most of my July. I was lucky if I could read a chapter each evening before falling asleep, after a hard day of moving my remaining books to the new place. I enjoyed reading it, especially gauging why the filmmakers changed what they changed, which is always a fascination of mine. In some ways, I think the film is better, but in others, the book was richer and more complex.

Confessions of a First Daughter, Cassidy Calloway – While culling books, I decided that I’d like to read this one quickly before I gave it away. It was a sweet, cute book, a quick read. Reminded me a lot of the period of my life when I loved the movies First Daughter and The Prince and Me. It’s probably not an accident that in all the tumult of the move, I turned to comforting and engrossing Y/A novels.

Seventh Grade Tango, Elizabeth Levy – I saw this one at the FONOPL book sales and was so curious about how tango would be presented for middle readers. I was pretty impressed and touched by this book. The characters reminded me a bit of Alice and Patrick in the books by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor (I just saw that the *last* Alice book was published a few days ago! It’s a 500 page book about Alice between the ages of 18-60! How weird is that?).

August

Confessions of a Sociopath, M.E. Thomas – This is an anonymous memoir about a sociopath’s life and psychology, from the founder of www.sociopathworld.com. I was curious about anonymous memoirs and about a memoir that deals with a subject that is controversial, that people so easily judge. While this relatively slim book was highly repetitive and it often felt meandering, I did find it illuminating and fascinating. Sometimes, it felt like I was being conned as I read it, but I also found myself sympathizing quite a lot. When a phrase like “(s)he’s a sociopath/psychopath” is used in popular culture, it’s to describe someone violent, dangerous, or evil. This book has convinced me that that’s not always the case, that sociopathy is simply on the spectrum of personality types, that within the world of people with sociopathy, there is again a spectrum from the socially-functional to the violent. It’s another book that’s come up a lot in conversation.

The World’s Strongest Librarian, Josh Hanagarne – I put this one on my to-read list earlier this year and requested it from the library. Then, I had the opportunity to interview Josh for a piece I wrote for 225 about the Louisiana Book Festival. Just when I was almost finished reading the book, I was invited to interview Josh at the Festival (in about two weeks!). So, I’ve had quite a journey with this book over the past few months. Like with Poser from Q2’s Report, the subtitle says it all: “A memoir of Tourette’s, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family.” Whoo boy. Yes, he talks about all of that and knits it together to flesh out a very real, complex person who just happens to be himself. Whenever I think my memoir has too much going on in it, I’ll just have to re-read this book to figure out how to make it all make sense. Looking forward to our talk in the State Capitol building Nov. 2nd.

The 2012 Best American Essays, Ed. David Brooks – Reading this was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had in a while. I read one essay each day, over 24 days, both forcing myself to read an essay on occasion and only allowing myself to read one sometimes. This gave me the space of an entire day to think about the essay I’d read and I found essays cropping up in conversations constantly. There were only one or two essays out of the 24 that I didn’t absolutely adore and even then, I was glad I’d read them. I discovered several books to add to my to-read list through this collection. When I was finished, I found myself going through withdrawal and desperate for the 2013 version, which is edited by my literary godmother (in my mind at least), Cheryl Strayed. Hurray!

Whip Smart, Melissa Febos – This was another book I read because I wanted to see how memoirists tackled hard or controversial topics. Jamey recommended this story about Febos’s years as a dominatrix and loaned me her signed copy, which I devoured. The bar for fierceness, for honesty and for bravery was raised so high here and whenever I’m scared to say something in my work, to really say it, I might have to open up this book again and read a few passages. Any passages will do.

September

This is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith – I really liked The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, which I read last quarter, so I requested this book about a “normal girl” and a child star who fall in love. What I like about her books so far is that they start out with a gimmick (or “hook” as they say in Hollywood, since these are both so cinematic), then ranscend the gimmick by being so clever and cute. Essentially, a light-hearted, escapist Y/A book that I stayed up all night to finish before diving headlong into a loooong stretch of more memoirs.

Bootstrapper, Mardi Jo Link – The part of me that adored The Swiss Family Robinson and The Boxcar Children loved this book about a mother and her boys surviving and saving their farm. I love stories about hoarding for the winter, struggling and thriving against adversity.

Poser, Claire Dederer – While doing “book math” to work out the structure of this book, I ended up reading it all over again!

Smashed, Koren Zailckas – I saw the movie Smashed a few months ago and assumed it was based on this memoir. Turns out…not so much, though they do have alcohol issues in common. Once more, I was interested in reading a memoir that tackles difficult topics. In this case, girlhood drinking and alcoholism. Though I could relate to a lot of Zailckas’s experiences, I found her often very difficult to relate to. However, I can appreciate how influential this book was and continues to be on the topic of girls/women and alcohol abuse, binge drinking and the vulnerability of women under the influence. I’m interested to see that she’s written another memoir, Fury.

Turn Around Bright Eyes, Rob Sheffield – Turns out I bought Sheffield’s first book years ago in my “novels about music” phase, except it’s not a novel. It’s a memoir! And I’ve had it all this time. Turn Around Bright Eyes is his third memoir, and the first I’ve read. What amazes me is that there is some deep, dark stuff in this book (like depression, the death of his first wife and 9/11) and yet the book is mostly jovial and light-hearted. Which makes the deep, dark stuff somehow hit you harder, but also it helps you survive it as you read. No one writes about music like Sheffield. Also, I was tickled to discover he seems to share my weird obsession with Crossroads. Can’t wait to read the book I’ve had all along, Love is a Mixed Tape.

Losing My Faculties, Brendan Halpin – Put this one on my list to read after reading Halpin’s book with Emily Franklin, The Half-Life of Planets. Of course, it’s very different from that Y/A title, since it’s a memoir about a teacher’s experience surviving the bureaucracy and failures of the education system while trying not to fail his students. I was very impressed (and surprised) with what Halpin came out and said about schools and students and teachers. It’s horrifying to know from an inside perspective how likely our education is to fail so many, but the fact that there are teachers like Halpin out there, determined to teach, is hopeful. He’s written another memoir, It Takes a Worried Man, that I’m also interested to read, plus another Y/A novel with Emily Franklin!

Well, that’s it. Light in quantity, but certainly not light in quality or subject matter. As I suspected, the last month picked up. And I continue to read as much as possible. There are so many books I want to read!! And I have a mini reading project I want to do before the end of the year. Maybe in December, we’ll see how it goes. I hope you discovered some books you’d like to read here and I can’t wait to share Q4’s titles with you.

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2013 Q1 Reading Report

Another year, another batch of books. Already, 2013’s reading has been spectacular.

January

Long After Midnight At the Nino Bien, Brian Winter – This one was recommended to me by a tango friend last year. I struggled to get interested in it for the first section or so, but once I did, it was a really quick read, amusing and informative. It’s the story of Winter’s time in Buenos Aires, learning tango and getting enmeshed in community there, and has a lot of political and tango music history. Sadly, I just heard through my own tango community that the Nino Bien may have closed recently.

The Fault in Our Stars, John Green – I’ve loved John Green since I read An Abundance of Katherines in 2007. I’ll admit I was a bit put off by the grim subject matter of this book, but I knew it would be lovely in his hands. And it was. He writes about misfits so wonderfully and it makes sense that he’s so embraced in a world of Glee and It Gets Better because he’s been a voice telling teens to let their freak flags fly for a long time. I was already adult-ish when I first read him and I still appreciated the message. Anyways, this is one of those books that sticks with you long after you read it and you find yourself recalling it at odd, perfect moments.

Visions of Sugar Plums and Eleven on Top, Janet Evanovich – These books do not stick with you after you read them. I’d be hard pressed to tell you any specific thoughts about them a few hours after I finish them, but they are entertaining and distracting as you read. Evanovich has created a fun character, which is no mean feat, but the rest is fluff.

The Lost Heir, E.G. Foley – I won a signed copy of one of Gaelen Foley’s books, so I asked her to send me this one, a middle readers book she wrote with her husband. I already had a copy, which I gave to a friend’s son and we read the book together, talking frequently about the characters and the story. It was a really fun experience and we both loved the characters and the twists the story took. It’s a steampunk adventure in Victorian England, complete with magic and fantasy creatures and demented villains. Fans of the Dave Barry/Ridley Pearson Peter books will love this series, which continues with Jake and the Giant.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn – I mostly picked this one up out of curiosity, to see what all the hype was about and then I was just sucked breathlessly under the surface of the story and I didn’t come up again till I was done. I’ve rarely read such a brave, smart book that messed with my head as much. Maybe never. It was a phenomenal exercise in perspective and psychology.

February

A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin – Okay, okay, I’m sure you’re tired of me reading books because I like their t.v./movie counterparts, but it’s not something that’s gonna stop anytime soon. Friends of mine have been telling me to read these books for more than a decade, but I just never thought I’d get into them. Same with the HBO show. I must’ve checked the first season out from the library three times before I finally watched it. But then I was obsessed with seeing every minute of the second season, counting down to the third and reading all the books. Talk about an exercise in perspective. Epic is the only word and it hardly seems enough. I read the first book in about a week and would’ve read it faster if I hadn’t had to sleep or work.

I Saw You…Comics Inspired by Real Life Missed Connections, ed. Julia Wertz – This book has comic artists illustrating selected missed connections ads. I saw through a Goodreads update that a friend was reading it and was intrigued. It’s a mixed bag. Some of them are very poignant and well-executed and some are less so, but the book is definitely worth checking out.

Twelve Sharp and Plum Lovin’, Janet Evanovich – I think I’m only reading these books at this point because I hate leaving stories unfinished. I like to know what happens. Plus, I had a loan request for the next Song of Ice and Fire book and then ordered it online and it was taking forever for me to get a copy, for some reason. Had to read something.

A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin – Finally! I got my hands on this book. One of the things that most impresses me about the series is how well-developed the characters are, how thrilling it is to see the story from so many varied and contradictory perspectives. Everyone’s a villain and everyone’s a hero. The political intrigue and maneuvering is absolutely incredible. This one took me only about a week to consume as well.

March

Girl Land, Caitlin Flanagan – This is a hard book to define. A treatise (with an agenda) on the nebulous period of time between girlhood and womanhood, with research about proms and diaries of old, as well as pop culture references (but none past 1980), and a bit of a memoir aspect as Flanagan relates her own experiences. The book was fascinating, though I thought it was less successful when Flanagan started preaching to parents of modern girls at the end, making some good points, but very deluded about modern social communication and how to help girls kids interact with it. Also, she blithely says she’s the mother of boys and doesn’t have to worry about much of the danger she’s outlined, missing the significant point that parents have as much to teach boys about Girl Land, this period of female development she’s defined, as they do girls. Boys need to learn the lessons of respect for others and critical thought as much as girls do. What will change if we teach half our population something that we neglect to teach the other half? This is the same basic point Caitlin Moran missed when she defined ‘feminist’ in How to Be a Woman and left out men in her definition. Still, I’ve referenced both books constantly in conversation since I’ve read them. Here’s one review that says a lot of what I think better.

A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin – One of my friends, a huge GRRM fan, called this the “WTF?” book when I told her I’d started it and that is pretty much the best summary I can imagine. This book is wild and everything you assume will happen doesn’t and things you’d never imagine happening do. This is also the book that the current HBO season is based on, so I’m excited about what’s to come, while dreading a bunch of it as well.

The Devil in Her Way, Bill Loehfelm – My review of this one will be forthcoming, is out in 225 Magazine. Meanwhile, you can buy a copy and get the author to sign it at Garden District Book Shop April 30th, at Maple Street Book Shop May 14th and at Octavia Books May 21st.

This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz – Junot’s brilliant. These stories were quick little literary snacks, evocative and powerful and weird. But they ring true, as everything I’ve ever read by him does, and they feel so personal you have to call him “Junot,” as if you know him, like you’ve just had a really long conversation with him.

Out of the Easy, Ruta Sepetys – I read a bunch of write-ups about this one, especially in Entertainment Weekly, and despite the glowing review, I was thinking it was going to seriously suck. There’s a something about seedy historical New Orleans that intrigues people, so much so that it becomes almost fetishized. But I was pre-judging the book based on two things: the author doesn’t live in New Orleans and the title refers to the city as “the Easy.” The book, in reality, is wonderful. I love that it’s a YA title, but talks frankly about sex and crime in its historical setting. I’m not promoting gratuitous sex and violence in any medium or setting, but I absolutely appreciated that the book doesn’t condescend to its readers or cater to the group of YA-censors who do condescend to teen readers. Sepetys had a story to tell and she told it. Pretty freaking well.

Are You My Mother?, Alison Bechdel – A member of my writing group recommended Bechdel’s Fun Home, which is called a tragicomic and blew my mind when I read it last year. So, I was completely on board when I heard she had a new book out, this one a comic drama about her mother and psychotherapy. On paper, Bechdel and I have completely different biographies, yet I felt like she had already written my memoir. If that makes sense. Or, at least, she’d already done the psychology research for my memoir. But perhaps that’s the power of her narrative ability, matched with her visual artist instincts. Her books make you live in them until they are your stories, too.

Requiem, Lauren Oliver – This is the last book in the Delirium series, which I’ve been eagerly anticipating. Or is it the last book? It really didn’t feel like it. I liked that the book alternated between perspectives, between Lena and Hana, and I liked that we got a bit of Alex’s perspective in a separate short story. But. But, the story did not feel complete when the book was finished. I ran out of text, but I still had so many questions. I don’t need everything resolved and I didn’t even necessarily [SPOILER! STOP! SPOILER!] need the romance to be resolved cleanly, but Oliver has built this world and has given us no idea where it’s going after she stops writing about it. We need another book.

So I know my reviews aren’t strictly reviews in the traditional sense. They’re random thoughts about why I decide to read books and what I think of them after I’ve read them. Sometimes, I’m grumpy when I write them and maybe a bit rude (sorry, Janet Evanovich and Iris Johansen) and sometimes I’m still a little euphoric and obsessed (too many examples to name one). But, I think they say something about the person reading them, where I’m at at a given time or moment and the world around me as I’m reading. I hope you find that interesting. I love talking books, so feel free to share your thoughts too, even–especially–if you disagree with me. I find that interesting.

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2012 Q4 Reading Report

I’m not going to hit my annual goal of 100 books in 2012 and while that disappoints me, I am not disappointed in the books I chose to spend my time with this year. I read more nonfiction than ever and I tend to read that more slowly. Keep in mind that I also read much more than what I track in these reading reports – scripts as part of my film jobs, short stories and essays for Narrative, stuff that I am legally and professionally required not to discuss. Additionally, I often read essays and articles, work by Peauxdunque members and other writers. A lot of that undisclosed reading picked up this year, which meant a decline in just-for-pleasure and even for-review reading.

October

The Thirteenth Tale, Diane Setterfield – This is the book that Mamma Mia! and I listened to on the return leg of The Grandma Road Trip, but didn’t get to finish. I checked out the audio from my library and Mamma Mia! and I set aside some time and both listened to the rest. I was obsessed with this story while we were listening to it, but something about having to wait a while to conclude the story and not being in the same situation (listening to it in the car, mostly at night, with Mamma Mia!) dulled the conclusion for me. Maybe the suspense couldn’t be sustained, either over the break between listens or over the 400+ pages worth of story. Maybe it would’ve felt different if I’d read the book itself over time, or if we’d listened to the whole thing in one go.

Three to Get Deadly and Four to Score, Janet Evanovich – These are silly and fun. I can read two books quickly, be absorbed in the world, and feel a sense of accomplishment. I like that Stephanie Plum has such a distinctive, specific voice.

The Uninvited Guests, Sadie Jones – I read about this one in Entertainment Weekly and was intrigued. The hostess whose house I stayed at during Isaac was reading it, too, but she wasn’t that impressed. I knew what she meant when I read it. The mystery was compelling, but it was hard to invest in any of the characters.

How to Be a Woman, Caitlin Moran – This book literally had me busting a gut quite frequently. It’s been a long time since a book has made my stomach hurt from laughing. It was thought-provoking, too. There were many genuine points about womanhood mixed in with the humorous delivery. Sometimes I disagreed and quite frequently, Moran’s feminism contradicted itself, but it was always smart and I was always invested. She has another book called Moranthology, I discovered when I went looking for the link. I’ll probably read that one, too.

November

Wild, Cheryl Strayed – I was not intrigued by the subject matter. It honestly sounded like it’d be the most boring and excruciatingly sad book, simultaneously. However, Entertainment Weekly wouldn’t stop talking about this book, nor would any of the other print or online media sources that I read. And then I read Tiny, Beautiful Things and I knew I had to read it. Even so, I was surprised by how quickly I got sucked in and how completely this book took over my life. I couldn’t think about anything else until I finished. If I can write with a fraction as much honesty and clarity, I will be incredibly pleased with myself.

Hive Five and Hot Six, Janet Evanovich – Have you noticed a trend? I tend to read something immense and/or devastating and then I read two of these books, and then I dive back into something consuming. I like books that know what they are and don’t pretend to be anything different. These are palate-cleansers for me. Light and easy between heavy courses.

The Mapmaker’s War, Ronlyn Domingue – my interview with Ronlyn about this book is forthcoming. The book will be available in March.

Torch, Cheryl Strayed – I doubled down on the heavy courses here. It was fascinating to see how Strayed dealt with the same material in fiction and two different forms of nonfiction. Maybe more than anything else this year, reading these three books was instructive. The novel told a story that was very close to the stories relayed in the nonfiction books, if you’re looking at a bullet-point list of facts. Yet it was so different, the why behind the story and the how of its construction. Somehow, it touched me even more deeply than the nonfiction, though I think I admire the nonfiction more.

December

Reached, Ally Condie – I ate this book, the conclusion of the trilogy begun with Matched, consumed it as fast as I could. I had to know what happened and I barely blinked. If you just read the premise of Matched, you might think it was all hook and no substance, but it wasn’t very far into Matched that I realized I was reading something unique and fierce. The way the characters in this series respond to poetry and art, the way they use it to become themselves, pass messages between each other, and change the world, is a strong argument for literacy and art, why they are entirely vital.

Seven Up and Hard Eight, Janet Evanovich – I took four of these home with me for Christmas, figuring I deserved a nice long dessert after the hardy courses I’ve read this Quarter. There’s some heavy, dense stuff on this list and I wanted to be able to focus on my family and enjoy a nice story. That’s what I got.

The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster – I somehow never read this growing up. I don’t know how I missed it. I think it would’ve meant the world to me if I’d read it when I was a kid and I have friends who still respond to it that way. I enjoyed it a lot, marveled at the word craft and the imagination of it. I’d like to read it several more times and I regret I didn’t read it earlier. I checked it out from the library months ago but, and I’m not sure why, it took me forever to pick it up and get into it. Probably because its reputation had preceded it. I was worried it wouldn’t live up to what I’d heard.

To the Nines and Ten Big Ones, Janet Evanovich – These two were particularly good, fast reads. They seem to be getting a bit darker, too.

[12.31 Update:

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami – I checked this book out of the library at the beginning of the year and I’ve been renewing it ever since, dipping in on occasion. This is a slim book, an extended meditation, but I’ve been reading it all year long, finding it dense, at times boring, at other times humorous, always enlightening. I read more than half of it yesterday and today, finally ready for it I think. “Still, when I finished,” Murakami says in the afterword, “I had the feeling that a weight had been lifted.” I feel that way too, now that I’ve finished reading it in the last hours of the old year. I’m not a runner and this book illustrated that more than ever. I don’t have the mentality for it, but it was fascinating to get inside a runner’s head for a while, especially one who is also a writer.]

I’ll be picking my favorite books of the year when I post my 2012 Best List later today. On the one hand, I read fewer books this year than I typically do, so that narrows the field and theoretically makes it easier. But on the other hand, because I read fewer books and more nonfiction, I usually lived with the books longer, letting them rattle around inside me. It’s going to be tough.

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