Tag Archives: Alison Bechdel

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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Filed under books, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading

2012 Q1 Reading Report

I’ve been a bit remiss in my blogger duties this year. But, that doesn’t mean I wasn’t reading. Here is the first of 2012’s Quarterly Reading Reports.

January

Royal Street, Suzanne Johnson – Read my 225 review here.

Then Came You, Jennifer Weiner – I decided last year to catch up on all the JennWein books I’d gotten behind on and this was my last book on that mission. I begin every one of her books with the same incredulous thought: this seems like a needlessly complicated and melodramatic plot. But, it doesn’t matter, I quickly get sucked in anyway. Her characters are so full and dimensional and really, isn’t life (needlessly…) complicated and melodramatic? Anyway, I love her books and this one was no different. Several different characters, a lot going on, surprisingly fulfilling. I’ve gotta stop being surprised.

February

Eight Days to Live, Iris Johansen – I also set myself the mission of catching up with all of Iris Johansen’s books, even though she’s a very different writer than JennWein. While I’m reading her books, I know they’re each pretty much the same book, but they’re comforting in a way. Like bad t.v. left on in the background. I don’t really have to pay attention to absorb the story. Anyway, since I read Blood Game last year, I’ve seen a marked improvement in the books. This one focuses on Eve Duncan’s adopted daughter and it also is a bit better, more like how Johansen’s books felt when I started reading them.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy, Alison Bechdel – A friend from Peauxdunque loaned this graphic novel memoir to me and I ate it up in about a day, though it’s pretty hefty (don’t let the pictures fool you). It was really funny and really moving, just as the subtitle “tragicomedy” implies. I’m consistently impressed with the narrative options available when visual art is mixed with words.

Chasing the Night, Iris Johansen – This book introduces a new character, Catherine Ling, that Johansen is clearly going to continue to write about. Another woman obsessed with a missing/taken child, Catherine seeks out Eve Duncan’s help. Since Eve Duncan is the character of Johansen’s I like the least, it was interesting to see her in interaction with another character who has so much in common with her, but is a foil to her. The books have definitely gotten a lot better – so much so than I’ve begun to wonder if they aren’t ghostwritten, maybe even by one of the reclusive author’s children (her daughter is a researcher for her and her son has co-written several books with her). Well, regardless, I think the collaboration with her kids has probably given her fiction a whole new lease.

Eve / Quinn / Bonnie, Iris Johansen – So, I’ve acknowledged a few times that Eve Duncan isn’t my favorite character, yet I gobbled up each of these books in just a few days, lured by the promise of finally knowing what happened to Eve’s daughter Bonnie – after more than a dozen books. The “truth” of what happened was really sad and haunted me for a few days. Yes, I’ll admit it. I was haunted. I’ve finally caught up on all of her books (except for the ones written with her son, Roy). Or, so I thought. A new one featuring Catherine Ling is coming out in a few days.

March

Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson – Even though I only finished two books in January, I was also reading this behemoth all year, which I started last year. I put it aside a few times and picked it back up, reading the last half pretty quickly.  One interesting result of the book’s heft is that I felt like I was living with this odd, brilliant man for quite a while. It seemed to me that this book was both an inspiring call to arms and a cautionary tale. At times, I was quite horrified as I read, or amused, or fascinated. I was always impressed with Isaacson’s writing, his ability to be pretty impartial considering how hard it must’ve been not to either glorify or vilify Jobs.

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns), Mindy Kaling – Pretty much the opposite of the Jobs biography in every way, but just as good. I started reading it right after I finished Steve Jobs and I finished it within 24 hours. It is such a quick, witty, brilliant snack of a book. If I didn’t already love Mindy Kaling, reading this book would pretty much finish me off. She needs to write like 10 more books.

Tango Zen: Walking Dance Meditation, Chan Park – Also a quick read, this book is pretty much a series of quotes about tango (or zen meditations, however you want to look at it).  I refer to it a lot, especially when thinking about my proclivity to close my eyes while in close hold with some partners. It’s given me a different lens through which to understand tango, and also an exercise for centering myself when my anxiety/overthinking threatens to trip me up while dancing.

Wither, Lauren DeStefano – Another dystopian teen book. I’m really loving this subgenre and the different permutations creative authors are making of it. This one was pretty horrific and fascinating. Think Stepford Wives with a healthy dose of Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t like the cover of the second book, but I am excited to read it.

Hunger Games / Catching FireSuzanne Collins – I loaned my copies of the series to a librarian friend (all of the library’s copies were requested) and when I got them back, I re-read the first two books before seeing the movie with her. This is the third time I’ve read the books and they are still amazing each time, maybe even more so as I appreciate just how multifaceted they are more each time I read them.

I think one thing that particularly impresses and excites me about dystopian lit in general and this book in particular is how mature the subject matter is. This is a dire world in which the teen characters, often girls, can either succomb or fight. It seems to indicate that teens can take a great responsibility for their universe than we’ve previously attributed to them. So, in a word: empowering. While Hunger Games might’ve begun the newest wave of dystopian, helped identify the subgenre, it reminds me most of a series of books published almost 20 years ago.

So that’s what I’ve been reading in the first quarter of 2012. I’m looking forward to a strong second quarter in reading.

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Filed under literature, musing, Quarterly Reading Report, what I'm reading