Reading, Lately [September]

The list below gives evidence of A) September simply being an inexplicably good month of reading; and B) my nerdish desire to make my Goodreads reading challenge in exactly 3/4 of the year, once I realized it was a viable possibility.

(And I did, in fact, pick the shortish novella A Tangled Web on September 30th to achieve that. Yes, that’s almost cheating. No, I don’t care.)

Fiction


Fortunately, the Milk  
Neil Gaiman

Sometimes I think that Neil Gaiman is my favorite genre. This kids book isn’t really in any way relevant to that thought—because it’s necessarily very different from his non-kids books—but this remarkably clever story makes me think it anyways.

I gave this as a gift to a friend who loves children’s books long before even reading it, because I knew it would be good. And now that I’ve listened to it on audio book (read by Gaiman, even better!), I’m trying to come up with an excuse to put my hands on a hard copy again, because apparently the illustrations are lovely.

Rules of Civility  Amor Towles
I think it was lovely. It was lovely, right? Perhaps it was mostly lovely. I got bored a few times, and that doesn’t lend itself to the description, but when I was enjoying it, which was much of the time, it was. Lovely, that is. And I finished much of the second third or so quickly, as I was just into it quite a bit more by then.

 

Big Little Lies  Liane Moriarty

Big issues, light book. It feels like reading chick-li, and I suppose it is, but Moriarty is good here are packing the best kind of fluff right around the tougher things. I don’t know much much sense that actually makes, but anyways, I enjoyed this one all the way through.

 

 

Left Neglected  Lisa Genova

This one has been sitting on my bookshelf, waiting for me to do this silly self-challenge to read the poor books waiting for me on my bookshelves. I picked it up from the used bookstore, even though I’d been wanting to read another book by Genova more — but this one was there! It wasn’t anything special, but I liked engaging in the story, and all of everything in here about left neglect was fascinating.

 

The Geography of You and Me  Jennifer E. Smith

Silly, fun YA… but also a bit of a downer for some of it? This was another one where I did enjoy the reading, and I was more or less motivated to finish the story, but it didn’t wow me in the slightest. Maybe it was the improbability of a teenage romance lasting too much past the last page, but I’ve read plenty of books where I didn’t mind that.

 

A Tangled Web  Mercedes Lackey

Short 90-page adventure through Lackey’s vision of what Greek Mythology looks like in her 500 Kingdoms world. Picked for my need to finish a book that day– and it was perfect for that. Not as good as the first two or three books in the 500 Kingdoms series, but significantly better than the final three.

 


 

Non-fiction

Bird by Bird Anne Lamott

I devoured the first few chapters of this right when I bought it several months ago, but once it became more focused on fiction it became a bit-by-bit book for me, since I don’t really write fiction. It took ages to finish, but was completely worth it: even the things that didn’t apply much to me were good. But if you’re also not a fiction writer, and don’t much care to read about it, the beginning and end are particularly great.

 

How To Be a Woman Caitlin Moran

I have absolutely no idea how to review this. The first who chapters feel quite a bit crass, but only so much in that we don’t really like talking about going through puberty all that much! It might not be for everyone, especially in my usual circles, but it was so worth it for me, particularly the later bits more specifically on feminism. Perhaps the most true thing I can tell you is that I carried this around at all times and finished it in under two days.

 

 

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Books, books, books: July

Oh hey, book talk time. So if you don’t really like reading about the books other people are reading… then I’m not sure why you’re here anyways. Books, guys. Like the lifeblood of my soul.

Errr. And on that note, here’s some short and sweet (or long and rambly) reviews of a few of the books I read during July. Hint: they were mostly pretty awesome.

Fiction


The Girl You Left Behind  
Jojo Moyes

Jojo Moyes stole my beating and reading heart with Me Without You. On my second of her books, she didn’t fail me one bit, with a story of two young women and a painting that connects them. The Girl You Left Behind begins with several chapters with a young woman named Sophie Lefevre trying to maintain the family’s hotel and tavern in WWI German-occupied France while her husband fights for their country.

But when we get to the biggest cliffhanger of Sophie’s story, it ends for the time being, and the main plot begins. (I had to put the book down at this point and pick up the next chapter after a night of sleep. The transition feels odd at the time, even if it makes sense later on.) Liv’s story takes place in the present and unravels the mystery of a long missing portrait of Sophie, painted by her husband, Edouard Lefevre—as well as unraveling Liv’s own life.

Conclusion: loved it, will read more Moyes.

Farewell, Four Waters  Kate Mccord
Categorizing this “fiction” isn’t entirely accurate. Farewell, Four Waters is a fictionalized account of the author’s time as a aid worker in Afghanistan.

I was able to read this a little early (it comes out in October) so I won’t give much away. I particularly loved how much I learned here: about aid work, about Afghanistan, about being an expat of any sort in an unfamiliar, and sometimes unfriendly, culture.

It was enjoyable fiction, but I think I valued how much I learned about a foreign culture just as much as, if not more than, the entertainment value.


 

Non-fiction


Floating City 
 Sudhir Venkatesh

Just let me tell you, this book took me entirely too long to finish. I went long spans of days ignoring it on my kindle, and finished plenty of other books while doing that ignoring.

But here’s the funny thing: I also really enjoyed it. It was just the sort of thing that I really enjoyed a few pages at a time. In a funny way, I think I also kept forgetting that I would enjoy reading it—despite the memoir tone, the amount I was learning about underground culture made it feel like it should be too educational to be all that enjoyable!

Venkatesh recounts several years of his work as a sociologist at Columbia University, from when he first arrived and was struggling to gain trust in the circles he was researching, to years while tenured with a vast network of contacts in the underground markets of NYC. Very interesting, very informative, and very enjoyable.

 

Garlic and Sapphires Ruth Reichl

I wish I could pronounce “Reichl,” because I would be talking about this memoir so much more. Ruth Reichl’s stories of her time as the chief food critic at the New York Times in the late 20th century are brilliant. I love her writing, her sense of humor, and her storytelling style.

I basically know so much more now about food and restaurant culture and lots of things about fancy eating that I will very likely never actually need to know.

And I was also reminded on about every single page how much of a picky eater I am. Really, really picky. It’s an awful thing. But this book? This book is a great thing.

 

The Tent Margaret Atwood

This is my second experience with Atwood. I am STILL enamored by her The Handmaid’s Tale (and still equally tempted to go back and reread or to shove it into the hands of any willing reader friend) and have since picked up more Atwood for my TBR list.

The Tent is dozens of short pieces, ranging anywhere from two to seven pages. Some read like poems, others like essays, and still others almost like short stories. I read these over several months, so the reading experience was fragmented, but I overall enjoyed them each time. I’d love to go back eventually and reread some or all, because I feel like these pieces are the kind that just get better the second time around.

 

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My doomed-from-the-start January reading plan

This year, I didn’t exactly make new years resolutions. What I did do is make this sort of convoluted plan to spend different months focusing on different things I want to learn/change/improve and working on different smaller goals. A month and a half into the year, I’m still trying to get the slightest idea of what that should look like.

The only area it actually made immediate sense in was some reading plans.

First, I made a reading goal. Because Goodreads tells me to (and Goodreads is the best thing that ever happened to my literary life). Background: In 2012 I read 44 books; in ’13 I upped that by a whole 4 more books. Seeing as I finished school in May, and therefore ought to have had much more time to read, I had slightly higher hopes for myself. 
 
Now, I’m going to lie to you and say that  I don’t care about the number — and have no concern with the fact that a blogger I follow reads something like 120 books in a year, on average. I promise with my fingers crossed that my reading goals for this year will have nothing to do with quantity and will totally focus on quality and diversity of material. (Fingers crossed and I promise you a pony if you can prove I’m lying — and the words “I’m going to lie to you…” don’t count.)
 
Here’s more (actual) truth: I AM going to have to focus more on quality and diversity and silly things like educating myself this year, because of one very important, sad fact:
 
Out of 48 books in 2013, only two of those were nonfiction. And of those two, one was a collection of essays on Hunger Games (The Girl Who Was on Fire: Your Favorite Authors on Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy) and the other was Bossypants. (Do you see a trend? I see a trend.)
 
So here’s the plan for 2014: 60 books. If I pass it, great. If I greatly surpass it, wonderful. If I miss it? Well, I won’t, because I’ll just gorge on novellas in the last two weeks of December to make it happen. (Ever since I started setting goals, I’ve done that. It’s silly, but I would never have read Lewis’s very quick, very good The Great Divorce without that silly habit, so it has it’s upside.)
 
Back to that weird, segmented 2014 plan. Second: after setting a reading goal, I began planning mini, monthly reading goals (using ‘shelves’ on GR). January, at one point, had nine books. I was crazy — especially since this wasn’t just my easier fiction of yesteryear. But realism set in (sort of), and this is what my January plan ended up looking like:January Reading List
 
I was already rereading Divergent and Insurgent to refresh what had happened in the trilogy before tackling with Allegiant (the end of which I still haven’t fully come to terms with, so Ali, I’m still planning to respond to that email. I’m still processing!). Sorry. In short, I didn’t count them.
 
Six books. That’s potentially achievable, right? Erm, nope. As of this past week, I’ve finished Allegiant, Neverwhere, White Umbrella, and a great middle-grade book called The Wednesday Wars. 
 
And those last two I finished a few nights ago. In the middle of February.
 
Suffice it to say that this plan, as a rigid structure, was doomed from the start.
 
But that’s alright. Of course I was going to struggle getting used to new genres, and of course I’m going to constantly slipping in novels that I don’t plan. The point was to read more — and to read more specifically. And there’s more to this than just picking what books I want to read ahead of time — I’m also using this as a way to group books together where I want to spend one, two, or three months reading about a specific topic, issue, or even just genre.
 
What does that mean for my current mission to turn this into an active blog? I’m going to keep note of what I’m reading, and I want to learn how to decently review a book — and that will go here. I’ll try to share why I’m picking books, and what I’m getting from them along the way. (I might even just tell you about all the books I keep buying at Open Books even though I may never get around to reading them.)
 
I also plan to fill you in on what I’m concentrating on in a given period. For February (and March, because really, that list ended up with twelve books… so maybe April too), I’ll be focusing on working through quite a few books (and dozens of articles I’ve set aside) on feminism, women’s roles, women in the church, Jesus feminism, women in general, etc etc. I’ll write about that in a couple of days (or, really, within the month at least. Realism. And baby steps.).
 
For now, go use Goodreads. It’s grand. And you can look at my list so far for Feb-March (https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/5179510-jenna?shelf=to-read-feb-march) and add me!
 
What are you reading right now? Do you write about the books you read anywhere? And, most importantly, do you have any suggestions on how to best use Goodreads, reading plans in general, or when it’s justified to give up on a book that’s dragging?