Sunday, January 11, 2015

Not THAT A to Z ...
A Blog Book Survey

Stolen from another blog, I give you my answers to the A to Z Book Survey! I'm pretty sure all the Kidz 2-day doing the survey include images for each'll be lucky to get a handful of pictures from me! I always say, a thousand words are worth a picture...

A - Author You've Read the Most

Oh gosh, I'm not sure! Look at me already failing on the first question. But I mean, should this be the most individual books? Because that would be Dr. Seuss, I think. Number of pages? That might be Tolstoy, after only a couple of books. If we're not counting Seuss and Tolstoy, then it's gonna be either Sandra Scoppettone, Nelson DeMille, or Virginia Woolf - I've read about a dozen books from each of those three. If I weren't lazy about images (see above), I'd post a lesbian/mystery Venn Diagram to illustrate this answer.

Men Against the Sea (The Bounty Trilogy, #2)B - Best Sequel
Ooooh, good question. Oh, man, The Two Towers doesn't really count as a sequel, right, book-wise, because The Lord of the Rings is actually all one book, even though it's not. Hmmm. Well, if not that, then let's go with Men Against the Sea, the second book in the (Mutiny on the) Bounty trilogy. I adored Men Against the Sea.  I felt so impressed by and fond of the men and their boat that saved them. What a great yarn. Worth a look!

C - Currently Reading
I'm in the middle of the very good Truman by David McCullough, the current selection in my prez bios reading project, but also fiction-wise quickly blazing through Inherent Vice on the side (my second Thomas Pynchon) so then I can go see the movie.

D - Drink of Choice While Reading
So, coffee. Obviously.

E - E-reader or Physical Books?
I do not enjoy e-reading books. I have done a few, and found it convenient to be able to purchase and borrow books that way, especially when living abroad, but I do not really enjoy it. Here's to page-turning!

F - Fictional Character You Probably Would Have Dated in High School
Um. I had no idea who I was or who the people I wanted to date were in high school. With that caveat, and knowing that it would probably not have been a good idea, I probably would have dated someone truly messed up like Laurent in Therese Raquin, or at least someone very confused, like Rob in High Fidelity -- confused but who likes music. Definitely, there would have been music involved.

G - Glad You Gave This Book a Chance
Let's go with The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Before it became cool for adults everywhere to shamelessly read Young Adult because staring at screens has altered their brains and attention spans so much that they can't read lengthy amounts of words on pages anymore, I worked at Borders and there was an intriguing little green paperback bestseller that I became inspired to pick up and Oh.My.Goodness do I just love the hell out of that book. Read the sequels, saw the movie, and did a bit of spreading the gospel, but just in general, if you think The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants is for some reason not worth your time, think again!

H - Hidden Gem Book 
This has got to be either Night and Day by Virginia Woolf , which seems to get exactly no attention, even from academic/feminist/Anglophile/literary devotees but which I maintain is one of Woolf's best, or Tepper Isn't Going Out  by Calvin Trillin, which gets no attention from anyone except me and Brian.

I - Important Moment in Your Reading Life
The obvious answer would probably be something about War and Peace, no?  But I think it might actually be when the Modern Library published their list of the Top 100 books (two lists, actually, one for novels and one for non-fiction) and I printed them out and highlighted and set out on a quest, and have since continued finding quests and projects and lists of books to read and I absolutely love doing this!! (Making lists of books to read next is a hobby of mine.)

J - Just Finished
Um, speaking of lists, Smoky the Cowhorse. Among other checklists I'm working my way through: the Newbery Medal Winners. Good ol' Smoky hails from the early days of that award, the 1920s.

K - Kinds of Books You Won't Read

 L - Longest Book You've Ever ReadOh my goodness, so many candidates. Now I have to go check which is longest out of  Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Infinite Jest, or Dream of Red Mansions/Chamber aka The Story of the Stone....ahhh, forget it, you can go look up how many pages yourself. I like long books. Proust, I'm coming for you.

M - Major Book Hangover Because Of...P
robably Into Thin Air. I couldn't shake that for months. And all I did was talk about it, with other people under the influence from it.

N - Number of Bookcases You Own 
There are three here in this living room, with Brian's and my books. Before my Great Book Sell-Off of 2006, I had about five tall ones and then some filled in Boston...there are books in houses in Phoenix...I don't really know/care how to answer this question other than literally. I guess I co-own three.

O - One Book You Have Read Multiple Times Again, besides Dr. Seuss? That would be Candide. Voltaire forever!

P - Preferred Place to Read 
Anywhere quiet.
A steady hum of sounds is OK. Jabbering, cell phone conversations, sitcoms, etc.? Not.

Q - Quote That Inspires You or Gives You All of the Feels From a Book You Have ReadObviously, Candide: "That is very well said, but we must cultivate our garden."

R - Reading RegretOther than maybe Cynthia Ozick, nothing I've actually read, but more all the time I've wasted not reading in this life.

S - Series You Started But Need to FinishSome people would say Harry Potter (I've read the first half of the first book...twice...)  Definitely not Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone ABCs, as I am So done with  all that. Let's see, what could it be? I haven't started Game of Thrones, really, though I did read the first few pages of the first, and that's my next-up series, I believe...I can't really think of any. Wait, Alafair Burke's Samantha Kincaid and Ellie Hatcher books are series, right? But she's still writing, and this is supposed to be a complete series. Ugh. Can I use Proust here, too?  Well, wait, actually, I think Alafair Burke is done writing Samantha Kincaid, she said, now that she's in New York. And I've read two of the Portland-set Kincaid series and need to read the third. So, that.

T - Three of Your All-Time Favorite Books(You see where I've already mentioned Candide and War and Peace multiple times, right?)
How about:
Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

U - Unapologetic Fangirl For...
Fangirl? Me? Ummm...
Anna Quindlen?

V - Very Excited for This Release More Than Any Other
Would it just be wrong to say my own book?
I'm so not the release-anticipating type with books. I've fallen behind on all my still-writing living authors (Atwood, Berg, DeMille, et. al.) I've got one word for you, kid: classics.

W - Worst Book Habit
Sitting here with a laptop on my lap instead of picking up a book?
Judging people who read trash?  (I mean real trash, like Twilight; I'm not disparaging the genres here.)
Disparaging genre fiction?
Forgetting what I've read?

You tell me; which is the worst?

X - X Marks the Spot: Pick the 27th Book on Your Bookshelf (from the upper left)
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon

Y - Your Latest Book Purchase
Pretty sure it was at Schuler over Christmas when I picked up Night Train by Martin Amis and Game of Thrones by the inimitable conscientious objector George R.R. Martin. Have I bought anything since then? I don't think so. I tried to get Vanity Fair at our neighborhood bookstore in Lincoln Square, The Book Cellar, but couldn't find it, and at Women & Children First, I tried to get our next book group book, Eichmann in Jerusalem,  and they were sold out of that! So, back to the library...

Z - ZZZ Snatcher: Book That Kept You Up Way Too LateThis has not happened in SO long. I am a champion of falling asleep these days. I love getting sleep. I can't remember staying up reading, sucked in, since I was in Andong (Korea, in 2011)...either Freedom by Jonathan Franzen or Long Gone by Alafair Burke; I remember being up late reading both of those that year.

What a fun survey!

How about you?

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Check-in time
A look at what 15-year-old me declared she would read...

In case anyone thought this whole making-lists-of-books-I-want-to-read habit was a new thing or started in adulthood or (god forbid) a Goodreads-inspired internet solution (in that last case, you should probably go read To Save Everything, Click Here and stop thinking about the internet as the only and ultimate solution for everything), we have actual evidence to the contrary. I have here an old notebook from my junior year of high school in which I wrote some goals for the New Year, including the aspiration to "read 100 books (as in, good ones)."  I'm terribly curious as to what kind of unworthy books I thought I would  be tempted to read that needed to be excluded from the list...young adult, maybe? *smirk*.. but in any case I then gave some examples
of what I should read. Here's the list, from my 15-year-old self to you:

  • The Scriptures
  • Les Miserables
  • Jesus the Christ
  • A Marvelous Work and a Wonder
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • [The] Catcher in the Rye
  • Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • Wuthering Heights
  • War and Peace 
  • etc.
Gotta love the "etc."  Couldn't be bothered to actually list 100? Or is it because I reached the end of the page? The top of the next page of the notebook begins with a new topic, "WAR." Oh, yes, I was me. Gotta also entirely love that War and Peace made the list. I feel satisfied knowing that even at such a tender age, I was fully aware of my destiny. Great stuff, teenage Linda. (Who was at that time, as evidenced by some of the more Christ-y entries on the list, most assuredly still a Linda With Borders, eh?) 

So, then?? Status report? Well, here we are two decades later and I have completed more than half of that list, but not quite all. I did apparently start at the beginning, because I remember that school year I indeed delved into scripture (and yes, I did read The Whole Thing, though it took a few years) and Les Miserables. I am terribly sad to report I read only about 250 pages of that long novel (obviously, unabridged; what do you take me for?!) that year. Well, guess what, it is totes on the 2015 list anyway, for me and Brian. How about that! What else? I read The Catcher in the Rye later, during the summer after my senior year, then finally got around to  Wuthering Heights and To Kill a Mockingbird a few years after that, in adult life. In Boston, I read a good chunk of Uncle Tom's Cabin, maybe 100 pages or so, but didn't finish, and of course we all know that in 2005 I had the good sense to tackle War and Peace. I wonder if I ever read much of Jesus the Christ and A Marvelous Work and a Wonder...hmmm. I know I've touched those (and they're still on my mom's bookshelves to this day) but nothing sticks with me, and I can't say I have any interest in reading them now. The Mormon General Authorities and higher-ups are kind of like tenured professors, I think, in their writing. They might be technically competent and even have interesting things to say, but they're not really inspired to write a book so much as they are compelled by their life situation to write about their topics of expertise. And we all know how I feel about reading academic journal articles that are more concerned with citation than narrative.

Now, about that "etc."...

Saturday, January 03, 2015

On to the Finals! (finally!)

Unless you've just discovered this blog in the last few months -- unlikely, since I've been an utter slacker about posting during those few months -- you're likely aware of my "A-to-Z Literary Blog Project," a long simmering notion that I put into action beginning over the 2006-2007 New Year's holiday (I miss that era of life) (except for the Dubya & Company of Usurpers' occupation of D.C.)  The project involved me reading one book by each of 26 new-to-me authors that I had long meant to read, one for each letter of the alphabet, from Martin Amis to Emile Zola. There were hits (Styron, Vidal, Forster, I swooned!) and misses (die, Ozick, die) and a few shrugged shoulders (Jong, Palahniuk) and raised eyebrows (Ishmael....what? a gorilla? but there weren't a lot of 'Q' choices).

Well, the project was so much fun, and I lived with it for so long (it went from the anticipated year -- yeah, sure 2-3 novels for fun each month of law school, super likely -- to more like two-and-a-half years, which may still be impressive seeing as on top of the law school reading I also threw Infinite Jest in there, which by the way is oddly appropriate for a law student, I maintain) that I hated to see it go. So it didn't! Upon completion, I selected my A-to-Z Top Half and read another book by each of those thirteen. (This was not exclusive...I just mixed them in along with other reading over the next few years.) After the thirteen? Sure enough, I chose six "semi-finalists" and read a third book of each of theirs. That brings us to today. Three, count 'em, three finalists have been chosen, a tough call indeed, and I will now read one more book from each of those authors before choosing the winner of my A-to-Z Literary Blog Project (which, when I began it eight years ago, I had no intention of anyone 'winning').

With no further ado, then, the three finalists are: Martin Amis, E.M. Forster, and Salman Rushdie. Congratulations, boys! (And by the way, I am aware that my finalists are all men...more on that in the weeks to come, by the way.)

I do have to say that Umberto Eco was such an honorable mention. I really had a hard time deciding between him and Forster. I know I want to read  more Eco, in the future, too, but for now I had to go with my judgment on their semi-final round novels, and I guess I found that Forster crafted a more perfect Howards End than Eco's slightly more inscrutable Foucault's Pendulum. I've long been looking forward to reading Foucault's Pendulum,  after thoroughly enjoying his writing and his intellect and his ideas and his breadth (and rooting for him to win the Nobel for a a few years now!) but Foucault's Pendulum... I don't know. It was a little bit of a slog at times. It never lost its fun/interesting-ness, but it could have been shorter. I know that's a lame cop-out as a criticism (and hey, I like long things!) but in this case I say it because it just started seeming repetitive. I started to not really keep straight all the subculture/cult/gatherings/secrets/girlfriends-in-a-trance etc. and I reached a point where I just wanted to figure out how this was all going to go down. I must say, without spoilering, that it all goes down pretty intensely -- I definitely recommend the book, but I had to choose one and I'm sorry Umberto.

So now, I get to read another Amis (I picked up a used bookstore copy of Night Train last week), another Forster (it's gotta be A Room With a View because no, I still haven't read that, and it's on lists and stuff, which totally matters), and another Rushdie. This last one is the hard choice. I've now read three of his: first, The Satanic Verses (so wacky! I still can't fathom why something so outlandish and bizarre inspired people to murder), Shalimar the Clown (so astute. so brilliant. so packs a punch you don't see coming), and Midnight's Children (which I did also enjoy greatly while learning a bunch about India). But what's next?  Should it be Haroun and the Sea of Stories, The Moor's Last Sigh, The Enchantress of Florence, or The Ground Beneath Her Feet?  Any advice? What do you recommend? What should my next Rushdie be?  For some reason I'm drawn to The Moor's Last Sigh but is there something I should consider about the others?

Books, books, books, books, books!

Thursday, January 01, 2015

The Best and Worst I Read in 2014

I read 72 books in 2014! Well, OK, I read sixty-something books and I listened to a handful as audio books on my mp3 player while out walking or running. But for the purposes of this blog entry, same thing. Let's take a look at my 2014 year of reading in review!

I read more truly great non-fiction than truly great fiction this year. While I enjoy reading non-fiction and obviously love when it's great, I would also really like to be able to read more great novels, too, and by that I mean, I would like to stop being so disappointed in more than half of the novels I pick up. But we'll get to that in a second. First...

Easily the two best novels I read this year were Almanac of the Dead by Leslie Marmon Silko and Time's Arrow by Martin Amis. Both deal with the utter horror show that is humanity but in completely and totally different ways. The former is a gargantuan tome of Native American-Mexican-Arizonan-bring-on-the-revolution wisdom that will shock, horrify, and awe you if you have any ethical bones in your body. It will also teach you some history, make you homesick for Arizona if you're from there, cause you to seriously ponder your role in society and humans' role on the American continent and the globe, and possibly inspire a little tiny eensy bit of hope for the world. (But not too much.) There's also a fair amount of sex and drugs mixed in. It's hard to explain. The latter is Amis' famous novel told in reverse about a Holocaust "doctor" -- in order to grapple with the how-could-this-happen and how-did-he/they/we-become-evil questions, he tells the story backwards and it's basically genius.  I cannot recommend these two books highly enough.

The other good novel I read this year was Men Against the Sea by Charles Bernard Nordhoff, the second in the Bounty Trilogy. Actually, the first, Mutiny on the Bounty, was all right, too, but the struggle of the men in the boat in the second book is just so hardcore, and you end with so much respect for them and an understanding of their deep love for the boat that helped them and brought them to safety.

The great non-fiction I read this year includes:
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown -- This history of what happened to Indians in the American West should be required reading for everyone. The Shadow of Blooming Grove: Warren G. Harding in His Times by Francis Russell -- Yes, you actually do need to read a biography of Warren G. Harding, if for nothing else than for the shenanigans of the smoke-filled rooms at the 1920 Republican convention and for his kindness to puppies.
The Walrus and the Elephants: John Lennon's Years of Revolution by James A Mitchell -- I was born too late (to live in the early '70s) but John Lennon wasn't and he was incredible and I previously had no idea how hard the U.S. government tried to get rid of them. (And succeeded?)To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism by Evgeny Morozov --  If you hate when people say "X changed my life" or when people are hailed as brilliant because they gave a TED Talk even though they are physically incapable of critical thinking, you'll dig Evgeny's thesis. If you are bristling at these notions, you are in need of Evgeny's thesis.Zola and His Time: The History of his Martial Career in Letters by Matthew Josephson -- When I finally got around to reading a Zola book (Therese Raquin) the other year, I was less than impressed. But! This bio re-fascinated me about him. And poor, poor Dreyfus (he of the Affair) -- such a fascinating bit of history and a groovy group of literary pals, who are definitely not without their flaws. 
Get out of my face, Gone Girl, The Interestings, Sue Grafton, Sharon Olds (Stag's Leap and her undeserved Pulitzer in particular) and, frankly, Sophie's Choice, too. So much disappointment!
The Fault in Our Stars, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, Little Women (re-visited as an adult), No Ordinary Time, and some of Truman Capote's short stories included in the volume along with Breakfast at Tiffany's.  SOME FUN SURPRISES: The Wicked Pavilion  by Dawn Powell. Who knew?
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Check it out if you want a classic novel that's also basically a pioneering mystery novel and not on everyone's radar.
Missing Justice by Alafair Burke. Even though I've read a few of her novels previously and I am well acquainted with her and her life commentary, I was still delighted by the sharp feminism in this page-turner.
Also, 10 A ños con Mafalda, a collection of the Argentine comic strip Mafalda, opened my eyes to a bit of social history I never would have otherwise known. 
And you? How was your 2014 reading?