I Know We’re On a Road Trip But Please Let Me Read My Book

What’s that? Oh, that picture-perfect sunlit butte ahead of us? Yes, I see that. That’s really beautiful.

Yeah, sorry, I know my nose has been in my book for the past 100 miles. I know I’m missing out on a lot of things outside the car windows.

Ok. I’m going to go back to my book for a bit.

What? Yes, that’s a cool rock. Really nice rock. Back to the book now.

…no, you’re totally right–this is a part of the country I haven’t seen. I’m glad to see it! America the Beautiful, here we come.

Here’s the thing though: when else do you get hours of quiet and seclusion where there are no demands on your time? When literally all you can do is sit? Especially when you’re driving on rural highways — bye bye, cell service. No Instagram here. Since we don’t have one of those fancy newfangled cars with built-in TVs, I can’t binge-watch Parks and Recreation for the fourth time. The only thing you can do besides stare out the window is read a book.

Yes yes, I do like staring out the window. I love road trips. I love seeing the country change; I love pairing music to the passing landscape. I love the opportunity to talk, to take detours and pitstops and be open to adventure.

But this book is getting really good right now.

Yes, I see that waterfall.

Look, the protagonist just found out some key information and is about to–sorry, no time to explain. We have two hours of drive time left and I can totally finish.

Me and books and road trips will forever be a thing. I promise to look up every once in a while. But now I’m going to read.

Addendum: If there are any foals or alpaca farms or cool birds of prey I require immediate notification. I brake for cute animals.

(Written with a loving wink to my husband, who loves to point out basalt, and my father, who loves to point out Spanish moss.)

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2015 Reading Recap

In the past, I’ve done seasonal reading recaps — but even if I hadn’t done my blog hiatus, that wouldn’t be possible because this year I read 46 BOOKS. (52 if you include my “tried to read” list).

How you ask? NO CLUE. In 2013, I read 23 books. In 2014, it was 24. I really don’t know what happened this year. It’s not like I read a bunch of short books, either. (Goodreads says my average book length was 297 pages.) Maybe I was just hungry for words.

So this year you’ll get the highlights reel — the books that stood out.

My main reading goal this year was to read diversely. Inspired by a Book Riot video, I made a point of paying attention to the authors I was choosing and ensuring I wasn’t reading all white dudes. How did that shake out?

  • I read 23 books by women authors — so exactly 50% of the total books I read.
  • 9 books were by non-white authors — 19.5% of my total.

That second number definitely could be higher — but here were my numbers before I started “paying attention”:

  • In 2013, 30% of the books I read were by women authors. 1 book was by a person of color (so, 4.3%).
  • In 2014, 50% were written by women. 12.5% were written by a person of color. (I started this diverse reading experiment in October 2014).

So it DOES make a difference. And I have to say — I discovered some authors I probably wouldn’t have otherwise, and absolutely loved. In fact, two of them have made the 2015 highlights reel…

Wait for it…

The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert

Sixth_Extinction

Let’s start things off on an upbeat note, shall we? The Sixth Extinction lays out the argument that the earth is in the middle of a massive extinction event (there have been five other such events that we know of), and this one is being caused by humans. FUN, HUH? I’m not going to pretend that this is an uplifting read–but it IS an interesting one, and I think an important one. You’ll never look at frogs or bats the same way again, let me tell ya.

Wonderbook: The Illustrated Guide to Creating Imaginative Fiction by Jeff VanderMeer

Wonderbook_Case_r2.indd

This book took me a loooong time to read. Like, a year. BUT. That’s because it’s A) physically large, which means I can’t take it on the bus, and B) DENSE. I would read two pages and then just sit for ten minutes, chewing them over. A guide to writing science fiction and fantasy (or really any type of “imaginative fiction”), Wonderbook is one of the most in-depth writing guides I’ve encountered. Most talk high-level theory — how to find motivation, how to find story ideas, how to “be a writer.” Wonderbook says: “What is a beginning? What should be in the beginning? What about the middle? The end? How do you build your world? How do you flesh out the characters? What info do you hide and what do you reveal?” It’s incredibly in-depth — and for me, came at a pivotal time in my book edits.

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson

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I read most of this book on a plane and struggled not to annoy strangers with my awkward snort-laughter noises. Jenny Lawson is The Bloggess, who apparently is a rather famous Internet Person, but I was not aware of this when I picked up Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. I was drawn to the cape-wearing, skull-holding mouse on the cover. And if that weirdness appeals to you, you will most likely enjoy this book. A lot of it focuses on Lawson’s childhood in rural Texas — a childhood which involved baby raccoons wearing homemade jeans, turkeys following children to school, and live bobcats being thrown at boyfriends. What’s not to love?

Almost Famous Women by Megan Mayhew Bergman

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This is a quiet little book of weird, surreal stories. It is, as the title would indicate, about almost famous women — women who teetered on the brink of long-lived fame but never quite made it, for one reason or another. And these stories are fascinating. Did you know there was a wealthy British heiress who dated Marlene Dietrich and raced speed boats and operated an island in the Caribbean? Or that there was a set of conjoined twins who toured the vaudeville circuit in the 1920’s? When I finished each story, I’d run off to Google to learn more.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull

creativity

I read this book as self-assigned “work homework” — but ended up totally enthralled. Written by one of the founders of Pixar, Creativity, Inc. asks the question: how do you inspire creativity in a corporate environment? But the book is so much more than that. Catmull eloquently yet simply explains his viewpoints on creativity, storytelling, and how we perceive the world and others in it — all of which encouraged me to reevaluate how I tackle those issues. Plus, there are great behind-the-scenes details about the making of the various Pixar movies… and who doesn’t love a Pixar movie?

City of Thieves by David Benioff

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Earlier this year I started dabbling with a historical-fiction story, and a friend loaned me this book as a good example of the genre. I devoured it — a couldn’t-put-down, stay-up-all-night kind of read. It tells the story of Lev Beniov, a young man living in Leningrad during the Nazi siege, and his adventures trying to secure a dozen eggs in a city that is literally starving. It’s a masterfully told tale — made even better by the fact that it’s based on true events. (The author is Lev’s grandson.) And even though some horribly gruesome events take place, the book overall manages to have a lighthearted feel. No clue how Benioff pulled that one off.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

Universe

Like We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, this was a surprising book; it went places I didn’t expect, and I liked it the more for that. This is the story of Alex Woods, a boy who’s struck in the head by a meteorite, and as such has a rather unordinary childhood. He eventually befriends a Vietnam veteran, Mr. Peterson, who shares with Alex his love of classical music and Kurt Vonnegut. I don’t want to tell too many details, as I don’t want to spoil anything. But in a nutshell: this book dealt with some unexpected moral complexities and handled them in a compelling, non-preachy way.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown_Girl_Dreaming

Book Riot had been preaching this book up and down, so I finally picked it up. At first I was skeptical — I hadn’t realized that the whole thing was written in verse, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get into it. But as it turns out, Woodson is a great writer — you don’t even notice that you’re basically reading one long poem. Brown Girl Dreaming tells the story of Woodson’s family, of her childhood split between South Carolina and Brooklyn, and of her burgeoning love of writing. I think it’s technically considered a children’s book, but don’t let that stop you — this is one everyone can enjoy.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Half_of_a_Yellow_Sun

I read quite a bit of Adichie this year — including Americanah and We Should All Be Feminists — but Half of a Yellow Sun gets the honorable mention for being such a total gut punch. I mean that in the best way possible; this book grips you and won’t put you down until the last page. Set in the 1960s, Half of a Yellow Sun follows several points of view through the Nigerian Civil War (or, as the characters in the book would call it, the Biafran War). Adichie is a freakishly good writer; she creates characters that evoke both love, pity and disgust within the span of a few paragraphs. So, you know, real people. And even though you know how the story will end, you’re placed so solidly in this world that you hope maybe, just maybe, it will end differently.

What books stood out to you in 2015? I’m wondering if I can hit 50 next year…

Reading Diversely: A Follow-Up

Back in October, I shared a Book Riot video about reading diversely (aka, reading books written by non-white authors). The video’s creator, Amanda Nelson, encouraged readers to take a look at their “numbers” — the number of authors they’ve read vs. the number of authors they’ve read who are non-white — and try and improve those percentages.

So I accepted the challenge. How has 2014 stacked up after making it a point to read more diversely?

To recap from the last post:

  • In 2013, I read 23 books. 7 were by women authors, putting that percentage at 30%. 1 was written by a person of color, so 4.3%.
  • As of October, I’d read 21 books. 10 were by women (47.6%), and 1 has been by a person of color (4.7%).

And now, two months later?

  • So far in 2014, I’ve read 24 books. Exactly 50% were written by women. 12.5% were written by a person of color (Sherman Alexie, Haruki Murakami, and Octavia Butler).

12.5% obviously isn’t great — but it’s a lot better than my percentage last year (and the percentage this year was on track to be, before I decided to pay attention). It makes me hopeful that when I look back at my 2015 reading list, it’ll be more well-rounded. Or, as a recent Book Riot post put it:

We like books because they allow us to see the world from a new perspective, and sometimes we all need help even know which perspectives to try out. — “The Book Riot 2015 Read Harder Challenge

How has your reading year shaped up so far? (I realize we still have 2 weeks of 2014 left…I personally plan on getting one more book squeezed in there!)

Fall Book Reviews

This was totally unintentional, but the apparent theme of my fall reading list? Depressing ‘R’ Us. Not that any of these books were bad, per se — we just had a whole onslaught of “whomp, whomp” themes. Manipulative friendships, religious cynicism, multiple suicides… it was a whole big bucket of WHEEEEEE!

So let’s get started on this parade, shall we?

Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood

Cats_Eye

I’ll start out by saying that since this is an Atwood book, it is, of course, wonderfully written. But Cat’s Eye is wildly uncomfortable. This is the story of Elaine, who returns to her hometown of Toronto for a retrospective of her painting career. While there, she recalls her entire childhood and young adult life — and it’s in the remembering of that childhood that shit gets WEIRD.

If I had to pinpoint one theme of the book, it’d be this: children are horrible and cruel and do terrible things to one another. Enter Cordelia. Cordelia, Elaine’s supposed best friend, is the ringleader of a group of girls who do awful things to Elaine. Just awful. And this is what makes Cat’s Eye such an uncomfortable read — all the terrible things these children do? They all read true. Children can be absolutely cruel and manipulative — but often aren’t seen as such, because come on, they’re children!

About halfway through the book, Atwood pulls a masterful switch on us. I don’t want to tell details, but at a high level — Atwood slowly transforms Cordelia from the antagonist into… well, not the protagonist, for sure. But sympathetic, yes. And that’s why I think Cat’s Eye is worth the read — to watch a master author at work. Sometimes being uncomfortable isn’t a bad thing.

Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck

Travels with Charley

Oh man. Here comes confession time. I’d never read Travels with Charley, but enjoy a lot of Steinbeck’s other work. So after our California road trip adventure, I decided it was high time to pick up this book. I know a lot of people who love it, and I mean come on, it’s a classic! Man road trips across the country with beloved dog. What could be better than that?

The whole time I was reading it, all I could think of was…

The Simpsons - Old Man Yells at Cloud

I’m sorry, you guys, but most of the time Steinbeck just came off as a cranky old man who was frustrated by the direction his country was headed. Everybody was doing everything wrong! Kids these days! IT USED TO BE BETTER WHAT IS HAPPENING TO AMERICA!

Did anyone else get this impression while reading this book? Was it just me?

Now, it must be said — since this is Steinbeck, there are moments of beautiful lyricism and insight. The last third of the book seemed to hit its stride (once he reaches the West coast — Steinbeck just can’t hide his love for the Best coast). But the rest was a bit of a slog, and if I hadn’t been committed to finishing this one, I may have set it down early. AND THAT IS MY AWFUL CONFESSION.

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling

This is the one book that breaks the depressing mold… which is odd, considering that it has a murder-mystery-suicide at its core.

I’ll admit it — I never would have picked up this book (let alone found it) if J.K. Rowling hadn’t been revealed as the author. Even still, I didn’t have super high expectations. I thought it’d be a fun read, but I knew it wasn’t going to be Harry Potter.

And then I couldn’t put it down. The Cuckoo’s Calling isn’t the best written book I’ve ever read, nor the most original — but it’s fun. It’s just plain fun. The characters are interesting, the plot intriguing. You turn each page thinking, “What happens next?” Which is a quality I remember the Harry Potter books having — sitting at the kitchen table, unable to set the book down, NEEDING to know what happened next. Ms. Rowling, bless you for that — we need books like this, books that get people interested in reading.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

THIS. This was the surprise read of the season. Several friends recommended it, but I knew nothing about the plot. When I started reading it, all I felt was a big fat “meh.” White middle-class 20-something explains family drama. Yup, I thought, I’ve read this before. I almost set the book down, but for whatever reason decided to continue on just a liittttle bit further.

And then — the twist. The thing that makes this book NOT your regular family drama. There had been hints dropped along the way, but I’m not always so quick on the uptake. And in case YOU, dear reader, are not so quick on the uptake… I’m not going to say what The Twist is. I’m not even going to hint at it. Which makes the book pretty damn difficult to review. So I’ll just say this: I ended up LOVING this book. It’s going to be on the 2014 Favorites list, for sure. It made me think, it had me emotionally invested, it had my mind-grapes muddled for days. I read the end on an airplane, which was a TERRIBLE IDEA. I had to stop reading several times because it got me too worked up. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is not THE best-written book I’ve ever read, but the plot — and the questions and moral ambiguities the plot raises — more than make up for it. Seriously, go read this one.

Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

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Last winter (OMG almost a full year ago??) I read Slaughterhouse-Five and LOVED it — and to my immense shame, I admitted that I’d never read any Vonnegut before. So I thought, “Ok, let’s try another.” And Cat’s Cradle… man, this was one cynical book. Cat’s Cradle seems to be Vonnegut’s anti-religion creed, anti-society creed — the prose equivalent of giving up on all mankind. And that’s really saying something, because Slaughterhouse-Five ain’t exactly unicorns and sunshine. But I mean, look at this:

And I remembered The Fourteenth Book of Bokonon, which I had read in its entirety the night before. The Fourteenth Book is entitled, “What Can a Thoughtful Man Hope for Mankind on Earth, Given the Experience of the Past Million Years?” It doesn’t take long to read The Fourteenth Book. It consists of one word and a period. This is it: “Nothing.”

Fantastic prose — DEPRESSING AS HELL. I’m definitely going to be reading more Vonnegut, but this one wasn’t top-of-the-list for me. I consider myself a realistic; I don’t necessarily consider myself a cynic.

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood

This is a case of “Not for me.”

Last fall (HOW, HOW HAS IT BEEN A YEAR), I read Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I wasn’t crazy about it, but enjoyed it enough that I wanted to check out Murakami’s fiction.

Norwegian Wood is objectively a good book. It’s a quiet book about important things (suicide and depression, mostly — I KNOW HOW TO PICK ‘EM, AMIRIGHT?). Just like What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, the writing quality is high — even beautiful in spots. There is no doubt that Murakami is an excellent writer. But about halfway through… I got bored. I thought maybe things would pick up, so I pushed on. And then I got to a point where I was far enough along that I couldn’t NOT finish, but dammit I just wanted the book to end. So, yes, I finished this book. Mostly out of spite. Good work, me.

But I can’t call this a “bad” book. Because it’s not a bad book — even as I was desperately trying to finish it, I could tell that. It just wasn’t for me. I think these days I need more plot — less introspection, more action. My college self probably would have loved this book — heck, I would have wanted to write this book — but we change, and as we do, our tastes change. Others would enjoy this book. Just not me, not now.

That wraps up the Fall Reading Fun Times. Dear LORD I need to chose some more uplifting books. Any recommendations? Have you read any of these?

Reading Diversely

Last week I was wasting time getting up-to-date information on Twitter, when I stumbled upon a couple tweets by Amanda Nelson, the managing editor of Book Riot.

Curious, I watched Nelson’s video. Her point, in a nutshell: “If you’re not paying attention and doing it on purpose — reading diversely on purpose — what you’re going to do is read mostly white people.” Due to a LOT of different factors, the majority of books that people read are by white authors (and mostly white male authors, at that). It’s not really through any fault of their own, but unless people consciously pay attention to the diversity of their reading list, that’s just the way the chips are gonna fall.

To demonstrate this, Nelson shared the numbers from her own reading logs, both before and after she started paying attention to reading diversely.

  • In 2012, Nelson read 92 books — 4 were by “people who were not white,” so 4.3%.
  • In 2013, her percentage was 3.6%.
  • So far in 2014 (after she started paying attention to reading diversely), 15 out of 91 books have been written by people of color, putting her percentage at 16.4%.

So I was curious. I took a look at my Goodreads account and studied the authors from the past couple years. (Note: I only started using Goodreads in 2013, and don’t have a log of my reading prior to that.)

  • In 2013, I read 23 books. 7 were by women authors, putting that percentage at 30% (admittedly, 3 of the 7 were Margaret Atwood). 1 was written by a person of color (Haruki Murakami), so 4.3%.
  • So far in 2014, I’ve read 21 books. 10 were by women (47.6%), and 1 has been by a person of color (Sherman Alexie — 4.7%).

Ouch. I assumed my percentages wouldn’t be great, but interesting to note — even though Nelson reads a LOT more books than me, our percentages are similar. Which goes to prove what she’s saying — if you’re not paying attention, you aren’t reading diversely. My percentage of women writers is pretty damn good. And you know why? A couple years ago, I made the conscious decision to start reading more books by women authors. If I made the same decision regarding ethnic diversity, how much better could I make those percentages?

(I know some readers at this point are asking, why does it matter? Why should I be concerned at all by the ethnicity of a writer? To which I would say — watch Nelson’s video. She more eloquently explains all of this than I ever could. Why do I personally care to make my reading more diverse? Because it’s a big, big world, with a lot of people, and a lot of different experiences. I feel more educated, more aware, if I get even a snippet of that diverse experience.)

I’ve had Octavia Butler and Toni Morrison on my reading list for a while — think I’ll boost them up. Any others you’d recommend? How do you ensure that you’re reading diversely — or do you decide to at all?

Summer Book Reviews

This past spring, I read so many books I had to split the reviews up into 2 posts. Summer? Let’s just say that the state of my reading list reflects how summer went for me. But THAT’S OK. Summer is the season of beach reads and page turners and “guilty pleasures,” so I certainly won’t feel guilty about how many books I did or did not read.

(I should note that there are 2 other books not included here that I tried to read, but I abandoned them both around the 50-page mark. Life’s just too short for books you aren’t diggin’, friends.)

Desert Notes by Barry Lopez

Desert Notes by Barry Lopez

After driving to Washington desert country this spring, I decided to finally, FINALLY pick up this book. Lopez is like some sort of demigod among nature writers, and any environmentally minded lit major beams at the very mention of Desert Notes. I’m actually rather surprised I never read it in college, given the number of professors I had who were in love with Western American literature. Apparently I needed a trip to the desert to be in the right state of mind to pick this one up. (A good book is not only good based on its own merits, but based on where you are in your own life, as well.)

And after all that lead-up, the book was… good? A very different read for me. Objectively beautiful writing. There’s no plot to speak of; it’s the power of words and descriptions that draws you in, dreamy and wandering. While this type of writing may not be my typical cup of tea, it’s still good to branch out and see what other genres have to offer. It inspired me to write a short, weird little travelogue — you never know what may inspire future work. And now I would REALLY like to go check out the Alvord desert, the desert that inspired this book.

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard

While browsing Austin Kleon’s blog, I found this snippet he wrote about Leonard: “His books are my reset button, where I turn when I’ve stalled out and I’m bored with my books, and I just want something awesome that won’t annoy the shit out of me or leave me hanging.” I felt the need for a reading reset, so I decided to give Kleon’s method a shot. And I have to say, it pretty much did the trick — this was just a plain ol’ fun book. Good dialogue, likable characters, simple prose that drives the plot forward. Many people would classify this as a “junk food” book, but at the end of the day, it’s pretty damn good writing.

My only qualm — the whole time I was reading, I couldn’t get the movie version out of my head. I haven’t seen Get Shorty in a LONG TIME — yet with each line I read, there were John Travolta and Gene Hackman, delivering all the dialogue. Which is not the WORST thing in the world, but I like to form my own visions of book characters. Next Leonard book I pick up, I’m going to choose one where I haven’t seen the movie.

California by Edan Lepucki

California by Edan Lepucki

Oh man. This book. I have feelings about this book.

I was one of the many people who pre-ordered this much-hyped book after Stephen Colbert promoted it on his show. I ordered it for two reasons: 1) any boost for independent bookstores is awesome, and I wanted to be a part of that (I chose to order from Parnassus Books, myself); and 2) the book itself actually sounded totally up my ally. Dystopian speculative fiction set in California? Yes, please!

California starts out strong enough — Lepucki has an interesting writing style, fairly straightforward but with the occasional poetics thrown in for good measure. She did a good job depicting the relationship between Cal and Frida, the young husband and wife at the center of the book — their relationship is far from perfect, but it is believable. And then… things started to turn a little south. As it nears the finale, the book begins to suffer from “showing vs. telling” (one of my biggest writing pet peeves), but I was willing to look past that to see where it went. It IS an intriguing plot line — I flew through the whole thing pretty quickly.

But the ending. Oh god, I HATED the ending. I can’t remember the last time I actively disliked a book ending so much. I finished and may have actually said out loud, “THAT’S IT?” I won’t spoil anything here, because that would just be lame — but if anyone else out there has read this book, I’m very curious to hear other’s reactions.

All that said — I would still be interested to read a second book from Lepucki. This one had a bit of “first novel” syndrome about it, but she’s clearly a talented writer.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

Speaking of Parnassus Books — a friend of mine recently went to Nashville, and I told her she should visit this bookstore. Tara, bless her, DID stop in, and while she was there texted me: “Which Ann Patchett books should I buy?” You see, novelist Ann Patchett co-founded Parnassus Books. I had to confess that I had not read any Patchett, but that This is the Story of a Happy Marriage was well-reviewed on Goodreads. After this shameful exchange, I decided I should remedy this and picked up the book myself.

I can now retroactively recommend this book with 100% confidence. Patchett is primarily a fiction writer, but for years she earned her bread-and-butter by writing nonfiction magazine articles. She selected and organized the best of those articles for This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, while also writing two new stories for the compilation — one about writing called “The Getaway Car” (highly recommended for all you writer folk out there), and another story about the birth of Parnassus Books. The other articles focus on marriage, divorce, dogs, re-marriage, family, friendship. If these seem like broad themes — well, yes, they are, but Patchett writes about them with such specificity that they seem new. She’s an incredibly talented writer, and beyond that? She just seems like a nice person. You finish a story and think, “Why are Ann Patchett and I not friends? We’d be great friends.” I’ll definitely be picking up more of her work.

(Can I mention, too, how much I adore that book cover? Great design, that.)

What did you read over the summer? Any delicious guilty-pleasure reads? I’ve kicked off my fall reading list with Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood, so I think the next season is off to a good start…

Spring Book Reviews: Part 2

OH HAI! This is a tad bit late. Part 1 went up two weeks ago, and I meant to have Part 2 done the following week… but, well, the last book took longer to finish than anticipated. That’s one downside to the Kindle — even with that little percentage bar, it’s harder to judge your reading progress than it is with an actual, physical book staring you in the face.

But! Without further ado. The rest of the books I read this spring…

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles

Honestly, I’d never heard of this book and never would have picked it up if it weren’t for Lauren’s Better In Real Life Reading List. She asked people to participate in book reviews/discussions, and The Age of Miracles was my assigned book (just like school! But without the tests and drama). I’m definitely glad I read it — it was thought provoking and fairly well-written. But let me warn you, this book put me in a DEEP FUNK. If I may quote myself… (Is it weird if I quote myself? Whatever.)

It’s fitting that the book brings up those uncomfortable middle-school feelings, because they tie in well with the main theme: the haunting passage of time. How quickly it goes by, how cruel and unrelenting it is. Time spares no one and nothing and makes you realize that, ultimately, you are alone in the world. If that all sounds depressing… well, yeah actually, this book was a bit depressing. I kept waiting for the uplifting twist, the silver-lining ending… and it never really arrived. This book has loneliness and fatalism at its core.

Seriously, NO SILVER LINING here. You’ve been warned. If you’d like to read ALL MY THOUGHTS on this book, pop on over to Better In Real Life to see the full discussion.

The Once and Future King by T.H. White

The Once and Future King

You guys… I feel so much guilt over this one. I seriously considered not including it here, because I’m ashamed by what I’m about to say.

This book is a titan — a classic of the genre. It’s influenced so, so many writers, and many consider it to be the best fantasy novel ever written. I use the title to make puns all the time — “Oh yes, that’s our Once and Future Garage” — but my dirty little secret? I’d never actually read it. So I figured, you know, if I’m invoking this book to make bad jokes, I should actually read the thing.

And I… didn’t like it. I tried, really I did — I went well past Nancy Pearl’s 50-page rule — but I kept running into 2 problems: 1) I couldn’t get the Disney version of The Sword in the Stone out of my head, and 2) I don’t really like White’s writing style. He goes on for ten pages about the rules and techniques of jousting, and all I could think was Oh my god I don’t care about jousting I don’t care about this stupid knight please get to the stupid story.

But I wanted to stick it out. I figured if I could just get through Part One, maybe it would pick up, maybe I’d get into it… but I finally had to give up. I was skimming entire sections just to try and get to “the good part.” Eventually, I realized that “the good part” would never come for me — The Once and Future King and I were not meant to be. Pour one out, move on. (I still reserve the right to reference the title in my bad puns, though.)

The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi

The Windup Girl

A while back, a coworker and I were exchanging book recommendations. MaddAddam had just come out, so I enthusiastically recommended that series. With equal fervor, my coworker recommended this book (while also suggesting a nerdy-girls book club at work — YES, PLEASE).

And now I’ve finally gotten around to reading it! And general consensus — definitely glad I did. The Windup Girl is set in Bangkok, in a future world where horrible blights and crazy pesticide-resistant beetles have destroyed global agriculture. Most countries have fallen into chaos and famine, but the Thai Kingdom remains, self-sufficient and sealed off from the outside world. The book follows a cast of characters — some intent on Thailand’s continued independence, some who would like Thailand to open up trade with the outside world. Conflict ensues.

The world building drew me into this book — Bacigalupi does a fantastic job painting this futuristic society, where calories are currency and an ice cube is considered a huge waste of energy — but the characters didn’t quite do it for me. Each chapter is told from a different point of view (there are, if memory serves, five rotating narrators), and this switching made it a harder for me to get into the story. And our titular character, Emiko the Windup Girl… well, I had issues. She’s “New People”, a humanoid sex slave designed to serve without question. And that ingrained desire to serve makes for a weird main character. She remains passive as horrible, terrible things happen to her, and when she DOES act, she regrets it afterwards and constantly apologizes for her actions. I wanted her to stand up for herself, take charge, leave all the assholes behind who kept hurting her — but that wasn’t the character. Which annoyed me, because I wanted her to be that way. At the end of the day, I did enjoy the book — but I felt like I could have enjoyed it more. Which is an odd experience.

That’s a wrap for spring! And next we have summer… oh, summer reading. The most wonderful reading season there is (why else would everyone and their mom put out summer reading lists?). What will you be reading in a sunny hammock, while sipping on a beer and kicking off your sandals? I haven’t quite decided on my list yet, so I’m quite eager for suggestions.