Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Thoughts on Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible

27. Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Curtis Sittenfeld

Initial Thoughts

1. Holy short chapters

2. Cincinnati--how appropriate

3. Sittenfeld's read P&P at least as many times as I have (>I can count) because Austen is in the language even with no obvious parallels.


4. I love Lizzy/Darcy hate sex.

5. Finally, the answer to the real mystery of P&P--what IS the deal with Mary?


6. The most difficult part of updating Pride & Prejudice is the tectonic shift in Western social values. Although many social taboos from Austen's day no longer persist, Sittenfeld triumphantly substitutes the few modern taboos left in a way that requires no suspension of disbelief.

7. I've read all of Sittenfeld's published work, and for the most part, her writing and storytelling continue to mature. Her first book, Prep, still deeply affects me. So, one of my favorite authors updating the work of one of my other favorite authors should have thrilled me. Instead, while I think Sittenfeld did a better update than almost any author living could have done--I want more original work from her.

8. Austen set the bar high, and Eligible doesn't transcend her work. However, it's more than the romantic comedy that often gets compared to Austen--Sittenfeld succeeds not only in time-traveling the P&P cast (splitting a few personalities)  into the 21st century, but in turning truly Austenesque snark on today's culture.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Books Finished in May

23. Paper Towns by John Green

My first John Green book. I wasn't blown out of my mind, but this book does what it's meant to do. Although it's accused of being an archetypal "manic pixie dream girl" story, I think it actually is meant to (and does) split that myth apart. Margo Roth Spiegelman and her crazy adventures is a persona, a paper girl. Instead of feeding into it, Green shows, in a lighthearted way, how dangerous it can be for a young man to put a young woman on a pedestal.

24. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler (audiobook)

As promised, the story centers around a corgi. This is a deep character study, and also a quirky story, that will hit the spot for those into that sort of thing and predisposed to sympathize with quiet, socially anxious characters (as I certainly am).

25. Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

This had been on my list for a while, and I'm really glad I picked it up. Although many of my friends (and my family) come from immigrant backgrounds, I was not prepared for the sheer destitution of the situation the main character finds herself in. It takes true grit and depth of courage for Kimberly to overcome her poverty, exacerbated by linguistic and cultural barriers, and use her mathematical talent to change her social class. While this is an 'American Dream' type immigrant success story, this shouldn't be the message that anyone in this situation could overcome these odds. Kimberly is clearly a rare exception, and other kids without her extreme talent and determination fall through the cracks.

26. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Ever since I heard the title of this book, it's been reverberating in my head. It's the last thing Jeanette's mother says to her when she leaves home at sixteen, after explaining that she loves women the way she's supposed to love men. It's the perfect title for this memoir about Winterson's childhood with her larger-than-life adoptive and abusive Pentecostal mother. It's the perfect encapsulation of the way certain people think, when a mind is so trapped by its devotion to to its own version of social convention that it has substituted it for G-d, happiness, and the people right in front of it. The memoir is clearly Winterson's attempt to grapple with that powerful mentality and also look back on the life she has built because of or in spite of it.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. I added three bags of trash to my KonMari purge this weekend. Clothes, books, and papers were more straightforward, but I've really hit a snag in komono--I have so much random junk, it's hard to separate into clear categories. So far, I've gotten through linens, CDs/DVDs, and old school binders (which probably fits in papers or sentimental items, but whatever). I had saved an entire binder of college admissions information, applications, records, and acceptance/rejection letters. Reminds me how organized I can get.

2. Jean Kwok, who wrote Girl in Translation, started following me on Twitter, and now I'm too nervous to write a review of her book. I mean, I liked it, but I feel like I can't criticize it because what if she reads it? The flip side of bloggers (and everyone) having closer access to authors...(Ms. Kwok, if you're reading this, I really did like your book. I promise. I would even read the next one.)

3. I also got to cross Girl in Translation off my ever-expanding TBR list. I have almost 500 on the list, which includes some books I've crossed off, but still.

4. I finished Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? which I didn't like as much as I wanted to, but the title is still awesome and it's a fascinating insight both into growing up in a British industrial town in the late twentieth century and growing up with a cartoonishly difficult parent. Maybe I should have read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit first.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Top Ten Books I Want to Read This Summer

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

1. Spark Joy by Marie Kondo

I might let myself buy this as a reward for finishing the tidying from the first book!

2. The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine N. Aron

To go with my non-fiction kick and get some more tips for introverts.

3. The Mirror Empire by Kameron Hurley

I downloaded this on my ereader awhile ago; maybe I'll get to it during my vacation this summer.

4. The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

I may or may not get to it this summer, but I believe it just came out and I do want to read it!

5. Mambo in Chinatown by Jean Kwok

I enjoyed Girl in Translation.

6. The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

I need to get to this already!

7. Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

I got pretty addicted to The Happiness Project books; hopefully, this is similar.

8. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho

I put this on an earlier list, but haven't gotten to it yet!

9. Poetry

I went on a poetry buying spree earlier this year and have yet to exhaust my collection!

10. Short Stories

I read some on and a few from Lightspeed magazine; I should do that more often!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Books Finished in April

19. Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress

Received from Bookmooch; the best I've read from Nancy Kress since Beggars in Spain. I still prefer the first book, but this is an intriguing sequel that ups the game on how genetic engineering can revolutionize society. The affected speech of the "livers," (people who are essentially paid not to work) though, is super annoying.

20. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

Glad I gave Chabon another chance after Wonder Boys, although I probably liked this one so much since I'm more interested in the source material. Chabon creates a convincing version of a Jewish/Yiddish society formed in a post-World War II Alaska. Highly recommended, and proud of myself that I didn't need the glossary. Also, wishing there were more books out there where I could put my vestigial Yiddish to use.

21. Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain

Totally convinced now that all chefs are secretly part of the mafia. Just kidding. A little. Seriously though, not what I was expecting, but definitely...interesting.

22. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Meh. This book got such great reviews, but it's just a story about a family and I didn't find any of the characters especially compelling. Anne Tyler is a wonderful writer and her prose is pleasing, but I didn't like it as much as Digging to America or The Accidental Tourist, which I was concurrently listening to on audiobook.

Friday, May 6, 2016

Free Books and How to Find Them

I've acquired a number of free books lately and thought I would share my secrets. Feel free to share yours in the comments!

I've been a member of Bookmooch for about 8 years now, and while it's not always gratifying in the short term, it's been amazing over the long haul. Eventually, books I'm interested in come around, and in the meantime, I can send excess books to good homes that will care for them (and then perhaps pass them onto another loving home). 

Recently, I've acquired Beggars and Choosers by Nancy Kress and Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, which were on my wish list for years, so it's not the fastest method but it gets results!

2. Little Free Libraries

I'd vaguely heard of Little Free Libraries when I discovered one in my neighborhood. I always enjoy checking out the selection, and it changes often enough that every once in a while, I see a book of interest. I've also added a few books to the collection.

Recently, I've acquired Paper Towns by John Green and Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok. There's no guarantee that a book you want will magically appear, but browsing is part of the fun!

3. The Library

And then, there's the actual public library! Although I occasionally have some success getting specific books I want, I've found that most of the fun of the library is browsing or looking for popular books from years ago. If you really want a current bestseller, there's probably a long waiting list or if you need a specific book now, it's not often the best way to go, but to walk in a roomful of free books is itself a pleasure.

Recently, I've been checking out audiobooks including Anne Tyler's The Accidental Tourist. It's  a good deal since audiobooks are usually expensive and, unlike physical books, I don't find I like to re-read them. 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Do You Ever Promote New Books Over Classics to Level the Playing Field?

I'm a big fan of classics. There's a reason for that. Those were the books I read in school, parents and relatives recommended, and I read on lists, first in library pamphlets and then on the Internet. Classics are classics for a reason is an old adage, but more and more we're calling into question what that reason is. The We Need Diverse Books movement argues that books by and about women and minorities have consistently been overlooked, and that if we make a conscious effort to include them, we will find material that is just as good or better than the traditional classics. From my own research and opinion, I know that at least some of the works of 16th century women writers, who were not read or studied for centuries, is just as thoughtful and entertaining as the work of some of their male contemporaries,whose work has been closely studied and promoted for centuries. I'm not making an argument about diverse books here, necessarily, although I include those, but I am suggesting that once a book gathers literary acclaim, that acclaim tends to perpetuate itself (i.e. literary classics follow the law of inertia).

With that in mind, what about books that have not yet had much chance to generate forward motion? There's an idea that reviewers have a moral imperative to be gentler to newer and debut authors. But does that extend to promoting a newer book over a classic, even if you honestly think the classic is better? For example, if I have to recommend the number one fantasy book I have ever read, I would have to answer Lord of the Rings every time. However, the people who are most likely to ask me this question, fellow fantasy readers, have most likely already read it and are certainly aware of it. So wouldn't it benefit fantasy readers (and authors) more to answer Bitterblue or The Girl of Fire and Thorns? I'm having a really hard time thinking of newer fantasy books that haven't also been hyped somewhat, but maybe that's part of the problem.

This whole question arose when I was writing my Top Ten list for Books Every Gamer Should Read, and while I could think of some newer books that fit the description, I thought more "classic" books worked better. I went with the classics, but perhaps I should have taken the opportunity to promote. Should I put a newer book on my Top Ten Tuesday list if it's not really in my top ten, but I did like it and don't think other people have heard of it as much? Does anyone else worry about this, or make the opposite choice?