Friday, May 22, 2015

National Poetry Month

On April 1, I put two books in my bag: Lightwall by Liliana Ursu and Dispatch from the Future by Leigh Stein. Then, the April Fool's joke was on me because I realized that my random decision to read poetry fortuitously coincided with National Poetry Month. And I told myself that I was going to finish those books. Completely. In April. And. I. did.

I've been telling myself for years that I need to read more poetry. I've been trying it, and hating it, and giving it up quickly. But, finally, this time, it stuck. I'm sure it had to do with the particular poems, but I think it also has to do with how I'm growing into myself. A few years ago, I would never have willingly entered an art museum, but this year I took a trip to NYC almost exclusively to spend time at the Met. Something about the passing of years renders me more compassionate and more aware. And the more that I feel, the deeper grows my appreciation for all forms of art. Has anyone else experienced this particular transformation: an appreciation of art that grows along with age and empathy?


24. Lightwall by Liliana Ursu



I bought Lightwall directly from the publisher, Zephyr Press, at the second annual Boston Book Festival, approximately four years ago. I bought it because I wanted to support a small press and translated literature and women's literature, though little did I know at the time that I would later become more knowledgeable and passionate about all of the above. Ursu is translated from the Romanian, which also happens to be one of my ancestral tongues. I remember flipping through and vaguely liking it, but not being interested enough to continue, so there it sat on my shelf till this year. The pages are English and Romanian, facing each other, and it's been interesting to try to decipher some of the Romanian words. So far, I think I've only got place names like Belgrade and Lewisburg (Ursu was a visiting professor at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania). In her poetry, Romania tastes like blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and billberries (though I've never tasted a billberry). The imagery is full of berries, tart berries in particular, and I imagine stark winters pierced with berry brightness. There is more than one bear too and wolves, and I imagine wilds filled with predators. Her Lewisburg feels comparatively domestic, with lilacs and trees and farms and rivers. Some of the poetry is fantastical, involving transforming animals, and there are references to East European and Russian literature, the only one of which I got was Oblomov, and barely then, and many references to Ovid and Rome. In fact, one of the sections is titled "Ovid Returns to Rome."

It's difficult to write about poetry, because I can't quite grasp it, but Ursu's are lovely. My favorite or one of my favorites is titled "The Bed of Mint" and reminds me of home. It begins:

Between two houses,
Between a garage and a kitchen,
surrounded rusty chicken wire.
It's the baby of the Romanian teacher, every stem
every new leaf of mint is a letter
In Winter, they nurture words underground.
Spring, they compose sentences.
In Summer, the patches of mint are full-grown poems.

Read on.

27. Dispatch from the Future by Leigh Stein



I first saw Dispatch from the Future at the new Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago, and I picked it up because I recognized the author's name. The year before that, my mother had bought me Leigh Stein's novel The Fallback Plan, which I frankly did not care for. Maybe I'd feel differently if I read it again (don't think so, but it's possible), but I read it when I was in a similar moment to the main character--moving unhappily back in with my parents after failing to secure post-graduation employment--and the way the character dealt with it really angered me. I didn't relate to her behavior, and felt like she was basically an insult to who I was at the time. Anyhoo. That probably had a lot more to do with me than any inherent characteristic of the writing, but I picked up the poetry book with that in mind. And I was intrigued. I really related to the poetry! It felt like the kind of nonsense that I write, with lots of unexplained references, which I had fun fishing out, and a feeling of uncertainty and carelessness, but also a genuine hope and, I don't know how to express it, spark, that the novel lacked. I may not care for Stein as a novelist, but I greatly admire her as a poet.

Here's part of the Warning at the beginning:

If you read this book
sequentially, bad things may happen to you, but only as bad
as the things that would have happened to you anyway.
If, however, you do not read this book sequentially you may
find that you are suddenly aboard a sunken pirate ship,
staring into the deep abyss, and wishing you had chosen
not to chase the manatee in your submarine after all. Do not
panic. If you end up in the wrong adventure just go back
three spaces and draw another card.

Recommended especially to young adults in their 20s and 30s who have ever been a part of geek culture or the Chicago arts scene.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Reading Overview

So, I read a lot of books in the past couple months, and I'm in a bit over my head. But I'm going to try to break it down with this chronological list, and some six word reviews.

20. The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall



Brings (polygamous) Mormons mainstream; hilariously appropriate.

21. On the Same Track: How Schools Can Join the Twenty-First Century Struggle Against Resegregation by Carol Corbett Burris



Tracking is evil: get on board.

25. The Creation of Eve by Lynn Cullen



Renaissance woman artist serves queen: awesome.

26. Seraphina by Rachel Hartman



Surprise, she's a half-dragon! Not.

28. Kindred by Octavia Butler



Grueling reflection on slavery: must-read.

29. Course Correction by Ginny Gilder



Rowing, divorce, Olympics, and LGBT memoir.

30. Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory



Gardening and enclosure in Jacobean England.

31. Brazen by Katherine Longshore



YA done right in Tudor England.

32. Shadow Scale by Rachel Hartman



Surprise, they're all half-dragons! Not.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Circuit: Executor Rising Re-Released on Tuesday, May 19 from Diversion Books

Last year, I reviewed Rhett Bruno's space opera The Circuit: Executor Rising and I'm still looking forward to the sequel! Read my review here. Bruno contacted me recently to let me know the book is being re-released, and I agreed to spread the word! Release date is this coming Tuesday, May 19.


Synopsis from Publisher/Author:

Centuries after Earth was rendered an uninhabitable wasteland, humanity was forced from its homeworld and founded the Kepler Circuit, a string of colonies throughout the solar system. These settlements provide resources to the remnants of humankind, the most important resource being the newly discovered element—Gravitum—found only in the Earth’s unstable mantle.

But a powerful religious faction known as the New Earth Tribunal has risen to preside over most of the Circuit. Though there is barely a faction left to challenge them, a string of attacks on the Tribunal’s freighters causes them to suspect their mortal enemies, the Ceresians, of foul play.

Tasked with solving the problem is Sage Volus: Tribunal Executor. Spy.

Sage quickly infiltrates the ranks of a roguish, Ceresian mercenary named Talon Rayne, seeking to discover the truth behind the attacks, but the longer she works amidst Talon and his squad, the more she finds her faith in the Tribunal tested.

While her quest for answers only unearths more questions, a new threat is on the rise, and it plans to bring down the Tribune once and for all.


So, if you love some gritty sf, pick it up from the new publisher Diversion Books, from Amazon, from Barnes & Noble, from Kobe, or from iBookstore.

All information received from the author.

Friday, May 15, 2015

All the Beautiful Books I'll Probably Never Read



Spent some time in Barnes & Noble this past weekend, and finally got a chance to see the gorgeous books everyone's been drooling over on Instagrams like @blueyedbiblio.

When I saw these books, it was like a child seeing these:



(Image: tophdart.com)

But when I crack the covers, I'm disappointed.

Don't get me wrong. I think today's YA is fabulous and diverse and tackles some really tough issues, but. The prose in a lot of YA slides off me somehow; it's slick. Words are terse, characters suspiciously likable, plots, no matter how dark they get (and they get dark), end with a predictable beacon of hope.

I'm sure I will read more YA in my life: heck, reviews for Seraphina and The 100 are coming up. But I guess, for all the tackling of bigger issues and diversity and imagination, YA for the most part is focused on being easy and enjoyable to read. This is not true of all YA, for example, Kristin Cashore's books have plenty of character complexity and imperfectly resolved plots. And it's not a bad goal, nor a bad reason to read. But I'm in a reading mood for something that challenges me differently.

Do you have any suggestions for more challenging books to read? Can you recommend a YA book that doesn't fit this trend? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

500th Post: State of the Blog

Today is my 500th blog post. And it seems a good time to reflect on the state of the blog: where I've come from, where I am, and where I'm going.

Unlike many other bloggers, I haven't traditionally marked blog anniversaries or milestones. Lately, I've seen posts from people who can't believe they've been blogging for five years--I've been blogging for almost seven now, and rarely stopped to contemplate that!

When I started blogging, I really didn't think about audience at all. Or rather, it was for an audience of one. Me. I started writing because I wanted a record of all the books I'd read over the years and what I thought of them. It was that simple. Sure, I thought a few of my friends might read my ramblings, but I didn't really think anyone else would be interested.

When I started blogging, I had no idea that there was a whole book blogging community already out there. The first book blog I remember coming across was Boston Bibliophile. And I think that was because I did a search on bookstores in Boston, where I was living at the time. I was so happy to find someone like me out there, and I found a few other blogs that I still read to this day: Adventures in Reading, Litlove @ Tales from the Reading Room, and Biblibio.

Still, I didn't think these lofty strangers would deign to read MY blog, so I just kept up with my thing. Numbering and naming each of the books I read, and giving a rambling review. Slowly and occasionally though, I got comments in return for those I gave, and I realized I might have an audience, however small. It didn't change my writing much, but it encouraged me to try to garner more readers, which led me to memes like Book Blogger Hop (does that still happen?) and Top Ten Tuesdays. The latter is where I was introduced to a slew of new blogs and realized how not alone in the universe I really was.

Today, I write for an audience of bookishly inclined strangers, and my parents (Hi Mom and Dad!). I've made a few book blogging friends (maybe?), but I've never really been a tight-knit part of the community. I was reading Jamie's post over at The Perpetual Page Turner about how she misses all the blogs she's seen come and go over the years. I guess I've seen my fair share of blogs come and go, but I wouldn't say it's had much of an emotional effect on me. Maybe I'm missing out. I am kind of a loner addicted to doing my own thing, but I would like to be more involved in the book blogging community in the future.

To that end, I've recently joined Twitter (@SpaceStation_M), and already found cool new bookish blogs and sites, and hopefully some of them have found me! And here's more of what's coming in the future:

1. More Pictures


One of my many bookcases

2. More Poetry. I read Liliana Ursu's Lightwall and Leigh Stein's Dispatch from the Future for National Poetry Month, and surprisingly might like some actual modern poetry.



3. More Me. I promise to share more tales of my bookish life. Maybe I'll even do a video. Maybe.



Me in front of Mansueto Library at UChicago. OTHERWISE KNOWN AS--the Erudite compound from the Divergent movies!

Thanks for reading the state of the blog! What are your suggestions for becoming more of a part of the book blogging community? How long have you been blogging? Do you miss blogs you used to read? Has your blogging changed over the years?

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Top Ten Books I Will Probably Never Read

Happy Top Ten Tuesday! I feel like we did something like this before, but that was books I'll never read.

So here are ten books I'll probably never read.

1. John Updike's Rabbit books

2. How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie

3. Any more books by John Grisham (I read The Rainmaker).

4. Any more books by Jodi Piccoult (I read My Sister's Keeper).

5. Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

7. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad

8. Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton

9. Murder, She Wrote by J.B. Fletcher

10. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

The main difference between these and books I'll never read is that I don't hate the work of the authors I listed, or expect to hate or inordinately struggle with these books. I just don't really have a burning desire to read them, so I'll probably skip them. However, if one of these crosses my path, it's not totally impossible that I'd pick it up.

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Small Dig at Digging to America

19. Digging to America by Anne Tyler



Anne Tyler is perhaps the best-known living author from my hometown of Baltimore, but this is the first time I've read her. Her novel tapped into the diversity of the area, and the deep humanity of complicated family and friend relationships. I related to her characters, and I would read her again. Yet, perhaps it's not surprising that I've not read her before.

After all, I'm a relatively young reader, and Tyler seems very invested in being an Adult Fiction writer. This is a boon when it comes to her calm, clear prose, and to the presentation of her adult characters, but I think a loss also, as I will explain below.

The tale is one of two families who have adopted little girls from Korea, Susan and Jin-ho, respectively. The Iranian-American Yazdans adopt Susan, and the "all-American" Donaldsons adopt Jin-ho. Tyler lets us in on the perspectives of all the adult characters, especially the Yazdan grandmother Mariam, whose perspective begins and ends the book. But of the children, there is only a single section in the book. I wished there was more of the girls' perspectives, and in the interview included in the back of the book, I discovered why not.

In response to why she included only one girl's perspective and not the other's, Tyler replies:

My main concern was not to have too much of either girl's voice. A little of a child's-eye view goes a long way, in my opinion--you don't want to sound 'cute,' and you certainly don't want to force the reader to stay too long in the terrible country of childhood.

Excuse me? It is Tyler's prerogative to use the perspectives she chooses, of course, but this seems unnecessarily denigrating of a child's viewpoint, and a waste in light of Tyler's talents. I'm no grandmother, but I strongly related to Tyler's portrayal of Mariam. Here, she observes her new granddaughter:

She [Mariam] was confident that if things went wrong--as they very well might--she could manage.

Now she saw the same quality in Susan...Sometimes she imagined Susan resembled her physically, even, but then she had to laugh at herself. Still, something around the eyes...some onlooker's look; that was what they shared. Neither one of them quite belonged.

Neither Tyler nor I are Iranian, but I strongly related to that perspective as well. And since Tyler is so skilled at getting into the minds of those of diverse (adult) ages and cultures, why not children too?

I bristle at the idea that children are not people, are somehow inherently too "cute," or not worthy of being heard. Also, at the idea that childhood is not worth the reader's time. I personally feel that the perspective of the adoptees, in a story about adoption, is rather a valuable one.

Since I haven't read other Tyler books, I don't know if she includes more child perspectives in her other books. I'm not saying she has to. I'm sure she has plenty of readers who appreciate a lack of child's-eye view. What she said about it just rubbed me the wrong way.

Fans of Adult Fiction and residents of suburban Baltimore will likely enjoy Digging to America. It's a fulfilling read that is likely gratifying to anyone who can relate to feeling like the other, like they don't quite belong, or like they don't know what they're doing (and isn't that all of us?).