Tuesday, June 11, 2019

My Top Ten Unpopular Bookish Opinions

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top 10 Unpopular Bookish Opinions

  1. To me, To Kill a Mockingbird is overrated. I didn't dislike it, but I just wasn't a huge fan. I think the problem was that everybody made such a big deal about how much I was going to love it that, for me, it just, flopped. 
  2. Sometimes, paperbacks are better than hardcovers. Believe me, I sing the gospel of hardcovers. I love the look, the feel, the elegance on the shelves. But sometimes...you just don't want to carry the weight on your shoulders and that mass market just slides so sweetly into your purse...
  3. Sometimes, the abridged version is better. I'm looking at you,  Dickens.
  4. The Game of Thrones TV show is better than The Song of Ice and Fire books. It's better paced, more streamlined, and, I would argue, has better character development for several significant characters including Robb Stark, Sansa Stark, and the Hound, among others. I also thought the eighth season was extremely well done in terms of plot and character, if somewhat abrupt. 
  5. I'm sick of people calling female memoirists whiny. I recently finished Under the Table: Saucy Tales from Culinary School and so many people complain about how "whiny" the author is, just like they did with Cheryl Strayed in Wild and Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, Love. But nobody makes this complaint about Anthony Bourdain or Bill Bryson, despite writing similar fare (Bryson gets awarded "self-aware grumpiness"!). Hmmm. I wonder what the difference is. Instead of whiny, how about vulnerable? Instead of overly dramatic, how about entertaining? After all, why are you reading a memoir if not to be at least somewhat prurient about the minutiae of other people's lives?  If you don't like memoirs, don't read them!
  6. You don't need to read the classics. I would argue that, at least in Western civilization, it would behoove you to be familiar with the plots of, say, the Bible, The Odyssey, The Iliad, Romeo and Juliet, and Hamlet. In other civilizations, it might behoove you to familiarize yourself with the Ramayana, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, or the Talmud. But due to the information saturation of the Internet, you can familiarize yourself and speak intellectually about cultural references without wasting time, if you don't want to, being the key point. Of course, you will get more out of reading Hamlet than reading a synopsis. But if you're not interested, you won't get much out of it anyway. I know people who have gotten through their lives thus far without reading Jane Eyre, Pride and Prejudice, or, shockingly, Lord of the Rings. However, the culture of book shaming, in my experience, does little good and plenty of harm. Furthermore, 'the canon' has traditionally been colonized by certain groups of people and excluded others, so that, if you spent all your time reading the accepted classics, you would miss out on a myriad of wonderful books and perspectives, not to mention books that you, personally, might just enjoy more. In conclusion, don't let a bunch of dead white people tell you what to read. Books deserve to be recognized for the spark of life inside them; don't read them just to inoculate yourself like some dead or half-dead vaccine.
  7. Graphic novels are novels. Full stop. I can recognize their artistry, even though I typically don't read them, since I'm not used to the medium and find it visually exhausting. but who knows, I could give it a try again in a few years and work it out. 
  8. I love my full library of 300+ books. I also adore KonMari and her approach to tidying--ESPECIALLY for my books. There's this line in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up where Kondo writes "Imagine what it would be like to have a bookshelf filled with books you really love...For someone who loves books, what greater happiness could there be?" For me, going from 700 books to 300 books that sparked joy was intoxicating. I love knowing that I love 90% of the books I own. However, I will add a caveat for the other 10%...
  9.  I do disagree with KonMari's stance on unread books. She encourages readers to get rid of books they have owned for a while but not yet read, similar to the old chestnut about getting rid of clothes you haven't worn in one to three years, depending on the version. However, books are not like clothes in terms of fit. An item of clothing that doesn't fit now is unlikely to fit down the road (though not impossible). But I've had the experience of owning books for years unread, and then finally popping them open, and loving them. Sometimes, you're just not ready for a particular book yet, but it doesn't mean you never will be. Of course, you can always get rid of it now and buy it again later, so I don't necessarily think KonMari's advice is bad, but personally, I'm keeping my TBR shelf!
  10. Some books need to be recycled. No book lover wants to contemplate the destruction of books, but I've seen enough sad books at library sales, thrift stores, and my work that no one is ever going to want again (typewriter manual or Windows 95, anyone?) and the best thing to do is recycle them so that they can be reused as new books or paper or whatnot and save some trees. Similarly, some library collections have books that have been moldering unread for years, and that space is honestly better used for seating and computers to get students in the library. I'm sorry. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Top Ten Characters That Remind Me of Myself

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Characters That Remind Me of Myself

This is kind of the ultimate in book reading, right? At least for me, especially when I was a kid, books were a place I could go to find people like me, the people I really related to. And there were and are a lot!

1. Jo from Little Women

Jo March is a writer, she's strong, she's brave, she's a tomboy. She's everything I wanted to be. I've never been quite as angry as Jo, but I've always felt like she and I get each other on a deeper level.

2. Meg from A Wrinkle In Time

Like Jo, and unlike me, Meg is also a really angry character. I didn't quite relate to that, but I related to her as an outsider, a rebel, and someone who hated being told what to do by interfering grownups (ok, maybe I'm a little angry). Meg is also really good at math, and while I didn't identify that way, I understood being ostracized by other kids when I couldn't turn off my intellect in a way that satisfied them or when I insisted on doing work "my way" instead of the teacher's way.

Also, like me, Meg and Jo are both older sisters.

3. Hermione from Harry Potter

Almost cliche these days, but I hugely identified with Hermione as the smart girl always going to the library, and who, at least at first, cares more about research than making friends with other kids. But as she grows, like me, Hermione learns the value of friends and love, platonic and romantic.

4. Stargirl from Stargirl

More aspirational than exactly who I was, but I admired Stargirl's ability to be herself and like to think I have a little of that in me.

5. Claudia from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Like me, Claudia is a resourceful older sister and I always liked to think I could pull off a successful runaway like Claudia does, have an adventure, and let my parents know what they were missing,

6. Elinor from Sense and Sensibility

Elinor, also an older sister, is clearly the most responsible person in this entire book, and I related to her ability to successfully take care of her mother and sisters, all while putting her own heart on the back burner, and I was happy when she finally got her age-appropriate love story.

7. Anne from Persuasion

Anne is, surprise, a younger sister, but she has more of the stereotypical traits of an older one, and at twenty-nine, is Austen's oldest heroine as well as most mature. I love the line that Anne "learned romance as she grew older," and I believe that's been true for me as well.

8. Frodo/Sam/Gandalf/Faramir/Eowyn from LOTR

Perhaps it's not surprising that I relate so heavily to characters from one of my favorite book series of all time. I love Sam and Gandalf deeply, and I also relate to them. Sam is deeply curious about the world around him he knows little about. Gandalf has made it his business to know much about and adventure around the world. Similarly, I relate to Eowyn's desire for adventure and to make a difference, and to Faramir's quest to learn and to be a better man than his brother. And finally, Frodo. I once took a which LOTR character are you? quiz, and was at first surprised that I consistently got Frodo. I relate to Frodo's love for the Shire, but also his desire to take the ring to Mordor to protect Bilbo. To his love for Sam. To his mercy for Gollum. To his ultimate inability to resist as much as he tries...and to Sam's ability to resist for him. The poignancy of Frodo's sacrifice is never lost on me, and I keep coming back to again and again, the meaning and the loss and how one is not without the other.

9. Susan from Chronicles of Narnia

I think Susan doesn't get enough love. Even though younger sister Lucy is more the main character (and I love her too), I related to older sister Susan and how she takes care of everyone, even becoming a master archer to defend her family! AND...I relate to Susan's skepticism in the later books. It's realistic, and it's okay to grow up and be part of the real world.

10. Elphaba from Wicked

Elphaba also happens to be an older sister, but I relate to her most as an outsider. I mean, Elphaba is literally green; she might as well be a no-fun genius on top of it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

April Wrap-Up

Books Read This Month
  1. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  2. The Dinner Party by Brenda Janowitz
  3. Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik (Temeraire #8)
  4. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
  5. Off the Sidelines by Kirsten Gillibrand
  6. Stoned by Aja Raden
  7. The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson
  8. Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
  9. No Country for Old Gnomes by Delilah S. Dawson and Kevin Hearne
Favorite Books This Month
1. Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and How Desire Shapes the World by Aja Raden

"Real jewels," Raden concludes, "are formed in the human mind." Raden's journey through the histories of diamonds, emeralds, pearls, and watches coalesce around the themes of "want," "take," and "have." Her assertions that jewels have changed the history of the world ring truer in some cases than others (while she makes a strong case for the influence of jewelry-centered events, I believe the French Revolution and Spanish Armada defeat would have occurred without the Necklace Affair and La Peregrina pearl, respectively). However, the stranglehold jewels have always held over human economies is loud and clear. Some bits of the book are uneven (Raden dips into the history of Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth I, and Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov, all of whom I happen to be quite familiar with), but her unique focus on distinct pockets of history, and especially her knowledge of and respect for Carl Faberge, of the famous eggs, and Kokichi Mikimoto, the father of cultured pearls, are fascinating. Raden's casual tone is also refreshingly accessible, and I have no doubt that if more history and economics books were written like this, there would be a much greater audience for them. "Stoned" respects the human mind as the most valuable of all jewels...that whose ability to spin a narrative truly does control the world.

2. The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson

"Though you have struggled, wandered, traveled far,
It is yourselves you see and what you are."
-The Conference of the Birds, as quoted in the epigraph at the beginning of The Bird King

What a delightful parable! This is my first G. Willow Wilson book, but it won't be my last. The premise, of a magical mapmaker and his friend escaping the fall of Granada, hardly does justice to the novel's captivating central pair. Fatima, a royal slave who would rather be a sultan, and Hassan, whose taste in (male) lovers is ignored due to his strategic value in creating accurate maps of places he's never seen realize how little they are truly valued by anyone except each other, and as a result, their friendship bears a greater emotional load than usual. When Hassan's skill is betrayed to the conquering Christians, Fatima helps him escape, along with help from the jinn. Hassan and Fatima, to pass the time, make up stories of "The Bird King," based on an old folk tale of which they have read only the beginning. Eventually, the island of the Bird King becomes a destination as much as a mystical journey. On the one hand, the message of The Bird King seems to be that when the world gets ugly, the best thing to do is hide and create our own little utopia. I feel that so hard, and so when Fatima and Hassan find their own little utopia, good for them, I think. But the book isn't over. This is how the dream of utopia has always worked, I think, a dream of getting away from the ugliness, but in reality, there is "no place," (i.e. u-topia) this can exist, because wherever you go, there you are. Fatima and Hassan also find that, wherever they go, there they are, and human ugliness as well as beauty finds them But it is also within themselves that they are able to, literally and metaphorically, find, and create, the island of the Bird King. 

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Top Ten Inspirational/Thought Provoking Book Quotes

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at That Artsy Reader Girl!

1. "Some worlds are built on a fault line of pain, held up by nightmares. Don't lament when those worlds fall. Rage that they were built doomed in the first place."

-The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin

2. "He had strabismus, a quality Lulay used to spout about as a feature shared by mystics, geniuses, thieves, imaginative children, and those possessed by kapres. One eye looked the world in the face. The other eye needed a break and wandered off."

-America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

3. “I half-wondered if I should return to the bathroom and climb through the mirror, then send out the other girl, the one who was sixteen. She could handle this, I thought. She would not be afraid, like I was. She could not be hurt, like I was. She was a thing of stone, with no fleshy tenderness. I did not yet understand that is was this fact of being tender—of having lived some years of a life that allowed tenderness—that would, finally, save me.”

-Educated by Tara Westover

4. “You are not a terrible person for wanting to break up with someone you love. You don’t need a reason to leave. Wanting to leave is enough. Leaving doesn’t mean you’re incapable of real love or that you’ll never love anyone else again. It doesn’t mean you’re morally bankrupt or psychologically demented or a nymphomaniac. It means you wish to change the terms of one particular relationship. That’s all. Be brave enough to break your own heart.”

-Dear Sugar/Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

5. “You have to understand

That no one puts their children on a boat

Unless the water is safer than the land.”

-“Home” by Warsan Shire

6. “An evil spirit rose from the abyss

To kindle in our hearts the flames of hate

By which our tender youth had been divided.

It grew with us, and bad, designing men

Fann’d with their ready breath the fatal fire”


-Mary Stuart by Friedrich Schiller

7. “All children are heartless. They have not grown a heart yet, which is why they can climb tall trees and say shocking things and leap so very high that grown-up hearts flutter in terror. Hearts weigh quite a lot. That is why it takes so long to grow one...It is well known that reading quickens the growth of a heart like nothing else.”

-The Girl Who Circumnagivated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente

8. "How would you run an empire without cheap, disposable labor? It was as impossible a question as how you could run one without conquest and expansion.”

-Shattered Pillars by Elizabeth Bear

9. “The thing that used to worry him most was the fact that people always used to ask him what he was looking so worried about."

-The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

10. “There was something appealing in thinking of a character with a secret life that her author knew nothing about... If Sylvia were a character in a book, that’s the kind of character she’d want to be. But wouldn’t.”

–The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

Thursday, April 25, 2019

March Wrap-Up

Books Read
1. Ruin of Kings by Jenn Lyons
2. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
3. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
4. The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden
5. Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri
6. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
7. The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
8. The Truths We Hold by Kamala Harris
9. Outer Order Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

Favorite Book(s) This Month
1. Ruin of Kings:
 I LOVED the footnotes and the message about how slavery infects society. Incredibly well done fantasy.
2. The Bear and the Nightingale: Beautiful, Russian fairy-tale atmosphere--I don't know why twists on Russian fairy tales are so popular in fantasy right now, but I'm here for it!
3. Empire of Sand: Incredibly unique system where dance is a conduit for magic and only some people can do it. I also like the straight from frying pan into the fire type plot.

Places Traveled in Germany 
1. Tubingen
2. Stuttgart
3. Baden-Baden

Book Event This Month
I saw Gretchen Rubin speak in March. I've loved all of her books and this is the first time I got to see her in person-what a wonderful speaker! I want to know where she took classes! It was clear she knew her speech by heart but it sounded so authentic and she looked like she was really looking at each audience member. And perfect gestures. Very impressed. Her new book, Inner Order, Outer Calm, is more of a combination of tips on clutter from her other books, but useful for what it is.

Goods Baked
1. Hamantashen-I always use this recipe, but next year, I want to try something different! My favorite fillings for hamantashen are apricot and raspberry jam.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Top Ten Rainy Day Reads

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at That Artsy Reader Girl!

I prefer last week's topic, so I'll do that one since I missed it. I'm taking "rainy day reads" to mean a number of things, namely a combination of books in which rainy weather features and yet a cozy and comfortable atmosphere ultimately prevails.

1. The Small Rain by Madeleine L'Engle

Besides an apropos title, The Small Rain has the melancholy but ultimately cozy atmosphere to match.

2. His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Enthralling enough to take your attention off the rain, plus it's the first in a nine-book series.

3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The quintessential cozy read, and I always think about that scene where Elizabeth walks through all the rain and mud just to get to Jane. That's sisterly devotion!

4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

The Narnia Chronicles are definitely a comfort read for me and many others, and this one involves plenty of getting wet.

5. The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien

Of course, my ultimate comfort read, and plenty of journeying, though I don't specifically remember any rain.

6. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Comfort read and start of a series.

7. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente

Another engaging fantasy read.

8. A Ring of Endless Light by Madeleine L'Engle

Another from L'Engle with that melancholy mood, but his one transcends the weather.

9. The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

A book that begins with a storm and doesn't stop there!

10. The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Weather in the title and an atmosphere to match.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

My Reading Life

Just Finished:

This is the last of the presidential candidate memoirs I had selected to read. I'm glad I did it because I feel like I have a better sense of the context and personality of these candidates. Gillibrand in particular is very feminism-oriented and is a strong voice for women to "get off the sidelines."

Currently Reading:

I am loving this...it's like a combination of Guns, Germs, and Steel and Freakonomics for jewelry. Also, if everybody read this (which they should!), I'm pretty sure it would crash the diamond market. My favorite fact that I've learned so far though is that apparently looking at the color green (e.g. emeralds, but also plants) can lower your blood pressure. Makes sense to me!

I'm listening to this right now. I'm kind of eh on it, but I'm having trouble finding audiobooks I like at the library. Any recommendations?

Next Up:

Snagged this new release on hold at the library! Spanish Inquisition + mapmaking + jinnis = piqued my interest!

March wrap-up will hopefully be up soon! It has been a couple of MONTHS.