Thursday, December 1, 2016

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo 2016

Yesterday was the last day of NaNoWriMo 2016.

I hit over 25,000 words.

That was not my original goal for the month: I was aiming for the traditional NaNo goal of 50,000 words in 30 days.

However, a little bit more than halfway through, I evaluated my progress and decided to change my goal to 25k.

I'm proud of reaching my secondary goal, and I think I did a good job, considering. However, I'm still a little bummed that I didn't hit 50k like I did last year, and I want to figure out why.

First, I've had less time to devote to it this year since my work schedule is different.

Second, I wrote historical instead of contemporary fiction, and did less research instead of more, due to the aforementioned different work schedule.

Third, though, it wasn't my first rodeo. Last year, I was motivated to win my first NaNoWriMo. I followed my scheduled writing plan exactly, and I got a huge head start, finishing 4k in the first day alone.

I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives,and, although, as usual, I don't agree with her entirely, she suggests that the first time one does something, one is more likely to succeed, i.e. first marathon, first diet attempt, but it's harder to keep up the effort after that. Interesting phenomenon, and I wonder if some of it is at work here.

Anyway, I've got a new goal. 75,000 words by January 30.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Books Read in October

52. Queen of Flowers and Pearls by Gabriella Ghermandi. Translated by Giovanna Bellesia-Contuzzi and Victoria Offredi Poletto.

Came across this interesting gem just browsing in the library. It's a series of interpolated stories, compiled by the narrator, set during Italy's occupation of Ethiopia. Embarrassingly, I didn't even know that Italy had occupied Ethiopia, so it was very informative for me. The author lives in Italy and was born in Ethiopia, and the book is translated from the Italian, so this was a Women in Translation (WIT) read for me this year. Highly recommended if, like me, you want to learn about this moment in history.

53. Destiny of the Republic by Candice Millard

This well-regarded biography of President James Garfield was an appropriate read during the election. Millard starts with Garfield's rise to the presidency and chronicles the assassination attempt and its aftermath. She compellingly argues, based on contemporary medical evidence including the autopsy, that Garfield's death was the result of his doctors' treatment and not the bullet in his back. She spins a fascinating tale, with major players surprisingly including Alexander Graham Bell. Although nonfiction sometimes takes me longer, I flew through it in just a few days. Highly recommended for American history buffs, but really just anyone. The most amazing part of the book, however, comes early on. After Garfield is unexpectedly nominated at the 1880 Republican National Convention, he replies to a congratulator, "I am very sorry that this has become necessary." He does, luckily, have a brief reprieve during the campaign since "asking for votes was considered undignified for a presidential candidate." Just imagine.

54. The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley

A longtime TBR lister,  origin of the word "librocubicularist" (a person who likes reading in bed), and found serendipitously at my local Little Free Library. It's a quirky little tome, set in a Brooklyn secondhand bookshop, post World War I, aimed at younger, perhaps middle-grade readers. Its 1919 copyright is evident in its portrayal of women and the cartoonish German (natch) villains, but worth reading for the quixotic vocabulary. Also worth it for me, as I was about to start a NaNoWriMo novel set in the time period. Adults may want to read it for fun, or recommended for children perhaps with some caveats about stereotyping.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. After the election, I decided I can take out all the library books I want. Although I've returned only one of the six from two weeks ago, I took out three more today. Pictured below, minus An Abundance of Katherines audiobook. So far, I like it better than Paper Towns. p.s. Do all John Green's books feature road trips?
2. I'm obsessed with memoirs. Biography used to be the only nonfiction I would read, but now, I can't get enough. I loved Jen Lancaster's Bitter is the New Black so much I read it twice in one month, and when I saw a row of Jen Lancaster books at the library, I couldn't help myself. The Tao of Martha, about her attempts to live a la Martha Stewart stood out the most to me, so I got that one, but I'll be back! Mennonite in a Little Black Dress also caught my eye, and although it wasn't what I was expecting (prodigal Mennonite daughter moves back home, instead of out), I'm intrigued.

3. I'm picking wedding colors, and it might be as bad as women's dress sizes. Google's "fern green" is David's Bridal's "clover green" and Pantone's "elves dancing merrily green" (okay, I made the last one up). But, seriously, can we all get on the same page? Like, literally.

4. Wedding websites, however, seem to be a charm. I admire the ethos of A Practical Wedding, , but no customizable Squarespace sites for me! The Wedding Knot's prefab wedding sites mean I don't have to think at all, thanks!

5. I'm way behind in NaNoWriMo, and at this point, I've given up hope of reaching 50k words in 30 days. However, I'm determined to surpass 25k (I'm around 22k now), and keep writing at least until 50k or until I finish, which is what I did last year.

6. It's Thanksgiving! I'm thankful for my adorable puppy and my fiance, and so much more. I'm excited to make Marbled Pumpkin Gingersnap Tart from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook, and not have to make anything else!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Post-Apocalyptic Library Haul

It's been a long time since I let myself take out this many books, but I needed it. Even though I won't finish them all, it felt satisfying to take out all the books I wanted. Some are research for my NaNoWriMo novel, which spans the time periods of both WWI and WWII.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Check Out My NaNoWriMon!

SpaceStationMir's NaNoWriMon to get your own! You need to have an account and updated word count at!

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Books Read in September

47. Out of Oz by Gregory Maguire

Finally finished the Wicked Years. Out of Oz finishes the story in some ways, and just leaves it open again. Oh well. I don't know how much closure I expected. Still best read for the dark and amusing riffs on the land of Oz.

48. The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory (audiobook)

One of my favorite of Gregory's, and I've read nearly everything by her. Katherine Parr is, in my opinion, the most interesting of Henry VIII's wives, both because she survived and because she was one of the first women to publish in English. Also, I wasn't aware of the relationship between her and Anne Askew, a contemporary female preacher, a relationship which is central to Gregory's novel. As usual, Gregory takes an inventive approach to history, creating the highest possible stakes drama (as if the Tudors weren't dramatic enough!). I've also felt that Gregory's later books, like this one, and The White Princess, feel more fiercely feminist in nature than some of her earlier works. Henry VIII, despite being central to the plot, is a somewhat enigmatic character in, for example, The Other Boleyn Girl--even when he does terrible things, the crux of her interpretation of his character has remained elusive. Here, she finally comes out and makes it clear what kind of a monster he has become.

49. Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

I read this twice in less than a month, so it's obvious that I highly recommend it. It's pitched as a modern-day Greek tragedy, a woman at the top who had it coming, and hilariously chronicles her fall. However, although Jennifer makes a joke of her two years of unemployment, it's no laughing matter for those of us who came of age during the recession. Though I don't have her penchant for high-end retail or cosmetics (there's a hilarious yet poignant scene where she tallies, for example, how much insurance her bottles of half-empty nail polish could have covered), it's definitely a story that hit that "there but for the grace of G-d go I" note. Also, this was her first memoir, but she apparently has others that I must read post-haste.

50. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

Extremely funny, dry, and droll--read my thoughts here.

51. Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

I finally finished the Inheritance quartet! I'm glad I did. I had many frustrations with the series, mostly that it was overwritten and did too much "telling" instead of showing. However, Eragon, his dragon Saphira (some of the best writing is from Saphira's POV, imo), his cousin Roran, and his friend Arya, to name a few, are memorable characters that represent interesting variations on familiar fantasy tropes. The plot, while predictable, also had some interesting twists and turns. I think Paolini's greatest strength was his ability to play on those tropes to create a believable fantasy world with strong female leaders, new and more nuanced interpretations of "enemy" races, and a strong core of ancient history and magic. The story meets a full heroic arc in the end, and Paolini makes some strong atypical choices there as well. On the whole, it's a valuable addition to high fantasy, and I would recommend it especially to young fans of the genre.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. Two of the bloggers I follow went to Jonathan Safran Foer readings recently, as did I. It's interesting to hear the different takes on him and his work. When I saw him, he was introduced by his mother and his whole family was there! I didn't realize he'd grown up in D.C., so that was quite a surprise. It also made more sense why his new book is set here. He read the passage about the urinal that he's apparently read elsewhere. Although I loved his first two novels, I'm not sure how I feel about this one...I did start reading Here I Am, but I haven't gotten to the urinal scene yet.

2. I missed the National Book Festival and the Baltimore Book Festival and all the other bookish events the weekend before last because I was sick. I hate that I missed Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Ann Goldstein and so many other interesting writers. At least I saw JSF the week before.

3. I just celebrated Rosh Hashanah, and spending that time concentrating on how I can be a better person in the new year made me feel really zen and refreshed. I hope I can keep that up now that I've got a busy couple of weeks ahead (and fasting, of course).