Friday, January 30, 2015

Daedalus Books

While planning the bookstore tour of the DC/Baltimore area, I learned that the warehouse for an online bookstore was surprisingly nearby. We decided to stop in and see what we could see.

I was expecting something like the warehouse that is Second Story Books in Rockville. Out-of-the-way, hard-to-find, and a real treasure hunt, just a big room full of overstuffed shelves and boxes and not a little dust. I was way off.

First of all, Daedalus Books IS a little out of the way, on a side street, but it makes up for it with clear signage that is easily visible from the road. Second of all, it may be a warehouse, but it's not a used bookstore. Instead, it's a remaindered bookstore. The books are brand spanking new, but they're discounted because they weren't big sellers (don't be dissuaded, it makes for a fantastic eclectic/indie selection). And third of all, this is no overstuffed hodgepodge treasure hunt. Books are laid out neatly on tables and on shelves with enviable ladders, labeled "for employees only," alas. The storefront is bright, airy, and very clean. The employees are also excessively polite, and gave me the card to the nearest used bookstore in response to my query about selling used books (hey, ya gotta give some to get some).

While I didn't make any purchases this time around (it was towards the tail-end of the tour), I am thrilled to have found Daedalus Books. Instead of a used bookstore to wind away the hours, I think I've discovered a new go-to bookstore for, er, less selfish occasions.

Below is a photo of some of the stock. I forgot to take a picture of the outside, but it's readily available on Google. It's surprisingly hard to find on their website.

(Also, apparently no relation to Daedalus Used Bookshop in Charlottesville, VA; which I'm also a fan of, for different reasons).

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top Ten Books I'd Love to Read With My Imaginary Nerdy Tolkien Book Club

Once upon a time, when Top Ten Tuesday had a similar topic, I invented the idea of a nerdy Tolkien book club. If they actually existed, here's what I'd want to read with them today.

I've read many of these before, but I'd like to read them again with discussion and focus. The following is the order I'm thinking of, but I could imagine switching it up.

Top Ten Several Books I'd Like to Read With My Imaginary Nerdy Tolkien Book Club

1. The Prose and Poetic Eddas (Icelandic sagas)

2. The Kalevala (Finnish myths)

3. The Silmarillion

4. Splintered Light and Interrupted Music by Verlyn Flieger

5. Beowulf (Tolkien translation)

6. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (Tolkien translation)

7. The Tolkien Reader: Farmer Giles of Ham, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil, etc.

8. The Hobbit

9. The Lord of the Rings

10. The Road to Middle Earth by Tom Shippey

12. Songs and Poems: Bilbo's Last Song, The Road Goes Ever On etc.

13. The History of Middle Earth

14. The Children of Hurin

15. The Legend of Sigurd and Gudrun

I'm sure there are many more critical works that should be added, including some of Tolkien's own critical works. I also have not included all of Tolkien's oeuvre, such as the Unfinished Tales, which echo parts of The Silmarillion, History of Middle Earth, and Children of Hurin. In fact, it might make some sense to read versions of the same stories together rather than each book separately (therefore, some of the reads would be simultaneous rather than sequential).

Obviously, I have put a lot of thought into this, so someone, take me up on it!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Friday Finds

I've received a couple new reads lately, hopefully reviews will be soon!

Against the Country: A Novel by Ben Metcalf, through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld, via Bookmooch

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Top Ten Readings On My Ideal College Syllabus

Since today's Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie, I thought I'd write about something I think about a lot-readings and books that will interest today's college students. These are mostly a collection of readings I've actually used and found successful, as well as those I'd like to try.

1. "The Sun, the Moon, the Stars" from This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

I've taught this story in every class I could, with almost universally successful results (there's always the odd student offended by the cursing). If I could, I'd teach the whole book.

2. "Shitty First Drafts" by Ann Lamott

I tried this out in my classes this semester, and it went over really well. It was one of the readings that many students mentioned in their final reflection, even though we read it at the beginning of the semester.

3. Tripmaster Monkey by Maxine Hong Kingston

I read this in college and loved it. It speaks to the Asian-American experience as well as the immigrant and American experience at large. Unfortunately, we would probably not have time to get through it all, but maybe just the chapter where Wittman goes to the party, or maybe just the first chapter, or maybe just the last chapter...

4. "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" by Ursula K. Le Guin

We read this in one of my classes, and I think the students found the philosophical dilemma very interesting. In future, I'd like to show the Doctor Who episode "The Beast Below" along with it and perhaps do some compare/contrast.

5. "Sexy" from Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri

I've tried "A Temporary Matter" from the same collection a couple of times, and while I really like the story, not as many students seemed to relate to it. Perhaps I'd have better luck with "Sexy," adultery is certainly a sexier topic than child loss.

6. Excerpts from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

I would just look at some of the funniest, or most thought-provoking, vignettes from Huckleberry Finn. I feel like it's one of those books students might expect to be boring, but would really love with some scaffolding.

7. Excerpts from The Good Lord Bird by James McBride

Similar to above, the book itself might look intimidating, but if we looked at particularly humorous or thought-provoking passages together, I could see it going over well. Also, many students probably won't have as fraught a history with McBride as with Twain (and maybe we could do some comparisons!). Maybe we'd also read a bit from The Color of Water.

8. "Sultana's Dream" by Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein

This would be a really short, easy way to get into feminist, sci fi utopias. It's short enough that we could spend a lot of time discussing the ideas, and the context they're in. Could also possibly be a point of contrast and comparison for "Omelas."

9. Excerpts from Woman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy

We would just read passages about the utopia Mattapoisett, as a point of discussion. Apparently, I just want to teach a class on utopias...

10. "Blot Out" by Colleen Kinder from The Best American Travel Writing 2013

This was probably my favorite story in an excellent collection. It's easy to read and understand, and would let us talk about what it means to wear the burqa, and Western and non-Western perspectives. I feel like that's still a hot topic/something that a lot of students would be opinionated about.

11. "Reeling for the Empire" from Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

I'd consider teaching this. I think it's a great story, but I think it could go either way with students. We'd have to do a lot of discussion about metaphors, the historical context, and go over a lot of vocabulary. But it might still be worth it.

Please make more suggestions in the comments, I'm always looking for new ideas! Also, is there anyone else out there doing even remotely what Junot Diaz is doing? I haven't found anyone else who so closely captures the voice of the modern American young adult.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gramp's Attic Books in Ellicott City

My friend came in from Boston last weekend, so we naturally went to explore all the bookstores around my newish domicile.

I'd noticed Gramp's Attic Books before, but never had occasion to venture inside. What a treat I was missing!

Gramp's Attic Books is an apt name, if your grandfather was the sort to value really fine editions of classic novels, or the type to gather vast collections on rifles, American history (emphasis on the Civil War and World War II), bookbinding, and London, respectively.

Although relatively small, Gramp's Attic Books boasts an extremely well-curated stock. Most of the books in the store itself (there's a couple shelves of mere paperbacks in the anteroom) are hard covers, and all are in excellent condition. I would not be surprised if there were a majority of first and second editions. If your tastes run to classics and the aforementioned collections, you might never want to leave. There are handsome caches of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Nabokov, Cather, and other lesser known greats of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Even if you already own the books, there's probably a charming hardcover edition that you would salivate over nonetheless.

This is a real book collector's store, and as such, its wares are more expensive than some other, less organized, less scrupulous used bookstores. However, there are still some finds and steals if you look carefully. I'm very pleased with my own purchases (pictured below). For once, my selections are quite representative of the stock: a handsome hardcover of Katherine Anne Porter's Ship of Fools, and two paperback collections from book lover and The Washington Post Book World writer Michael Dirda. I'm halfway through Readings: Essays and Literary Entertainments right now, and Dirda's addiction to books and their ephemera is very much in keeping with the spirit of Gramp's Attic Books, even if the books themselves do not live up to the general aesthetic.

While I'm not suggesting you drop everything and fly here from Boston, if you ever find yourself in Ellicott City, MD, Gramp's Attic Books is well worth a look, especially (or most dangerously) for the connoisseur.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: The Boston Girl

2. The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant

My mom got me this book for Hanukkah, and we went to hear Anita Diamant talk about it this week. Diamant's comments really brought into focus what I thought about the book. She affirmed that her "MO" is to write about hidden women's stories-specifically, in this case, the stories of the women of Rockport Lodge. The book she said, began with the title "Rockport Lodge," though it came to be more about the protagonist Addie Baum, the type of grandmother Diamant says she wants to be, whose sharp wit and humor came in during later revisions of the book.

As an aspiring writer, I was interested in Diamant's hints about the writing process. She confirms what I teach my students when we read Anne Lamott's "Shitty First Drafts," --it takes a lot of revision to get to the final product! For me, the final product was a compulsively easy read. I slipped into the skin of the character, a young Jewish woman growing up in Boston in the early twentieth century, and remained there the whole time.

Addie Baum tells the story of her life, from memory, to her granddaughter. The dialogue is believable as memory, but still clean and easy to understand. No tangle of clauses to get lost in, words are direct, and punchy: "Italians are as good as Jews when it comes to guilt." Growing up, Addie is friends with a group who call themselves the "Mixed Nuts," made up of the early twentieth century's best-known immigrants: Italians, Irish, and Jews. It's heartening, though perhaps unrealistic, how she maintains these friendships into adulthood.

Although this book is drastically different from The Red Tent in subject matter and style, it does spring from a similar agenda. This is a tale about one woman's life, and through her, about a whole swath of women who have not been especially recognized in history. In this respect, the book is equally successful. Rockport Lodge, a vacation house for working women, features prominently in Addie's story. This was apparently a real place, where women in Massachusetts gathered and organized and supported each other, especially younger women and girls. Through this network of sisterhood, Addie becomes a successful reporter and member of society. Though she eventually marries and breeds with a nice Jewish boy, her story, and those of her sister Betty and her eclectic friends, is an inspiring one.

I enjoyed The Boston Girl, but it also left me I hadn't learned or thought about anything new. The Red Tent was so revolutionary, and read at such a pivotal time in my life, that perhaps my expectations of Anita Diamant are far too high. The subject matter of the book is also extremely familiar to me, in a way that's comforting, but also stagnant.The story of Jews coming to America from the old country is, of course, my family's story, and while my family first stayed in New York, I have my own personal history with Boston. I especially enjoyed it when Addie's family moves to Roxbury. I once lived there, and I remember the churches festooned with Stars of David, which is how I learned it used to be a Jewish neighborhood (no longer, but Brookline, also mentioned, still is). On the other hand, I don't really need to be reminded of how good I have it that my parents didn't force me to work in a factory and then marry a nice Jewish boy they picked out.

Ron Charles' review in the Washington Post clarifies my feelings about the book: "World War I, the flu of 1918, the Minnesota orphan train, Southern lynchings — they’re all blanched in the warm bath of Addie’s sentimental narrative." The book does deal with some big issues, just not in a way that especially piques. Still, Diamant's mission in writing the stories of unknown women is appealing to me, and Diamant herself and her fiction are very relatable to me in particular, and I'm sure others coming from a similar Jewish immigrant background.

Recommended to fans of Jewish and women's fiction; also recommended to hear Anita Diamant speak if you can, definitely a worthwhile experience!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Top Ten 2014 Releases I Meant to Read But Didn't Get To

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

1. Steles of the Sky by Elizabeth Bear

2. The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison

3. Exodus by Deborah Feldman

4. The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

5. The Winner's Curse by Marie Rutkoski

6. The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen

7. China Dolls by Lisa See

8. The Republic of Imagination: America in Three Books by Azar Nafisi

9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

10. Bombay Blues by Tanuja Desai Hidier

Friday, January 9, 2015

Book Review: The Cuckoo's Calling

1. The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Let's be honest. I would never have read this book if a) it weren't written by J.K. Rowling and b) my friend hadn't gotten it for me for Hanukkah. I don't like mysteries. I don't like thrillers. I don't like detective novels. But there are always exceptions. And this is one of them.

Cormoran Strike, a former military police officer, has opened a mildly successful private detective agency and just split with gorgeous fiancé Charlotte. He owes mysterious loans to a rock star dad he barely knows, and receives regular death threats from a former client. Enter Robin Ellacott, newly engaged, working as a temp until she can sort out her "proper interviews." Robin hits the ground running as Strike's new secretary, and the two become a crime-solving duo that is compatible and efficient (a relief from Odd Couple type pairings).

Rowling's trademark character development, plot development, and particular genius for red herrings are evident here, but I was honestly most surprised by the language and writing style. While the Harry Potter series is quite detailed, the actual writing was probably its weakest point. I can't count the number of times Harry's heart "beat a tattoo," or Hermione "remarked acidly," or "snogging" was invoked extremely awkwardly. Not only do none of those terms make an appearance here, but the writing is smooth, fluid, enjoyable to read in its own right, and not just to pull the plot along. I wonder if this is because the publishers edited more heavily, either not initially knowing Rowling was the author, or just wanting to get a new series off to a good start. Whatever happened, I hope Rowling and/or her editors keep it up. If I had to criticize the style, I would say there's an unnecessary plethora of colon and semicolon usage; sentences are competitively lengthy. However, they were all used beautifully correctly, and I could take any passage at random to demonstrate correct punctuation usage to my classes.

Just read this exquisite sentence that showcases both Rowling's character development and freshly fluid style:

"Somé looked as though he had been carved out of soft ebony by a master hand that has grown bored with its own expertise, and started to veer towards the grotesque" (250).

The conclusion of the case and events leading up to it did not terribly surprise me, but the fun part is meeting all the characters and watching events unfold. While the case is summed up neatly at the end, there's plenty of loose strings left in the protagonists' lives to fuel a series. I may or may not continue with the sequel, just due to my own interests, but I would highly recommend this to those who are mystery/thriller/detective fans. Harry Potter fans--you're out of luck. The only reminiscent hint was the death threat letters, delivered in pink envelopes of gamboling kittens *shudder*.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Top Five Most Anticipated Books of 2015

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

I'm going a bit off script because, honestly, I don't know what debuts to be excited about. Here are the top five books I'm excited about in 2015!

1. The Galaxy Game by Karen Lord

Karen Lord has a new novel! And it looks like it is somewhat of a sequel to The Best of All Possible Worlds--it's about Grace Delarua's nephew.

2. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link

Got to see what the fuss is about!

3. The Mechanical by Ian Tregellis

So excited for an new novel from Ian Tregellis, and intrigued by the concept.

4. The Boy Who Lost Fairyland by Catherynne M. Valente

Assuredly worth reading for the vocabulary at least.

5. Karen Memory by Elizabeth Bear

I'm tepid on the concept, but it's Elizabeth Bear, and now I've realized steampunk can be cool sometimes.


6. Armada by Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline is coming out with a new book! Not sure how he could top Ready Player One: this one looks Ender's Game-esque, but we'll see!

Monday, January 5, 2015

SFF Lit Round-Up 2014

2014 was a fantastic year for SFF Lit, and I think my choices this year may be less controversial than in previous years.

1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie

Unusual, ambiguously-gendered-and-identified character; feminine pronouns for all; great big morally ambiguous concept (people=parts of ship); epic scale; and alien cultures reflective of our own failings. Win.

2. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie

See above, with extra servings of novum (estranging device that allows us to look as detached observers at aspects of our own culture).

3. Baba Ali and the Clockwork Djinn by Danielle Ackley-McPhail and Day Al-Mohamed

Vivid re-imagination of ancient tale; realistic investigation of Islamic and Victorian cultures; feminist implications; comments on wonders and dangers of technology.

4. "Sultana's Dream" by Rokheya Shekhawat Hossein

South Asian. feminist. sci-fi. utopia.

Short, but sweet.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Bookish and Non Bookish Goals for 2015

First, let's see how I did on last year's goals:

1. Post to the blog at least 5 times a month-It looks like I did pretty well on this one. Some months I did less, some months I did more.

2. Read more short stories-I definitely accomplished this one. I read far more short stories this year than possibly any other year of my life, and I read Vampires in the Lemon Grove, which I helpfully pictured in last year's post.

3. Read more poetry-I probably did, thanks to the Missouri Reviews, but I didn't read Dispatch to the Future, which I'd pictured.

4. Write every day-I'm not sure if I wrote EVERY single day, but I definitely wrote a lot, including blog posts, personal writing, and lesson plans.

5. Go for a walk at least three times a week-Definitely not. I'll have to rectify that this year.

6. Go to more bookish events-Last year, I only made it to the National Book Festival. Hopefully, I can do better this year.

7. Read at least one book for a book club/discussion-Nope. I'll have to try again.

8. Host a literary gathering of some sort-No again.

9. Read at least two books translated from a different language-Looking back, I can't find any translated books-but I did read several set in other countries/cultures, like Under the Jeweled Sky by Alison McQueen and Anchee Min's books about the last empress of China.

10. Read at least three non-fiction books-I read ten and a half, including The Princes in the Tower, pictured in the post (The half was The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2014, which includes both fiction and non-fiction). I'm keeping up my trend of reading more non-fiction in recent years, my grandfather would be proud.

Bookish and Non Bookish Goals for 2015

1. Post to the blog at least 6 times a month.

2. Read even more short stories--and do a better job of keeping track of them. Plan a "Best Short Stories" and/or "Best SFF Short Stories" post for the end of this year.

3. Read more books, stories, poems etc. by minority authors. I've done a fair job in recent years of reading more women, let's see if I can do the same for minorities/be more aware of that in my reading.

4. Read more books from other countries (sneaky way of saying "read more translated books," but this will also cover other English-speaking countries).

5. Write more short stories.

6. Submit more writing to places.

7. Read more pedagogical texts.

8. Go to more professional development classes and seminars.

9. Read more how-to texts,i.e. learn more about computers and other life skills.

10. Live better-exercise more, eat healthier, relax more.

That's all, folks!

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Book Review: The Inheritance Trilogy by N.K. Jemisin

I've been saying I'm going to read the Inheritance Trilogy for years now, and when I came across this all-inclusive volume for just $20 during my holiday shopping, I just went ahead and got it for myself:

And then I proceeded to spend the rest of December reading it.

42. The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

Yeine is a Darr princess summoned to her maternal family's home, Sky. This imperial palace belongs to the world's most powerful and ruthless family, the Arameris, and they have claimed Yeine as one of their own, despite her mother's defection. Though her grandfather announces her as a contender for the throne, Yeine realizes that she is unprepared to compete in an arena where gods are enslaved as matchless weapons.

Yeine is an extremely relatable character. I loved that, while she's inexperienced in the world she's been thrust into, she never comes off as stupid or naive. She uses information as she uncovers it, and while she makes some wrong turns and bad assumptions, she never makes the same mistake twice. She's satisfyingly cautious, and becomes savvier as the book goes on.

Early on, Yeine befriends the gods who are enslaved to the Arameris. Particularly, the child god Sieh, but also the Nightlord Nahadoth (oldest of the gods), battle goddess Zhakkarn, and goddess of wisdom Kurue. The gods, particularly Sieh and Nahadoth, feel like the true protagonists of this novel and the other ones. Perhaps protagonist is not the right word--Yeine is firmly the first person narrator here--but the gods are more important to the world overall.

The most intriguing aspect of this novel, and of the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, is the gods. I don't know that I've ever seen gods so smoothly incorporated into a world before, in a way that doesn't treat them as omnipotent and omniscient exactly, but just different sorts of creatures, some of whom happened to create the universe. The central conflict in the novel, in fact, goes far beyond Yeine's mother's defection, and back to a Gods' War, where Itempas the Sun God killed his sister Enefa the goddess of Life and Death. In response, Nahadoth and others rose against Itempas. Upon their defeat, they were enslaved to Itempas' favorite humans, the Arameris, thus beginning three thousand years of Arameri rule.

The writing style was not my favorite, and I found the story difficult to get into at first. Descriptions are rough, and the point of view was confusing, because Yeine is supposed to be narrating from a point in the future. I will say, I did find that very believable, it was written very much as if the narrator had forgotten details, and had to go back and add parts in the wrong order. I think this was deliberate, and it was effective, I just don't care for that effect. However, once the plot got going, it was immersive the whole way through. Jemisin does political intrigue extremely well, and it carries the plot of the novel, and lets the reader gloss over the rough writing style.

It was maybe not everything I was expecting, but certainly delivered on the political intrigue and fascinating world. Recommended if these elements sound interesting to you.

43. The Broken Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin

The Broken Kingdoms picks up a hundred years after The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms leaves off. I liked this device because this is really more about the world and the gods than the individual characters of each novel. And, since gods live forever, or rather, almost forever, we get to re-meet old friends, and encounter new gods as well.

Oree Shoth, a blind Maroneh woman with surprising magical powers, is the first person narrator of The Broken Kingdoms. Again, the narrative was a bit hard and disorienting to get into, but soon enough, the plot takes its gripping hold. The Maroneh are the remnants of a people loyal to Itempas, who due to an Arameri mistake, were destroyed by Nahadoth. Now, however, the old ways are changing, and Oree has moved to the city of Shadow (formerly Sky) where godlings have come to live among the humans. Previously, this had been forbidden by Itempas, but due to events in the previous book, the rules have changed.

Oree discovers some secrets about her past, and due to kindness to a new and taciturn godling, finds herself hunted, and eventually captured, by a religious cult. The plot constantly pulls the reader along, and while the revelations are not especially surprising, they provide an opportunity to learn more about both the ancient and modern history of the world.

Like the previous book, this one manages to be both a contained story, and part of the ongoing epic of the gods. Recommended to fans of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms. It can be read as a separate story, but it would be difficult to understand some of the events without reading the previous novel first.

44. The Kingdom of Gods by N.K. Jemisin

The longest of the three books is the easiest to get into. Here, our narrator is Sieh, god of childhood, a character already familiar from the previous books. There's no dilly-dallying this time, the plot starts off right away and very straightforwardly.

The Kingdom of Gods could be read on its own more easily than The Broken Kingdoms, but the knowledge of gods and earlier historical events from the previous novels is helpful. The plot revolves around Sieh's connection with a pair of young Arameri twins, Shahar and Dekarta. Sieh's history with their family is a painful one, but times have changed, and so have Arameris, as he will learn.

This was probably my favorite book of the three, as I find Sieh very interesting as a character, and he also has access to a lot of context that the other protagonists didn't have. There are layers of plot, and more political intrigue here, and it all comes together neatly (or almost neatly) in the end. Highly recommended.

45. The Awakened Kingdom by N.K. Jemisin (bonus novella!)

It's billed as a novella, but it's almost as long as the first book. The Awakened Kingdom feels like as much of a continuation of the same epic story as the other books, and it has a voice and flair that the others lack.

In fact, this was my favorite in terms of voice. It's narrated by a newborn godling named Shill, and she has quite a lot to say! It's very convincingly written in a way that one imagines an omnipotent three-year-old might write.

The plot, as befits a novella, is more simplistic than those of the books. It could easily be taken (and is probably intended) as a feminist parable, but the endearing narrator keeps it from being too preachy. Highly recommended, with or without the other books.