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?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Top Ten Books That Will Make You Laugh

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

Books that make me laugh are not always books that make other people laugh (I think Romeo and Juliet is hilarious), but I'll try:

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

2. Much Ado About Nothing by William Shakespeare

3. The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

4. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams


That's all I can think of. I can think of other books with funny characters (Silk from David Eddings' Belgariad and Malloreon) or funny turns of phrase (Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union), but I don't read a lot of books just for laughs. Maybe I should.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1. I'm now reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential--I know it says "Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly" but I was not prepared for the level of drugs and criminality. With some of the stuff he talks about, I'm surprised this book didn't end up with him six feet under, even though he does change names. Wow.

2. Wedding dates--how do you choose? Do you ask your friends and family first? The rabbi? The venue? What comes first when picking a date? I'm so confused.

3. Are engagement parties really necessary? I know people have them, but I didn't realize it was, like, de rigeur. There's a budget for it in all of the wedding planning books/sites I've looked at, and it just seems really unnecessary? Especially if a bridal shower is also required/expected? Who came up with this madness?

4. I think I officially DNF'd Empress of the Night, just have to return it to the library. Next audiobook up: The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler. I hear there are corgis.

5. So, not a huge deal, but 85-90% of my clothes are visibly worn out or have stains/holes. I should probably get new clothes. Except a) I hate shopping for clothes and b) I have zero budget for clothes. Tips on cost-conscious shopping? I know I should probably try thrift stores, but that's not a thing my family does so it's not familiar to me and the idea of hunting through tons of clothes makes me ill.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Top Ten Books Every Gamer Should Read

Happy Top Ten Tuesday at the Broke and the Bookish!

Disclaimer: I am not a big gamer myself, but my boyfriend is and he agrees with me on most of these (and hasn't read the rest).

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

For anyone nostalgic for the '80s and early '90s.

2. Armada by Ernest Cline

This is the only one I haven't read, but my boyfriend read and liked it, although he did say it wasn't as good as Ready Player One.

3. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

For fans of shoot 'em up games in space, like XCom.

4. You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

For WoW fans or recovering addicts, also fans of Geek & Sundry and/or Felicia Day.

5. Dune by Frank Herbert

For fans of space or other colonization games, like Space Engineers or Civilization.

6. A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin

For fans of fantasy games, like Dragon Age and the Elder Scrolls.

7. Range of Ghosts by Elizabeth Bear

Also for fans of Dragon Age and the Elder Scrolls.

8. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

For fans of space and Star Wars games

9. The Belgariad and Malloreon by David Eddings

Also for fans of fantasy and colonization type games.

10. World War Z by Max Brooks

For fans of Day-Z,  Fallout, and The Walking Dead.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Books Read in March

12. Peony in Love by Lisa See

 Lisa See brings another little known (at least in the Western world) phenomenon from Chinese women's history to life. Peony, the character and the book, is representative of a historical cohort of women who fell in love with a fifteenth century opera, The Peony Pavilion, and, in imitation of the main character, wasted away from 'lovesickness.' Read my full review here. 

13. The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

14. The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

Like the first book, A Girl of Fire and Thorns, the second and third books in this compelling trilogy, show that author Rae Carson is not afraid to pull the hard punches. The novels continue to be strong on character development, especially for the main character Princess Elisa, and world-building, set in a mostly desert world with a fascinating religious backstory. Overall, I think the first book is my favorite, but I'm glad I continued to follow Elisa's journey. The end is both satisfying and leaves room hopefully for more books set in this world. Highly, highly recommended.

15. Tarnish by Katherine Longshore

Katherine Longshore has accomplished that wonder of wonders and created a fresh version of the Anne Boleyn story. Read my full review here.

16. Son by Lois Lowry

In each of her books in The Giver quartet, Lois Lowry skilfully builds worlds around a single word. The final installment, Son, illuminates the meaning of the title, and sheds more light for the curious on Jonas' Community, unseen since the first book. The story of Claire, mother of Gabriel, overlaps with and diverges from Jonas' until she finally reaches her eponymous goal. This is a satisfying book in itself and as an end to the series, although The Giver remains my favorite.

17. Pax by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Jon Klaussen

This book broke my heart, a little. It's a children's story about a fox and his boy, in what seems like a possibly dystopian England. The fox, Pax, has an imaginatively rendered way of thinking and speaking that again, seems calculated to evoke the heart strings. I had to curl up for a while with my little fox (read: corgi mix) after reading. Read at your own risk.

18. A Countess Below Stairs by Eva Obbotson

This was a cute audiobook about a Russian countess who escapes the revolution to become an English maid. It's enjoyable, with a predictable ending, but some of the attitude rubbed me the wrong way. The audience is invited to sympathize with a character who habitually fondles maids, and while it's overtly acknowledged that this behavior is "incorrect," it seems to be validated in the end, when pretty maids are hired with him in mind...ugh (it's tacitly excused because the maids in question either like it or don't mind and he "never goes too far" but yeah, not okay). Also, a lot of weird/archaic stereotypes, but the author does seem to be trying to promote diversity...Otherwise, positive message about how eugenics is evil (yeah, I'm not sure why this novel when in that direction, but it did).

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts is hosted over at Bookishly Boisterous!

1. I'm reading The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon and I love it, but I'm not sure how to break down how I feel about it. I'm definitely one of those people who has more difficulty describing why they loved a book than why they hated it. So glad I gave him a second chance after Wonder Boys, which I was not a big fan of.

2. I'm listening to the audiobook of Empress of the Night by Eva Stachniak, which I had been looking forward to. I loved the first book, The Winter Palace. However, I really want to DNF it and can't figure out entirely why. Maybe Stachniak's writing seems better in print than audio? Or maybe it's the change of character and also a plot device I find annoying that the first book didn't have. The first book is from a fictional character's perspective and this book is from the perspective of Catherine the Great. Also, it's supposed to be told as memories from her present as a dying old lady so the timeline is jumbled and "the present" keeps interrupting. I think I find that especially annoying in audiobooks, anyone else?

3. I realized that, although I've acquired a number of books recently, none were bought. I've gotten all my new books in the past few months from Bookmooch, review copies, the library, and one from a used bookstore when I traded in some books.

4. I do feel a little guilty for acquiring books, since I've spent so much effort lately getting rid of them. However, I've gotten rid of far more than I've acquired lately and have focused more on getting quality books that I want to keep (and I also know that I will be passing on those I don't want to keep).

5. When I reorganized my bookshelves recently during my Konmari book purge, I created a TBR shelf. It's too soon to tell whether it's a success or not, but anecdotally, I like knowing where to go to find all the books I haven't read yet, and it also creates some incentive to read those books so that I can move them to their "proper" shelves (or get rid of them) and cut down on the number of TBR shelves. I noticed Jamie at the Perpetual Page Turner is deciding whether or not to do that, and I bet others out there are too. Has this idea worked for you (or not) or would you consider it?

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Challenges of Setting Up Literary Magazine Subscriptions for Success

One of my goals for this year is to read more literary magazines, but I haven't really gotten far on this yet. Since April is National Poetry Month, it's an opportune time to start, which I would like to do by subscribing to at least one literary magazine.

First, there are a few challenges to consider. One, which literary magazine to pick? I took a look at this list of the top 50 literary magazines, which is a little overwhelming! I've read issues of The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, McSweeney's, and more in the past, but I don't know that I have a clear preference (also McSweeney's does something very different from more traditional literary magazines). I also want to consider supporting the arts locally, which means I might not pick one of the "top 50" so that I can support poetry in my community.

I used to subscribe to #1 on the list above, The New Yorker, but I discontinued my subscription for a few reasons. First of all, I don't live in New York City, so a lot of the events on the first several pages were meaningless to me; interesting to look at the first few times, but finally it was just depressing that there were all these cool events I couldn't go to! Second of all, I didn't find myself connecting with a lot of the articles, poetry, or cartoons. There ended up being just one or two articles in each issue that I really cared about, and I didn't feel that was worth continuing. Third of all though, it was just too much! When I got an issue every week, they were piling up unread and felt like a huge burden. When I canceled my subscription, I gave myself permission to pick out a couple issues that looked interesting and toss the rest. I could not keep up with a weekly subscription, which brings me to another challenge with a new literary magazine subscription.

How often do I want to get a magazine? I've already established that I can't keep up with a weekly subscription, but I'm not sure I could keep up with a monthly subscription either. The only magazine I currently subscribe to, Conde Nast Traveler, comes bimonthly, and for a while, I was having trouble keeping up with those. I finally told myself that I was either going to make an effort to read every issue when it came or cancel the subscription, and while I totally thought I was going to go the latter route, I found that I have made time since then to get in my bimonthly read. (I do get other bimonthly magazines that I'm not as good with, like alumni magazines, but I didn't request or pay for those.) I think I need to pick a literary magazine that is at least bimonthly or maybe quarterly; I've looked at a few that only publish two issues a year and that looks tempting but also feels like not quite enough if I'm going to pay for it...

And, of course, a third challenge is cost. I don't have a ton of discretionary income, so subscribing to a literary magazine represents a modest splurge, and I would like to make an investment that's worthwhile both for myself and for the artistic community that I want to support. Looking at the prices though, they are more reasonable than I thought and than I remember from a couple years back (does anyone know if there's been a change?). A couple of more local literary journals, Little Patuxent Review and The Potomac Review are each $24 a year for two issues. Ploughshares is $35 a year for three print issues or $20 for a digital subscription, which is an option with my new ereader. The Missouri Review is $30 for four print issues or $24 for four digital issues. Digital looks like the best deal, but do I want to hold it in my hands or save the space/stress of copies piling up...

I am setting myself the goal of subscribing to at least one literary magazine in April, so I will have to make a decision by the end of the month.

Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions? What literary magazines do you subscribe to and why (or why not?)

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Book Review: Tarnish by Katherine Longshore

15. Tarnish by Katherine Longshore

Katherine Longshore has accomplished that wonder of wonders and created a fresh version of the Anne Boleyn story. I could only have expected such a feat from the author of Gilt and Brazen, who created such vivid and modern portraits of Henry VIII's fifth wife, Catherine Howard, and of Henry Fitzroy's wife, Mary. But neither of these historical characters suffer from the barrage of rumors, books, poems, portraits, movies, and TV shows that have characterized Anne Boleyn throughout history. For this reason, I put off reading Tarnish, certain it could not live up to its lively cousin books. However, it caught my eye in the library and as I began to read, I realized, happily, that I had underestimated Longshore.

This is not the story you think you know. In fact, it's a story that likely has little grounding in fact, though rich in contemporary literary allusion. Instead, this is a tale of an outspoken teenage girl who struggles to fit in, and who finds refuge somewhat in love, but more so in destiny and ambition. There's a love story here that's neglected by historical purists, and like Longshore's other books, the language is delightfully modern. Also, although my beloved Mary Boleyn is not the focus of this book, I enjoy the portrait here of her and other major players in the early-ish Tudor court.

Highly recommended for fans of Anne Boleyn, poetry, and YA--purists need not apply.