Thursday, November 9, 2017

NaNoWriMo and Research Books Pic

Day 6 of NaNoWriMo (really, Day 8, for me), and I'm up to 11, 112 words. I'm writing in bits and pieces, and I don't know what's coming each day, so it's a much more nerve-wracking process than the first time around, but it's working so far.

Below is a picture of my research books, all nonfiction from my novel's time period, with the exception of The Book Thief, which I've meant to read for years, and now turned out to be the perfect moment. My favorite of the nonfiction so far is Victims and Neighbors, a study of the surviving Germans and Jews from one small town in Germany: the author's grandparents' hometown. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the subject.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders

It's Top Ten Tuesday over at the Broke and the Bookish!

Top Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders

(I tried to think mostly of characters who are/were not actually leaders...yet)

1. Jo March

2. Harriet the Spy

3. Hermione Granger

4. Felicity Merriman

5. Kestrel

6. Faramir

7. Eowyn

8. Lauren Olamina


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts hosted by Bookishly Boisterous

1. I'm planning to start NaNoWriMo this weekend since Nov. 1 is a Wednesday. However, although I did a fair amount of research (I'll add a pic of my research stack later), I'm feeling anxious because I didn't finish 50,000 words last year.

2. I'm continuing the same historical novel from last year, but also have a couple of other writing projects in mind just to stimulate word count. However, although I finished my first NaNoWriMo with 50,000 words, finished the novel in under three months, and hardly even felt blocked, maybe this model doesn't work for this kind of book for me.  It was so cool for me to be like --OMG I can just WRITE a novel--but maybe I have to realize that I won't always be able to just bang out a novel!

3. I'm reading The Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa'Thiong'o right now, and I unfortunately forgot it for lunch today, and can't wait to get back to it tonight. It's been on my TBR for several years and I'm so into it, so, yes, KonMari is wrong about not keeping books you haven't read yet.

4. I've bought waaay too many books lately, largely because I've discovered eBay, which, yes I've been aware it exists, but I didn't start looking at it until wedding stuff and then I realized there are so many rare and used books, and it's so cheap...but I've bought about 14 books in the past two months (mostly for book research, which is my excuse) and I need to stop.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Things I Want to (Want to) Write About

It's been awhile since I've written here, but I haven't stopped reading.

1. In fact, as of yesterday, I finished my Goodreads goal to read 52 books this year:

I didn't know about the nifty 'Completed' sash, but it sure feels satisfying. After my first year of Goodreads, I'm overall satisfied but not impressed. The most addictive quality of Goodreads is ticking off your self-set reading goal one-by-one, similar to NaNoWriMo's word counter, but otherwise, there's less functionality than I thought in terms of categorizing books, and I've found Goodreads' recommendations less helpful than finding books from other bloggers or browsing in the library. Still, I'll probably continue for next year at least; I'm contemplating the slightly loftier goal of 54.

2. Similarly, after my first year of The Economist, I'm satisfied, but not impressed, this time, with my own reading abilities. I had hoped The Economist would provide more worldly and economic/financial knowledge for me, and also that I would manage to read a majority of the weekly issues. Although I do think my awareness of international issues has improved (for example, I've been following outsourced private schools in Liberia, charges against Brazil's president, the rise of Macron, and so on), I've found that I tend to skip and skim the boring financial articles, and I don't feel like I understand economics much better than I did before. Finally, although I read far more issues than I did when I subscribed to The New Yorker, I still don't feel like the price (or waste) is worth the number of magazines I toss unopened or barely skimmed. Instead, I'm planning to replace my Economist subscription next year with a subscription to three or more local literary magazines (because I can do that at the same price point). That leads neatly into my next topic...

3. Poetry feels essential at this moment. I'm drowning in it happily. Besides full-length collections, of which I've read at least as many as last year (2-3, not bothering to check), I'm subscribed to the Academy of American Poets' Poem-A-Day, sent directly to my inbox, and I find myself clicking on links to poems on Facebook, Twitter, everywhere. It's a refuge and an outcry that seems to find its expression best no other way.

4. I want to write more about The Cooking Gene, and also I read Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and attended an event to hear her talk in person about dealing (or choosing not to deal) with her daughter's hair because some things are more important than looks and how some of the characters in the book would have gone to New Zealand today instead of America. Adichie is a fabulous speaker, and I highly, highly recommend you try to attend an event with her, and furthermore, I'm proud of myself for finishing her book, and also it took two days because I was so entranced. And also, the book is set in Nigeria, and the food mentioned was familiar to me--not because I've ever eaten fufu or soup made with palm oil, but because I'd recently finished The Cooking Gene--and there was nothing like his descriptions matching up with the food in a completely unrelated African novel to drive home his thesis about the African origins of American Southern food.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

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

Fall is always the big TBR when all the big doorstop bestsellers come out...but this year, I'm doing pretty well with what I wanted to read and feeling pretty laidback about the rest. Three books out this fall are from folks I know: in real life, The Cooking Gene by Michael Twitty; in blogging life, Reading People by Modern Mrs. Darcy and Smitten Kitchen Everyday by Smitten Kitchen.

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List

1. The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty

Been waiting to read this for at least a year, maybe more, and now I'm almost finished!

2. Reading People by Anne Bogel

Also just finished this one, which I also preordered. I wasn't sure exactly what it would be like, but it was like a group of blog posts on different personality tests, which I did find interesting. A handy guide to dip into when I want to reflect on aspects of my personality.

3. Smitten Kitchen Everyday by Deb Perelman

This one isn't out yet, but she's coming to DC, so I'm going to hear her talk!

4. The Emerald Circus by Jane Yolen

Sounded like an interesting collection of short stories, and I'm a fan of Jane Yolen's children's book The Devil's Arithmetic from way back.

5. Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (or anything else by her)

I've read some short stories, but despite her popularity, haven't managed to read any of her books or full collections yet. Purple Hibiscus is the One Maryland, One Book for this year, and I'm planning to see her talk next week!

6. Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

I love everything I've read by James McBride, so I'm excited.

7. Future Home of the Living G-d by Louise Erdrich

I'm kind of so-so about what I've read of Erdrich's in the past, but this dystopian concept intrigues me.

8. Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

It's supposed to be similar to The Handmaid's Tale, so I'm in for this. 

9. Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Hugely popular this year and representative of this era of refugees.

10. Tales of Two Americas, edited by John Freemen and Nasty Women, edited by Samhita Mukhopadhyay and Kate Harding

Two short story collections about current political divides; hoping for some grace and clarity. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Reading Life Continued

Finished This Past Week:

I found this at my local Little Free Library just a couple of days before I embarked on a train journey over Labor Day Weekend. It was the perfect slim size to bring with me and to read on the train. My second book of poetry in only a couple weeks. Highly recommend Adrienne Rich, and looking forward to reading more of her collections.

Currently Reading:

I'm about halfway through reading The Cooking Gene by Michael W. Twitty, my former Hebrew school teacher turned African American culinary historian. Twitty uses his own family to define and describe the intertwined African American cultures and food, and as I was when I learned from him, I'm impressed by his bravery in confronting the horrors visited upon his ancestors. He doesn't shy away from the rape of his foremothers nor from claiming those white male fathers as his ancestors as well. Although his food typically has a healing, collaborative message, he also includes recipes for the cornmeal mush fed to slave children in a trough and the slurry sometimes force-fed to African captives on slaver's ships. I've never read anything quite like this before, and I'm glad he wrote it.

I wanted this book as soon as I saw it in an Instagram picture, but by the time I got it, it was summer, and it sat on my shelf for a while. I tried reading it, but I just wasn't in the mood. However, last night, after I had to put down The Cooking Gene, but still wanted something to read, I picked it up again, and it's clicking better. It certainly feels like fall around here already, and though I'm a sworn summer aficionado, I'm trying to be excited.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

More Reading Life

Finished This Past Week:

It's hard for me to talk about how I feel about poetry. But I read this straight through, and even though I liked some poems better than others, I was feeling the whole spirit of this anthology.

After a run of unusual reads for me (nonfiction, short stories, poems), I got back to my roots with an Octavia Butler science fiction novel. Fledgling was her last book and it didn't disappoint. Butler turns the myth of vampires among us into a thought experiment on mutualism and group marriage sustained by chemical bonds, plus darker skin as a genetic advantage. Like a lot of her other books, it thinks about how humanity and relationships would be different with different types of chemical and biological relations. Shori, a vampire-type creature known as an Ina, which in Butler's version is a distinct species, needs to drink human blood to survive, BUT her human symbionts benefit from pleasure, longer life, and improved healing. Both Shori and her symbionts are chemically bonded to one another--and she naturally needs several in order to sustain her without harming any. Unlike other Ina, Shori is genetically engineered with darker skin so that she is able to walk in the daylight. This causes the main source of conflict in the book but there are interesting undercurrents of gender, racial, economic, and political power dynamics as well. This was supposed to be a trilogy, and I wish Butler had gotten to finish it.

So, I finally read this. It's okay as fanfiction, which is what I consider it. I'm also sure it's better seeing it performed than reading the script. but I refuse to consider this the eighth Harry Potter book. There is no such thing.

Next Up:

Pretty amazing that I actually have this! I've had it on preorder forever. Twitty was my Hebrew school teacher, one of the only ones I actually liked, so I'm happy to support him. It's also kind of cool that when I go to a tavern in Williamsburg, his recipes are on the menu. Interested to learn more about his journey as a culinary expert in African American cuisine; also looking forward to learning more about his research on his family, which I remember learning about in Hebrew school!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Reading Life

Recently Finished:

I finished Wedding Toasts I'll Never Give by Ada Calhoun on the plane back from Boston. I bought it that day at Porter Square Books in Cambridge. Although it's not at all what I expected (I thought it would be snarky toasts about her friends' misguided love lives), I devoured her reflections on the realities of her own marriage. As a newlywed, I enjoyed it and I'm sure others will too.

Almost Finished:

I enjoy travel writing, but these are overly focused on remote corners of Africa and Alaska for my taste. I did enjoy the story about saving the books of Timbuktu and the story involving writers and libraries in the American South.

Next Up:

Also purchased at Porter Square Books, I've already started dipping into these timely poems.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

My Reading Life

Finished Last Week:

The Wangs vs. the World by Jade Chang

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

I picked up The Wangs vs. the World after attending a panel with the author at the Gaithersburg Book Festival back in May. The eloquence of patriarch Charles Wang's hatred of America inspired my purchase, but still the hardcover sat unread for days and months, intimidating me. I knew I was going to like it, but that also made me more eager to wait for the right moment, when I could appreciate it.

The prose didn't disappoint. From white wolf hair ink brushes to urea to "guyliner," Chang creates an entertaining world of words, including transliterated but untranslated Chinese, in which the Wangs wither. Patriarch Charles is joined on his ride of shame across the nation by his wife Barbara, son Andrew, and daughter Grace en route to daughter Saina in upstate New York, who has troubles of her own. However, although entertaining and well-worded, the troubles of the Wangs don't seem to be resolved in any meaningful way, or, at least, the world suffers the consequences just fine.

Station Eleven, on the other hand, which I picked up from the Little Free Library near my home, metamorphoses material goods like iPhones, stilettos, and comic books into symbols of hope and ineffable meaning. It centers on a performance of King Lear in Toronto where the lead actor, Arthur Leander, perishes of a heart attack on stage, followed by a worldwide pandemic. The story follows the one young actor who survives, the paramedic who tried to revive him, and other characters from the life of Arthur Leander. Just as Chang's story does, Station Eleven follows multiple characters at different moments in time, but primarily focusing on one physical journey. However, reading them so close together, it was palpable to me that while I enjoyed the characters in both, Station Eleven felt so much more meaningful and significant and has a much more narratively fitting ending. Although I do think St. John Mandel's work has an intentionally spiritual quality (and, frankly, Chang has the more sparkling vernacular), I do wonder if post-apocalyptic worlds are necessarily imbued with more meaning than our mundane world, where entrepreneurs rise and fall and go to live with their daughters. It reminds me of that old Okcupid question, "In a certain sense, wouldn't nuclear war be exciting?"

Finished This Week:

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman

I started reading The Five Dysfunctions of a Team at an airport and finally managed to get it through hold at the library. Although it's fictional, the team in the book seemed entirely realistic. Lencioni succinctly and entertainingly details the consequences of a team's lack of trust, and how one might turn it around. I haven't read many business/management type books, but I would highly recommend this one.

Friday the Rabbi Slept Late was a find from the Bookcrossing table at the Gaithersburg Book Festival. I'm generally not a fan of mysteries, but I couldn't pass up a novel with 'rabbi' in the title. I'm glad I did, since, although the whodunit was obvious, reading about synagogue politics of the 1960s was at once familiar and revelatory. I grew up around the kinds of attitudes and discussions in the book...but I've never read about them before. Plus, the eponymous Rabbi Small is a Talmudic scholar who applies his learnings to the modern world, which was nerdily fascinating to me. There are apparently 11 of these Rabbi Small mysteries, plus a TV pilot, and I'm considering acquiring the rest.

Currently Reading:

The Best American Travel Writing 2015, edited by Andrew McCarthy

Up Next:

Not sure what I'm up for yet.  It's Women in Translation month so perhaps I'll spring for the next Elena Ferrante novel (I'm due to read the third), or a different WIT read.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

What I'm Reading Now

I recently finished The Airbnb Story, which is highly unlike most of what I read. In the past, I haven't read a lot of (or any) nonfiction and while that's changing, the nonfiction I read is still mostly memoirs and some life improvement/motivational reads. But this topical, business, technology read caught my eye, recommended on LinkedIn, and I checked it out of the library. And read it in three days. It took me longer than a fantasy novel of the same length might have, but a few years ago, I probably wouldn't have gotten through this book at all. It covers the founding, development, and current state of the company Airbnb, which, interestingly, boasts three founders who have all stayed together and only one of whom is an engineer, and which is still not yet a public company. Like the author notes, it's still just the beginning for this controversial company that's been around since 2008.

I think what made a difference for me now is I have something to grab on to here, some context. I'm aware of Airbnb, and although I haven't used it, would be willing to. It's a concept in my orbit as a millenial, though I've typically couchsurfed with friends or friends of friends. Nonfiction, especially business or technology related, was always so abstract to me, much more abstract than Middle Earth or Narnia. It's a funny thing, realizing that just now in my life, am I beginning to feel a little, just a little, grounded in the real world.

Speaking of more practical books, I'm also in the middle of reading Radical Candor: How to Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. I really like the concept and was finding it useful, until I reached a section on gender politics in the office, and got so annoyed that I'm questioning the rest of the book. Besides taking an extremely surface-level gloss over complicated gender issues, Kim Scott ends the section with the infuriatingly naive statement: "We must stop gender politics." Ummm...yes, because that is something we can stop, just like that. I'm not advocating for gender politics, but they exist for a reason, and we can't just 'stop' until underlying social issues are resolved. This disappointed and distracted me from a book I was enjoying. It reminds me of when I read Kant's Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and the Sublime in college and I was like, yes, yes, yes, throughout the first section..and then it devolves into all kinds of disgusting nationalist stereotypes, and I was just like, Kant, I can't trust you anymore. Kim Scott...I don't know if I can trust you anymore.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Bookish and Not So Bookish Thoughts

Hosted at Bookishly Boisterous!

1. I like dresses! This is not a sentence I would ever have imagined writing as a child or even a few years ago. I still believe that wearing or liking dresses has nothing inherently to do with being a woman, and the reason I like dresses now has nothing to do with gender identity (except, I'll admit, that it's socially acceptable for me to wear them). Instead, I like dresses now because 1) it's summer and they're cooler and 2) they're more flattering on the weight I've gained as an adult.

2. When I opened my Stitchfix, I was thrilled to see an A-line dress in a polka-dot pattern on top. Hence, dress-liking revelation. Also, specifically, I like A-line dresses with short sleeves, quirky patterns, and, most importantly, pockets!

3. I'm rereading Gretchen Rubin's Better Than Before and Marie Kondo's The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. I'm reading them slowly this time, and writing in my journal along the way. It's a weird combination of comfort reading and actual continued attempts at life improvement--which is funny considering that my life is the best it's ever been...but that's also the best place to launch "even better"!

4. I'm so grateful for my life. For space to call my own, for my dog, for my husband...these are things I didn't know if I would ever have. I'm very lucky.

5. I'm also reading, for the first time, Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity. I have it out of the library, but it's really helpful. I might buy it.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Best Books Read in 2017 So Far

1. A Practical Wedding Planner by Meg Keene

I read this first in 2016, but it was incredibly helpful planning my wedding, especially in the last couple days!

2. The Magician King by Lev Grossman

I appreciate so much more the riffing on and respect for some of my favorite children's fantasy novels, and the Magicians series are fantasy novels in their own right too. Currently finishing up the trilogy with The Magician's Land.

3. The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer

Insightful about who your audience really is, when it really is okay to ask (something I've struggled with most of my life), and plenty of wild, heartwarming stories from Amanda's life.

4. Wedding Stories, Ed. Diana Secker Tesdell

Thematic and timely for me, and also a thorough range of classic and contemporary American authors, from F. Scott Fitzgerald to Edwidge Danticat. Also starts off with an entertaining story from English author A. A. Milne.

5. The Winner's Kiss by Marie Rutkoski

The last in the Winner's Curse trilogy was my favorite. Besides being a compulsively readable trilogy, there's provocative commentary on the relationships between master/slave, oppressing/oppressed, and the series also moves beyond that in terms of Arin and Kestrel's relationship, plus just has some damn clever moves. I love having a female heroine who is probably an average fighter, but more importantly, a military genius, and recognized as such among allies and enemies alike.

6. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Helen Russell provides a personal and informative account of her year living in Denmark. I found her impressions of the Danish lifestyle interesting, especially since Denmark is apparently the happiest country in the world!

7. Lab Girl by Hope Jahren

Hope Jahren's memoir is less about being a woman in the sciences and more an idiosyncratic grant proposal/love letter to plants and her lab partner, Bill--but a fascinating read that well deserves its popularity.

8. The Scar by Marina and Sergey Dyachenko

Marina and Sergey Dyachenko create a quirky and magnetic fairytale about a scar that turns a warrior into a coward.

9. Small Changes by Marge Piercy

I loved this book, but have a hard time explaining why. I grokked it in a very visceral way since it touches on the lives of two women, one who happens to be named Miriam, and threads through Boston and the feminist movement in the 1970s. If any of those subjects grab you, read this.

10. Heartless by Marissa Meyer

Thoroughly engrossing imagined backstory of the Queen of Hearts, recommended to those who are already Marissa Meyer fans and anyone who hasn't yet experienced her brand of fairytale retellings.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning to Start But Haven't

Top Ten Tuesdays are over at the Broke and the Bookish.

I feel like I used to have a lot of these, but I'll give it a go...

Top Ten Series I've Been Meaning to Start But Haven't

1. Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

2. Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

3. Thursday Next by Jasper Fforde

4. The Broken Earth by N.K. Jemisin

5. An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

6. The Killing Moon by N.K. Jemisin

7. Defy by Sara B. Larson

8. The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan



I'll see if I can remember more later!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Meme over at Bookishly Boisterous!

1. Especially towards the end of wedding planning, looking at wedding magazines made me sick and wedding advice columns made me sick with dread. It didn't stop me from reading, but what's surprising is that I've continued reading after the wedding--and I'm enjoying it! Ideas for weddings make me smile, conundrums inspire sympathy. The Practical Wedding column where the sister wears the white dress still leaves me flabbergasted--my sister/MOH wore an awesome gold jacket.

2. I have much more interest in wedding planning than I did before. Prior to mine, it was something I'd never thought about. Though it was stressful, afterward, it was kind of cool.  I'm not interested in planning a wedding or large party again, but I appreciate the experience because I have sympathy for my friends and relatives who are about to or may at some point go through it, and I like feeling like I could be of help to them

3. We got incredibly lucky. We had perfect guests--nobody's RSVPs were illegible, everyone replied who received their invitation (another story),and nobody brought a last-minute extra. We did have a few who replied yes and didn't make it, but they all let us know at least a few days ahead. Our families and bridal party were all phenomenal: they showed up, looked great, were extremely helpful. Like, one of my bridesmaids produced a sign in
Hobbiton Brushhand the morning of (Pro tip: if you're a bride having a daytime wedding, don't plan to do anything other than hair/makeup that morning). We got many comments on the warmth and love of the day, and we both felt loved and supported.

4. After we got back from the honeymoon, I reached a personal record and finished a journal I had for only three months (mostly, you guessed it, wedding stuff). In a desperate B&N run for a new blank journal, I also snatched up this Everyman Pocket edition of Wedding Stories that seemed like kismet, or, most likely, a cannily timed wedding season end table. I love the handsome hardcover with the built-in ribbon bookmark in and of itself, but I'm also enjoying every wedding story from A.A. Milne to Kelly Link. It's an apt post-wedding read, especially since I've got four more to attend this year, starting this weekend!

5. I'm super proud of myself for ordering photo books from Shutterfly less than a month after the wedding. They're the first Shutterfly photo books I've ever ordered, and while I'm happy, there are some things I would take back. For example, I regret all the one and two page spreads, which didn't end up looking good (fortunately, there were only a few). Also, Shutterfly warned me about putting too many photos on a page, but I honestly would have been okay with more photos on fewer pages. Anyway, we have awesome photo books!