Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Five Books On My Spring TBR

It doesn't feel like spring, since it's sleeting and icing and hailing today, but I'm enjoying my most recent library finds with my extra time off today, so I can't complain!

1. The People We Hate at the Wedding by Grant Ginder

I remember starting this in a bookstore, and I found it again at the library, so I checked it out. So far, it reminds me a lot of The Nest, except less poetic and fewer, less compelling characters. Also, although it's also a dysfunctional family drama centered on siblings, it's building up to a wedding, and I've been obsessed with stories about weddings since I got married last year.

2. Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler

I read and loved Parable of the Sower a while ago, so when I saw this at the library, I thought, maybe it's time. I've been putting it off both because there is a dwindling amount of Butler's oeuvre left for me to read (sad face) and because I know it will be an emotionally tough read like the one before it. This dystopia hits too close to home, especially these days.

3. Sisters of the Revolution: A Feminist Speculative Fiction Anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer

Speaking of Butler, browsing through one of her stories made me check out this book, but there's also Joanna Russ, Ursula K. Le Guin, Nnedi Okorafor, and more. It's like a scifi sampler!

4. Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

I checked this audiobook out of the library since I loved Quindlen's Every Last One. So far, I'm not loving this one as much, but there are hints of an intriguing mystery to come, so I'm waiting for the payoff.

5. Wednesday the Rabbi Got Wet by Harry Kemelman

The Rabbi Small series keeps getting better and better. I found Friday the Rabbi Slept Late at a Bookcrossing booth, and the novelty of a crime-solving rabbi plus the background of 1960s synagogue politics kept me intrigued. I bought the rest of the books on eBay, and I've been working my way through. The last book, Tuesday the Rabbi Saw Red, was my favorite so far because Rabbi Small wrangles with disaffected activist Jewish students at a local Boston college (which is totally a possible stand-in for my alma mater). Rabbi Small's Talmudic teachings jibe with my understandings of Conservative Judaism, but it's nice to have Kemelman's clear and insightful explanations. I've never seen this part of my life (and my parents'/grandparents' lives) in fiction like this before. It's invigorating, even when my inner activist Jewish student disagrees with the books' awkward though genuine intersections with feminism and racism.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What I've Been Reading

Followed up some awesome library reads with some sitting TBRs:

David Lebovitz still makes me laugh out loud, although instead of a humorous tour through The Sweet Life in ParisL'Appart chronicles some serious disasters with creating his Paris home. A less determined Americáin would have walked away, but Lebovitz makes croissants aux amandes (day-old croissants, rebaked and filled with almond paste).

I read The Gatekeepers to read a Jen Lancaster novel. After reading her memoirs, I can hear her voice in each of the characters: "Ask me how I know" is Lancaster's refrain, and one of her character's. I prefer the memoirs, but I appreciate the subject of teen suicide in high academic pressure communities. I grew up in a community like that, and it seems like it's only gotten worse since. I hope more people read the book, and it deserves a new edition without the numerous typos.

Crimes Against a Book Club has a clever twist and headings at the beginning of each chapter reference the characters' favorite books. I finished it in one sitting.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Book Review: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

This is my third Kameron Hurley book, and my first where I thought OMG, OMG, THIS IS AWESOME, the whole time I was reading it. I wanted to like The Mirror Empire, but although I liked elements of it, it felt too dense. The Stars Are Legion explores similar constructs (female societies, multiple worlds, situation-dependent identities) more urgently.

I also read Hurley's collection of essays, The Geek Feminist Revolution, and The Stars Are Legion pulls the philosophy behind her essays into vivid, pulsing coherence. The Stars Are Legion embodies the Geek Feminist Revolution, and without the essays,  I wouldn't have understood that. But knowing Hurley's history as a student of revolution, the nightmarish cycles of failure the protagonists undergo becomes clear as the only possible precursor to freedom. The history of revolution is typically the history of failure and repetition. The only way out is to truly change ourselves, and that is only possible if we are willing to put in the work.

The Stars Are Legion chronicles a uniquely feminist revolution, not only in that all the characters are women, but that their salvation lies in controlling their own fecundity: literally, when and when not to give birth to a world. And although the characters in the story are not geeks (unless war geeks count, the kind that actually fight), they and their world represent a plethora of geeky ideals, as I can attest. I'm not counting out the possibility that I felt immediately at home in the admittedly strange universe of organic world-ships in space, as opposed to the fantasy world in The Mirror Empire, because, thanks to Star Trek et al., I'm more comfortable in space. So, if living ships and space vehicles and 'cephalopod weapons' and spray-on biosuits aren't geeky, I don't know what is.

 Zan and Jayd, the two main viewpoint characters, are a geeky feminist's dream, because not only are they both war generals, fighting maybe/maybe not on the same side, but they're in love. And although there are shifting balances of power in their relationship, particularly when Zan has no memory at the beginning of the book, they reach an equilibrium by the end (an equilibrium, naturally, involving the power of the womb). Geeky. Feminist. Revolutionary. Awesome.

The worldbuilding has been cited as one of the best parts of this novel, and I'd agree, but what stood out to me about it was not how original it is, but how similar. Hurley's living worldships with their diverse life forms, including the women who give birth to parts of the ship, may seem strange. However, our planet crawls with symbiotic life and complex ecosystems. Bacteria, for example, reside in self-contained living organisms with diverse other organisms. Although Zan's journey to the belly of the world and back is more an odyssey than a magic school bus ride, the digestive and circulatory systems she and her companions traverse are no more alien. Hurley's worlds are a piquant reminder that we are alive due to the interwoven lives on our planet. If we don't nurture that life, we will die, as surely as the worlds in the Legion.

One of my favorite parts of the book are the quotations at the beginning of each chapter from Lord Mokshi's Annals of the Legion. Lord Mokshi's voice reads like Machiavelli in a plainer tongue. Her philosophy espouses love over fear, an anomaly in the war-torn Legion. The historical Machiavelli served a short-lived republic, that was eventually returned to Medici rule. Through Lord Mokshi, Hurley references the failed republic, the failure of love over fear, mirrored in Zan and Jayd's many failures. Yet, like the veiled hope in Machiavelli, the quotes foreshadow the hope that Zan and Jayd will bring their revolution to peaceful fruition.

Peace, however, is not perfection. The Stars Are Legion complicates ideas of utopia as Zan journeys through the levels of the world Katazyrna. Even the wondrous society of engineers she discovers, unaffected by the war above, have an Omelasian underside. Their discoveries are, sometimes literally, built of the bones of "mutants" they capture. There's likewise no implication that the worlds Zan and Jayd will create will be utopian, and every sense that their lives will be brutal and difficult. But full of hope. Full of love.

The Geek Feminist Revolution is not won without casualties. It's only an improvement on what has come before. And if Hurley has anything to do with it, it will be dressed in spray-on biosuits and shooting cephalopod weapons.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts are hosted at Bookishly Boisterous

1. Just when I was feeling like I couldn't get into anything, I read two amazing, mindblowing (for very different reasons) books right in a row: The Nest by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney and The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley. Random library browsing ftw.

2. When I read amazing books like that, I have an urge to dig deep and write a thoughtful review.
However, I have another urge that I've been giving into more lately--read more, read more, don't stop. I was giving in because I didn't want to force myself to write reviews and take the fun out of it. But I'm missing out on reflection, and maybe relying too much on reading for stress relief (weirdly, I'm not stressed out about anything in my personal life so much as the state of the country/world in general).

3. On that note, I had a(n international) student tell me recently, "If we lose America, we don't have any more Americas. Who will the world look up to?" Indeed.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

My Reading Life

Just Finished:

I've been doing most of my reading in the car lately. No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency caught my eye since I've enjoyed episodes of the TV show in the past. I mostly like learning about Botswana.

Currently Reading:

Now listening to in the car, and mostly enjoying learning about Scotland. Otherwise...I'm not even sure what this is about and I'm halfway through.

Picked this up at the library, although I was actually looking for a different book with a similar name. Just started, and enjoying the argot so far.

Next Up:

Other library finds. Figure I might give another Kameron Hurley book a shot, and I've been wanting to read Jacqueline Woodson.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts are hosted at Bookishly Boisterous.

1. I fractured my foot a week or so ago and have to wear a boot for the next several weeks. The fracture isn't fun, however, as someone who is often in invisible pain, it's interesting to experience what it's like to have a visible disability. It's a topic of conversation that other people naturally bring up, which I actually like (re: part of the reason I dyed my hair purple in college), since I'm often at a loss as to how to start a conversation. However, I can certainly imagine other people in similar situations who don't appreciate it.

2. On the other hand, I should perhaps be more intentional about improving my social and conversational skills. It's something that's bothered me about myself for, well, most of my life, and when I was recently training to be a supervisor, I feel like I learned and started practicing all kinds of "common sense" emotional skills that were...not common sense to me, or at least, not something I ever actively thought about before. Anyone else in this situation have any good book recommendations? I enjoyed Crucial Conversations from one of my trainings and Radical Candor by Kim Malone Scott in this vein (until she started talking about gender, alas). Still worth reading, though.

 3. We're starting to look at houses. Not sure if we're going to get one this year, but we agreed we are going to look. Any advice for first-time home buyers? I would love to hear firsthand experiences, and opinions/regrets post-home-buying. I'm nervous about the amount of money and level of responsibility, plus, how will I decorate a house if I can't even decorate an apartment?

4. Our dog, Janeway, (instagram: @janewayeatsbooks) has been barking a lot lately (not totally unusual for her or her breed; she's three-quarters Pembroke Welsh corgi) and we've been brainstorming how to preempt it. We've been going back to the principles we learned from her "Puppy Kindergarten" class (Howard Weinstein at Day One Dog Training, highly recommend) and back to "border collie" toys that we'd purchased for her. Just like it did when she was younger, challenging her to find treats in her toys has made for a calmer, quieter dog and happier dog parents! We've used Kongs, Mad Scientist for Dogs, level 2, and other puzzle toys. What are your dogs' favorites?

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Top Ten Books I Lost Interest In

Happy Top Ten Tuesday over at That Artsy Reader Girl!

Top Ten Books I Lost Interest In

I already mentioned some in Top Ten Books I Can't Believe I Read, but I've been keeping a TBR list for over a decade, so here are ten more!

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

2. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

3. On the Road by Jack Kerouac

4. Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert K. Massie

5. The Ambassadors by Henry James

6. Dr. Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

7. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

8. The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen

9. The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma

10. Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi