Monday, May 4, 2015

April reading wrap-up

Oh hey look, another month done. And despite the insanity at work (damn you, end of a quarter) I actually got a decent amount of reading done. Not only that, but I think I sort of nailed it with the whole resolution thing. Like, crap, I probably should have saved something for another month. Whoops. 

Anyway, let's see those stats.

Number of books read
Stations Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Villette by Charlotte Bronte
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors
100% -huh whoa. I did not expect that

Percentage of white authors
75% - NOT ALL WHITE PEOPLE! (I am far too proud of myself for this)

Percentage of US authors
0% - what the whaaaa? I don't know if that's ever happened before 
(Canadian, English, Nigerian, Australian, if you're curious)

Book formats
ebooks - 50%
paperback - 50%

Percentage of rereads

Percentage of review books

Books written by decade
1850s - 25%
2010s - 75%

Books by genre
Sci-Fi (ish?) - 25%
Classic - 25%
Literary Fiction - 25%
Mystery - 25%
You could easily argue me out of any of these genres. I have no idea what I'm doing with this category

Resolution books
None of the books are from American authors so BOOM. But THAT'S NOT ALL
Americanah author - not white!
Villette - written before the year 2000! KABLAM!

Seriously, I'm going to be screwed next month and end up having no resolution books.  But I'll just remember this feeling of accomplishment.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lists lists lists

Who doesn't love a good list? They make up roughly 63.4% of the internet. Even when making a list doesn't make that much sense. Oyster put together a list of 100 Best Books of the Decade So Far which seems like a weird designation. Why not say like the last 5 years? Or just make up some random like "Top books that have pink covers" or whatever. ANYWAY

Top books of the decade so far. I actually only heard about this list because The Book Stop, who mentioned that Where'd You Go, Bernadette is NOT on the list, so I'm going into this with a bad frame of mind. But really, HOW COULD THEY LEAVE IT OFF?
I was going to reproduce the list here and highlight which ones I read, except that would require me typing them all out rather than copy and pasting. Or copy and pasting, but with a fair amount of reformatting and no, I'm sorry. I have a Sims family I've been neglecting. Instead I'm going to just list out the ones I read and where they fall on the list. And then probably complain some more about Bernadette being snubbed.

3. Life After Life by Kate Atkinson - I dunno if this would have made my list, let alone so high. But to each their own.
7. A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan - Yes. Good. I approve.
10. People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry - What? Really? I mean, I liked this but top 10 best books of the decade so far? Are you sure?
15. Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - Alright, back on track. Also at this point the list doesn't include numbers, making me count. Rude.
24. 11/22/63 by Stephen King - Not life changing, but I certainly enjoyed.
33. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - I'm just surprised they put it so low. I'll be reviewing this...eventually.
35. Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay - I'm glad this wasn't an overlooked book cos I could see that happening.
43. Station Eleven by Emily St. John - Yes, I enjoyed this very very much. No review yet, BUT SOON. Hopefully.
48. Bossypants by Tina Fey - Haha yes this one is a good time.
62. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn - Yeah, this isn't surprising. I mean, it was eeeeverywhere.
76. A Fault in Our Stars by John Green - Another not-too-surprising pick. (This isn't a bad thing, btw. The choices don't have to be a surprise. Probably shouldn't.)

Alright, now for the books that SHOULD HAVE BEEN ON THE LIST, COME ON NOW
Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
The Martian by Andy Weir
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

So there, I fixed their list. I don't really now how I'd order these within what they have cos I've only read those 11 above which leaves 89 that I have no opinion on. But they should still all be on there and fairly high up. Dammit.

What are your thoughts on this list?

Monday, April 27, 2015

What meaning do tears have when the world has lost all meaning

My resolution for the year has been to expand my reading. In the past things have been very white, very US based, and mostly books written since 2000. The only diversity stat I'm regularly able to hit is women authors. Some yay but mostly it needs some work. So when I was at the bookstore and saw a discount copy of Blindness by Jose Saramago I thought, yes, that'll do.

I vaguely remembered a movie based on the book being a thing that made me think "I should see that, that looks interesting" before never thinking about it again. A thing that happens a lot. But that was about all I knew.

In Blindness everyone suddenly, well, goes blind. There doesn't seem to be a cause for it. Just one day, a man driving his car loses his sight. Luckily, he's at a red light. Another man helps him home, and then goes blind. The first man's wife later goes blind. The ophthalmologist the man visited goes blind. This isn't a typical blindness, where everything goes black. This is the opposite in fact, everything is a bright blinding white.

Not sure if this is a contagious disease, though it seems like it, the town decides to quarantine the blind people and those that have recently been exposed to the blind people. By locking them all in an old mental hospital and randomly chucking food at them, because this is a terrible government. All of the aforementioned people are at the hospital along with a girl with dark glasses, a young boy, and a man with an eye-patch, all of whom were at the doctor's office when the first man showed up. There is one other person among the crowd who's not like the others: the doctor's wife. She didn't want to be separated from her husband when the ambulance came for him, so she told them she was blind. She figured it was just a matter of time anyway, but so far she can still see everything.

There doesn't seem to be any effort to find a cure or figure out what's going on, but then again all of the action takes place with these first patients so who knows what's going on outside the hospital walls. The number of blind people tossed in the hospital quickly goes up and conditions rapidly deteriorate. Like, almost instantly. It seems the first thing to happen is no one bothers to make it to the toilet and there is just feces and urine everywhere. And it's described multiple times, so this isn't me focusing on one tiny detail and blowing it out of proportion. The filth is everywhere and you start to think that this story takes place over several months instead of...I'm not sure exactly how long but not several months.

There are cases of people being terrible, hoarding what limited food there is and demanding various forms of payment. There are people being kind and trying to help, making sacrifices to make things marginally better for others.

The writing takes a little while to get used to. It's sort of one long run-on sentences. It's difficult to tell who is talking at times since there are no quotes used. People don't have names. They're just "the doctor's wife" or "the girl with the dark glasses" or "the car thief". But it doesn't take too long to get into the swing of things.

There's a quote from the NYTimes review that makes me laugh: "Absurd to say it, but the blindness in Saramago's novel is an allegory for not being able to see." Because sometimes a spade is a spade. Or because sometimes reviewers at all levels have no idea what else to say.

The book was a very different book than what I normally pick up and overall I enjoyed the book. Despite all of the excrement (seriously, why is that the FIRST thing people do when they can't see anymore??)

Gif rating:
with a little bit of

Title quote from page 248

Saramago, Jose. Blindness. Translated from Portuguese by Giovanni Pontiero. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1995

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Audiobooks & Sports: I am a terrible fan

I believe I have mentioned once or twice on here that Tom is a sports fan. He works in sports, he plays sports (real and fantasy [which does not include nearly enough dragons]), he reads about sports.

I am...less into sports.

I don't think sports are bad or stupid or any of that. I used to play a lot of sports, but I've never been super into watching them. I'm easily distracted and if sporting matches* do not follow a story arc similar to what I have come to expect from sports movies, I am disappointed. That said, I do go to watch sports, many times of my own volition. But even when I want to be there, I usually get bored and/or distracted at some point.

As I said, Tom works in sports, so I have many times gone to watch a number of college sports games, but many times at these I'm on my own. A number of times, I would bring a book and just sort of hang out vaguely aware of sports happening in the vicinity. But I always feel awkward when I do that. Like I should be paying attention and I am being disrespectful by not. Even though if I put down the book I still won't have a clue what's going on. I'll mostly be playing songs in my head.

I have found a solution: audiobooks. As you probably guessed from the title.

I was at a game and there early while things were setting up. At that point, I was fine reading my book because no one cares if I'm not paying attention. But as the game started up, I realized I had recently put World War Z back on my iPhone and headphones sure are less obvious than a book. I listened to WWZ and I watched the game. I probably paid more attention to the game while listening to a book than I did trying to actually just focus on the game. I'm sure I missed the details of the game, but then again I would have missed them anyway.

And thus, I am ready for future sporting events. Now I just need to add to my audiobook collection.

*Also I call them "sporting matches," if it were unclear I am not a sports fan.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Curiosity leads to trouble. You'll learn one of these days

What is the interest in dystopians? There has been a bunch of pieces written about the topic, most of which seem to essentially say "Things are bad now so we look to books that present us with a worst case scenario and show people confronting it to help us make sense of the world." They also seem to say things like "We admire the best dystopian novels because they're written well and depict people we can relate to" which...I guess, but you could just drop "dystopian" from that sentence and it would still be accurate. I don't have a hard-and-fast reason for why I read dystopian novels. I think part of it is there are so many out there, it's pretty easy to end up reading them even if you aren't searching them out. And thus we come to California by Edan Lepucki.

I picked up a copy of this when it was on sale after both Megs and Alice recommended the book and it may take me a thousand years, but I DO actually listen to people's recommendations.

As to be expected from a dystopian novel, society has collapsed. As it does. Cal and Frida are a young(ish) couple, alone in the woods getting by without civilization or electricity or anything I require to function. Things seem to be going well, or as well as things can be in this type of situation, when Frida realizes she's pregnant and maybe entirely alone isn't the best way to be. They haven't seen other people, except for the trader that comes by every once in awhile, in a long time but there have to be other people somewhere near by. The trader is trading with someone. So they venture out of the relative safety they know and into the unknown where they find a town that OF COURSE is full of secrets and mysteries.

There is a division of class that is exaggerated by the fact that the world has fallen apart, but hits a lot closer to home than will make you comfortable, as people who can afford to live in one of the secure "Communities" that have popped up live very different lives from those who are forced to live in the wilderness that has overtaken society.

I won't get too into the mysteries and secrets and other members of the town lest I give away vital plot points. There are bits that you see coming and others that are complete surprises. The chapters jump back and forth between Frida and Cal who have very different points of view on what is going on and what it means for them and their growing family.

The ending is a bit of a non-ending. Or rather, the ending feels like the beginning of a sequel. Not that this is a bad thing. It is what it is and it feels honest to the characters.

Overall a good, and yes, well-written, book. One worth checking out, whether or not dystopian is something you're actively seeking out or just something you trip into because there's so much of it out there.

Gif rating:

Title quote from 254, location 3209

Lepucki, Edan. California. Little, Brown and Company, 2014. Kindle

Thursday, April 16, 2015

I was a smart-ass, born and raised

I finished reading David Sedaris's Naked sometime in early February, and as I recently mentioned, I can't really remember much of it. It's a collection of essays, non-fiction (or "non-fiction" as I'm sure there's a fair amount of exaggeration here) in the same vein as his other work. Or at least the work of his I've read. I enjoyed the book. I did. But I can't really remember any of it, which does not say much for the book. As I flipped through it, I began to remember bits and pieces and yeah, it was entertaining.

There's no real theme to the essays. They're about him and his life, but that always seems to be the case. He talks about his family and what it was like when he was young. He talks about his time in college and traveling around doing odd jobs. He talks about his mother's impending death from cancer. And he talks about spending time at a nudist colony.

Since it's difficult to talk about collections of essays or short stories anyway, and even more complicated when you can't remember a lot of them, I'm not sure where to go here. Perhaps talk about a couple of the ones I do somewhat remember, now that I've looked at a list of titles and quick synopses.

"Get Your Ya-Ya's Out!" Sedaris talks about how depressing his grandmother was and what it was like when she came to live with them and how miserable everyone was. Everyone but his father. I pretty much picture his grandmother as the grandmother from My Big Fat Greek Wedding, always dressed in black, always depressed, and refusing to call Sedaris's mother by her name because she wasn't Greek. Good, dysfunctional family times.

"I Like Guys" is Sedaris's story of essentially how every teach her had was, directly or indirectly, homophobic and how terrifying it was for him. Eventually he goes on a month-long sleep-away camp trip to Greece and how he meets a boy he likes there but they're both working through a lot of guilt and end up making things miserable for each other. It's still funny but one of the more touching stories in the collection.

"C.O.G." is when Sedaris spent time living in Oregon learning how to make clocks in the shape of Oregon from a man that is a C.O.G. ("child of god").  Well first, he has a hellish bus trip (are there any other kinds) followed by menial work picking apples. THEN he learns how to make clocks in the shape of Oregon to be sold at a local fair. Spoiler: no one needs that.

Sedaris's stories are great for when you want something light to read. They're funny and entertaining, but alright, not all that moving or memorable. Which is fine. I will most likely read more of his whenever I come across a copy of one of his books. And if I don't really remember the stories a few months later, neat, I get to read them again.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 199, location 2655

Sedaris, David. Naked. Back Bay Books, 1997. Kindle.