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.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fascinated as by a basilisk with three heads, I could not leave this clique

And we are DONE with Villette! Does everyone feel accomplished? I know I do. Now I need to figure out a way to bring this up during parties so I can brag about reading it. Even though I'm pretty sure most of the time would be explaining what the book is and the accomplishment itself would be overlooked entirely. Ugh, uncultured swine people in these imaginary parties. I'd say I need a higher class of imaginary party go-ers, but then they'd already have read this and still, my bragging would be in vain. I have gotten a bit off-track here (see my last post for reasons). But HEY Villette. Let's see how things turned out.

What the hell was that party Lucy ended up at?

To back up a bit, we get news that M Paul is going away, and Lucy deals with this news by being cruel to children.
I remember feeling a sentiment of impatience towards the pupils who sobbed. Indeed, their emotion was not of much value: it was only an hysteric agitation. I told them so unsparingly. I half ridiculed them. I was severe.
She acknowledges this was because she didn't know how to deal with the bad news herself, but doesn't really make it OK, does it? But then again, if there's one thing about Lucy throughout the book she is very human, and this is a very human reaction so well done, CB.

Mme Beck keeps trying to keep the two from saying goodbye to each other and eventually one night has Lucy drugged. They slipped her some opium but screwed up the dosage so instead of knocking her out it made her super awake. She's lucky screwing up the dosage of opium didn't result in death. Also, is there an amount of opium that wakes you up? Or is Mme Beck as good at drugging people as she is at sneaking around, so she actually stuck her meth or something?

Lucy goes wandering Villette in the middle of the night and stumbles upon a big party with Polly and Graham and Mme Beck and her kid and that angry lady with the fruit basket and Pere Silas and I spent a LOT of time assuming this was a fever dream. Or she was actually dead. Because whaaaaaaaaaat was even happening here?

Turns out the party is real and seems to be for M Paul who has not yet left for the West Indies. He's still heading there because he's in love with Lucy and lots of people do NOT ship it.

Mme Beck cos she's in love with him even though they're related.
Pere Silas cos Lucy is a heretic and he can't have his pupil mixed up with her.
Mme Walravens (angry fruit basket) cos something something, keeping Paul for themselves.

Then someone asks where Justine Marie is and what is the meaning of this? The dead nun isn't really dead? I was so excited to get to use this gif
But then it turns out this Justine Marie is not the nun. Instead this homely, fat girl (Lucy's words), way too young and too alive to be the dead nun shows up. "So much for ghosts and mystery" Even Lucy is disappointed in how this nun thing turned out. This is Justine Marie's niece (or would be her niece, if JM was alive) and she's with M Paul who has NOT left for anywhere. He's heading out on a different ship in a few weeks so he's still around for him and Lucy to have some reconciliation.

She doesn't say anything but instead sneaks back home and expects to get into her empty bed. Except the bed isn't empty. It's filled with...NUN!

Or rather the nun's clothing with a note that says Lucy can have the clothes of the nun in the attic. It turns out that there was no ghost. Clearly. It was Ginevra's former paramour/current husband Alfred de Hamal who was using the nun costume to sneak around the school to visit Ginevra. No ghostly ex-girlfriend nuns. Just late night booty calls. Ginevra had run off and eloped with the guy, though "Ginevra had written to her cousin Paulina, vaguely signifying her hymeneal intentions"
and does this mean what I think it means? Because Google just tells me this phrase is used in Villette and I'm not getting a whole lot of other information.

Ginevra is married, in part it seems to spite Polly (thinks she's so great, getting married to that boring old Dr. John) and secret marriage out of spite seems exactly like the type of thing Ginevra would do so I'm glad she continues to be entertaining to the end.

Back to Lucy and M Paul (I guess). M Paul comes to visit Lucy and tells her that he is going away for a few years but GUESS WHAT? He bought her a place so she can start her own school. He even got her some pupils to start out and awww that is sweet. Sure, one of them is Justine Marie (the live one) and Lucy is super pissed at the idea of teaching her and I can't quite tell if he agrees to it once M Paul professes his love. Then the next day he leaves.
M. Emanuel was away three years. Reader, they were the three happiest years of my life. Do you scout the paradox?
Yes, Lucy, I do scout said paradox. Maybe Lucy didn't like him all that well, after all. But no, she talks about writing back and forth with him, and getting money from that family of that old lady she took care of waaaay at the beginning of the book and buying an adjoining lot, but refusing to leave the place M Paul picked out for her. Things are working out pretty nicely for Lucy.

It ends with M Paul dying in a shipwreck on his way home.
That's what happened, right? Because happy endings are for suckers? Lucy gets in a few more digs at the Catholic church and her last lines are about how her three antagonists (Mme Beck, Pere Silas, Mme Walravens) lived long, healthy, prosperous lives.

So we don't see Lucy changing too much over the course of the book. At least not in the way that she deals with her constant ill-fortunes. But now she has her school, so somewhat of a happy ending? I guess depending on your thoughts on M Paul, the fact that they didn't end up together is also sort of happy.

This was a strange book that kept getting stranger and stranger. Thank you, Alice. I'm sure I would have never picked this up and POSITIVE I would have never stuck with it if it wasn't for this readalong.

Friday, April 10, 2015

This isn't a review. Obviously

Hi everyone.

I'm writing this cos I feel like I should write something else. I have my Villette posts which THANK GOD because one, that readalong is hilarious, but also because I need to have something where I have to do a post. Because it's been a while since I actually wrote a review. I was really hoping to get one this week and yeah, that's just not going to happen. It's April (as you may have noticed) which is the month after quarter close, which at work means OMG WE NEED MONTHLY AND QUARTERLY REPORTS PULLED RIGHT NOW! AND ALSO ALL OF THESE LAST MINUTE REQUESTS THAT WE KNOW YOU DON'T HAVE TIME FOR BUT I NEED IT ANYWAY KTHXBAI.

If I were to try to write a review right now, it would come out roughly as coherent as that paragraph above. But you know what? Let's keep me honest and see what I have in the queue to review. (Ha that rhymes. I...I need more sleep.)

Naked by David Sedaris - funny essays. Nothing that is really standing outright now, but that's roughly how I remember his other stuff. I like it then forget it. I'd still read more.

California by Eden Lepucki - I would die in an apocalypse. I mean, I knew that already, but this book really drives home that point. There were multiple points of view, which I looooove and did not go the way I expected.

Blindness by Jose Saramago - The book has a style that takes some getting used to, since it's pretty much one long run-on sentence with no quotes so figuring out when someone is talking takes some time. BUT it's an interesting story, and well-written, even if it involves a lot of feces.

The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell - This is a lot like Naked in that it's a bunch of funny essays that I remember enjoying at the time but can't think of any now. But it was good.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin - This was...disappointing. It wasn't terrible. It just wasn't that good. The fact that I was reading this at the same time as Villette probably didn't help because even when Villette drives me nuts, I can appreciate how well-written it is. And by contrast...

Man I have my work cut out for me. It will happen! I will get all caught up. At some point this year. Probably. Now if you'll excuse me

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Lucy, I wonder if anybody will ever comprehend you altogether

Here we are, the second to last week with Villette. Thank you, Alice, for hosting this readalong shindig! Now, let's see where our optimistic, ray-of-sunshine Lucy Snowe has found herself.

It Mme Beck is now conspiring to get M. Paul and Lucy together even though ugh, I'm sorry. I am not on the bandwagon though Megs did make a pretty good case for him and Lucy last week.

Mme Beck sends Lucy off on a series of errands, the last one leads her to a house where she has to give a basket of fruit to an angry old lady who wants Mme Beck to know she can buy her own damn fruit. This would have been the end were it not for a fortuitous thunderstorm that kept Lucy in the house, where she met up with that Catholic priest she had confession with earlier in the book, who told her a story about a wonderful, virtuous man who was in love with this woman (Justine Marie) who died after the woman's family forbid her to marry the guy cos he was poor, so she went to a convent and I guess things didn't work out for her.

But then, cruel irony, her family lost all their money and the man had been SO IN LOVE with Justine Marie that he took care of them. He also agreed to never marry again. And that man is...M. Paul!!
I mean, you can kind of guess that early on because it seems like the type of revelation that would happen. And Lucy doesn't seem nearly as shocked as I feel like she should be with this revelation, but that's likely because she spent a lot of time talking about how weird Romanists are, so it's possible she missed chunks of the priest's story.

Remember how both Lucy and M. Paul saw the ghost nun that one night, so we can be pretty sure that Lucy isn't just crazy? Well, M. Paul thinks it's the ghost of Justine Marie come to haunt Lucy cos now he's in love with Lucy and she's jealous. This...CB, we should really have spent more time here cos THIS is a crazy story.

Anyway, Lucy tells M. Paul that she knows the story (though M. Paul seems more concerned that the story has been titled "The Priest's Pupil" which he thinks is a dumb name) and then says that he will never marry but they could be friends. Like really close friends. Like really close, intimate friends.
After this suggestion, the two of them quit talking to each other for days. Apparently this " know, friends..." arrangement made things super awkward for everyone. Also the priest got involved and he is NOT down with this. Or her. Cos heathen.

The priest starts leaving Lucy religious tracts. Lucy isn't going to convert anytime soon, but she at least seems amused with them. In her own way:
I remember one capital inducement to apostacy was held out in the fact that the Catholic who had lost dear friends by death could enjoy the unspeakable solace of praying them out of purgatory. The writer did not touch on the firmer peace of those whose belief dispenses with purgatory altogether.
Point well-made, Lucy.

There is a fair amount about the church and religion and all in this section that I don't understand nearly well enough to speak to, so I will let someone smarter tackle that. Instead, we'll jump over to Polly and Graham who have been doing their scandalous letter-writing.

Lucy is over Graham but still doesn't want to hear Polly gushing about him, and shuts that right up in sort of a mean way, but since that's her style everyone seems used to it.

Mr. Home corners Lucy to ask what he should do about this relationship that is very obvious to everyone, despite how secret Polly and Graham think they're being. Mr. Home doesn't want Polly to marry anyone. Ever. Which is both a bit creepy and also sweet. Lucy tries to tell him that at SOME point someone is going to want to marry her, look at the way all those people were drooling over her at the party, and it may as well be someone Mr. Home knows and respects instead of someone else. I mean, she could end up with someone French. Could you even imagine? But after a lot of arguing, Mr. Home says he's cool with the match and the two of them get married and have a bunch of kids and overall live happily ever after.
I'm disappointed Polly didn't end up being a more interesting character. Or at least do something more interesting. I suppose there's still time. The book isn't over yet. Though now it seems the only plot lines left to tie up are those of Lucy and M. Paul.

Let's see how this all ends.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

March Reading Wrap-Up

Another month down! It's my birthday month (and Tom's birthday month) so I'm always a fan of this time. Even if the snow just. keeps. coming. Stop already, with this nonsense. This is the first month I haven't managed to complete my resolution, but I am going to blame Villette for that. Because why take responsibility myself? Don't be silly. Villette would fulfill the resolution criteria except we haven't finished reading it yet. I did finally pick up a copy of Americanah which would be perfect for the resolution. Except it's easier to stick to ebooks while I'm doing the readalong (so I don't have to carry two books with me all the time).

Number of books read
The Partly Cloudy Patriot by Sarah Vowell
The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction read

Percentage of female authors
100% -woo!

Percentage of white authors
100% - whomp

Percentage of US authors

Book formats
ebooks - 50%
paperback - 50%

Percentage of rereads

Percentage of review books

Books written by decade
2000s - 50%
2010s - 50%

Books by genre
Essays - 50%
Historical Fiction - 50%

Resolution books
Not even resolution-lite. Dammit.

Next month. Next month will be better. Hopefully.