Wednesday, February 1, 2023

January Reading Wrap-Up+

First month of the new year. Feeling motivated? Ready to take on the year?

We tripped right at the starting line with the new year this year. I mentioned in my year end wrap up post, but the small one tested positive for COVID right as he was about to go back to school. He was luckily ok (asymptomatic), we never tested positive and neither did the people we were around before he tested positive. 

This month I am trying to do more reading a night. Not just listening to audiobooks throughout the day, as I've been doing, but making time, however little, to sit down with a physical book and read. It's something that is easier to say than do since I have a small window after the little one goes to bed, before I go to bed, to do everything: unwind, catch up on TV that isn't children's programming (though seriously, check out Bluey), see what's happening online. Anything. But a friend got me a copy of The Bullet That Missed, the latest Thursday Murder Club book and what was I going to do, not read that immediately? Don't be stupid.

One other new thing I started doing is this bullet journal for reading. As if I didn't have enough spreadsheets going. I actually wrote about half a post about it and then...never finished it. So the year is starting out strong. Anyway, here's a screenshot of what my January reading looked like. I like this because it gives me a quick visual of when I'm reading. And it's easy to see how much quicker audiobooks go for me than any other kind.


Total books read
7
She Kills Me: The True Stories of History's Deadliest Women by Jennifer Wright
The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
Finlay Donovan Knocks 'em Dead by Elle Cosimano
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
How To Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Shur
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl

She Kills Me: The True Stories of History's Deadliest Women by Jennifer Wright
Similar to another book of Wright's (It Ended Badly: Thirteen of the Worst Breakups in History) this book is sort of a listicle on steroids. Here Wright lists out 40 women from various points in history who committed murder, sometimes a few (though I mean, sure, one is too many) to too-many-to-count. I listened to this and each woman was given roughly 5-10 minutes so only a few paragraphs worth of information. What was there was interesting but ultimately I would have preferred if there were fewer entries that went into more detail.
Rating 3.25 stars
The Bullet That Missed by Richard Osman
The third in the Thursday Murder Club series and OH MAN do I love this quartet of septuagenarian detectives. The group are looking into a cold case of a journalist who went missing, her car driven off a cliff, right after she was about to break a story about money laundering. Meanwhile Elizabeth is (briefly) kidnapped with the ultimatum to kill a former KGB operative or have someone she cares about killed. I won't go into too much more detail cos it's very fun to find things out with the crew. These books are just so much fun as much for the foursome (and the people sucked into their gravitational pull) as it is for the mystery itself. I may need to re-read the entire series while I wait for the next book to come out.
Rating: 5 stars
Finlay Donovan Knocks 'Em Dead by Elle Cosimano
OK, it may have been unfair to this and The Bullet That Missed at the same time. Both are murder mysteries so they occupy a similar genre (Cozy? Cozy-adjacent? I'm still not entirely clear) and while both are entertaining, sorry, Osman's are much better. I say this as I'm sure it somewhat colored by reading. Anyway, this is the second in the Finlay Donovan series, where we pick up right where the first book left off (spoilers), after helping send a high ranking member of the Russian mob to jail with Finay finding a post on a message board from someone looking to hire a hitman to kill her ex-husband. What can she and Vero do to keep Steven safe, what is Vero hiding from her, can she get her next book finished in time to keep her editor and agent off her back, and should she sleep with the hot law student or the hot detective? Lots of questions and honestly, Finlay isn't exactly the sharpest detective, which is endearing at times as well as extremely frustrating. The story is engaging, though I'm a little annoyed at the ending for spoilery reasons that holds it back
Rating: 3.95 stars
Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell
This was a favorite read of last year and gotta tell you, it really holds up on a second read. A great look at the ways "cults", be them religious, MLMs, workouts, use language. It's fascinating and I was going to say without being judgmental but yeah, it is judgmental at time (and I'd say with good reason). But it's generally not judgmental of those taken in by the language but rather of the institutions that use them. One I'm sure I'll reread again.
Rating: 5 stars
Goodbye, Vitamin by Rachel Khong
A book club selection, the story about a woman named Ruth whose personal life has blown up. Her finance, whom she left school just seven months shy of graduating to be with, has left her for someone else. She finds herself 30 and a bit directionless, so when her father's health prompts her mother to ask her to spend a year at home helping to take care of him, she takes the opportunity and documents the days in her journal. Much of the book is focused on her relationship with her father and helping to take care of him as his recent Alzheimer's diagnosis gets worse.  (Something most summaries leave out and would have been nice to know for most of us going into reading this for our book club.) Almost all of the characters are well-developed and three dimensional (though her mother could use some work) and while no one is perfect, there is little judgment cast about. The story isn't too heavy, despite the weighty conceit, but there isn't a huge amount of growth or change from the characters
Rating: 3.75 stars
How To Be Perfect: The Correct Answer to Every Moral Question by Michael Shur
I will start this by saying I love the The Good Place. It was, and is, one of my favorite shows. That alone was enough to get me to check out this book (that and a positive review from the podcast For Real). This book is Shur's collection of everything he learned about moral philosophy in his research for the show. It's a layman's introduction to moral philosophy that is funny and the audiobook is read by Shur and a bunch of actors from The Good Place. The concepts he goes into can be difficult and contradictory and frustrating, but Shur makes it accessible. I was disappointed when I realized the book was ending; I could have easily done another hour
Rating: 5 stars
The Storyteller: Tales of Life and Music by Dave Grohl
When I saw Grohl had written a book and not only that but narrated the audiobook, it was a no brainer to check it out. It's a collection of essays about Grohl's life and it's been a crazy one. The opening essay was my favorite, with Grohl mixing his life as a dad with how he got to the point of playing sold out stadiums. And admittedly, my favorite stories were the ones that involved his family and where he is now. But that's not to say that the stories of him getting his musical start, playing in Nirvana, almost joining Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, forming the Foo Fighters and 1000 other things. At times the stories involve a lot of lists, of musicians and bands, producers and venues that can get a bit repetitive. And the stories could have VERY easily gone into a boring "look how great I am" territory (and there is a LOT of name dropping) but Grohl manages to come off so humbled by everything that has happened to him. Highly recommend listening to him telling the stories
Rating: 3.5 stars

Total pages read
2,098 - I was on a role in Jan. Will I be able to keep this up throughout the year? Probably not

Fiction
43%

Female authors
57%

BIPOC authors
14%

US authors
86%

Book format
Audiobook: 86%
Hardback: 14%

Where'd I get the book
Gift: 29%
Kindle/Audible: 14%
Library: 57%

Reread
14%

Book club
14%

Decade published
2010s: 14%
2020s: 86%

Resolution
29%
The Bullet That Missed is by a UK author
Goodbye, Vitamin is by an Asian-American author

Monday, January 9, 2023

My Favorite Reads of 2022

What is this? A second non-reading wrap up post of the year. What is going on? 

Anyway, I was thinking about some of my fav books I read in 2022. I had fewer 5 star reads compared to 2021 but I also had far more rereads that year than I did in 2022. For me, a 5 star book is generally one that I a) feel compelled to tell everyone about and b) want to reread. I have a lot of 4 star books that I think are good, beyond just "I liked it" but I'm not already jonesing to pick it up again. 

Top New (to me) Reads
 

 

Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism by Amanda Montell
The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus
Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka


Top Rereads
 

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Evil Eye by Madhuri Shekar

Here's to some new 5 star reads in 2023!

Thursday, January 5, 2023

New Year, New Spreadsheet?

One of the nerdier things about me is how often I use spreadsheets to track things. 

My books going back to 2013? Obviously

Sales in the housing market in my area, including time on market and about +/- asking price? You bet

Nap and feeding info for the goblin, including how long it would take to get him to go to sleep and what we were doing before he went to sleep in the hopes of figuring out the magic answer to getting him on a sleep schedule that worked? Yes (Did it work? Nope!)

So naturally, when I saw someone post about a bookish bullet journal in excel, I thought hell yeah, of course I'll do this. I mean, at least until I forget about it for a long enough period of time that I can't backfill the data. But for now, let's live in the present and just a few days into the year, I am on top of things. 

What is a bookish bullet journal you may be asking? From the 3 second video I saw (which I can't find anymore), it basically looks like this, though of course there isn't much filled in yet

With the idea, as best as I can figure, to mark down what days I'm reading each book. Each month will have its own color and by the end of the year I'll have a pretty chart that shows me when I was reading. I don't know how much it will tell me about me reading, except perhaps how much of a lag there is when I'm reading a physical copy of a book vs listening, but we'll see. 

The one piece I am pretty proud of is the counting the total number of days spent reading. Because the options are write in numbers in the colors but that would really ruin the vibe. Or else just manually count the squares but I don't want to do that. So after spending way too long considering the problem, I realized I could just write the number 1 in the same color as the background and have the row sum. I don't have to manually count anything but also I keep things aesthetically pleasing. And I get to pat myself on the back.

So there we go. I have something new to add to the month end stats posts, which make up, what 99.99% of the stuff I still post here.

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

2022 Year End Stats

Another year has passed. I'm trying not to make any sudden movements lest I spook the new year*. This year we had some changes including deciding we needed some more space (turns out the not-so-little monster is an outdoor child, something our townhouse didn't have much of) and a number of changes and uncertainty at work that have been, less than fun. 

*NOTE! I wrote this over the weekend and apparently did spook the new year because we're starting it with the little one home with COVID. Luckily, he is asymptomatic (we'd never have known if someone in his class hadn't tested positive so we were testing him before sending him back to daycare) and so far (knock on ALL THE WOOD) we're testing negative. Fingers crossed it stays this way. Thanks, 2023.

I see looking at my year end post from last year I said I wanted to start a new hobby. Well, why don't we make that a resolution for this year as well, since I didn't exactly manage to hit it in 2022. I would say work on this blog some more but honestly, I know the mental energy this takes and the mental energy I have at the end of the day (hint, it's not much. There's a reason I'm currently watching reruns of Fraiser)

I still don't have infographics for the year end because as with last year, I'm pretty sure you have to pay for those, but only pretty sure because I haven't bothered to look into it. I mean, the only posts I managed this year were the month end posts, though I did keep up with the mini reviews each month, so that's something. But I do have the stats for this year and I can compare them to my historic averages (2013-2021). Won't that be fun? 

Total books read
54 - made it to my goal of 52 books
Historic average: 52.7
Year with the most books: 2019 (58 books) / Year with the fewest books: 2016 & 2018 (48 books)

Total pages read
17,765
Historic average: 17,604
Year with the most pages: 2013 (21, 681) / Year with the fewest pages: 2018 (13,525)

Month with the most / fewest books read
November, December (6 books) / May, July (3 books)
Historic average: every month averages either 4 or 5 books

Month with most / fewest pages read
December (2,045) / May (1,021)
Historic average: September (1,687) / July (1,285)

Fiction
57%
Historic average: 59.9%

BIPOC authors
25%
Historic average: 17.5%

Female authors
61%
Historic average: 57.1%

Author's nationality
US: 65% (Historic average: 68.6%)
UK: 19% (Historic average: 20.0%)
Sweden: 4% (Historic average: 0.6%)
Singapore: 4% (Historic average: 1.3%)
Canada: 1% (Historic average: 1.9%)
Ireland: 1% (Historic average: 0.2%)
Japan: 1% (Historic average: 1.5%)
Malaysia: 1% (Historic average: 0% - new country!)
Mexico: 1% (Historic average: 0% - another new country except I already had it in my tracker so who knows)

Translation
6%
Historic average: 3%

Rereads
7%
Historic average: 20% - so this year I am way down from my normal. Not necessarily due to any conscious decision to read new stuff. 

Book format
audiobook: 93% (Historic average: 34.4%)
paperback: 7% (Historic average: 28.4%)

Where'd I get the book
Library: 78% (Historic average: 18.6%)
Kindle/Audible: 9% (Historic average: 39.0%)
Indie: 9% (Historic average: 18.1%)
Gift: 2% (Historic average: 9.3%)

Decade published
1920s: 2% (Historic average: 1.1%)
2000s: 6% (Historic average: 17.3%)
2010s: 43% (Historic average: 59.9%)
2020s: 50% (Historic average: 5.7%)

Top Genres
Mystery: 24% (Historic average: 8.7%)
Science: 17% (Historic average: 4.5%)
Horror: 9% (Historic average: 9.0%)
History: 4% (Historic average: 4.0%)
Memoir: 4% (Historic average: 6.7%)

Resolution books
50%
Historic average: 48%

Monday, January 2, 2023

December Reading Wrap-Up +

It's crazy that another year is gone. A year that had a lot of uncertainty in it (moves! stuff at work that I don't really talk about here!). And of course more of the little monster who is his own pile of uncertainty. I'll have another post with my year end wrap up but for now let's focus on the reading I did in December.

Number of books read
6
The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in the Jazz Age by Deborah Blum
The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story About Power, Obsession and the World's Most Coveted Fish by Emily Voigt
Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand
The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock by Lucy Worsley
Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks

The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in the Jazz Age by Deborah Blum
A recommendation from the wonderful bookish podcast For Real (its run has ended but you can still check out past episodes) looking into a point in history not often covered in text books. Blum covers the early NYC medical examiners Charles Norris and Alexander Gettler as they investigate a series of medical mysteries from poisonings (accidental and otherwise) to "hey, why is that guy blue?", leading to modern forensic science methods. Interesting history and a wonder that anyone made it out of 1920s NYC alive.
Rating:  3.5 stars

The Dragon Behind the Glass: A True Story About Power, Obsession and the World's Most Coveted Fish by Emily Voigt
Another For Real recommendation. This time following reporter Voigt's journey to find a wild Asian Arawana (or dragon fish), the world's most expensive aquarium fish that sell for upwards of $100K. Admittedly, I thought more of the book would be about the fish, the history of it, the science, what people have done over the years to acquire these fish (murder included) and how it came to have such a high status. And that is in there but the real focus is Emily's many excursions to try to find this fish in the wild with the help of some thoroughly frustrating scientists. These trials and travails took up the majority of the book and I would have preferred a better balance of fish to her travels in Borneo.
Rating: 3 stars
(The title is centered and honestly, it doesn't seem to want to uncenter and it's driving me out of my mind but not enough to figure out WHY it won't just left align, nor to rewrite this section/post/whatever it takes to get it to format right. Just know that I hate it.)

Bullet Train by Kotaro Isaka
This was so much fun. SO MUCH FUN. A bullet train, the Shinkansen Hayate, seems to be just packed with assassins. There's former hitman Kimura who is looking to get revenge on a passenger riding the train for hurting his son. There's the Prince, who looks like an innocent schoolboy but is anything but. There are the "twins" Tangerine and Lemon, who were tasked with returning the son of a crime boss and a suitcase full of who-knows-what. And then there's Nanao, nicknamed Ladybug and self-proclaimed world's unluckiest hitman. All he has to do is get on the train, grab a suitcase and get off at the first stop. But oh ho, will it be so easy? It will not. The narrative switches between these characters, as we meet other colorful characters who are slowly coming to the realization that maybe it's not just coincidence they're all on the train. Isaka does a masterful job at keeping up the suspense and a number of times I was very torn between looking up what was going to happen because I couldn't take it anymore and wanting to let it unfold for me. (I held out and went with the latter; I'm happy I did). Looooved this book. 
Rating: 5 stars
I also watched the movie and it's fine. The movie was entertaining in its own way and has the tone of the Deadpool movies (directed by the guy that did D2), with lots of violence and comedy. The book and the movie are different enough (in key characters, motivations, tone, level of violence) that no direct comparison is necessary.

Curious Toys by Elizabeth Hand
I had been making my way through this book since about September. I took it with me on a work trip thinking I would get lots of reading done and I don't know why I thought that, because I did not. And since this was an actual, physical paperback book and not an audiobook I could put on while driving or cooking or cleaning, it meant I had to find more time to sit down and focus on it and it turns out that is harder than I anticipated. But I did finish it. The story takes place in Chicago in the 1910s focusing on a child named Pin. A child of a fortune teller at the local amusement park, she dresses like a boy for protection (and also because she feels more herself when dressed as a boy). However, there's something going on at the park with young girls showing up murdered and no idea who could have done it. The story is told through multiple narrators, including a former police office, various people who work the amusement park and the local film studio, and even the killer. Ultimately the story worked better for me when it focused on the different characters and what day-to-day life was like for them. As the story focused in more and more on the crime, I found myself less and less interested. It felt a bit like Hand was more interested in the setting as well, since the mystery wrapped up relatively suddenly for all of the time spent on set up. Part of my feeling could have been because there were large stretches between when I would pick up the book again so perhaps a more consistent reading schedule would have made me like it more.
Rating: 3.75 stars

The Art of the English Murder: From Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie and Alfred Hitchcock by Lucy Worsley
In the past few years I have learned that I am a fan of the English murder mystery. Mystery in general, sure, but I do find myself drawn to many of the English mysteries. And I also like some off-beat history (see Poisoner's Handbook above) so this seemed like a fun story. Worsley looks at the way true crime in the 1700s and 1800s inspired a culture of crime and murder stories to flourish in England. There was more on actual crimes than I was expecting but they work in bringing together the different trends seen in English murder mysteries and highlight that these fads were not created in a vacuum. It was interesting to see the way murder stories and especially the detective story evolved to the point we know today. Or I suppose, more to the Golden Age of Detective stories (which ends in the late 1930s) with a little bit of Hitchcock thrown in at the end.
Rating: 3.5 stars

Minecraft: The Island by Max Brooks
OK, this is a strange one. It's a fiction book about Minecraft, a game that I have never played and am only vaguely aware of. HOWEVER, it is written by Max Brooks who also wrote World War Z, a book I read almost every year. And the audiobook is narrated by Jack Black. And it is only like 6 hours long. And it was immediately available from the library. In this case the unnamed narrator finds themself in a strange world where everything seems to be made of blocks, his arms are squared off and nothing quite seems to work the way he remembers the real world working. He can't remember how he got here or how he can get home. The book is entertaining and well-written as the narrator tries to figure out what this world is and how he can survive, but ultimately the book feels like you're watching someone play the game. And I know there are many people who are into that and you do you but it wasn't really for me. The book is a series of adventures and perilous situations the narrator finds themself in but without much of a larger story of what's going on. And while I appreciated the explanation of how things work (because again, only vaguely aware of Minecraft), it never really added up to a larger narrative. But the book does what it sets out to do, and Jack Black was a good choice of narrator.
Rating: 3 stars

Total pages read
2,045

Fiction
50%

Female authors
67%

BIPOC authors
17%

US authors
67%

Book format
audiobook: 83%
paperback: 17%

Where'd I get the book
library: 83%
gift: 17%

Blogger reco
50%

Translation
17%

Decade published
2010s: 83%
2020s: 17%

Resolution books
33%
Bullet Train is written by Japanese author Kotaro Isaka and is a translation
The Art of English Murder is by UK author Lucy Worsley

Monday, December 5, 2022

November Reading Wrap Up+

Oh man, I am behind on writing this. Turns out the end of the year flies by. Lots to do with the holidays and wrapping up work at the end of the year and just I can't believe it's already December and there's so much to do and so little time left. But we're more settled into our new place, even finishing unpacking recently so the place feels less temporary and the Christmas decorations are up and the stove even works again so all good things

But that's not what we're focusing on right now. Right now, let's talk about books, shall we? 

Number of books read
6
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach
Evil Eye by Madhuri Shekar
Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan
The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
I apparently read this book around this time every year which honestly, excellent choice by me. I love this book so much, I love it every time and the full cast audiobook is amazing. Lots of love and many tears at the end. It gets me every time.
Rating: 5 stars

The Body: A Guide for Occupants by Bill Bryson
Another re-read! November was the month for it. This was mostly because none of my library holds were available yet, nor was anything on my TBR so I was just scrolling through whatever I had on audiobook. Always a fan of Bryson stuff and his science and history. 
Rating: 5 stars

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach
Another great choice. Mary Roach's stuff is very similar to Bryson's science books (he references her book Gulp in The Body) and this time she deals with the different ways people have dealt with nature. Or specifically the entities tasked with dealing with those times when the lives of people and wild animals intersect. Park services dealing with bears in Canada or a government body that handles elephants in India. Perhaps not my favorite Roach book but it has her enthusiasm and humor when dealing with some strange science
Rating: 4 stars

Evil Eye by Madhuri Shekar
This is really more a radio play. It's a little over an hour long and the story is told through a series of phone calls and voice mails between a mother in India and her daughter in the US. Usha is focused on finding her daughter Pallavi a husband. But when Pallavi finds the perfect guy, her mother feels something is off. It's a short story but manages to balance humor and suspense in a focused story. 
Rating: 5 stars

Caffeine: How Caffeine Created the Modern World by Michael Pollan
Another short story (I was waiting for a library hold which told me would be available any day now) this time about the history and science of caffeine. Or really the history and science of coffee and to a lesser extent tea. To write this Pollan decided to give up caffeine so he talks about his own relationship with the world's most popular drug, what being off of caffeine was like, how caffeinated drinks became so prevalent across the world (though the focus is largely the western world). 
Rating: 4 stars

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman
This book is the reason I was listening to some shorter books. I had been waiting for months for the second Thursday Murder Club book to become available from the library (at this point, I should just buy them) because i loved the first book so much. This second installment has the same humor and the same dynamic between the TMC members that I loved so much the first time around. And of course there's the mystery which kept me guessing. I've already put the third book on hold (a several month wait so we'll see if I end up just buying it).
Rating: 4.5 stars

Total pages read
1,629

Fiction
50%

Female authors
33%

BIPOC authors
17%

US authors
67%

Book format
audiobook: 100%

Where'd I get the book
Kindle/Audible: 83%
Library: 17%

Rereads
33%

Readalong/Book club
17%

Decade published
2000s: 17%
2010s: 33%
2020s: 50%

Resolution books
33%
The Graveyard Book is written by UK author Gaiman
Evil Eye is written by Indian-American author Shekar