Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Souls are like ideas...Everybody has one that they think is worth something

Back in November Tom and I took a trip up to Boston to visit some friends and one day after brunch at this Chinese restaurant we went to Porter Square Books which, I am embarrassed to say, I never visited when I actually lived up in Boston. I'll give you excuses about how it's actually out in Porter Square (you know, hence the name) which is out past Harvard and I had the Booksmith* right there. Excuses, excuses. But the problem has now been remedied.

We were going through the store, suggesting books for each other, when one of my friends recommended the book The Weirdness by Jeremy P. Bushnell. He'd actually mentioned it the day before as I book I should check out, and now that we're at a bookstore OH HEY, perfect chance to pick up a copy. Not just any copy, but a signed copy!

One other "fun fact" and then I'll get into actually telling you about the book, Bushnell is a writing teacher at Northeastern (my alma mater) and also teaches a class apparently going over Ready Player One. This was not an option when I was there, which is very not fair. Sure RPO wasn't published until a few years after I graduated BUT STILL. Not cool, NU.

Right, so, the book! Billy Ridgeway is sort of a loser. He wants to be a writer but he doesn't actually do that much writing. Instead he works at a sandwich shop and spends time hanging out at his crappy apartment or pissing off his girlfriend. One day he wakes up in his apartment hungover and rolls out of bed to find a stranger sitting on his couch. It's not his roommate (who's been missing for awhile now...), and he's far too nicely dressed to be a vagrant who just wandered in. He claims to be the devil and he has a proposal for Billy. If Billy will go and retrieve his missing Lucky Cat statue, he'll make sure Billy's book is a bestseller. And deals with the devil always go SUPER WELL.

There are devils and powerpoint presentations and warlocks and opposing factions that use a Doctor Who knock-off to communicate its members and other supernatural goings-on as people either try to destroy or save the world (teams seem to change a lot, so who knows WHO you should trust) and some choices vs. freewill and do we really know who we are. There's far more than just will Billy help the devil to become a bestselling author. Which good because that story doesn't sound so interesting. Though there is a LOT shoved into this story, and by the end I was wondering if there was a bit too much going on. Never to the point that I didn't enjoy the story, but something that struck me a few times as perhaps the story could have been tightened up a bit.

That said, the story was a lot of fun. It was funny and had twists I did not anticipate and overall good time. Maybe not a story to inspire deep thoughts and Billy is a protagonist I've seen before but neither of these are bad things.

*One thing I want to say, unrelated to the book but related to local bookstores. PSB includes a bookmark with your purchase. Up at the top it has the name of the bookstore and the back has the stores address, hours, website, etc. WHY DOESN'T EVERY BOOKSTORE DO THIS? One, I'm always looking for bookmarks (despite having 8000 leftover from the wedding, they're currently packed away...somewhere). But more importantly, what great, fairly inexpensive advertising. When I'm reading a book in public places, you know, like the subway, I stick the bookmark somewhere in the back of the book, with the top of it poking out. So the bookstore name is out there. And I will happily use a local bookstores bookmarks and indirectly be like "Hey everyone, why don't you shop here?" The Strand does it too (I have a bunch of their bookmarks) and yeah. I love it. Sorry this post has had so many non-book related bits to it, but this was obviously important.

GIF rating:

Title quote from page 27

Bushnell, Jeremy P. The Weirdness. Melville House, 2014.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Giveaways & Booktours - What do you think?

Question for you book bloggers out there: do you do giveaways and booktours. Why or why not? Please show your work.

I'm thinking this has something to do with the new year, but I've been getting more-than-usual book review requests, though nothing that has really struck my fancy. A couple of them have been requests for a giveaway as well. Which on the surface makes sense and seems like a good thing. I get to offer my readers something free! They get their book out there. Win-win. But you know, what if I don't like your book?

If I didn't like the book, I don't want to give it away on my blog. And really, how successful of a giveaway would it be if I wrote a very lackluster review and then was like "YEAH so if you want a copy of this, jump through whatever hoops are required and a free copy of this book I couldn't stand COULD BE YOURS!" That'd be awkward.

Same deal with a booktour. I guess there are probably (though I haven't done one so could be totally wrong the details) a set list of questions the author answers, so maybe not as awkward. I mean, for the author that is. But again, wouldn't that suck if I ended up not liking their book and now they gotta answer questions and pretend I said nice things about their book.

I'm not saying I would definitely hate the book. I go into books assuming I am going to like them. Because really, why would waste my time on a book I assumed I was going to hate? But I won't know until I've read the book.

Now that said, if an author I already like reached out about a booktour or giveaway, I'll go with it. It's already been shown I'll probably like them so the opportunity for awkwardness is less. Or at least the awkwardness will show up in new ways I haven't figured out yet.

Have any of your dealt with this? What'd you do if you didn't like the book but now were committed to a giveaway or booktour?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Nothing was a tragedy, and everything was a joke

Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl was getting a lot of talk back in October when the book went on sale and I snagged a copy because peer pressure (even from the media) and sales are a pretty good way to get me to impulse buy things. I've never watched GIRLS (though I have seen several SNL sketches about it, so yeah, that's pretty much the same thing, right?) so this is the first thing of Dunham's I've actually experienced. Not sure if this is going to make me watch GIRLS anytime soon.

The book is a memoir, going over Dunham's awkward childhood through her awkward twenties and since that's how old Dunham is that's where things end. Which is fine. I don't mind her being young and writing a memoir now. There's something to be said for writing experiences while they're still fresh versus writing about situations decades later. Of course, I would assume this would means the self-deprecation would have to wait until you can further from the event and then you can laugh at how ridiculous things were. Dunham still has that self-deprecation you see in, say Bossypants, though she seems to go into the situation with the self-deprecation already in mind. I don't know that this means what she's written is inauthentic to her. She sort of comes off as the type of person that enters into every situation this way.

There were things that I liked
As hard as we have worked and as far as we have come, there are still so many forces conspiring to tell women that our concerns are petty, our opinions aren't needed, that we lack the gravitas necessary for our stories to matter. That personal writing by women is no more than an exercise in vanity and that we should appreciate this new world for women, sit down, and shut up.
There were things that made me roll by eyes
When I was seventeen years old I even had a vegan dinner party that was chronicled in the style section of The New York Times - headline: A Crunchy Menu of a Youthful Crowd!" - and catered by a now-defunct establishment called the Veg-City Diner. I wore my grandmother's Dior, insisted on shoelessness (leather was a no-no), and explained to the reporter that, while I didn't care much about the Iraq War, I was very concerned by our nation's casual attitude toward bovine murder.
I enjoyed Lena Dunham's Not That Kind of Girl, but the whole time I was reading I just thought "Man, knowing you in real life sounds...just exhausting." Sometimes I really want to be BFFs with the writers (Mindy Kaling haaaaaay) but Dunham, no thank you. I enjoyed reading your book. You are entertaining and your show even seems like something I would probably enjoy but you can stay way over there, thankyouverymuch.

I like that Dunham is a young woman who has seen the amount of success that she's earned. While her book wasn't my favorite thing, it's impressive that she managed to get such a high advance for the book and that ultimately the book was/is a success, so take that naysayers. I think the controversy around the book, specifically the scenes with her sister when they were both young children, are blown out of proportion. Of course, I read about most of the controversy on Tumblr, where "blown out of proportion" is the norm. I like that she's out there doing what she's doing, even if what she's doing isn't necessarily my thing.

Certainly not one of my favorite memoirs. Or books. It was entertaining enough, annoying at times, self-involved much of the time. Essentially everything I expected going into this.

GIF Rating:

Title quote from page 185, location 2654

Dunham, Lena. Not That Kind of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She "Learned". Random House, 2014. Kindle.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

HEY LOOK another survey

Thank you, Sarah, for consistently providing me with surveys and giving me excuses to not write real reviews. I was going to do that 2014 survey thing that was going around, but we're fairly far into 2015 at this point and it seems silly to do it now. Which means I'll probably end up doing it in like March or something ridiculous. But in the meantime, I've got this one!

Four names people call me other than my real name
1. Alley
2. Al
3. Red
4. ...that's pretty much it.

Four jobs I’ve had:
1. Babysitter but for HOURS. Like 8-5 every day. I'd say "nanny" but I have a friend who is an actual nanny and it seems mean to compare what I did to what she did. This was a summer job and for my neighbors so I was usually in my PJs and the job was "Make sure the kids don't die". Which, btw, NAILED IT.
2. I worked at The Limited Too for a total of like 6 hours. They hired way too many people so there was no time for me to actually work. I did get to lie to the public, so that part was fun. (Only after I tried to tell the truth. But after repeating 4 times "I don't know what shirt you're referring to because I started here today. I'm happy to help you find someone else to ask." was ignored with "No but it was just here like 2 months ago" I finally told her "We sold out. Forever. There will never be anymore. Shame, really." She was fine with that answer.)
3. Compounder at a fragrance company. That's where you actually mix the chemicals together to make either a fragrance or a flavor. 
4. I've been trying to figure out a generic way to describe my current job for awhile now. Let's just go with Data Analyst for public relations company.

Four movies I would/have watched more than once:
First of all, that I would watch more than once? As if I couldn't come up with 4 movies I've watched on more than one occasion? Adorable.
1. Zombieland because I heart extra-nerdy Jesse Eisenberg
2. Mean Girls
3. A Midsummer Night's Dream the '99 version
4. The Princess Bride

Four books I’d recommend:
1. Lamb by Christopher Moore
2. World War Z by Max Brooks
3. The Martian by Andy Weir
4. Anything Bill Bryson
I could keep going. And going.

Four places I have lived:
1. NJ
2. Boston (EDIT: 8 apartments. Too many apartments)
3. Brookline (just outside of Boston but still on the subway line)
4. Long Island

Four places I have been:
1. Seattle
2. Ireland
3. London
4. Italy

Four places I’d rather be right now:
1. One of those places I listed above
2. NYC but not for work stuff
3. Somewhere warm? Hmm yes, that'd be nice
4. In a bookstore

Four things I don’t eat:
1. Sea urchin
2. Tongue? I haven't tried it but I dunno if I could do it
3. Most organs. Though I've had some and some of them have even been delicious
4. Durian. Probably

Four of my favorite foods:
1. Mofongo. I could go for some of that right now. With slow cooked pork shoulder
2. Noodles? All kinds. Italian noodles, chow fun, noodle soup. 
3. Along that line: raviolis, dumplings. Mmm I'm getting hungry
4. Cheese. Just, all kinds.

Four TV shows that I watch:
1. Parks & Rec
2. Mad Men
3. Bob's Burgers
4. Always Sunny

Four things I am looking forward to this year (2015):
1. Getting this house sold
2. Buying a new place to live
3. Vacation to...somewhere. I'm sure we'll come up with somewhere cool
4. Christmas? Just in general. I like Christmas so don't see why I wouldn't look forward to it this year

Four things I’m always saying:
1. "Oowwww" because I am walking into things just constantly
2. "Hey...shut up" because I am EXCELLENT at comebacks
3. "Dee, you bitch!" because I express frustration via Always Sunny quotes
4. "I'm hungry" because it's always true

Four People I Tag:
Yeaaah, whoever wants to play

Monday, January 19, 2015

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality

I was looking for Halloween reads last October and Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House came up again and again. I've read her short story "The Lottery" (and loved it) and figured I need to try one of her full length novels. I've heard only good things about Hill House while We Have Always Lived in the Castle has gotten some mixed reviews, so I decided Hill House is where I should start.

My copy, part of the Penguin Horror Series, included a decently long intro on horror overall by Guillermo Del Toro and now, I sort of want to read an entire book about the history of horror fiction by him. Maybe he could take some time off from directing to expand this entry out into a full book, pleaseandthankyou. I don't think it's true to say that the intro was better than Jackson's story, but the intro has stuck with me in a way that the story hasn't. Before I get into it, a quick summary.

Hill House is a supposedly haunted mansion. Dr. Montague is a professor investigating paranormal activities and he rents the house for the summer in the hopes of finding something. He invites a number of people who have experienced paranormal events to come and stay with him. Naturally, most people ignore his letters, with the exception of two women: Eleanor, a quiet woman who has spend the last several years taking care of her invalid mother and more recently dominated by her sister and her sister's family, and Theo, an artiste. Luke, heir to the mansion, is also going to hang out with them. And then there are the super creepy caretakers Mr. and Mrs. Dudley who refuse to stay in the house at night and discourage the people from coming in and also might be robots.

There are creepy moments in the book. Doors won't stay open, regardless of it they're propped open or not. There's a strange voice and knocking noises and seems to be SOMETHING trying to get into the guests' rooms. It's never explicit what's actually happening. Is there something out there? Is this all in the characters' heads? Maybe just Eleanor's?

The haunting moments were scary. The fact that you're never really sure what's happening amps up the fear. But I had trouble with the characters. Mostly because I never fully believed them. We got some good background on Eleanor in the beginning and I thought maybe we'd spend more time fleshing the characters out. Or maybe not even fleshed out. I would have been fine if maybe we just stick with Eleanor and never really learn more about the other characters because we're dealing with Eleanor and how she perceives them. But the interactions between the characters never read as true. Mrs. Dudley can be stilted and sound like she's just reciting from a script. That's her thing. But the interactions between Dr. Montague, Luke, Theo, and even Eleanor should have seemed more natural.

Ultimately, the story was a bust for me. There were some good moments and it's cited so often as an ultimate haunted house story, so there's something there. But in the end, I preferred the intro (and highlighted more lines there) than the story itself.

But hey, check out these quotes from that intro!
To learn what we fear is to learn who we are. 
The tragedy in Poe's world is not the darkness in which we wallow but the fact that we once contemplated heaven. 
This is perhaps one of the most veiled and pervasive horrors in Jackson's fiction: We are always alone.

GIF rating:

Title quote from page 3.

Jackson, Shirley. The Haunting of Hill House. Penguin Classic, 2006. Originally published 1959. Kindle.

Monday, January 12, 2015

I'm tired from talking...and it's enough stories for now

We're having an open house right now, and since I don't have a car in order to get anywhere not the house (and it's cold and there's snow everywhere so walking 2+ miles doesn't sound like super fun) I figured I'll hide upstairs and work on a review! Now let's see, next up to review is...Maus II. Great. Something light-hearted.

I'm having, if possible, even more trouble coming up with what to say about Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began than I had with Maus I, and not only because it's been a few months since I read it.

Maus I takes place in occupied Poland, with Vladek and his family having to deal with all of the pain and terror that comes with being Jewish in a place that really does not like Jews.  Maus II takes place after Vladek and his wife Anja have been taken Auschwitz. So things go from bad to oh-my-god-this-is-the-worst-please-let-me-go-back-to-how-it-was-before. The story is depressing, which you should expect because Holocaust. You know things are going to be OK for Vladek and Anja (for awhile) because the story is Vladek telling his son Art about his time at the camp, so obviously he makes it out. Just because there's a silver lining, doesn't make things any less heartbreaking. Just because Vladek and Anja make it out of the camp, doesn't mean lots of other mice do.
Vladek's telling is matter of fact, which in a way serves the story well because you don't get quite so fatigued reading about the terrible things that happen. Vladek talks about receiving a beating from a guard after he spoke a couple words to Anja. When telling his son all he says is "So he beat me, what can I tell you? Only, thank God, Anja didn't get also such a beating. She wouldn't live." If this wasn't a true story I could see such a telling as coming off as cold and distant. Coming from someone relieving the event, the coping mechanism is more than understandable.
Vladek displays a lot of strength and ingenuity during these dire times. He's very ill for awhile (cos you know, death camps aren't great for your health) and of course he's seeing terrible things happen constantly, but still he manages to stay relatively safe and of course he makes it out.

There's another thing that makes the story more complex, more interesting: Vladek isn't some saint. Most of the story takes place during his time at the camp or his time marching, but a good chunk of the story is Art's interviews with his father in the present day and his farther seems like a lot to deal with. He's not bad, he's not evil. He's an old man who was constantly insulting Art's step-mother until she gave up and left him and now he's alone and guilts Art and Art's wife into spending time with him. You feel for Vladek while at the same time you can feel Art's frustration. He loves his father, that isn't in doubt, but family is never that simple.
You should read this. It's hard to really give reasons here. I want to say the typical things like "It's amazing and beautiful" but then a lot of caveats come in. Like "well I mean, it's amazing but also about the Holocaust and I mean, that's not amazing. Also it's beautiful but not like, piles of dead mice/people beautiful and oh no, I think I've sort of committed a hate crime. I'm sorry." So I'll just repeat, you should read this.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 136

Spiegelman, Art. Maus II: And Here My Troubles Began. Pantheon Books, 1986.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

I am in trouble here. This woman is not right

Continuing my current trend of reviewing horror stories in December/January because I am unable to review things in a reasonable amount of time, I now come to Stephen King's Misery.

This is at least the third time I've read this book. I was introduced to it in a college class, The Modern Bestseller, and I've loved it since then. Which was good cos it was one of the few books I did enjoy from that class (Lovely Bones, shut up, you're terrible). This won't be a gushing review, but I've read it multiple times so it's certainly not going to be a negative review.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Paul Sheldon is a writer who has just finished what he believes to be his best book, a long cry from his romantic Misery series he can't wait to get away from. He celebrates finishing his book with a couple bottles of champagne and then decides to drive to L.A. because drunk people make GREAT decisions. He gets caught in a snowstorm and predictably crashes his car. Unpredictably, he's found by a "good samaritan" who just happens to be his Number One Fan. Lucky Paul. 

Annie Wilkes is also a former nurse so she brings Paul back to her home to take care of his badly broken legs. Good thing Annie has a stockpile of medication, including novril, an addictive pain killer. And of course, Annie loooooves Paul's Misery Chastain series. It's too bad Paul killed off Misery in his last book. But Annie now has her own pet writer to right the wrongs Paul created.

This book is seriously scary. Annie Wilkes is among the best villains I have encountered. She's delusional and unpredictable, she's not clever, but she's also not stupid and it's dangerous to underestimate her. Paul is dependent on Annie, particularly Annie's stash of novril. And a little bit to the writing. Paul plays Scheherazade to both Annie and himself. He needs something to keep him going because things aren't looking great for him. 

I like the fact that there's nothing supernatural happening here. It makes things that much scarier. It's a slim story. There are really only two characters the whole time: Paul and Annie. Almost all of the action takes place at Annie's secluded home. Even there, most of the action takes place in a single guest bedroom. You start to feel the isolation and claustrophobia Paul is going through. There's also the suspense. Paul is playing a game of "Can You?", not only to see if he can write the story Annie wants without cheating, but he's also playing for his life. Can he get away?

GIF rating:

King, Stephen. Misery. Signet, 1988.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Best books of 2014

That is, the best books I read in 2014. Not necessarily ones that came out in 2014. ANYWAY.

I see a lot of people putting together their lists of the best things they read this past year and yes, I would like to jump on this bandwagon. These are the books that I have been trying to shove into people's hands all year. In some cases I have even been successful. People should always listen to me.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Romantic comedies usually aren't my thing, just, in general. But this one? This one is EXCELLENT. It's funny and the characters don't do things that make me cringe and wonder how they can possibly function.

The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore
It's Christopher Moore. It's Shakespeare. It's hilarious. LOVE IT.

NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
This one caught me off guard. I expected to like it and thought sure, this is probably going to be a good scary story. I didn't expect it to be SO good, not just for a scary story but for just a story, in general.

The Martian by Andy Weir
This was another book I didn't expect to looooooove so much. I'm sure Tom didn't expect me to spend so much of our transcontinental flight smacking him on the arm and making him read bits. I'm currently making him read the whole book, BECAUSE I CARE.

Maus I&II by Art Spiegelman
This is a hard book to shove into people's hands because 1) it's a graphic novel, so it can be difficult to get people to give it a try and 2) it's about the holocaust so it's hard to be too effusive about it. It's a seriously depressing, beautiful, very good graphic novel.

Here's to 2015 reading

Friday, January 2, 2015

Year End Reading Wrap-Up

You may have noticed I am skipping a December reading wrap-up post. That is because at the beginning of December I began reading the third GoT/ASoIaF book, A Storm of Swords, which is 80,000,000 pages long (roughly) and December has been a bit hectic and thus, I have not actually finished ANY books this month. Which is the first time that has happened in I don't know how long. But this seems like the perfect opportunity to look at how many reading has fared over the year, doesn't it? And I'll put in a bunch of graphs because, come on, who doesn't LOVE spreadsheets as part of their end of year wrap up?

Books read
50. Allllllmost a book a week. I blame George R.R. for screwing that up.
Pages read

Percentage of fiction read
Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors
86% - I did split out India from the rest of Asia when figuring race,, although I guess that's not actually what the US census bureau does. Maybe that would be the best designation to use.
Percentage of US authors

Percentage of eBooks
38% I'm surprised this isn't higher. I wonder what that says about my perceived reading, that I think I'm reading ebooks more often. Of course I have been plowing through A Storm of Swords on my Kindle forever, so that's probably tainting my current view.

Percentage of rereads
10% so many new books to check out
Percentage of review books
4% - I knew it wasn't a lot but I didn't think it was THAT low. That said, I'm not super upset about this.
Books written by decade
1850s - 2%
1860s - 2%
1950s - 2%
1960s - 4%
1970s - 2%
1980s - 10%
1990s - 6%
2000s - 18%
2010s - 54%
I'm always surprised how much of my reading is made up of books that only came out in the last couple years.
Books by genre
Children's - 2%
Classic - 2%
Coming of age - 2%
Crime - 4%
Economics - 2%
Essays - 6%
Fantasy - 4%
Graphic Novel - 10%
Health - 4%
History - 2%
Horror - 20%
Humor - 8%
Lit Fic - 2%
Memoir - 2%
Mystery - 2%
Rom Com - 2%
Romance/Love Story - 4%
Sci Fi - 8%
Science - 2%
Thrille - 6%
Travel memoir - 2%
I still have no idea what to consider this - 2%
My reading is all over the place. Except when it comes to horror. That may also be because horror is easier to put in a genre than some of the others. Genres are haaaaaard to figure out and what about ones that fall into multiple genres? It's an imperfect system but I'll probably keep doing it next year.

So there we go. Overall I can't say there are any surprises here. Which is a bit sad.

Bookish Resolutions
Read more non-white people
Read more non-US people
Read more books that are older than the 2000s

Let's see if I can hit at least 1 of those 3 resolutions above each month.

How'd you do with your reading this year? Do you have any bookish resolutions?