Thursday, May 28, 2015

Because survival is insufficient

We go from a book I did not care for to a book I liked very much. Thank you, Station Eleven, for coming to the rescue!

I hadn't heard of Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven until Kayleigh/Nylon Admiral's review, where she called it "a mix of dystopia and Shakespeare with just a smidge of Star Trek" and yes, she nails it with that description.

The story opens during a production of King Lear where Lear (the esteemed actor and tabloid regular Arthur Leander) suffers a fatal heart attack during the show. A former paparazzo/current EMT does his best to revive the actor but it's too late and the man sneaks off into the night to avoid the chaos that is about to come down. But he doesn't get very far before chaos comes at him from a different direction. A doctor friend of his tells him there's some sort of virus, far more deadly than what they'd encountered before, that seems to be hitting Toronto. Toronto isn't the only victim and within a very short span of time, something like 90% of the world's population has been wiped out.

The story jumps back and forth between the current day, and a traveling symphony that roams the new land performing shows (mostly Shakespeare!) for the various towns and settlements that are left, and flashbacks to the life of Arthur Leander. I t seems like a weird point to jump back to but between our main characters, Arthur seems to be a unifying force, even if they don't realize it.

The focus of the story isn't on survival. There's a lot about the place for art in this new world. There's much about the relationships between people and how those relationships change us.

There is a plot that sounds like it would be the main driver, but really feels secondary, about a Prophet that is wandering the same roads and visiting the same towns the Symphony has, but something is a bit culty about this guy and his followers. I was surprised there wasn't more to this storyline (I felt it was sort of rushed) but really, the rest is so so good, it feels like nitpicking at this point.

The writing is wonderful and I found myself highlighting a number of lines, so why don't I share some of those with you?

I've been taking art history classes on and off for years, and between projects. And of course art history is always pressed up close against non-art history, you see catastrophe after catastrophe, terrible things, all these moments when everyone must have thought the world was ending, but all those moments, they were all temporary. It always passes.
Jeevan's understanding of disaster preparedness was based entirely on action movies, but on the other hand, he'd seen a lot of action movies.
These are not her people. She is marooned on a strange planet. The best she can do is pretend to be unflappable when she isn't.
Gif rating:

Title quote page 58, location 885

St. John Mandel, Emily. Station Eleven. Vintage, 2014. Kindle

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The harm was everyone and everywhere

I realized sometime last weekend that I had forgotten to write something to post during the week. Then, during the week, I tried to find some time to write but that, clearly, did not work. I used to write my posts whenever during the week but things have gotten busier so that doesn't work anymore. Now my goal is to write them during the weekend and technically even now I'm failing at that, as it is Monday. But it's a holiday weekend so, I'm sort of still on track.

Anyway, here's Wonderwall The House Girl.

There are a number of books out there that I get into my head that they're "very smart" books that deal with "important things" and I honestly have no idea where I come up with that. Because it seems like these books always turn out to be waaaaaaay less intimidating than I made out in my head and when I try to go back and find the reasons I thought the book was so fancy, I come up empty. The House Girl fits this, but instead of it being "Yay the book is not so intimidating!" it's more "Oh. I thought there'd be more to you. But no? K, I guess."

The story has 2 narratives: Josephine, the titular house girl on a plantation back 1800s Virginia, and Lina Sparrow, a young lawyer working a reparations case in the present day. Though I should probably put those in the other order because it feels like Lina's chapters feel like the main story, fleshed out by Josephine's.

Lina's law firm gets a case for a $6 trillion reparations lawsuit to sue the government and any business who could have benefitted from slavery in a reparations case. Another guy on the team has to do...lawyery things* and Lina is charged with finding a "face for the case" by finding a direct descendant of a slave to put on the stand.

Lina becomes obsessed with finding a descendant of the house girl Josephine, who is said to be the actual artists behind a number of famous paintings currently attributed to Lu Anne Bell, Josephine's mistress. Through a crazy random happenstance, Lina meets someone at her father's gallery opening that owns a couple as-yet-unknown Lu Anne Bell/Josephine pictures and could just be the descendant she's looking for. Also he's cute and in a band.
Meanwhile we see Josephine is the person behind the painting but more than that we see Josephine trying to escape. There's a little bit of her life on the plantation, taking care of Lu Anne who is sick and has no children of her own after 12 miscarriages. The chapters with Josephine are interesting and inspired less eye-rolls than the modern chapters. Which is too bad cos we spend so much time with Lina instead. There are even sections that are sort of Josephine's story, but told through the point of view of an abolitionist who was helping slaves along the underground railroad.

The book pretty much exactly how you assume it will. I didn't highlight many passages and by the end I started making snarky comments at the text, which typically means I'm bored with this now. Like I said in my minireview, the book wasn't bad. It just wasn't particularly good either. If you want to read a review that nails my feelings on this book (you know, other than mine, right here), check out the Washington Post piece. It says everything I wish I had thought to say.

Gif rating:
*Listen, I finished this a couple months ago. I know, it's a problem. Details are forgotten.

Title quote page 77, location 1120

Conklin, Tara. The House Girl. Harper Collins, 2013. Kindle.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

MInithon post the second

And the Minithon has come to a close. At least for me because I am bad at timezones and we made reservations for dinner before this thing was going to end. Whoops. So I'm doing a slightly mini-er version of the minithon, which is right in the spirt.

There was a mini amount of reading done. I have 80-ish pages left in The Passage and I gave up on Fool because there is WAY too much going on in To Be OR Not To Be. In one ending Ophelia decided to fight terrorists using a glider suit laced with knives that she designed. Straight out Shakespeare's subtext.

I ate my mini-bagels and mini-quiches and then more mini-bagels in the form of mini pizza bagels so really, minithon a success! I also watched some Portlandia which is really Tom's fault. But it's a bunch of sketches, which are like mini episodes, so it was nice of him to keep with the theme.

Hope everyone's minithon was a success! Thanks again, Tika. A great time as always

Are you ready to MINITHON???

It is once again time for a minithon, the perfect readalong for those of us with commitment/attention span problems who can't handle a full on readathon. (Also for those who CAN full on readathon and just want to play along because we're the best.) Thank Tika for once again hosting this internet shindig AND for getting up early for it.

Time for the eatings and readings
For once I actually managed to plan ahead for this minithon, meaning I remembered it was happening a full day before and thus was able to go to the store and get a couple mini food items. LIKE MINI-BAGELS!!
I also made myself a cappuccino because I have an addiction. But also cappuccino = espresso (mini amount of coffee. Compared to drip anyway) and milk (in my case, skim milk, which is really/probably just water with a mini amount of actual milk in it).

I also picked up some mini-quiches because they seem like the PERFECT minithon food and also delicious. I'm also going to consume a not-so-mini amount of these sweet potato and cinnamon crackers. These are smaller than some other crackers I have in the house so, yeah, that counts.
I considered picking up a mini ham & cheese sandwich (that's what it was labeled) but it was like $4 and no, I will come up with ridiculous excuses for the food I eat instead of paying that for a tiny pre-made sandwich.

Oh right, books.
I'm currently finishing up The Passage by Justin Cronin and while that is very much NOT a mini book, it does take place in a post-apocalypse land where the human population is teeny tiny so MINI.

I also have on hand To Be OR Not To Be by Ryan North which is a choose-your-own-adventure Hamlet story, which makes it really a BUNCH of little stories. BAM!

Last up, I have an audiobook of Fool by Christopher Moore. Last minithon I realized how great audiobooks are for thoning (I can read AND tweet all at once) so I wanted to make sure I grabbed one of those. Plus all books are boxed up, so I'm working with a limited supply. The main character of Fool is called Pocket cos he's so tiny so THERE YOU GO. Though I did notice that I screwed up when I was loading the audiobook into iTunes and it appears some of the tracks didn't copy over properly. Which would be an easy fix if I knew which box the discs were packed in. Whoops.

Here we go!

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Books and friends are the best, moving is the worst

I haven't had a housing update in a while, mostly because buying a house (when mortgages are involved, anyway) is a paaaaaaainfully slow process. And when you're dealing with 2 different banks and 2 different places (buying one and selling another) things take that much longer, and I know people are well-meaning, but if everyone could stop asking me when closing will be, that would be great. I promise all parties will be alerted when something is actually set, but till then know that each time you ask me (and my answer is the same "I don't know. Hopefully soon because we're done with most steps. Yes, I know we thought it'd be done already, but it's clearly not.") my stress level increases and since there's nothing I can actually do at this point, you're not helping things.
We've been slowly packing for a while now, starting with the books because book are always the easiest thing to pack. They're the biggest pain in the ass to move but they fit so nicely in boxes. They're also something we don't need day-to-day so it's a good first thing to go. Which means I've been staring at empty bookshelves for roughly ever now. Well, not entirely empty. I saved a couple books that I hadn't read yet and of books just naturally seem to appear, even when I'm not buying new books. Or at least not new physical books (hellloooooo, ebooks).

Rather than write another review (be productive, whatnow?) why don't we take a look at my depressing bookshelves (boo) and my new books (wheee!).

They're so lonely
Book prison. Note the bar remains unpacked. #necessities

OK, so, one of those new books is actually Tom's. But you know, married so his = mine. (And mine=his and "it's our nausea" and blah blah blah.) But anyway, the books:

Exploring Calvin & Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue by Bill Watterson and Robb Jenny - This is Tom's, a gift from good friends of ours who understand our love for C&H. We have the full, hardback copy of all of the strips, plus most of the individual books that were put out, and the 10th Anniversary copy. Our table at the wedding even included 2 Calvin & Hobbes quotes. My iPad includes a Calvin & Hobbes quote engraved on the back AND C&H make up the login screen. So yeah, we are fans so this was an exciting addition.

To Be OR Not To Be: A Chooseable Path Adventure by Ryan North, Shakespeare and YOU - Yes, this is a Hamlet Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. HOW AMAZING IS THAT? So amazing. Same friends that gave Tom the C&H book gave me this one. Because books and friends are just the best. I've flipped through it and already seen exciting endings (is that Ophelia with a chemistry set??) so yeah, this is going to be great.

Euphoria by Lily King - This was the second book in the book-of-the-month club Tom got for me. I know nothing of it and while the summary didn't exactly excitement at first, I've seen some good reviews from people with good taste, and the last book (The Husband's Secret) was a success, so I'm tentatively optimistic.

Fat Girl Walking: Sex, Food, Love, and Being Comfortable In Your Skin...Every Inch of It by Brittany Gibbons - This was a review request book, which I am often skeptical of BUT this was from a publisher I've heard of* and I skimmed Gibbons' blog and liked what I saw so yeah, I'm excited for this. Besides, the cover reminds me of How To Be A Woman so hopefully it'll be along those lines (in terms of awesomeness, if not content).

So there you go. New books, sad bookshelves, moving stress. Man, I hope the next post on this topic is us unpacking in our new place. *fingers crossed so hard they might break

*Sorry self-publishers. I know being self-published itself doesn't mean the book won't be any good. But I have been burned enough to assume this is more likely to be the case, unless you've proven yourself otherwise.

Monday, May 11, 2015

American history is a quagmire, and the more one knows, the quaggier the mire gets

Remember how not long ago I reviewed David Sedaris's Naked but I couldn't really remember much about it and the review was sort of a waste cos I didn't have too much to say except that ultimately I did like it? Get ready for more of that!

Ever since Alice sent me a copy of The Wordy Shipmates I have been a fan of Sarah Vowell and picked up any of her books I happened to see on sale. The latest acquisition was a collection of essays The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Similar to Take the Cannoli, there's no real theme among the essays. Or maybe moreso than cannoli, since a number of the essays are about politics in one way or another. But not all of them. Some of them are about how Tom Cruise makes her nervous. Consider it something for everyone!

Collections of short stories and/or essays are always difficult to review. When I don't really remember the book, well that makes things even harder, doesn't it? I guess that is something of a review. I finished the book in March so it wasn't that long ago, and yet for the most part the book hasn't stuck with me. I remember liking it. I like Vowell's style, this is her style, what's not to like? Even if politics aren't my thing. I was about to say something about how I don't like them as much as Vowell but a) I don't think it's possible to like anything as much as Vowell likes politics/history b) I don't like politics, full stop. No need to compare to anyone else. I know I should like politics and I should pay more attention to them but I do not. But I like Vowell's enthusiasm so she can talk politics all she wants and I will read on.

Why don't I share some quotes so you can see exactly why she's great?

On discussing Lincoln and the Gettysburg address and how much of a nerd she is/how often she thinks about the Civil War
Fact is, I think about the Civil War all the time, every day. I can't even use a cotton ball to remove my eye makeup without spacing out about slavery's favorite cash crop and that line from Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address that "it may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces." Well, that, and why does black eyeliner smudge way more than brown?
In "Democracy and Things Like That" she talks about the way a speech Al Gore gave at a high school has been twisted and distorted, because the media sure is swell. She talks to the students at the school about what was actually said, how it was represented, does it really make a difference? It's an interesting look at the role of media and politics, if not necessarily an original idea.
I'm not saying our candidates should be untested, unquestioned, uncriticized. What I am saying, if that's all we do, and if all we do is make fun of them, then we're losing something too, I think.
"Rosa Parks, C'est Moi" she talks about ALL these people who compare themselves to Rosa Parks and maybe they should stop that cos no, you are not like Rosa Parks. Stop that now.
Analogies give order to the world -- and solidarity. Pointing out how one person is like another is reassuring, less lonely. Maybe those who would compare their personal inconveniences to the epic struggles of history are just looking for company, and who wouldn't want to be in the company of Rosa Parks? On the other hand, perhaps people who compare themselves to Rosa Parks are simply arrogant, pampered nincompoops with delusions of grandeur who couldn't tell the difference between a paper cut and a decapitation.
So yes, I recommend this book and Vowell in general, if you haven't checked her stuff out yet.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 156, location 1802

Vowell, Sarah. The Partly Cloudy Patriot. Simon & Schuster, 2002. Kindle

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to track progress on an audiobook?

I've been re-listening to World War Z as part of my "listen to audiobooks while watching sports" thing I mentioned earlier. I was thinking I wanted to see how far along I was because I keep track of that with my other books using Goodreads, why not audio. But I realized there isn't an easy way to do that. At least not a way that doesn't require me to do math. So, as is the current custom, I complained to Goodreads on Twitter, not really thinking they'd say anything. But they did. The first response involved math
Which, yes, I realize I COULD do that but it assumes two things: I know how long the audiobook is as a whole and I know how long I've been listening. I do not know these things. I shared this fact with Goodreads who asked if I had any suggestions.
My only suggestion would be entering in the track number though I have no idea how standardized that is.
Of the few audiobooks I've listened to, they've all been CDs. So they have a disc number and track number. I have that information at hand so I would think that would be a good way to keep track. Or at least easy for the user, although it would require Goodreads to keep track of a LOT of data because naturally there are a bunch of variables because nothing is ever easy. It's not only keeping count of the total number of discs and tracks and audiobook has. There's also the fact that each track may not be/is unlikely to be the same length. If you wanted an accurate number, they'd have to keep track of the length of each track on each disc in order to calculate a percentage through the book. AND THEN they would have to keep track of all of that information if there are different versions out there, although I think that might be less of a beast than keeping track of all the various publications of a book.

We're not done yet, though, because there's also a matter of getting audiobooks off sites like Audible. I haven't done this (yet!) so I'm not even sure what those are like. Maybe they already track percentage for you and it's an easy addition. Maybe they have the same track list but no discs, so it's just a matter of repeating the same values that are capture for the discs.
Anyone have any ideas how this could be tracked? Or do you not actually care of much about keep track if your audiobook progress? Or maybe you care, but are way more on top of me about things like how long you've been listening and how long you have to go.

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.