Thursday, August 27, 2015

Pursue failure, and you will trip over success along the way

I was looking for a book that fit my resolution goals* and, what do you know, Aisha Tyler's Self-Inflicted Wounds goes on sale. How convenient!

Self-Inflicted Wounds is pretty standard comic memoir fare, which I just realized I've read at least 3 of, which officially counts as a trend and I'm going to have to come up with a new Goodreads tag. ANYWAY, it deals with Tyler growing up in San Fran with hippie parents and wacky shenanigans such as when she set the kitchen on fire, because young children really shouldn't be deep frying things. She talks about being a nerd and super awkward, what finally led her to standup and what it takes to do comedy. She does not talk about Archer which is a pity because I heart Lana.
She focuses on the failures, the times she fucked up and when she and she alone was responsible. She gives some good advice along the way, such as
[The direct] approach is universal, and helpful any time you ever blow it in a major way -- workplace faux pax, ethnically insensitive joke, slamming into your boss's car in the parking lot, accidentally touching your mother-in-law's breast at Thanksgiving. You can slink away, tail between your legs like a dog who just urinated in the baby's bassinet, and die alone in a corner, or you can straighten up, look them dead in the face, and say, "I did this. I'm not proud of it, but I'm owning it, and I am going to look directly into your eyes and apologize, while holding your gaze so long and with such defiant pride that you will start to wonder if perhaps it is you who has offended me in some way. And then I will leave here and humiliate myself terribly in front of others, because that is just what I do."
Tyler is funny, and while I wasn't crazy about about a lot of the early chapters ending with what seemed like little lessons, I did like her tone and the way she told stories (since each chapter can sort of be a stand-alone story).

When I first finished reading this I gave it three stars. That was mostly due to when I first started the book I was in sort of a bad mood (about I-don't-even-know-what) but I was being especially critical of the book, it was better than three stars. But first impressions stick with you so I kept thinking "I liked it but it was mostly OK." Until I was talking to some people at work about the book and her stuff in general and realized that no, I enjoyed this far more than I was giving it credit for.

It's not a life changing book but it was a fun one and I can't help but read it in Lana's voice, so that was fun.

GIF rating:
*Author is not white, author is not from the US, (bonus points if book is a translation), book was published sometime before the 2000s

Title quote from page 16, location 417

Tyler, Aisha. Self-Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation. HaperCollins, 2013. Kindle

Monday, August 24, 2015

Excel-sheet tracking: I'm a nerd

I've used Google spreadsheets to track my reading for a few years now. It's how I'm able to keep track of those exciting stats I post every month. I also spend a lot of time using Excel at work. Like yes, I have dreamed about spreadsheets before. And since I've recently learned about the magic of conditional calculations (please see post title re: nerd) I thought I'd share with you what I'm doing. Because it's super cool and all that
First thing, I have a different spreadsheet for each year. I've thought about combining them, but I've found each year I tend to add more categories that I'm tracking and really don't feel like going back and retagging old content. That and I'm rarely going through to do year over year comparisons (although yeah, that might happen in the future...) so keeping them separated by year isn't an issue and then there's less I have to look at at any given time.

In one worksheet, I set up whatever columns I want to track. For 2015 I've got:
A (for author) Race
A Nationality
A Gender
Format (ebook, paperback, etc.)
Translation (Y/N)
Review book (as in, I have accepted in exchange for a review)
Resolution (does it meet at least one of the qualifications)
Year Published
Decade Published
Month Completed
Yes, this did need a screenshot
Then I've set up 2 more worksheets: one to show me totals by month and the other to show me totals for the year. Here's where those conditional formatting comes in.

I used to just manually count things up and fill in the second worksheet but obviously that leads to errors because counting is hard. I actually was teaching myself all these formulas for work because, well, it's just easier to make it so people don't HAVE to be able to math themselves. And since I spent all that time learning these formulas, why not apply them (or at least a way simplified version of them) to my own book tracking.

Counting using a conditional formula (COUNTIF)
Setting up the formulas for the year is slightly easier, so we'll start there. Let's say I want to show the total number of books written by US authors. I want to have the system automatically count each time I've listed US as the A-Nationality. To do that I need to use a COUNTIF formula, which looks like this:
That is saying it should count all of the cells on Sheet1column G IF the cell says the same thing it says in A11, which in this case says US.
You can see in rows 11-18 I've listed the other Author Nationalities I've read. Now all I have to do is grab the little blue square in the lower right corner of the cell and it will automatically update the calculation for all of those other cells.

I just repeat that for all of my other categories and BOOM, year-to-date totals.

Summing using a conditional formula (SUMIF)
Now let's say I want it to tell me how many pages I've read each month. I use a similar formula as the COUNTIF, except this time I want it to add all the pages, so I do a SUMIF.
=sumif(Sheet1!$R:$R, B1,Sheet1!$E:$E)
This is saying if on Sheet1 Column R (which on Sheet1 is Month Completed) says whatever is in cell B1 (in this case, "January") then I want you to sum the total from column E (which is number of pages).
You'll notice I put $ before the columns in the formula. That's so when I drag the formula over to calculate for all the other months, the formula knows to keep looking at columns R and E. I didn't include it in the purple condition, because I want it to change, so that it will know to look at C1 to show me the totals for February, etc.

Counting using a conditional formula with multiple criteria (COUNTIFS)
There's one last formula I use when I want to calculate the totals for the other categories per month. I need to use a conditional formula that allows be to specify multiple criteria. Let's say I want to know how many books I've read each month that qualify as a resolution book. Then I need to use a COUNTIFS formula

With this formula I'm saying that it should count (not sum) the number of times Column O (Resolution) on Sheet 1 says "Yes" only if the value of Column R (Month Completed) on Sheet 1 matches the value in B1 ("January").

Again, repeat for each criteria and I have my totals for each month.

So there you go. That's how I get my totals each month. So cool, right?

Friday, August 21, 2015

Another beloved book is being made into a movie

First there's The Martian (which recently came out with a new trailer) and now there's one for Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods.

Unlike The Martian, which I knew was going to be made into a movie for awhile, this one was new to me. I was recently at the Strand and one of their tables were able books being made into movies and A Walk in the Woods was on that table. For a second I thought perhaps someone had just placed the book there after deciding not to purchase it, but that was not the case. Obviously, because who would decide against a Bill Bryson book? But I guess that didn't make too much of an impression on me.

Then Tom and I are laying around watching TV and there's a commercial announcing a new Robert Redford movie. Because Robert Redford is pretty awesome, Tom tends to be a fan of his stuff and I was about to point out to him that there's a new movie that he's going to want to see when suddenly things start to seem familiar. OK, it's mostly Nick Nolte seems perfect as Stephen Katz, which might be an insult to Katz but kudos to the casting director. I watched the rest of the commercial with my mouth hanging open because OH HEY LOOK AN AMAZING BOOK IS BEING MADE INTO A MOVIE AND SEEMS TO HAVE SOME QUALITY PEOPLE IN IT, LET'S ALL ENJOY.

I'm sure this is going to be fairly different from the book, given the book is a lot of talking and in terms of action it's mostly (only) too middle-aged guys walking. In the woods. If you didn't get that from the title. It's filled with information about the trail and the history and all this other super interesting stuff that doesn't lend itself to a movie, so I'm pretty fine with them making a bunch of changes. I'm sure Bryson is pretty fine with that as well, considering he gets to be portrayed by Redford.

So yeah, I'm pretty excited for my movie options for this fall. 

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

No one who wears a crown is ever safe

I think blogger is randomly deleting drafts I have started. Except not really because there are a ton of really old drafts saved there. There just aren't the ones that I'm sure I started for things like A Feast for Crows. You know, ones that would actually be helpful. What I'm saying is please just pretend this is really great, because I bet that draft-that-was-deleted-but-actually-probably-never-existed was really great, and let's all pretend to live in that world.

You know how I wasn't hyperbolically in love with the first two Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones books but then I read the third one, A Storm of Swords and finally realized that yes, everything here is amazing and I need more pages? Obviously, the fourth book was not going to live up to that. That's not saying it was bad or that I didn't love it or that I'm not going to keep reading. It's just that it would have been quite a feat had it managed to be as good, and then Martin did this thing where he decided that you didn't need to hear from some of your MOST FAVORITE CHARACTERS so this not sustaining that whole best thing evaaaaaaaar was bound to happen. Hell, even Martin knew this and sort of won me over with his last chapter.
"Hey, wait a minute!" some of you may be saying about now. "Wait a minute, wait a minute! Where's Dany and the dragons? Where's Tyrion? We hardly saw Jon Snow. That can't be all of it..." Well, no. There's more to come. Another book as big as this one. I didn't forget to write about the other characters. 
I think the fact that his books are so serious (or at least these books. No idea if other stuff he writes is the same) that this last chapter made me laugh cos wtf? I did not anticipate Martin breaking the fourth wall. He explains that he wrote SOOOOOOO much and realize he couldn't really publish this as one book (Feast was over 800 pages) so he'd have to split them up. And he COULD have just split it in the middle, like a normal person, but instead he decided to focus this first book on the action primarily in and around King's Landing, and the next book would focus on all those other characters. But don't worry! See the next book is pretty much written so he said that should be published the year after this came out and he dates this last chapter 2005. Now, let's just go see when A Dance with Dragons was published...2011. Of course. We're never getting those last books.

So who is in Feast for Crows? Cersei, Jaime, Brienne, Sansa, Arya (at least we get Arya), Samwell AND then a bunch of new characters we've never seen before. Instead of Tyrion or Dany.
OK well not NEVER seen before cos we get Asha and a few other Greyjoys (this super downer Aeron and her uncle Victarion) and then some Dorne folks (Arianne, Arys Oakheart, and Aero, who to the best of my knowledge is unrelated to super downer mentioned above, they just have almost the same name to make things complicated).

I realize I haven't actually talked about the book itself, but as I pointed out last time, I don't think I'll be convincing anyone to read the whole series by this point if you weren't already planning it. You probably should because the story is pretty sweet and the female characters are some of the best ones in the series. Stakes are raised, people are getting what they wanted and it turns out wearing the crown isn't all that awesome, terrible things happen to characters you love and hate. Everything you'd expect.

I will be reading A Dance with Dragons but I'd like to hold off at least until the next book (The Winds of Winter) comes out, because after that I know there will be a looooooooooong wait for the final book. I'm so sorry for fans that have been there since the beginning and have had to work with Martin's schedule getting these things out.

Gif rating:

Title quote from page 203

Martin, George R. R. A Feast for Crows. Bantam, 2005. Kindle

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Ever wanted Hemingway to judge your writing?

I was being a general denizen of the interwebs, surfing around and whatnot when I came across a post about an app that judges your writing. 

It's called Hemingway Editor ( You can either copy and paste text from somewhere into the site, or else type in right in there and it will tell you how terrible you're doing. Or how great your writing is, assuming you are good at that sort of thing. It highlights sentences that are hard to read, very hard to read, all of your adverbs, whenever you're using the passive voice, and the overall grade level of your writing. You know, it's like having Hemingway critique your work.
Pretty much
I can't decide if I love this or if I'm intimidated by it, but it seems like a neat and writerly thing that I am here to share with all of you, and also this means that I can get away with not trying to write a coherent review right now. Even though I should really be working on that. Anyway.

I'm writing this post first in the app and so far it's telling me that my sentences are all hard or very hard to read, and that I'm using a bunch of words that it thinks I could do better with. Also this is written at the 8th grade level.

I wonder what happens if you paste some Faulkner into this thing?

So there you go. A new bookish thing to play around with. Enjoy.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Unhappiness can't stand silence

I'd heard things about Herman Koch's The Dinner for awhile before I eventually picked up the book.  Mostly that the book is about terrible people. At dinner. It's important to know that they are terrible people, not just unlikeable. I mean, they're that too. Unlikeable and terrible. One of the NYTimes reviews compares it in some ways to American Psycho and that came to mind a few times* while I was considering what I just read.

I was going to try to take a step back and explain what the book is about. Except I can't come up with a way to do that without introducing a whole host of spoilers. So let me try to be general. The book is sort of about how far are parents willing to go to protect their kids. But it's also about "hey look at these terrible people be terrible, regardless of other circumstances." It's about four people meeting for dinner to discuss their kids. And to discuss, to quote the back of my copy "a single horrific act - an act that has triggered a police investigation." If it were me, I don't know what I'd be discussing such a sensitive topic in a public setting. But maybe terrible people just have different priorities.

Alright, I'm getting stuck on that part, I know. And to be fair, I don't think the fact that the characters are terrible makes this a bad book. It doesn't make it a book I want to re-read any time soon. I don't think you need to wish you could be BFFs with a character for a book to be good. Though likewise, I don't know how much time I really want to spend with characters that are irredeemable assholes**.

I like the structure of the story being told over the course of a meal, with a number of flashbacks to explain how our narrator, Paul Lohman, came to this uncomfortable meeting. There's also a nice dose of unreliable narrator, as everything is seen through his distorted point of view and, as if I hadn't made it clear, he is terrible.

So there you go. It wasn't a badly written book. It also isn't a book I'm going to pick up again.

GIF Rating:

*But this book never made me feel physically ill. American Psycho continues to own that distinction so, good for it? I guess?
**I also sort of believe all of the think-pieces about how women need characters to be likable, while men are more evolved and can enjoy mean characters are (usually) misogynistic junk. The NYTimes review I linked above at least goes with a new angle, saying it's a problem with North American readers as compared to European readers. I still think it's sort of a stupid argument (look how dark and edgy I am liking unlikable characters) at least it's less sexist. Also there's another NYTimes review that is...less enthusiastic about it.

Title quote from page 6

Koch, Herman. The Dinner. Hogarth, 2009.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

It won't be our future. It'll be our noose.

It's been awhile since I read any Dennis Lehane* and Julie had given me a copy of Coronado for Xmas as part of my Secret Santa gift. It took me until June to read it. And until August to review it. I'm so good at staying on top of things.

Unlike the other Lehane I've read, Coronado isn't a novel. It's 5 short stories PLUS a two-act play based on one of those earlier short stories. Short stories can be very hit or miss for me. Sometimes it can be hard to really develop a story in such little time. For the most part I've found the collections of short stories, by a bunch of different authors, do not work for me. Even if half of the short stories are great, the other half are a bust (usually just boring) and the whole collection is...well, not ruined but at least leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I've been most successful with Stephen King collections,** so I mean this as a compliment when I say that Lehane's stuff reminds me of King's.

I don't mean that they write the same way. Lehane's short stories have the same feel and style as his novels, just as King's short stories feel like King. They both deal with the darker sides of humanity, but in different ways, yet both of them can construct a hell of a story in very little time. Since I never know how to handle short story collections, let's go with a quick description of each.

Running Out of Dog: The small town of Eden has a problem. They wanted to attract tourists with an amusement park, Eden Falls. But the town is almost overrun with stray dogs and the town needs to do something about them. Then there are the people in the town, many of whom are young men recently returned from Vietnam and carrying the weight of what they saw with them. Elgin is one of these men, well-liked. Enough so that people put up with his childhood friend Blue who isn't quite all there. There's love and infatuation and the desperate things people will do.
A small town is a hard place to keep a secret, and a small southern town with all that heat and all those open windows is an even harder place than most.

ICU: Daniel seems to have a normal life but a mysterious figure is turning up telling people to stay away from him. Then they start following him around. He decides to try hiding from them in the hospital. People don't really question you too hard if you're in the ICU.
There is a basic human concern in hospitals, a unity. And he begins to suspect he is addicted to it.

Gone down to Corpus: It's a story of revenge against perceived wrongs. Anger against the haves, from the have-nots. About the path that takes you to this moment, and when the moment doesn't quite go as pictured.
She looks like she can remember a time before she got where she is now, and all those different who-she-could-have-beens fork out like trails before us, branching off and branching off into all that Texas dust until there's so many of them they just have to fade away to nothing or else she'll go blind trying to keep count.

Mushrooms: More revenge, this time a neighborhood story. Which is a Lehane specialty. There are drugs and people being disrespected and again, everything you can expect from the guy.
Can't have some fool traveling for free through life like he got an all-day bus pass. You got to pay the freight. Everyone. Got to.

Until Gwen and Coronado: "Until Gwen" is the short story, which was later turned into the play "Coronado" which has apparently been performed and I would totally go to see it, even if it feels like it would be a very short play. Con men and love. One last grift. And of course, loyalties are questioned. The short story is in the second person, which gives it this sense of immediacy. And you (the reader) are trying to catch up with what you (the character) already knows. It works very well, both the story and the play.
Here's what you know about your father above all else - people have a way of vanishing in his company.

Overall, it's a short book filled with very short stories and one short play. There's not as much meat as the King stories and I can't say this is my favorite of his work but it does make me appreciate what he can do. And makes me think I should pick up another of the Kenzie/Gennaro books.

GIF Rating:
*Sacred, back in April 2014, at which point I also said "Hey, haven't read any Lehane in awhile."
**Seriously, if you want to try some King but aren't sure what, try some of his short stories. The Everything's Eventual collection is probably my favorite.

Title quote from page 205

Lehane, Dennis. Coronado: Stories. Harper Perennial, 2006.

Monday, August 3, 2015

July Reading Wrap-Up

July's are apparently a busy month for me. Last year it was that whole wedding thing. This year we FINALLY sold our Long Island place and closed on our new place in NJ. And we had 2 weddings to go to. So I got less posts written than any other month since I started this blog (whoops) I did get a fair amount of reading done. Let's see how I did

Number of books read
A Feast for Crows by George R. R. Martin
The Martian by Andy Weir
Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler
Men Explain Things To Me by Rebecca Solnit
The Engagements by J. Courtney Sullivan

Number of pages read

Percentage of fiction

Percentage of female authors

Percentage of white authors
80% - NOT 100%! Small victories

Percentage of US authors
100% ah, dammit

Book formats
ebooks - 100% all my for real books were packed and there were lots of Kindle sales

Percentage of rereads
20% - had to re-read The Martian once I started talking about the movie

Percentage of review books

Books by decade
2000s - 20%
2010s - 80%
ALL modern. Oops

Books by genre
Fantasy - 20%
Sci Fi - 20%
Memoir - 20%
Essays - 20%
Lit Fic (I guess?) - 20%

Resolution books
Thank you, Aisha Tyler, for saving my stats this month. And for being hilarious. It only covers one criterion (non-white author) but that's enough, especially when that's the category I've been struggling the most to hit.

Hopefully I'll do a bit better in August but this wasn't too shabby. Now, to go work on unpacking some more...