Nonfiction

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

Hunger Makes Me a Modern GirlI can’t seem to get it together to write a full post about any one thing, so I thought I’d just jot down a few thoughts about what I’ve read over the last few weeks. (I guess, technically, one does not “jot” using a keyboard, but whatever.) Lately fiction is not doing much for me, which is highly unusual. I’m much more likely to set aside something nonfiction to start a new novel, but these last few weeks I’ve started four or five novels and stopped because I felt sort of bored. I picked up a stack of books at the library on Friday, so I felt pretty hopeful about that. I read one book right away, not a novel but Carrie Brownstein’s memoir, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl. I resisted picking it up when it was published in 2015 because I was worried about it being too…I don’t know. Gossipy? Self-aggrandizing? Navel-gazing? (It’s none of these.) The truth is I’m not big on celebrity memoirs, but a couple of weeks ago I read Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band and enjoyed reading about Sonic Youth, so I thought I’d give Brownstein’s book a chance. I really like Sonic Youth, but Sleater-Kinney is one of my favorite bands. Both Gordon and Brownstein talk some about their childhood and their families and how those things shaped their worldviews and desires (Gordon had a schizophrenic older brother; Brownstein’s mother battled anorexia and left the family when Brownstein was 14, and her father eventually came out as gay), but in both cases they focus primarily on the evolution of their bands and of making music. Gordon’s book is more bittersweet, especially given her split with husband and band mate Thurston Moore, and she seems to still be working through much of her heartache on the page, yet without becoming maudlin. Brownstein is often laugh-out-loud funny and self-effacing, especially when discussing her childhood:Girl in a Band

The dance I choreographed—and I use the term “choreography” loosely, the way you’d call adding milk to cereal “cooking—was a combination of marching and punching, and probably resembled aerobics being done by a penguin.

Still, most of the book is about the band. She clearly loves and admires Corin Tucker and Janet Weiss. Amazing some of the hits these women take in reviews of their books, especially for revealing that much of the time they don’t feel particularly cool, that they landed on things like a look or a sound more by trial and error than through some innate sense of fashion or sound. Yet other reviewers go after them both for being too intellectual, too distanced, not emotional or gossipy enough. And then in Brownstein’s case there are a slew of reviews from people who’ve never heard of or never liked Sleater-Kinney. Sorry if this is a spoiler, but Brownstein barely talks all about Portlandia, the show she created with Fred Armisen. Some reviewers were clearly disappointed that the show didn’t feature more in the book, because that was primarily how they knew her. I thought that was kind of odd—why would someone write a memoir about doing a few years on a cable television show? (Okay, six years, but Sleater-Kinney has been around for more than 20 years, so whatever)—until I remembered that it’s 2017 and if you’ve made it to the age of 22 and appeared in a commercial for a local tire store, you’ve probably written a memoir.

Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American SpaceflightAnother memoir (!) I read and enjoyed was Leaving Orbit: Notes from the Last Days of American Spaceflight by Margaret Dean Lazarus. Lazarus becomes interested in spaceflight after doing a bunch of research for her first novel, which is about a girl whose father works for NASA and the Challenger disaster. She continues researching even after publishing the novel, reading everything from astronaut autobiographies to early journalistic accounts from Tom Wolfe and Norman Mailer. She befriends a NASA employee on Facebook and eventually decides to write about the final flights of the three working space shuttles. The book is as much about the history of spaceflight as what it means to write about it, to stand outside and experience other people responsible for making something truly otherworldly happen. If you’re looking for an objective history of the American space program, this might not be your book. Mostly, Dean spends a great deal of time (rightly) worrying about the future of NASA. She has serious doubts about private space programs like SpaceX (which, since the book’s publication, has launched multiple rockets headed for the International Space Station, and just recently successfully re-used both rocket and launcher, something that was also intended for the shuttle program). She spends a lot of time discussing something I wonder about a lot myself, which is how and when America fell out of love with the idea of space, of getting to Mars, of creating something that transcends petty earthly “accomplishments.” (Seriously, I’ve seen The Martian at least ten times, and I cry every time, not from joy but because of the alternate present and all the lost opportunity it represents. Don’t even get me started on Star Trek.)

Finally, I read a terrific personal essay collection, Loitering, by Charles D’Ambrosio, which definitely left me wanting to read more personal essays, so I picked up Love and Other Ways of Dying by Michael Paterniti, which I’m looking forward to reading. On the fiction front, right now I’m reading Louise Penny’s second Inspector Gamache book, A Fatal Grace, and I’ve got C.E. Morgan’s The Sport of Kings and Samantha Hunt’s The Seas out from the library, so who knows? Maybe my fiction slump will end.

How about you? Have you read any of these? Any good nonfiction to recommend? Happy reading!

January Reading Wrap-Up

Over the last few years, January has been one of my better months for blogging. This year, even though I’ve been reading steadily, the idea of sitting down and writing about books has seemed kind of pointless. Many other book bloggers have expressed this same anxiety and heart-heaviness and wonder about the use of it all, so I know I’m not alone. For myself, I find avoiding Twitter and Facebook helps. For a while scrolling and scrolling made me feel connected, but it started to take on a life of its own, and I’d reach the end of the day with nothing accomplished—no work, no exercise, nothing. The only reason I read as much as I did was because I made it a point to get up in the morning and NOT to look at any headlines or social media but to open my book instead.

Alys, AlwaysI picked up Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl on New Year’s Eve and finished it quickly. You can read my thoughts about it here, or you can just trust me when I say I highly recommend it and you should get to it sooner rather than later. I’m doing the TBR Dare again this year, but in December I had also put a bunch of books on hold at the library that came available that first week of January: Version Control by Dexter Palmer, Tomorrow Will Be Different by Maria Semple, The Summer That Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel, and Alys, Always by Harriet Lane. The only one I managed to read was Alys, Always. It’s a dark little book, with a wry, somewhat sociopathic heroine who carefully inserts herself into the lives of a famous writer and his family after she witnesses a tragic accident. I tried with all the others, but I just wasn’t hooked and decided not to force it.

Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of PunkInstead, I moved on to Please Kill Me: The Uncensored History of Punk by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. I’ve always liked punk rock (you would never know it to look at me, now or then), the raw energy and the cheek of it. Please Kill Me focuses primarily on the New York scene, which was heavily influenced by The Velvet Underground, but also by the MC5 and Iggy Pop and the Stooges out of Detroit. It’s basically an anthology of collected interviews with people on the scene (including Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Patti Smith, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, the Ramones, Debbie Harry, Richard Hell from Television, along with artists and journalists and other folks on the scene), arranged chronologically and by topic. It was interesting to read this book from a sociological standpoint at this point in time. The rise of punk followed the decline of utopian hippie idealism and the rise of economic instability. A lot of these kids were blue collar; they were disillusioned and disaffected. Very few of them had any musical training at all. Serious drug addiction, especially heroin addiction, was rampant. I think if you transported a lot of these people into the here and now, they would be like a lot of people who voted in our current president: angry and overlooked, with a lot of uncertainty about the country. They saw no easy future, they saw their friends dying in Vietnam, they saw all the institutions they had previously trusted as corrupt. That said, the music wasn’t a political statement—it was an escape, and in a weird way a highly romantic one at that. If you’re not familiar with much punk music, or at least the kind coming out of New York in the early 1970s, you might not know how much of it was influenced by the rock and roll of the late 1950s and the early 1960s. They hated all the commercial, progressive rock, the long guitar solos, the post-hippie syrup. In a lot of ways they were children. The one thing they all agreed on: Patti Smith was the real deal, the true queen of punk, always true to herself and her vision (and for the record, not a drug addict). If you’re interested in music history at all, it’s an interesting read, and it’s amazing to consider their influence all these years later. So many of them died too young, some long before they got to understand what a profound influence they had.

What with Please Kill Me and all the bad news in my Twitter feed, I decided next I needed something light to read, so I picked up the first book in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, Still Life. I found it well-paced, smart, and surprisingly funny. I don’t often commit to reading series, but as soon as the TBR Dare is over I’m putting these on hold at the library. Brain candy, with all-natural ingredients.

The Atomic Weight of LoveAfter Still Life, I picked up The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church. Not going to kid you, the cover attracted me. It’s the story of a woman who marries a scientist involved in the Manhattan project, and how his life takes over her own plans and ambitions, and how she finds love and life in Los Alamos. Overall I really enjoyed it. The writing was beautiful, although I had some weird quibbles with it while I was reading that I had ultimately let go by the end. For one thing, the main character, Meri, goes to the University of Chicago to study science, but all of the conversations she has with her professor and things she thinks about come across as elementary. Another strange quirk I noticed was that almost all the female characters were described in terms of their weight (“ a red-headed woman with a thickened waist”; “Anorexic Peggy Hilson dressed only in Beatnik black”; “the crisp presentation of the fat-free stewardesses”). Silly things, I know, but sometimes it’s like having a tiny rock in your shoe, one that’s not really worth it to dig out but bothers you from time to time just the same.

Most recently I started reading a book a publisher sent me back in 2010 (ouch) called Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells–Our Ride to the Renewable Future. I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner, because the author Amanda Little takes a close look at how incredibly dependent we are on petroleum products and what sort of alternative energy sources might help us break that dependence. It’s crazy to think, but some of the book is already dated (the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla were not then on the market, for example). On the other hand, since we’re about to see massive deregulation and drilling and fracking…well, I’m just going to stop here. This one really deserves its own post.

And finally, I had a few more books on my hold list come up at the library: Zadie Smith’s Swing Time, which I’m reading now, and The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson, about the migration of black Americans from the South to North from 1915 to 1970, which I plan to read next. After that I may pick up more non-fiction, because it’s just seemed more appealing lately, but we’ll see.

Wow, that was a long one! Going forward I’ll manage all this through individual posts or a weekly wrap-up. Stay safe out there, stay strong, #resist, and tell me what you’re reading!

Reader’s Journal: Lab Girl

Lab GirlIn my other life, I’m a scientist. When I say, “my other life,” I don’t mean my life outside the blog; I mean my life in an alternate universe. I do things in a lab that involve other scientists, and also math. I do whatever kind of science I’m interested in at the moment, obviously. Mostly, I work on things that  have to do with going into space. You know, it’s rocket science. But sometimes I am in a lab looking into space through a large telescope, or else looking through a microscope at rocks or plants. I may or may not wear a lab coat. I am always taller. Always.

In this life, I was in my third year of college before I realized that I was not bad at math or science. In fact, I was borderline good at it. But by the time I figured that out, I had already switched majors too many times (five: drama, communications, drama again, fashion merchandising—don’t ask—and English) to believe that my parents would happily support me through an additional year or two of college because I wanted to switch from English to, say, geology. Alas, I after getting an MA I ended up leaving academia and entering the “real” world as a technical writer, and it was in that job that I realized I should have been a computer science major. But life and finances and reality being what they are, I also realized that was probably not going to happen.

So what does my little sob story have to do with Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl? It’s simple. I’m illustrating how completely unfair it is that I, a former English major and current “content creator,” cannot just wake up one day and decide to “do science”—but Hope Jahren, who spent most of her life in a lab studying plants, can just pick up a pen (or a laptop) and write a really fantastic book. Honestly. Where does she get off?

In Lab Girl, Jahren tells the story of her childhood, her struggles as a student and trying to establish herself as a woman scientist, her experience with mental illness, and her remarkable relationship with her best friend and lab partner, Bill. Between more personal chapters, Jahren also includes interesting shorter chapters about plants and trees based on lectures she has delivered to her classes over the years. All of this could really be so much blah blah blah, but Jahren has a terrific way of connecting her passion for science with the narrative of her life without resorting to hokey metaphors:

Science has taught me that everything is more complicated than we first assume, and that being able to derive happiness from discovery is a recipe for a beautiful life. It has also convinced me that carefully writing everything down is the only real defense we have against forgetting something more important that once was and is no more, including the spruce tree that should have outlived me but did not.

I stood and absorbed this revelation as my life turned a page, and my first scientific discovery shone, as even the cheapest plastic toy does when it is new.

I suspect this is a book that many parents might hand off to daughters in their early teens who are already showing a budding interest in science, but if that’s the case then the parents should read it, too, because there’s a lot to discuss. She writes openly and honestly about her mental illness (bipolar disorder) and how she tried to deal with it on her own before finally getting help. She also does not shy away from the difficulties of being a research scientist—especially one who is female:

Public and private organizations all over the world have studied the mechanics of sexism within science and have concluded that they are complex and multifactorial. In my own small experience, sexism has been something very simple: the cumulative weight of constantly being told that you can’t possibly be what you are.

And in explaining how the National Science Foundation funds (or fails to sufficiently fund) research scientists:

…$7.3 billion sounds like a lot of money. Remember that this figure must support all curiosity-driven science–not just biology, but also geology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, psychology, sociology, and the more esoteric forms of engineering and computer science as well.

[Six million dollars for the NSF’s paleobiology program] still sounds like a lot of money. Perhaps we could agree that one paleobiologist from each state in the country should get a grant. If we divide $6 million by fifty, we get $120,000 for each contract. And this is close to the reality: the NSF’s paleobiology program gives out between thirty and forty contracts each year, with an average value of $165,000 each. Thus, at any given time, there are about one hundred funded paleobiologists in America…Note also that there are a lot more than one hundred paleobiology professors in America, which means that most of them can’t do the research they were trained to do.

The heart of the book, though, is about her longtime friendship with her lab partner, Bill, who is unconventional, antisocial (er, maybe misanthropic would be a better word), stubborn, humorous, intelligent, and hard-working. In Bill she finds a true (non-romantic) partner to support her work and really, her heart. This part of the book gives it strength by rounding out the story, but it’s also the book’s only real flaw. Most likely Jahren’s preservation instinct is to blame; she’s clearly aware, even in terms of their friendship, of crossing any boundaries that might be too personal or reveal too much. While I appreciate that instinct, about halfway through the book the anecdotes involving her relationship with Bill start to become repetitive. Some of the action drives the story along (i.e., now we are here in this place, researching this new thing), but the exchanges between her and Bill start to seem like a couple of people performing a vaudeville act. I think this is less a function of the writing than the probably very real way they interact, but if you’ve ever spent time with two people who seem to have a shorthand or very particular way of interacting, you know it can be exasperating after a while. The good thing is that it’s very clear that they care for and support each other a great deal, even during the worst of times.

Ultimately, I felt like Jahren brought the same passion to her story about science and friendship that Patti Smith brought to her memoir Just Kids. Both books are about a bond, and about discovering a life’s passion (plants on one hand, poetry on the other). “Love and learning are similar in that they can never be wasted,” writes Jahren. Truer words were never spoken.

Top Ten…Er, Top Eight Tuesday: Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, asks us to list ten books we read in the last year or so that are outside our comfort zone. A simple enough question, but looking at the list of books I read over the past 15 months or so, not an easy one to answer. I don’t spend a lot of time reading outside my comfort zone, probably because the last few years reading has seemed like a struggle, so when I read, I don’t want it to be a challenge. Whatever book I pick up, I want it to be THE book.

That said, I do try to get outside my comfort zone now and again. None of these books are a huge stretch, but they are outside what’s been my more typical fare lately, which I guess I’d call modern literary fiction with a twist.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Assassination Vacation

Unfamiliar Fishes

Nonfiction. I read very little nonfiction, but in 2015 I read three books I’d normally not pick up: I read Into Thin Air because my mother (cough**book pusher**cough) kept insisting that I read it. She said it was terrific. In this, she was correct. I read Assassination Vacation as part of an effort to read from the TBR pile. I picked it because I bought it in 2005 and you know, figured it was time. I loved the way Sarah Vowell writes so much that I immediately bought two more of her books (thereby thwarting my efforts to read what I already had) and followed up Assassination Vacation with Unfamiliar Fishes, a book about the colonization and eventual statehood of Hawaii. (And weird aside: I kept picking up books last year that took me to the South Pacific during times of exploration and colonization: this one, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams. I highly recommend all three, and reading them close together gives you a rich experience.) I have Lafayette in the Somewhat United States sitting on my bedside table and am hoping to read it soon.

Big Little Lies

The Husband's Secret

Chick Lit. I don’t know. Maybe the “chick lit” label isn’t completely fair to Liane Moriarty. She’s just this side of writers like Gillian Flynn, Sophie Hannah, or Paula Hawkins, only because she deals more in the domestic space and focuses less on mystery. Either way, she has a razor-sharp way with characterization that makes her books compulsively readable. I liked Big Little Lies the best, but they were both solid efforts and would be perfect travel or beach reads.

The Signature of All Things

Possession

Landfalls

Historical Fiction. Okay, first: look at those covers! So gorgeous! Second: do you ever decide that you just HAVE to read a book RIGHT THIS SECOND? That’s what happened to me last year with The Signature of All Things. The joke was on me, because the used copy I bought turned out to have a whole set of pages missing in the book’s final section. Lucky for me, the people at Viking are wonderful and when I tweeted about the problem, they sent me a new copy immediately. This story of a female botanist in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries was absolutely captivating–the characters, the narrative, the science all swept me away.

The same thing happened to me with A.S. Byatt’s Possession—I decided I just had to read it so I bought a used copy. I think I should note here that while plenty of things are outside my wheelhouse, probably nothing is further than Victorian poetry. But this story of two modern scholars uncovering the mystery of a relationship between two Victorian poets through their poems, letters, and journals was outstanding.

Landfalls I bought for two reasons. First I read this post on the author’s blog about the origins of the story (I found the blog via an interview with the author, but I’ve lost that link), which starts with a map she believed was the San Francisco Bay but turned out to be some other place altogether from an Eighteenth century expedition that was ultimately lost. Second, even though I’m terrified of the ocean, I’m completely fascinated by maritime exploration during The Age of Discovery. I was so excited to discover this book that I pre-ordered it, and I was not disappointed. Told from various points of view of people on board the two ships that took that fateful journey, Landfalls is completely absorbing. This was Williams’s first novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

What genres are most outside your wheelhouse? Do you read historical fiction? If so, give me some recommendations!

My #10BooksofSummer Update; or, I Resent Most of the Leftovers

10 booksIn the interest of fun and making an ever-so-slight dent in my TBR, I joined Cathy’s #20BooksofSummer challenge back in June (although I must remind everyone that I am only reading 10 books because I have become the world’s slowest reader). Below is the current list, updated to show what I’ve read so far:

Unfamiliar Fishes, Sarah Vowell (read)
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead
My Antonia, Willa Cather (read)
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante (read)
Mind of Winter, Laura Kasischke
Annihilation, Jeff Vandermeer (read)
After I’m Gone, Laura Lippman
Cleopatra, Stacy Schiff
Black Water Rising, Attica Locke (DNF)
Dirty Love: Stories, Andre Dubus III
False Mermaid, Erin Hart

So in five weeks I’ve finished four books and abandoned one, Black Water Rising, at the 22 percent mark. I had high expectations for this one, but in all honesty the writing is clunky (with little tics of dialect like, “If he was gon’ do this, he was gon’ do it big.” and that’s the narrative, not dialog even. Ugh.), and the main character is a tired cliché (example: he’s older than his wife, and he’s reticent, and she suffers his silences because of what he’s been through in his life, but they are about to have a baby so she’s getting ready to give him an ultimatum and yadda yadda). I was interested in this novel because of the Civil Rights/racism perspective, and maybe I’ll pick it up again later, but a clunky freshman book is a clunky freshman book and I just didn’t have the patience. I’ve heard so many good things about her second one, The Cutting Season, so I think I’ll move on to that when I’m ready to pick another Locke. Ha. Not intentional. I replaced it with Erin Hart’s False Mermaid, the third in her Nora Gavin series. (You can read my thoughts about the first two in the series here and here.)

I also read about 25 percent (ah, ebooks) of Philipp Meyer’s The Son. I can’t remember why I started reading it, but wow it’s good. And violent. And good. I’ve been wanting to read this for so long because it’s set in the part of Texas where I was born and lived as a child, and also because I love Westerns. I’m a city person, I hate guns, I can’t stand Rick Perry (or Ted Cruz, that fake Texan), I drive an electric car, and so on, but my fascination with the Western U.S. (especially the Southwest) is strong. They probably did something to me in the hospital when I was born.

So yes, I have been cheating on my 10 books, but I have decided to get back on track and set aside The Son and read Stacy Schiff’s Cleopatra. I guess I could go on reading The Son, but something weird is happening with me this summer. All I want to do is read nonfiction. But if I had chosen all nonfiction it would have been more like the #3BooksofSummer challenge, because I read nonfiction so. very. slowly.  I tried to start both After I’m Gone and Mind of Winter because I thought I could get through them quickly, but they just weren’t holding my attention and I am starting to resent the remaining books on my list (except Cleopatra). Does this only happen to me?

I’ll also be working on a post about My Brilliant Friend and My Antonía (yes, together…they have some remarkable similarities). At least I’ve loved everything I finished, so here’s hoping that this most recent tweak helps continue the trend. Happy reading to all of you out there!

Books I Didn’t Really Need (But Bought Anyway)

For today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, we’re asked to list ten books that recently came into our possession. I wish I could say I shopped for books with a plan or a list, but I’m pretty random when it comes to buying. Either I’ll see something on sale, or I’ll just see something from my wishlist mentioned and decide I have to have it NOW.

When I was making this list, I noticed something interesting (to me, anyway): this list includes no advanced readers’ copies (ARCs). Last year, ARCs would have been more than 50 percent of my list, but after getting behind on reviews last year (and watching my own TBR backlist grow), I decided to stop requesting them. While it was fun to get early access to books by some of my favorite authors (Tana French, Donna Tartt, Kate Atkinson, to name a few), I also started to notice that more and more people were gaining access, which meant that any review really entered the noise on pub day. Back in Ye Olde Book Blogging Times (or even in 2009 when I started this blog), ARCs were somewhat rarer, so only a couple of bloggers would have early reviews. The rest of us were reading from a wide range of books instead of just the latest and greatest, and I’ll be honest: it was more fun for me to discover books that way, and maybe that’s why I’m having more fun this year with my TBR.

Here are my ten most recent purchases:

Possession, A.S. Byatt. I’ve been meaning to pick this up ever since I read The Children’s Book back in 2010. I’ve been in the mood for longer, dense books, but they don’t always make for good blogger habits, especially for someone like me who reads one book at a time. And look at that cover! So pretty!

Possession
The French Lieutenant’s Woman, John Fowles. Another one I’ve been meaning to get to since 2010, when I read The Magus and The Collector, both of which I enjoyed thoroughly.

The French Lieutenant's Woman
Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf. The final book from Haruf, one of my favorite writers, and the last installment of the series that began with Plainsong.

Our Souls at Night
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Bibliography, Laura Ingalls Wilder. I was a huge fan of the Little House books as a girl, so when I heard about this annotated autobiography I knew I had to have it. It’s a beautiful book and I’m sure it will be fascinating, but it’s hella big. I definitely won’t be reading it in bed.

Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography
A Dual Inheritance, Joanna Hershon. Let’s see, part campus novel, part friendship epic, preppies lounging on the cover…just had my name all over it.

A Dual Inheritance
Wonderland, Stacey D’Erasmo. In general I don’t think there are enough novels about musicians, but most certainly there aren’t enough about female musicians. This was all over Best Books lists in 2014.

Wonderland
Astonish Me, Maggie Shipstead. I loved Seating Arrangements, I love ballet, I was crazy about Mikhail Baryshnikov growing up, so…what, did you want more?

Astonish Me
My Brilliant Friend, Elena Ferrante. So many people have been talking about this trilogy, and the first book was on sale so I thought, why not? I’ve already read it and should have a review later this week, but here’s a sneak peek: This novel is Cat’s Eye meets Who Will Run the Frog Hospital?, set in post-WWII Naples, and it’s beautiful. (Haven’t read Cat’s Eye or Who Will Run the Frog Hospital? Then why are you still reading this post? Go find copies and read them!)

My Brilliant Friend

Cleopatra: A Life, Stacy Schiff. This has been on my wishlist since its pub day, and I swear I added it because I heard an interview with Schiff on Fresh Air but I cannot find a link to it. Maybe it was all a dream. Anyway, I’ve been in a non-fiction mood lately, even though I continue to read novels because it’s faster for the blog (and faster is a relative term here…ahem). It’s a conundrum, but at some point I’ll have to say so what and read this one. (An aside: I bought this through Google Books because I had some credit. Their reader seems to be okay, I think. Anyone have thoughts on this versus the Kindle/Kindle App?)

Cleopatra: A Life

Ready Player One, Ernest Cline. Another Google Books credit purchase, this novel just sounds like a fun escape. I have so little time to read and even less time to play games these days, so maybe I can get my fix reading a book about other people playing games. Certainly I understand that need to escape reality now and again (says the former Undead Priest. For the Horde!).

Ready Player One

Do you buy books based on a list or plan, or do you buy according to mood or occasion?

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Reads of 2015 (So Far)

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, asks us to list our ten favorite books of 2015 so far. Right at the beginning of April I went into a terrible reading slump that was only broken temporarily by re-reading Keith Lee Morris’s The Dart League King and then reading Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation. The result? I’ve read only 17 books so far this year. I think that’s a record low.

Nominating top ten favorites from such a short list feels weird, so I picked out five:

Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead
Skippy Dies, Paul Murray
The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert
Into Thin Air, Jon Krakauer
The Hand That First Held Mine, Maggie O’Farrell

And see, I already feel bad about leaving off The Lola Quartet, Claire DeWitt and the City of the Dead, and both of the Sarah Vowell books I’ve read. But if I had read more, certainly some of those would fall off the list.

Which brings me to this: If I’m being honest, I’d also have to say that I haven’t been a good reader lately, and there’s evidence. For one, my “review” of Skippy Dies, which was all just holycowIloveditbutnotsurewhykthanksbye. Oh gosh if that wouldn’t convince you to read it I don’t know what will! I also have a post about Seating Arrangements that I wrote months ago and kept meaning to put up–but when I looked over it it last week, thinking I might post it, I was sort of happy I never did. It was just a whole lot of yammering about preppies and New England and again ohIlovedititwassogood!

Not that I think I need to write deeply about every book I read, but looking back at older posts and thinking about my current situation, I realized I have fallen into some very general bad habits when it comes to reading. I don’t take notes anymore. I don’t highlight passages or mark pages. And clearly what’s worse is that I am reading mindlessly. I’m enjoying things in the minute without really thinking about why. I suppose this sort of “love the one you’re with” approach to reading is okay once in a while. But that’s not why I got into this whole blogging thing. I got into it to talk about books. Not even to “review” them or assign them arbitrary star ratings. That definitely isn’t why I read. I read because I am interested in writing, and I like to talk about writing, and to talk about how the books I read fit into life, reading or otherwise. So if I can make a half-year resolution, it’s to be a better reader—not necessarily to read more, but more deeply than I have been.