Monthly Archives: February 2016

Another Update

I feel like I’ve been making some serious progress on this Reading Challenge deal – although my thesis is still relatively un-done, but that’s okay… I still have two weeks to get a full draft of at least 80 pages completed… and I already have about 15… so that’s fine…

So, the update.  I’ve read:

  • something aloud to someone else (The Somethingosaur by Tony Mitton to my nephew, and then niece)
  • a middle grade novel (Pax by Sara Pennypacker)
  • a National Book Award Winner (Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me)
  • a book about religion (C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters)
  • a 20th century classic (The Color Purple, which was also Emma Watson’s bookclub pick for February)
  • a book set in my home state (The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth Mackenzie)
  • a book translated into English (Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue)

And it’s about these last two that I just want to take a moment.

See, on Goodreads, you can only give full stars.  Which is great on one hand and terrible on another.  Because these two books deserved (in my opinion) 3.5 stars.  So I rounded down and gave them both 3.  Giving a book 4 stars means I can confidently recommend it to everyone I know (that would be interested).  Giving a book 3 stars means I enjoyed it all right, but wouldn’t go out of my way to convince someone it’s the best book in the world.

The Portable Veblen is a strange book that takes place mostly in Paolo Alto and follows Veblen and her boyfriend-turned-fiance as they try to navigate crazy families and workplaces and what makes them what they are.  And it’s… fine…?  I think I enjoyed it.  But that’s the trouble.  After 100 pages, I thought I liked it.  At 200, I didn’t think I did.  At 300, I was pretty sure I didn’t like it, but I only had a little over 100 to go, so I finished.  And I think I liked it at the end.  The best part of the whole novel is the squirrel that Veblen talks(?) to that eventually gets a chapter of his own.  I told you it was strange.

It’s just a tough book to find a way to sell to someone.  Like, I’m really grateful I borrowed it instead of buying it because I don’t like it enough to pay $$$ for it.  But I’m glad I read it.  I think.  It’s just a little too off-center for me.  (There’s a reason I like my writers old and dead.)

Enrigue’s Sudden Death is, like Veblen, tough to sell, but I think I enjoyed it more.  It’s completely bizarre.  Like, seriously, try to read any reviews of it and people say it’s riveting, it’s great, it’s intellectual, it’s brilliant.  I found it strange and kind of great.  But it’s for a special type of person that I don’t think would appreciate the completely different nature of the work.  Basically, Caravaggio (yes, that Caravaggio) is playing a tennis match against a Spaniard and they’re going to “sudden death.”  But in between points, you get transported around time and continents, hearing a story about Hernán Cortés and then about Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the creation of tennis balls from her hair and then about the writer and his attempts to write this book and then some stuff about Caravaggio and you basically get wrapped up in a million short essays that are all united by this tennis match that Enrigue has constructed and it’s boggling.  There’s a chapter in there that I really liked that focused on translation and how it changes the meanings of works.  And, knowing that I’m reading a book translated into English made me read it differently.

So again, it’s a tough book to sell to just anyone because it’s pretty much a limited audience.  It’s good, and worth a read if this is your thing, but it’s weird.  And you might not understand what you just read when you finish it.

In non-challenge news, I also read Dear Pope Francis, which is wonderful because the Pope does not shy away from the tough questions children from around the world ask him, and The Warden by Anthony Trollope (which was for class, not pleasure).  I’m also working on Barchester Towers, another Trollope, and am going to have to finish it within the next two weeks because, well, it’s required reading.  It’s better than The Warden, though, so I’m finding it less troublesome than before.

In any case, I’ve lost count of my RC2016 success (I think I’m at 15/63?), but it doesn’t matter because I’m ahead of schedule and that means I have a chance to sit myself down and really get some schoolwork done.  Whoo.

As always, find a new book at your local indie – and see if they read Veblen or Sudden Death and listen to what they think.  I’m curious how anyone else has taken either, or both.

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The Art of Asking

theartofasking_imageSometimes there’s a book that I pick up because I like the author.  Sometimes there’s a book I pick up because I like the cover.  Sometimes there’s a book I pick up because I’ve heard things about it.

And then there’s Amanda Palmer’s The Art of Asking.  I looked at it first because the cover intrigued me.  And then I thought it sounded pretty good.  And then I thought, “Oh my goodness.  She’s married to Neil Gaiman.”

So if you couldn’t tell, I’m a fan of NG.  Like, I think he’s easily one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever heard of.  Other than, like, Jesus, Pope John Paul II, Mother Theresa, and my parents.  Duh.  But he’s right up there.

Thus, finding out that his wife (who must be equally awesome because, NG) wrote this cool looking book about a meaningful concept meant that I was going to read it.

And let me tell you, it’s worth reading.

Palmer’s book is one of those books that, if you are female or a worrier or bad at asking or sensitive or artistic or a human being, you should read.  Mainly because it’s deeply personal, full of experience, and full of beauty.  The inclusion of her lyrics and photographs adds to her understanding of art and artists because she’s been there.  I mean, if there’s anyone who can say “been there, done that,” it seems like she might be the one.

And this is something we should celebrate endlessly.  I might not be someone willing to sacrifice everything for my art (because, frankly, I don’t know what my art is yet), but I have the utmost respect for those who do.  Because there is a level of bravery that they possess to which I can only aspire.

I’m counting this as my “self improvement” book because it inspires me to do something I’m really bad at: asking.  I think our culture generally does encourage us to be strong individuals and do things all by ourselves, which Palmer addresses, and I believe she is right to say that we all should be asking.  For help, for clothes, for encouragement, for love, for attention, for everything we need as human beings.

Asking is one of the scariest things you can do.  People can say no.  People can laugh.  People can make you feel insignificant.  But you’ll never know if you never ask.

So my goal is that, now that I have read The Art of Asking, I’m going to try to ask more.  Because I am human, and I need help.  And if I need help, I need to accept that sometimes only another person can give me what I need.

Conclusion: read this book.  It’s relatively short, incredibly good, and something from which we can all learn.  All the love in the world to AP, who has truly inspired me.

Now available in paperback from your local independent bookstore.

P.S. This makes me 9/63 on my Reading Challenge.  Whoo!

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Reading Challenge 2016: Update

Well, well, well.  Another day, another celebration of Harry Potter.  Having just survived a really fantastic (and completely packed) HP event at work, I decided I should show you just how far along in my challenge I am.  Spoiler: I’ve done 8/63.  Hooray!

  1. Eligible – see previous post
  2. Rules for a Knight by Ethan Hawke (yes, that Ethan Hawke) – Wonderful book, sweet and insightful and meaningful.  You can read it in one sitting and just enjoy it.  Seriously, get this one.
  3. My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem – The first pick for Emma Watson’s bookclub (Our Shared Shelf on Goodreads), this is pretty interesting.  It’s not thrilling, it’s not one that I necessarily think you should buy, but since I borrowed it from the library, it was worth reading.  As a young woman in America right now, it seems like one of those books I should read, even if I’m not sure I really needed to read it.
  4. King Edward III (allegedly) by William Shakespeare – Awesome.  I love the fact that this is one of those plays that people kind of think was written by Billy Boy because it fits his histories and it uses similar language.  I love pretty much all things Shakespeare, especially when it’s his histories, so I found this really interesting.  Also, who actually learns about Edward III?  Not me.  Fun, worth reading, short.  It’s a play, too, so occasionally it’s fun to read aloud to yourself…
  5. Lumberjanes (Vol. 1) by Noelle Stevenson – Fun comic series, lots of girl-power moments.  Love the illustrations and am interested in Vol. 2.  Maybe I’ll add that to another list…
  6. The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine – COMING FEB. 16TH.  One of my coworkers snagged the ARC for this book and said I’d enjoy it, so I borrowed it and will freely admit I read it in two days because it’s a fun teen read.  Redwine is retelling Snow White, and it’s in the style of Snow White and the Huntsman, but it’s how that movie should have been.  No mopey K-Stew. with her weird faces, but instead a legitimately badass princess who’s trying to save her kingdom.  Also love the prince in this (spoiler: he can turn into a dragon!) and how the fairytale is dealt with.  Worth a read if you’re in the mood.
  7. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson – While it’s not as charming as A Walk in the Woods (which had me howling with laughter just about every page), it’s still Bryson, so it’s still utterly delightful.  This time he’s going around Britain, trying to see the most he can.  He has such hilarious insights into the quirks of cultures and the utter strangeness of human beings generally, plus this time it’s British, so obviously I’m going to love it.  A fun book, and worth reading especially now that the “sequel,” The Road to Little Dribbling is now available.
  8. North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell – One of my all-time favorite books, and the book upon which I am writing my thesis.  Obviously, I love it.  And I recommend it.  Because it’s delightful.  As is the BBC 2004 adaptation starring Richard Armitage.

So… 8/63.  Looking pretty good for it being only February.  Notice I have not yet attempted to take on the 500+ page challenge, nor have I chosen the book that “intimidates” me.  We shall see how this goes.

Meanwhile, I’m working on The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer, the delightful wife of the completely fantastic Neil Gaiman (!!!).  It’s charming and meaningful and completely enjoyable.  It also makes me often want to say aloud, “I’ve so been there!”  I think I’m counting this as my “self improvement” book, because I’m feeling like if she’s done it, I can do it.  And by “it,” I mean survive the world in which we live.

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