Posts Tagged ‘reading’

Spring Revision

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

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There is something uplifting about the early spring: crisp air and hot sun or the neon green of new grass against the grey of cooler rainy days. When I was a kid, our neighbors forsythia would burst into canary yellow blooms and in it’s shade was a small patch of vinca, a spring flowering ground cover. I loved those little purple flowers so much. I would pick a few and put them in a glass of water, then present them to my father with a sandwich for his lunch.

I knew when we moved into this house that vinca grew all over our property because there was still a flower lingering here and there, but it’s another thing all together to see our home blanketed in it. It feels right and special. I miss the gardens we’d begun at our old home – lightly neglected herbs and perennial flowers that bloomed throughout the spring, summer, and fall. Some fragrant, some colorful. But the vinca and forsythia and azaleas are enough for now. I traipsed around the yard with my oldest child this weekend, searching out these early blooming flowers, discovering the plantings around our new home. We started up the grill and I even broke out my iced tea press so you know I’m committed to this fresh, fine weather.

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Spring should be the season to review feedback — see where the revisions you’ve made have born fruit, as it were — but here I am still revising: planting the bulbs late, moving things around, hoping nothing sprouts stunted. This winter/early spring has been mostly snow and sick days. I should just give in to the fact that nothing of significance ever gets written in February in my home. But the sunshine and above freezing temperatures, the pastels and yellows and greens of April are warming me up. So! Writerly updates!

  1. I wrote a short story! And I submitted it to an anthology! And it got rejected! But that’s okay! It was about a boy and first contact with an alien shaped like a tiny pink pony and it was really fun to write and totally one hundred percent different from my novel which was a much-needed change of pace.
    1. I thought writing short stories after writing a novel would be a piece of cake. I was wrong.
    2. I really want the next big project I work on to be funny.
  2. I taught another event building workshop in March. In fact, I’m making a bit of a side business of helping authors plan and market book events. Because apparently I need more to do.
    1. When I couldn’t think of how to fix my novel, I made a website for my event coaching business. I  am now taking select clients.
    2. I have another workshop scheduled in June. You should come!
  3. I’m now doing a monthly marketing blog post for the Writer’s Loft blog, Loftings.
  4. I’ve been plugging away at revisions but it’s slow. I hit a big snag with The Month of February and then working through a really thorny chapter that had me stumped. Plus planning for my workshop. But! It goes!
  5. I read some books in January and February (highlights included Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson and the first few Company books by Kage Baker) but nothing much since. I’m currently enjoying the compilation of letters between Julia Child and Avis DeVoto because I love J.C. and because I can read it in little pieces before bed.

I am almost through revising Part 2 of 3 so that is a good feeling. I need to go back and continue to comb through the rough, messy parts. I was so hoping this draft would be wrapped up in another month or so but it may need longer. And then reading. And probably one more draft (not sure how deep of one, hard to say).

key

I have days when I swear I am not smart enough for this, that I have nothing original to say. I have days when things slot together like an elaborate line of tumblers, unlocking something deep inside the story so I can see a bit of light shining through from the end, from the place this story could be.

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Deep Revision

Thursday, December 15th, 2016

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The year continues to challenge me, emotionally and physically and ideologically. I’ve learned a lot about open-mindedness, humility, empathy, strength, and endurance. And this is a writing blog and so I will talk about writing. Or the not writing.

I received feedback on Draft #2! And one of the few constants in the past couple months is the time I’ve spent compiling that feedback into a series of documents.

1) A scribbly hard copy: A compilation of everyone’s notes/typo corrections/stylistic changes onto a single paper manuscript.

2) The Hit List: A running list of Big Edits and changes that need to be made.

3) The Chapter-by-Chapter Revision Spreadsheet of Doom: An excel spreadsheet with chapter summaries and the Big Edits/nitty gritty edits that need to be made to each chapter, along with the new characters and ideas introduced.

I think I’ve spent enough time collating and collaborating and cogitating and I need to actually crack open the Scrivener project file and start implementing. Eep. *bites into another chocolate bar*

Most of the feedback has been both enthusiastic and helpful. Some of it is big questions that can be answered simply – the addition or deletion of a sentence that clarifies something, for example. Some of it is big questions that need big thinking. One of the problems I’ve struggled with from the beginning is my protagonist’s motivation in the opening chapters. One reader narrowed it down to the question: “Why today?” Why does she choose to follow a stranger on a wild adventure? What does that stranger offer that fills some lack in the protagonist’s life?  So I’ve been doing some deep thinking. I’m not sure I’m totally there yet on some of this. In a strange infinite-feebback-loop kind of way, I find I do my best writing while… I’m… writing? Meaning once I am hip deep in the story, I can think more clearly about how to implement the changes that I know need to be made and untangle it on the page rather than just in my head. Because the writing is never as glittery-sparkle-diamond as it is in a writer’s mind.

(Trust me, every writer has written a perfect book. It’s shelved upstairs.)

But life has been throwing up obstacles, as usual, both positive and negative. I haven’t written in months. I’ve thought, I’ve collated, I’ve packed books, I’ve unpacked books, and I’ve read an enormous amount (midnight nursing sessions + smartphone + downloaded library ebooks = more reading time than I’ve had in a year). Soon, now, I’ll need to put fingers to keyboard and write again. REVISE. Bring out the scalpel and the needle and cut and stitch this draft into something new.

But it feels close. Closer. Soon.

 

Ps. I’m teaching another event building workshop in March! Stay tuned for details.

Pps. What books have I been reading you ask?

Old favorites:
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick
Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede (Morwen4Eva)

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Enjoyable new finds:
Delicious!
 by Ruth Reichl
Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Highly recommend:
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
The Liminal People by Ayize Jama-Everett
The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex
Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books

 

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100 word review:
All The Birds in the Sky

Thursday, May 26th, 2016

This is part of a series of 100 word book reviews

AlltheBirds

All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
Published by Tor Books, January 2016
checked out of the library
Read in May 2016

Target audience: Young Adult, Adult

Outcasts Patricia and Laurence became unlikely childhood friends despite asking different questions – Is magic real? Can technology save the world? When they reconnect years later after a long estrangement, it looks like they’ve both found what they wanted… but the world has other plans. Quirky, intimate, modern, and compassionate, Birds blends magical realism and futurism to mirror the connections and conflicts between nature and technology. Anders does a remarkable job of making large problems personal and personal problems earth shattering. She never takes her storytelling too seriously but uses a deft hand to reveal character details without overburdening her writing.

Should I read it? Definitely. Highly recommended for fans of The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, The Young Wizards series by Diane Duane, and The Magicians trilogy by Lev Grossman.

 

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Re-Reading The Blind Assassin

Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Blind AssassinOne of the myths about working at a bookstore is that aside from selling the books on your shelves, your job is to just to read all day. Ahhh, that sounds lovely. Well, while reading is certainly implicit, if anything, I read less than I did before I started working there (though my cumulative knowledge of books in general expanded ten fold). Now, this is all relative – I’m a big reader so “less” for me is still considerably above average for most – but one of the ways I planned to begin my recalibration from “bookstore employee” to “self-employee” was to re-read one of my favorite books, The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood.

Hot damn people, Ms. Atwood is good. Her books are not happy books – they are striking books. They leave you stricken. They challenge and ignite. I wanted to re-read her because in the past when I’ve read The Blind Assassin, I have wanted to peel the words from the page and put them in my own mouth to make them my own. I bet that if you dig around in the archives here, you’ll find another post in which I’ve said the exact same thing. I don’t care. Her writing is exquisite.

When I first read The Blind Assassin, I was in college. It was a secret Santa gift from a friend. I read it at precisely the right time, you know what I mean? When a book seems to be perfectly aligned with your mood, interests, and needs at a specific time in your life? This book was it for me. I was taking workshops where we were reading First Light by Charles Baxter and The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith and The Secret History by Donna Tartt. The Blind Assassin was this gripping, intense, literary book that braided together a historical narrative, science fiction, romantic affairs, news clippings, a character driven storyline (or two or three) and above all a mystery. I remember getting two-thirds of the way through and the heightened sense of tension as I began to suspect the ending; the mounting sense of “Is that it? Am I right?” as I barreled through the final pages. It was the sort of book I desperately wanted to write myself.

It had a huge influence on my writing. If you read any of my work from college you’ll see I began to emulate her style of metaphor, her tendency to end paragraphs with potent, impacting sentences or images. Edgy, beautiful, dark passages like:

“The snow fell, softly at first, then in hard pellets that stung the skin like needles. The sun set in the afternoon, the sky changed from washed blood to skim milk. Smoke poured from the chimneys, from the furnaces stoked with coal. The bread-wagon horses left piles of steaming brown buns on the street which then froze solid. Children threw them at one another. The clocks struck midnight, over and over, every midnight a deep blue-black riddled with icy stars, the moon white bone. I looked out the bedroom window, down to the sidewalk, through the branches of the chestnut tree. Then I turned out the light.” (334)

Since reading The Blind Assassin for the first time, I’ve read a ton of her work – short fiction, novels, poetry, essays, book reviews. When you read deeply of a writer, you almost get a character study of her – her voice, revisited themes, memories that made a big enough impact that the show up in story after story, different iterations and different angles. I don’t like everything she’s written: I didn’t enjoy Alias Grace and felt like Lady Oracle was an undeveloped precursor to her vastly superior (and one of my favorites) Cat’s Eye. I love the sharp left turn of Oryx & Crake and The Year of the Flood. I have only met Atwood once, when she signed my book along with two hundred other people, but I feel like I know her. Know her style at least.

This was my fourth time reading The Blind Assassin. I almost wrote here “I wonder if you can re-read a book too many times” but then I realized that isn’t precisely it. When you know a book well enough, know it’s twists and turns, it can color your entire reading. I realized as I dug into it again, eagerly at first and then with some dismay, that the book was so much heavier, darker, and longer than I remembered. All of the things I knew and loved about Atwood’s style were there but, well, I wasn’t. The reader I am at this moment is not the reader that clung to those pages on her first, second, and third read. It was a much harder read this time around, knowing the fates of these characters, knowing how far they had to go and how they’d be scarred by it. I sat reading in the early summer sun, trying to understand a little more about the writer I want to be.

I thought I wanted to be the next Margaret Atwood, once upon a time. In a lot of ways, I still strive towards her precision of voice and images, her tightly woven character plots. But I’ve read a lot of books since then, met a lot of writers, written a number of stories. In school, The Blind Assassin gave me that taste of sci-fi, when I was knee deep in the “literature” of my undergraduate writing courses. It showed me that stories didn’t have to be linear or all told in flashbacks – that they could move sideways or meander between the worlds of truth, fiction, and further fiction. I would still recommend it to people, wholeheartedly, though it isn’t an easy book. If you are new to Atwood, I might recommend starting with her short story collection Moral Disorder or her classic The Handmaid’s Tale.

This is an extremely long way of saying that while still in the pantheon of my favorite works, I’m not sure The Blind Assassin is number one anymore (sorry, Ms. Atwood!) How have your reading tastes changed over time? Did you have a favorite that didn’t hold up to re-reading at a later date?

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Favorite Reads of 2012: Non-fiction

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but when I do it tends to be travel or food memoir, occasionally biography. Or cookbooks, but do those count?

Non-FictionWild

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

This is not a smug, self-indulgent memoir-of-a-woman-finding-herself. It’s a raw, heart-felt memoir of a woman losing herself and then finding that she was strong enough to endure that loss and rebuild.

Wild is a book about making crazy, irrational decisions that are rooted in primal needs: to be loved, to have love, to find love. It’s a book about the hunger for connection. About the way we challenge ourselves in order to prove we are deserving of love, only to discover the only person we had to prove anything to was to ourselves. Cheryl Strayed writes about her experience hiking out the grief and despair of trading in one life for another. Reading this book during a year of transition was a balm; no matter what you’re going through, everyone can use a bit of wisdom from Strayed, who also writes as the heart-felt, ugly, sassy, and gut-wrenching Sugar at Dear Sugar on therumpus.com. In all of her writing she holds up her own life as an example and a warning and matter-of-factly – not making excuses for her choices, but revealing what informed them. Using her life as a lesson for others who are also struggling. Again, personal history.

If you haven’t read Wild or Cheryl Strayed’s Dear Sugar column on therumpus.com or her new, also-incredible-non-fiction-read-from-2012 Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar, then you absolutely must stop everything and do one of those three things immediately. It may very well change your life.

Honorable Mention: Aside from Tiny Beautiful Things? Probably My Homemade Life by Molly Wizenberg.

Oh, and if cookbooks DO count:

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman.
Seriously folks, this book is awesome. I read it cover to cover. Like a real book. Who does that?

Previously: 2012 Kids Favorite Reads
2012 Science Fiction & Fantasy Favorite Reads
2012 Speculative Fiction & Fiction Favorite Reads
2012 Young Adult Favorite Read
s

Previously previously: 2010 Faves

And looking ahead:

A few of the books I am looking forward to reading in 2013, in no particular order:

  • The Raven Boys and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Steifvater
  • The Twelve by Justin Cronin
  • Because it is My Blood by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Finnikin of the Rock by Melina Marchetta
  • Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child by Bob Spitz
  • The Dervish House by Ian McDonald
  • Okay for Now and What Came from the Stars by Gary Schmidt
  • Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
  • a whole lot of books by Terry Pratchett
  • The Dragon’s Tooth by ND Wilson
  • The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
  • Nurtureshock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman
  • The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones
  • Frances and Bernard by Carlene Bauer
  • Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (releases 2013)
  • The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane (!!!!!!) by Neil Gaiman (releases in 2013)
  • The Doors of Stone by Patrick Rothfuss (releases in 2013)
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Favorite Reads of 2012: Kids

Thursday, February 14th, 2013

So while most of the author events I plan for my bookstore are for young readers, I am ashamed to say that of all the kinds of books I read in 2012, I read the least number of books for kids. I did read a number of picture books (babies will do that to you); I don’t usually include those in my annual tally or track them on goodreads, but I’ve listed a few at the bottom that I thought were a lot of fun.

Kids

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

WonderThis book is like Marcelo in the Real World for younger readers. Our protagonist, Auggie, was born with a severe facial deformity. But this year he’s starting fifth grade at a mainstream school – and encountering all the complications that come with being the new kid and someone who looks different. But where Wonder is unique, is that it examines Auggies situation through multiple points-of-view – Auggie, his sister, her friends, the kids he meets at school. Normally this many viewpoints in a middle grade novel would seem confusing (all the voices sounding the same) or unnecessary, but in this case the author uses these different voices to show all sides of human character – when we try too hard; when we do the right thing, even if it hurts; when we do whatever we can to fit in; when we hurt a friend and don’t know how to make it right; when we say things we don’t really mean; when we want to be someone we’re not.

Wonder is uplifting, funny, sad, tough, just like Auggie. This book doesn’t pull punches either – it challenges kids to think and talk about how to connect with each other, even when it seems hard.

Honorable Mention: Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead; Winterling by Sarah Prineas

 

Picture Books

morris lessmore

“Everyone’s story matters.”

dragons love tacos

“The only things that dragons love more than tacos and parties are taco parties.”

goldilocks

“The first bowl of chocolate pudding was too hot, but Goldilocks ate it all anyway because, hey, it’s chocolate pudding, right?”

squid and octopus

“Obviously what we really need is a hot pot of tea.”

duck sock hop

“Socks with stars and socks with moons / socks with cars and socks with spoons”

Previously: 2012 Science Fiction & Fantasy Favorite Reads
2012 Speculative Fiction & Fiction Favorite Reads
2012 Young Adult Favorite Read
s

Previously previously: 2010 Faves

Next: Non-fiction

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Favorite reads of 2012: Young Adult

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

I have a bone to pick with a lot of YA fiction. I think it’s incredible, the amount of really great YA literature that is available right now — I’ve read a ton of great YA books this year — but at the same time, I also find that some YA authors write their books with, shall we say, the edges filed off. They’re soft, they’re safe. They feel ineffectual. These two books (and the honorable mentions… please, check those out too, really!) are nothing like that.

Young Adult – Fantasy

Among Others by Jo Walton

This might just be my favorite book read in 2012.AmongOthers

I picked up Among Others because it won a Nebula, had a gorgeous cover, and because I had seen Jo Walton’s name on a number of books but never read her. The book was written for adults but is also marketed to teens. So maybe I’m cheating by calling it my favorite “young adult” fantasy novel I’ve read this year, but still. I had to include this book on my list and I like having everything in neat categories and so.

The story here is so simple and yet so complex it may be easiest to just start at the beginning. The book starts off after a terrible tragedy that has left our protagonist, Mori, crippled, and her twin sister dead. Mori has escaped her evil mother and has come to live with her remote father. She is enrolled in a boarding school where she is an outcast because of her injuries, her background, and her intelligence. The story is about Mori adapting to this new life, while being haunted by the specters of her past and fighting the urge to do the small magicks that might make her new and difficult life just a little bit easier.

So no, there isn’t a lot of action in this book. The action has all (for the most part) happened before the first page. There isn’t a lot of spell casting and wand waving and sorcerers. There are fairies, of a sort. There is a witch. The magic is subtle, deceptive, and dangerous. But the story, the true story, is about Mori. It’s about the ways in which she is able to grow into a young woman, despite loneliness, despite feeling like half of a whole, despite knowing secrets no one would believe. All of these traits are what keep people at arms length. But she is resilient and finds other loves to fill the empty spaces. Like books.

Among Others is an homage to great books. The story takes place in 1979, right at the cusp of the golden age of science fiction. And Mori is a voracious reader – she drinks in books like she is dying of thirst. Among Others is told in diary entries and consists largely of Mori discussing the books she’s reading and how they compare to other books she’s read or wants to read. She’s an exacting critic but it’s easy to see how she uses books to try to answer deeper questions for which she doesn’t yet have answers.

This book is a treasure. Just talking about it now makes me want to go back and re-read it. If you were anything like me as a teenager (seeking the greatness that you knew must exist just beneath the surface of the world and potentially beneath the surface of your own self); if you read everything you could get your hands on; if science fiction and fantasy made your brain expand and shaped the person you are today; then you must read Among Others.

Honorable Mentions: Son by Lois Lowry; Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

 

Young Adult – Realistic Fiction

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

0-545-05474-5I had heard a number of excellent things about this book and when a friend of mine gushed over how she couldn’t put it down, I immediately checked it out of the library. In some ways this bears a bit of a resemblance to Among Others – the protagonist is an outcast who perceives the world differently – but in the case of Marcelo, it isn’t magic, it’s autism. Marcelo is mildly autistic and fairly high-functioning, but it sets him apart from mainstream society – he hears music no one else can hear, struggles to correctly interpret social situations, has a deep connection with horses and animals, and is knowledgeable about religion with a savant like clarity. When his father insists that he spend the summer interning at his law firm to get him out into “the real world.” Marcelo resists, preferring the cloistered world of his special school. But when that is jeopardized by the threat of having to attend the local high school in the fall, Marcelo agrees to try the internship.

And so proceeds a story of adaptation, growth, and justice as Marcelo learns to navigate “the read world.” But the key is Marcelo’s voice. Stork perfectly captures this unique young man’s personality, his insightfulness and quirks, and offers him to us as a lens through which to view ourselves. Ultimately, Marcelo faces a moral choice, for which he must call upon everything he has learned about people, religion, and himself over the course of this remarkable summer. Marcelo in the Real World challenges readers, teens or otherwise, to reach outside of their comfort zone.

Honorable Mentions: Just One Day by Gayle Forman

Previously: 2012 Science Fiction & Fantasy Favorite Reads
2012 Speculative Fiction & Fiction Favorite Reads
Previously previously: 2010 Faves

Next: Kids

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Favorite reads of 2012: Speculative Fiction and [Straight-up] Fiction

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

Sometimes I feel like I’d like to rearrange my personal library to reflect the way a book made me feel rather than who it’s by, what it’s called, or what color it is (though that would be purty). Case in point: The Age of Miracles I would shelve next to The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, and maybe Never Let Me Go by Kasuo Ishiguro. Maybe I’d event put The Passage by Justin Cronin on that shelf too. I’d call it “beautiful sad stories of a terrible future’s past.”

I think that deserves a longer post… so for now, more book love!

Speculative Fiction

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The-Age-of-Miracles[Ok, ok, I’ll give it to you straight… I made up this category. I mean, like, “speculative fiction” is a thing, but so is “slipstream” and I don’t know what the hell that is either. Pretty much there were some books that defied categorization (see my thoughts above) so I lumped them together. Huzzah! ]

At the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) meeting in fall of 2011, a sales rep passed me a set of bound pages for this book, saying “We don’t have galleys yet, but you must read this. Tell me what you think.” I failed him. I didn’t read the pages until the book was practically on the shelves already. I’m sorry I waited so long.

The what if of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles is “What if the earth’s rotation began to slow?” But the story of this book is not just this inexplicable natural disaster, but the effect disaster and uncertainty can have on society, families, and on an individual’s personal history.

This is the first of several coming-of-age stories I fell in love with this year. Julia, our protagonist, is only eleven when the great slowing begins. It profoundly alters the world in which she lives – days and nights grow longer disturbing gravity, the environment, and how humans mark time. And yet… and yet Julia’s problems are much more intimate: her parent’s marriage, the loss of a best friend, the shy observations of her crush, the strange behavior of her grandfather. This is a quiet but affecting book. There is no great plot twists or action sequences, just the eerie dissolution of ‘normal’ life. As soon as the characters have adjusted to some new change, something else is affected.

Julia tells the story from a vantage point somewhere in the future, so her reflections are tinged with nostalgia, melancholy, dread, and hope. But it’s a beautiful sadness, evocative and well-written. The book is simultaneously full of longing for the future and the past. This is a feeling I know well, so perhaps that’s why I felt such a strong connection.  When I read this book, I was in Florida, somewhere I’ve visited for most of the winters of my life. Something about that layered nostalgia, the disconnect of winter and heat, the timelessness of being somewhere different but familiar, the melancholy of knowing things are ending, all of these personal feelings resonated so perfectly with the tone of the book that I think I will always remember exactly where I was when I was reading it.

Honorable Mentions: The Mirage by Matt Ruff; The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

 

Fiction

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

kavalierandclayI really enjoyed The Yiddish Policeman’s Union and Gentleman of the Road and I had heard nothing but great things about Kavalier and Clay. It did win the Pulitzer after all. I was not disappointed.

Chabon’s characters have immense staying power; I feel as if they are people from my own past – old friends or relatives – rather than fictional characters. He builds his characters, step by step, guiding you through their personal histories. The story itself –the instrumental role two young men play in the growth and decline of the comic book industry – is layered with meaning because the reader is brought into this intimate world of the past. This is a book about history and heroism and how the definition of those two things can change, depending on perspective. Can a person be considered a hero just for surviving? Can we re-write history? What do superheroes reveal about our own desires?

I also found myself really absorbing the Jewish and immigrant experiences that Chabon delves into, relating them to my own family’s history. This book is funny, smart, and expertly written. A long book, but well worth reading through to the end. Really, how can you not find out what happens to these people? They’ve become like family.

Honorable Mentions: The Map of True Places by Brunonia Barry; The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

Previously: 2012 Science Fiction & Fantasy Favorite Reads
Previously previously: 2010 Faves

Next: 2012 Young Adult Favorite Reads

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Favorite reads of 2012: Sci-fi & Fantasy

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

This is the first part in a multi-part series of posts wherein I review my favorite reads of 2012.

In 2012, I read 72 books (my goal was 75) and a total of 26, 414 pages. I only know this because I do my best to keep track of my reading on goodreads.com and then it keeps tracks of handy things like page count, number of books, ratings, genre, all that jazz. I read quite a bit of science fiction, books for adults and for teens, fantasy and speculative fiction, a smattering of kids books. I’ll be reviewing a favorite from each genre, and listing a couple of honorable mentions. Not all of these books were published in 2012.

As I’ve sifted through the titles to choose my favorites, several themes have emerged: most are “coming of age” stories in some way; nearly all of them are in first person; and their characters and stories have all lingered with me. And you should read all of them. You know, if they sound like your cup of tea.

What were some of your favorite books that you read last year?

Science Fiction

Embassytown by China Miéville
(from my Goodreads review)
EmbassyTown
EMBASSYTOWN is the Miéville book I’ve been waiting for.

I’ve read a few books by China Miéville and I keep wanting to love them, but always came away slightly disappointed. I enjoyed THE CITY & THE CITY, but found the ending to be confusing and a bit anti-climatic. I loved the first 2/3rds of THE SCAR but the ending felt like a total let-down. I tired to get in to UN LUN DUN and it just didn’t hold me. I’ve read most of PERDIDO STREET STATION and find the world incredibly well-built but also so immense that I felt like I had to take a break (despite the terrifying and intense plot!) But EMBASSYTOWN has renewed my faith… I held my breath for almost the entire thing, constantly afraid that the book I was coming to love might ultimately disappoint… and was wonderfully, incredibly relieved to find that no, it was really the great book I wanted it to be.

I think what was most successful about EMBASSYTOWN was it’s scope. Where as PERDIDO felt like Miéville was tackling an entire world, EMBASSYTOWN has more of a small-town feel. Like in TC&TC, the book is centered on the eccentricities of this particular town and it’s inhabitants, politics, social mores, traditions, etc. This book is also told in first person which I found refreshing (though his first-person-female narration is less convincing — sorry China, your voice always comes off as masculine to me) and helped with the slow reveal of the plot. The fact that Avice is a hometown girl who has left and then returned to Embassytown gives her a unique perspective, even if I wasn’t fully convinced that it would have given her the free reign she exhibits amongst the highest echelon.

EMBASSYTOWN is about the power of language and the power of communication. The relationship between the town’s human (and otherwise) inhabitants with their Hosts is intelligently and fascinatingly well-wrought. I loved his exploration of how the Hosts do (and don’t) communicate, and how that has shaped the development of Embassytown and it’s relation to other planetary powers. There’s moral and social questions, political intrigue, Miéville’s classic “crisis” that you have no idea how his characters are going to figure/fight their way out of… but this time the ending was immensely satisfying. And his world-building and writing were, as always, exquisite.

One word of warning: Miéville drops you right into the world of Embassytown with little pre-amble (I didn’t read the back of the book going in) and he bombards you with terminology unique to this new world. This can initially prove frustrating and challenging. Don’t worry, everything gets explained and defined in time and it’s fascinating to watch how he reveals things to the reader that the narrator is already fully-aware of. It can be disorienting… but please don’t let it be cause to put this book down. Stick with this one, it’s worth it.

Honorable Mentions: Caliban’s War by James S. A. Corey; A Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge; The Long Earth by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

Fantasy

The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
NameoftheWind

I came late to the Name of the Wind fan club and the only reason I’m not regretting it is that it allowed me to read The Wise Man’s Fear immediately afterwards and I don’t have to wait quite forever for the third book, The Doors of Stone, to come out in 2013. While I don’t typically have a strong tolerance for epic or high fantasy books (they just tend to be too long for my tastes), these books were definitely the exception. They were well-written, interesting, gripping, and very funny. They were also told in an almost episodic fashion – the chapters were extremely short – which made it feel like it wasn’t nearly as long as it was (fyi, The Wise Man’s Fear clocked in at my longest book of 2012… at 994 pages).

And yes, it has a wizard’s school in it, but this is a magic university and here wizarding is hard with physical rules. There’s a lot more alchemy and energy transfer and lab explosions than wand waving (I’m not sure there’s any wand waving, to be honest). Not to mention back-stabbing, one-upmanship, deadly pranks, romance, music, politics, the Fay (who are way creepy) and something that is almost like a magical martial art. Rothfuss builds an incredibly rich world here and I HAVE NO IDEA HOW HE IS GOING TO FIT EVERYTHING INTO JUST ONE MORE BOOK. Even if that book is 1000 pages.

Honorable mentions: The Rook by Daniel O’Malley; The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett

Next: 2012 Speculative Fiction and Fiction Favorites

You can also check out my favorite reads from 2010. Sorry, I never wrote up one for 2011… maybe I’ll get around to it at some point!

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Book: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Friday, July 29th, 2011

I just finished reading Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and my friend (and fellow bookclub member) M and I were discussing whether is was brilliant or pretentious beyond reason. I felt like I kept coming out in favor of “brilliant” and couldn’t quite decide why. It had something to do with the craft of it, the fitting together of the six different stories which are told “chronologically” by only telling the first half of five stories, then the complete sixth story, then the second half of the first five in descending order. There seemed to be a carefully wrought reasoning to the order of the stories, where they broke open to reveal the next and the next, and how they nested together in such a way that it became hard to distinguish which stories were supposed to be “true” and which were fictions.

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