Tag Archives: reading

Using a Readathon to Kill My TBR

I have been on a book searching tear, readers!  As of late, I have gone out to some of my favorite used bookstores just to poke around and see what they may have in stock.  Meanwhile, my pile of books at home just grows and grows.  Usually, I don’t mind that because I take a perverse pleasure in the torment of having so many books that it will take me a short lifetime to get through them all.  And I am inherently cheap, so I almost never pay full price for them, therefore I don’t feel guilty for spending and not reading immediately.

I don’t understand someone who will just grab whatever’s within arm’s reach to read.  I treat the moment I chose my next read like a ceremonial experience- I pace the apartment, perusing all physical books I have in the various places and bookshelves.  Maybe I will look through my digital collections on my Kindle, Kobo, and Nook.  I may go to the three online library branches I have access to via Overdrive and see what’s available immediately for download.  I have been known to walk over to the local library to see what they have on hand.  I also see what’s available in audio format from the libraries and in my Audible account that I haven’t yet heard.  As you can see- it’s a damn production.

But now my ever expanding TBR is even starting to worry me.  So you can only image how bad it must be!  I need to bust up this trend and start to knock out some books so I can purge and start all over again.  (Especially with Independent Bookstore Day occurring on my birthday this year.  Coincidence? I think not!)

While I was scanning through Twitter, I saw the announcement of the next Dewey’s 24 Hour Readathon this Saturday, April 23rd and I thought- YES!  Sign me up!  It’s the answer to my prayers.  I remember watching all the hullabaloo that accompanied the last session they held, and it looked like a lot of fun for readers. So I just signed up, and it sparked this post.  Win-win!

Now comes the joy of preparing for the readathon.  I have a lot of recent acquisitions that I am excited to dive into but am not sure if it’s the right material for this type of exercise.  I think that you want some short, fast and engaging reads to kick out and feel like you are making progress.  I recently was awarded a bonus from work which comes in the form of Amazon gift cards.  With that award, I purchased the Penguin Little Black Classics Set.  These are slim enough to feel like you are making traction in your limited time. So those will be peppered through the event.

The set of Penguin publisher's Little Black Classic books.
The set of Penguin publisher’s Little Black Classic books.

In thinking through what else to pick, I have arrived at a decision matrix:

  • preferably under 300 pages
  • fast paced read
  • guaranteed delighter
  • nothing that will require me to stop and contemplate it’s meaning
  • something I have been looking forward to
  • also, something that I will drop in a heartbeat if it isn’t working for me or I can’t glide through it with ease

And without further adieu, here is my list of potential reads for the Dewey 24 Hour Readathon!

The list of books that I am going to draw from in the 24 hour Dewey's Readathon.
The list of books that I am going to draw from in the 24 hour Dewey’s Readathon.

I am not going to list them all here, because I certainly won’t get to them all.  But I will post an update when I have completed the event, and we will see how far I got!

Let’s meet back here on Sunday, April 24th, shall we?

January Reading Wrap Up ( a little over a month late…)

The covers of the books I read in January.
The covers of the books I read in January.
I wasn’t sure I would be able to top 2015 for all the quality reading I was able to do in the year, but clearly this year is shaping up nicely.

I had wanted to do a wrap-up but waited until I was sure that I was going to be able to sustain the pace.  Since February was as strong a reading month as January, I feel ok about sharing the progress I have made.

Let’s get to the books!

I started the year off on a beach vacation with my family, with the first day of 2016 spent poolside with nothing to do, and nowhere to go.  It was an ideal way to kick off the new year for a reader.  I wanted to start off with something that I thought I would surely enjoy and something that I could read quickly.  So that book was 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff.  I already did a book review about that book, so I won’t say more about it here.  Suffice it to say, it is a book lover’s dream read.

In order of completion, here is what I read in January, and the corresponding task it served in the 2016 Read Harder Challenge.

A woman is repeatedly reborn in England during the time of the WW2 to the same family, remembering only allusions to her previous lives, like shadows. With subtle details changing, we see how her life could be very different. The literary fiction book has themes of how much of life is fate and how much is up to chance, what stays permanent and what is fleeting, among other concepts. The construction of the story is so smart without being too smug or self-congratulatory about how she has managed to take this extremely complex concept of reincarnation/rebirth and make it work.  The book is over 500 pages long, so it served the task of ‘read a book over 500 pages long’. The characters are wonderfully drawn.  I actually missed them when it was over.

Good for: those who like historical and literary books, readers interested in WW2, anyone who wants a new take on the trope of repeating lives, someone who wants an engaging long book that has surprisingly twists and turns without being a thriller.

I don’t think I have enjoyed a series as much as I love the Outlander volumes.  I find the characters so interesting and the ways that Diana Gabaldon is able to weave historical fiction, time travel and romantic adventure all into one book (or 8 books, so far) is a feat.  I think Jamie Fraser is one of the best romantic characters in modern literature, and Claire is more than his equal.

Good for readers: who like strong women characters, adventure readers, historical fiction fans, those interested a fictionalized visit to the American Revolution, fans of Scotsmen, and those who want to find a good series that maintains as it progresses

I was drawn to this book because it has appeared on some of the Best of 2015 lists and due to the subject matter- the wife of Frederick Engels, also known as the co-parent of Communism along with Karl Marx.  It fulfilled the Read Harder task of reading a book of “historical fiction before 1900“.

The women in the lives of these infamous men are the focus, and you get a glimpse behind the scenes in a different way.  I really liked Lizzie (aka Mrs. Engels) and her spirit, doubts and struggles. I especially loved her struggle to befriend and stay friends with the Marx family. They were interesting and compelling characters to read about. I especially liked how the author just dropped you in the story and if you wanted the backstory of the people named, you could Google it, but it wasn’t necessary or done in a way that was pedantic. You could read it like any other book, or stop to research and glean insights about Marx and Engels if you wanted.

Good for: those who like historical and literary books, readers interested in fictionalized accounts of the wives of political figures, anyone interested in the imagined inner workings of the Engels and Marx households.

This book has appeared on the NYT best seller list for almost all of 2015 and it fulfilled the category of a ‘book to be made into a movie‘ for the Read Harder challenge.  A bonus is that it has been in my Kindle for a while so that’s also a win for the Read Your Own Damn Books challenge.

It’s a thriller, so I won’t spoil anything but will leave you with this nugget- that shame unconfessed leads to more shameful behavior.

Good for: fans of thrillers, people who like complex women, those who likes mysteries

When one of your favorite and trusted bookstores has a shelf talker, which sings the praises of a book, and there are great quotes from authors on the cover, you just shut up and buy the book.

The narrative follows two kids as they grow up, separated in adulthood only to have the brother turned against his will into a vampire. Then the story introduces and follows the complex structure of vampire gangs in London in the 1800s.

Good for: vampire fans who want a new take on the trope, those who love dark Victorian England settings, gothic and books with steampunk elements

This is an ongoing series of the brilliant but socially introverted archeologist/ mother, Ruth Galloway.  In this installment, Ruth is pulled into a mystery when a body is found in a field, having been apparently buried alive in a plane. The usual cast of characters are included, which makes it a fun read.

Good for: mystery series fans, people who like smart but imperfect women characters, those looking for a good palate cleanser

These were the starting point in a manga series I have wanted to read for a very long time.  I found them in my local library and grabbed them happily.  The series has 8 volumes. It is a deep while fun study of the story of the Buddha.

From the Amazon blurb:

The series which began in September 1972 and ended in December 1983, is one of Tezuka’s last epic and greatest manga works. Buddha received the 2004 and 2005 Eisner Award(referred to as the Comics Industry’s equivalent of the Oscar Awards).

I was really impressed with the pacing and depth of the story.  He takes his time to distil the complex story into beautiful, simple yet profound art and storytelling.

Good for: manga fans, Buddhists and those interested in the philosophy, those interested in new interpretations of old Indian mythology

I picked this because it’s a classic that I hated when I first read, but I wanted to revisit it as it was recommended by Patti Smith in M Train.  There was a retelling of this story published last year, The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud that I want to read, also. And, bonus- this fulfilled the task of reading a “book set in the Middle East“.

With the experience that a decade (or two) will give you, I did appreciate this book differently.  But I also spent more time trying to decipher and understand what Camus was trying to impart to the reader.  With the contextual background of the horrors of WW2 in the forefront of Camus’ thinking when he wrote this, I can now see how stark and pointless life could seem and why he would choose to tell this story in the manner with which he did.

Good for: someone who wants to read a classic, those who like close reading, anyone who likes intellectually challenging books

This is also one that stood out so much for me that I did a special review of it, so please see that write up for the details.  (Bottom line- It was simply lovely.)

I heard about this author based on a conversation I had about my love of The Sparrow and Dune. I may have also mentioned that I wanted to read more women science fiction authors, which led her to recommend N.K. Jemisin and Ursula Guin. When I saw a category on the Book Riot Read Harder challenge 2016 to read ‘the first book in a series, written by a person of color‘, I knew that was my impetus to move her work up in my TBR pile.

In this story, there are two cultures that live near each other but are very different. One believes that a society should kill its members who are corrupt (physically and morally), as well as those who are old and infirm. It can be done with magic to allow the victim a lovely and peaceful transition to the dreamland, as it is done in sleep. The people who do this are Gatherers. The other culture is more secular and they believe in rules and order achieved without magic.
The story is of an acolyte who is paired with the most renowned Gatherer and they are assigned to kill an ambassador from the other community. What they don’t know is that she has uncovered corruption in their midst and that their “peaceful” leaders are making plans for war. They join forces when he is compelled by her story and gives her a stay of execution in order to verify it.
The themes in the novel are the corrupting influences on people that come in all forms, the dangers of blind faith, what constitutes a humane death, and the redemptive power of love.
Good for: someone who likes sci-fi with a bit of political intrigue, one who wants a story that feels familiar but is completely new, who want to read women sci-fi authors, someone who likes mysticism and/or ethical quandaries in their stories.

I needed a book for the Read Harder Challenge task of ‘read a horror book‘. I was determined to do the one task that made me most nervous early in the year so I didn’t end up in a panic in December like I did for 2015. I saw this recommended in the Goodreads forum and then on Twitter I saw that Rincey Reads was sharing her progress. She responded to a tweet that I sent asking her if it was terrifying because basically, I’m a big baby. She said this might be perfect for me. She was right.

This is a fantasy story of a group of orphaned kids who are taken in by an old man and the main character we follow is a young woman named Carolyn. The old man (called Father) assigns each child a specialty field of study in “the library” and trains them in brutal and terrible ways. The book begins with Father being lost and the now young people have to discover what happened to him, mostly out of fear.

The style  of the novel is fantasy/horror and while there were plenty of squeamish (fairly gruesome) moments, I wasn’t on the edge of my seat nor was I particularly scared. I think it’s because the fantasy elements provided a nice foil and created some emotional distance for me to be taken along with the plot and not have my psyche scarred.

Good for: someone who is looking for a thriller of a different kind, who want a new type of fantasy book to try, someone who gets scared easily but wants to fulfill the read harder challenge.

Confession time- I picked this audiobook up because I loved the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens so much, that I wanted more time with it.  (And now I am laughing out loud.)

I really was hoping that the book would go much deeper into the backstory of the characters.  But unfortunately, it was almost a screenplay of the movie so I didn’t glean any new insights or tidbits. But it was still fun.

Good for: Star Wars fans

After the last book which was a horror story, I needed a guaranteed cozy feel book. This was recommended by people saying that it was like 84, Charing Cross Road so I knew I was in good hands.

This is a story of a pen pal relationship between an older woman in Iowa and a young Swedish bookseller. Sara, the Swedish girl comes to visit Amy in her small town of Broken Wheel, Iowa only to discover that Amy has died. So Sara proceeds to spend her few months vacation in a depressed town of people whom she only knew about from Amy’s letters.

Sara is a great main character. She is both tentative and assertive in small ways. And you see her coming out of her shell and growing as the story progresses. Amy you see in retrospect, only in her letters, which also details the dramas and stories of the town’s people.  The style is a bit ‘Lifetime movie’ in book form, and would be too sappy without the literary references. Ultimately, it wrapped up a little too neatly for my tastes.  I’ll stick with the acerbic New York wit of 84, Charing Cross Road.

So that’s how I spent my January of the year.  Not too shabby, if I say so myself.

Books For Those Alone On Valentines Day

You know what, Valentines Day is a jerk!  It’s a pompous, gloating, narcissistic blowhard and it’s time we recognize that the standard definition of romantic love is, often times, seriously weak.  When love is right, it’s a unicorn.  But when it’s wrong, it can be painful or even dangerous as books will tell us.

So I wanted to pull together the ANTI-Valentines Day reading list for those who are without a partner this weekend, whether by choice or not.  These books can help you remember why it’s better to wait for a good match than settling for the illusion.

Where dreams go to die:  Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. This book is a beautifully written story of a marriage built on grand dreams unfulfilled, and how the compromises made for a relationship can whittle a person down to nothing.  It’s my top pick for the person who thinks that all love is perfect and marriage is the end all, be all.

How well do you *really* know your significant other?:  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Girl on The Train by Paula Hawkins , Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum.  These are all stories about the consequences (at varying degrees of danger) of romanticizing love.  Without spoiling anything, there are characters in these books that have unrealistic expectations of what love is supposed to mean and are in for rude awakenings.

Having friends is more important than romance- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.  Go back to your high school years and remember what it was like to dream of love but be thwarted and passed over at every turn.  Then watch him make friends that change everything!

Do you really like emotional torment? Go with the classics- Romeo and Juliet by that Shakespeare fellow. Or Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak.  How about Rebecca by the amazing Daphne Du Maurier?  No more needs to be said about those brilliant books.

You still think you want to be in love? Try Women by Chloe Caldwell. This is a brutal and emotional novella of a woman who is trying to piece her life back together after a love affair with another woman ends.  Or how about Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion?  Go deep into the year after the death of her husband, while her daughter is also on death’s door.  In the words of Jim Morrison, “No One Gets Out of Here Alive”.

Want to just wallow in your antipathy and distain for love?- Dorothy Parker for the win! I mean, just ruminate on this for a while…

“By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing,

And he vows his passion is

Infinite, undying –

Lady, make a note of this:

One of you is lying.”

Bottom line- look for love from your friends, family, acquaintances, and in the little moments of kindness in life.