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2013-A year in review

6 Jan

I resolved to read 55 books in 2013 and I surpassed that goal by reading 56! Here is my list of favorites and not so favorites:

Favorite book of 2013: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.

Least favorite book of 2013: I’m just kidding. I used to be the kind of reader who was so selective that I read like 2 books a year and loved them. Now that I’m no longer a student I have time to be both selective AND a prolific reader! I generally like everything I read because I try to find something good in everything I do read. I’m in 2 book clubs and maybe I don’t like everything we read but I try to find redeeming qualities in everything I put into my brain—as much as I can….I am sad to say I can never “unsee” that Doctor Who movie made in the 90s….

Top ten of 2013: since I’m writing this in Jan 5 my list will be slightly different than my Twitter Librarian faves list that I published in December.

1. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I loved this sweeping history of Theo Decker’s youth and I’m only putting off reading this a second time because, like Jane Eyre, I want to savor it and savor it.

2. The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach

I put this one off because I thought it was about baseball. How naive!!! Probably one of my favorite novels I’ve read in a long time and one I still lovingly remember whenever I pass it in a bookstore or at the library.

3. The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

I read this novel soon after my Mother passed away and, more than a post-apocalyptic novel, this is a novel of a man grieving the loss of not only his old life but his wife who also died during the epidemic. I found this book both healing and lovely and the images of his solitude and then new life with other humans was beautiful.

4. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Dear Mr. Sloan: WRITE A SEQUEL NOW. Please?

5. Toward the Gleam by T.M. Doran

After you read this you will always know Lord of the Rings should be shelved in Nonfiction as History.

6. Harry Potter by JK Rowling

I finally finished reading the Harry Potter series and I can’t wait to read more by Rowling. She is clearly a force to be reckoned with.

7. Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood

Atwood cleverly weaves together three books about the end of the world. And while doing so successfully shows us what our future could hold if we are not careful.

8. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman, if I ever meet you I will probably lose all ability to speak.

9. How Should a Person Be? by Sheila Heti

A little more graphic than I’m used to, I felt like this was the novel I was searching for in college. So glad to have read it.

10. The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon

This was my guilty pleasure this year. I really enjoyed the story and I can’t wait to read the next book.

Halloween reads for the rest of us

13 Oct

I have a small book club–literally a total of three people–and two of the three LOVE the horror genre. I’m the kind of reader who is usually up for anything (let’s leave my past bookish snobbery for another post) and I pride myself in trying to at least give something new a chance (but let’s be honest–you’ve read one Nicholas Sparks book you’ve read them all). However, when my dear friends want to choose certain books (IT, The Shining, anything by Stephen King) I have to politely remind them I will slowly die on the inside from the nightmares I’m worried I’ll have. Call it an overactive imagination or call it the inability to grow up, I have a hard time reading horror. I’m slowly getting better and I think someday I’ll be able to read something scary–but I will never be able to WATCH it. Because of my aversion to all things scary I’ve had to get creative when it comes to reading books in October to get me in the spirit of the season.

Here is a list of books I’d like to recommend for those readers who love Hallowe’en as much as I do but really don’t like the part of Halloween that involves serial killers that hide in your house ready to attack you while you’re watching a movie and eating a snack wearing only your skimpiest nightgown (because hey, it’s laundry day):

1. The Graveyard Book : I just finished reading this for the first time and I think it’s going to become the book I read every October. Like Hocus Pocus (the classic film from my childhood I will love until I die) there is enough ghosts, ghouls, and witches for me to feel in the Hallowe’en spirit. Please give this book a chance—though Gaiman wrote this as a children’s book and he won the Newbery Medal, remember that he also won a Hugo and when it comes to Neil Gaiman’s writing–reader’s of all ages will appreciate his epic storytelling. Nobody Owens will soon be your favorite graveyard friend.

2. The Bone Season: I will write more about this adventurous read about a clairvoyant living in an alternate future London in a different post but this book is perfect for the season. There are creatures that behave more like Vampires than humans, mysterious monsters that bite off arms and legs in the dark, and of course, people who can talk to ghosts and hurl spirits at other people. While all of this might sound scary, the scary moments aren’t psychologically disturbing enough to keep you up at night. Shannon’s writing, however, will.

3. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly This book follows the story of David who is a young boy mourning the loss of his Mother. David so hates his new stepmother and the baby she bears that he makes a deal with a mysterious man to take the baby. David travels to the mysterious storybook land in the forest behind his house in search of this man who wishes to make David king. Full of fairytale allusions and great adventure–this is a great book to read around the last campfires of the year.

4. Toward the Gleam by T.M. Doran This is a smaller publication but one that I love dearly. A friend of my father’s wrote this book and I can’t recommend it enough! The story is this: a man is recovering after between the two world wars in the countryside when he falls into a cave during a storm. Almost losing his life the man discovers a box that is mysterious in construction and language and the man concludes it could be the treasure of a long lost civilization. With allusions to The Lord of the Rings and adventure stories of the classics, Doran takes us on a mysterious journey following John Hill, the box he finds and the language he tries to translate while trying to piece together the death threats he receives and the conclusions he ultimately makes. A real page-turner!!

5. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde This book creeped me out. The film that was released a few years ago does the book justice and was great to watch after reading this book. I highly recommend picking this one up (or, picking it up again) during the month of October. You will never look at a painting the same way again!

6. After Dark by Haruki Murakami Granted, this one doesn’t have anything to do with ghosts are ghouls, but like “The Picture of Dorian Gray” I’m including it for the creep factor. This novel takes place in Tokyo at night. Always at night. The novel follows those who don’t sleep, those who can’t sleep, and those who have been sleeping for a long time. 

7. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis A book about the correspondences between a devil and his novice nephew, this book isn’t just for Christians. Just keep reminding yourself who’s doing the writing!

8.The Magicians by Lev Grossman I think in the beginning of the book the season is fall or autumn so I will always think of this novel as a good October book. Plus, it’s about magic being real! Bonus: Harry Potter for adults–it doesn’t get any better than this, unless Grossman ever writes #3 in this trilogy!

9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern This is one of those books probably everyone has already read because it’s just so enchanting and begs to be made into a film ASAP. If you haven’t read this one yet get to it–it’s about star crossed lovers who are in a magical competition against each other–a dual to the death led by their teachers who refuse to tell them much of anything except that they will die when it’s over. READ IT NOW. Morgenstern is a magician herself with imagery and I felt lost for days longing for this to be a real thing.

10.Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger This is a good book to read before or after “The Graveyard Book” by Neil Gaiman as Neil himself (ha, get it!) consulted with Audrey on graveyards. This is a spooky read about twins and their aunt who is a master manipulator in death as a ghost. The plot is just too good to care much about there being ghosts and it won’t leave you feeling creeped out because of them–just creeped out by their awful aunt.

 

Bonus: John Dies at the End by David Wong and Touch by Alexi Zentner

The Color Master by Aimee Bender

11 Sep

In college, undergrad, I had a professor who, after reading a project I was working on, recommended I read some of Aimee Bender’s short stories to get some ideas on form. From the moment I started reading “The Girl in the Flammable Skirt” I was hooked. Who knew a short story could be so magical? So lovely? So full of truth even at its most outlandish. Certainly not me at 22. 

So I’ve followed Aimee Bender’s work and I have read everything I can get my hands on. When I was looking ahead at books to be published in the fall I almost cried from delight that Bender had a new book out. I couldn’t wait to read it! I was lucky enough to get an ARC from NetGalley.

Another lovely addition to the Aimee Bender library. After “The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake” it was hard to say if what I wanted to read was more short stories or more novels from this magical author. 2013 does seem to be the year of the short story so I’m glad that it was short stories Bender offers to us and I’m glad she chose these. A little bit of a departure from her myths and fables I love so much, many of these stories offer to us the myth and magic of real life. The magical situations we are placed in every day that we take for granted. “On a Saturday Afternoon” a woman asks two of her closest male friends to spend an afternoon doing whatever it is that she tells them to do. From here, Bender sticks to reality and in this story we are given a peeping tom’s view of what happens when two men are asked to do things they never thought they could do. In “Faceles” a boy is incapable of seeing faces and people, which is close to a reality that many people live with today (known has face blindness). Here we recognize how lost we are without being able to see the whole picture, how we cannot rely only our eyes to see the truth of what it happening in front of us.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a collection of short stories without some myth and magic. “The Color Master” is one of those stories I never want to end. A story I want to climb into and live with for awhile. “Tiger Mending” written after a painting (http://www.tonkonow.com/amycutler_8.html) by Amy Cutler is so vivid and so precise, it feels like a true story. My favorite is “Americca” a story about a family who starts to notice every day items being duplicated and left in their home–reverse robbed. 

These stories, and the others I have not mentioned, share themes of a failure to feel a sense of belonging, or the sense of loneliness and the sense of seeing what others, we think, cannot also see. Bender weaves, as if she were the Color Master, a string of the color blue and the image of the moon following us throughout many of the stories making the reader feel as though these stories were collections of narratives spoken to Bender in her dreams or, maybe our dreams. Bender shapes for us a world where facing our deepest fears or deepest desires turns out to be less dramatic than we hope and more profound in us when we accept that everything is going to be as okay as it can be. Here we learn that even in the extraordinary so many of us will react ordinarily, as if this sort of thing happens every day.

I suggest that if you haven’t started reading Aimee Bender’s work, you do now. Here is an excellent place to begin.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

5 Sep

I cannot explain how thankful I am that this ARC was passed along to me. Though it took me a month and some change to read this 700+ page masterpiece, I am happy to report that I thoroughly ADORED this book.

“The Goldfinch” was a tough read in the beginning for me. We open with Theo Decker, in a hotel room in Europe, looking back on the day it all began; the day that would eventually take us back to this mysterious hotel room; Theo a depressed and suicidal man. Theo talks about the year his mother died, the day in fact. Theo and his mother went to an art museum, there was an explosion, and the facts of that day lead Theo to stealing a very famous and very much intact painting after the explosion. We see everything through Theo’s eyes which is absolutely frustrating and intriguing at the same time–we both know and don’t know what Theo knows and doesn’t know about the explosion and about the painting.

We are then whisked away to Las Vegas, with Theo, where he will presumably live out his life with his father, an alcoholic now hooked on drugs, and his father’s girlfriend, a woman who has a dog she barely takes care of, a fuzzy resume, and, of course, barely tolerates the fact her boyfriend has a teenaged son.

The fact that this novel is not LONGER than 700 pages is amazing. The toughest part for me was the beginning when Theo’s mother dies and his wild grief that follows. Having just lost my mother earlier this year I found myself extremely emotional while reading these pages: so be warned, this could be emotional for you, too!

Otherwise, Tartt has become my new favorite author. The way that she writes and so easily allows the characters to be who it is that they are and will be is a a particular magic act I sadly see so rarely in novels anymore. Theo’s heart is broken, fractured, and high MOST of the book, but there it is, always in the right place. For that we follow Theo from one bad decision to the next because we have to find out:  what will happen to the painting he stole? What will happen to Theo? How can Theo survive to page 300? 500? 700? Will he get over the loss of his mother? Will he recover from all of the losses in his life? What will happen to Theo?

This novel is, for me, the best book of 2013. The writing is spectacular, the story is irresistible, and Tartt makes the characters so real and so alive that I fully expect to meet Theo, Kitsey, and Boris right around the corner should I ever travel to New York.

I have not read any of Donna Tartt’s novels but I will now. “The Goldfinch” is a wild and heartfelt meditation on fate, consequences, and art. Theo becomes himself the Goldfinch and by the end of the novel you will find yourself musing alongside Theo about all the things that have occurred during the short life of Theo Decker.

Lexicon by Max Barry and my first recommended reading list

17 Jul

Let me just tell you this right now: You should read this book. This is a great book. This book is the summer read for you. That is, if you’re like me and you love books and you love words. If you hate words and you hate books I’m not sure why you are reading my humble blog. My advice would be to start reading and learn to love words.

“Lexicon” is a book about a group of people (can I just say secret society? It sounds cooler) who have unlocked the ability of words to persuade. They have learned that by studying words how they are used and how people perceive and understand words they can persuade people to do just about anything that they want them to do. So a school is made and once you learn about personality types and origins of words, etc, you might become a poet. A poet is someone who is really really good with words and when you become one you get to be named after one.

Let’s be honest at this point: This is basically the number one reason I loved this book.

So, we are dropped into the story with this guy called an outlier. But we don’t know what an outlier is and we don’t know why so many people have been persuaded to kill him. Then later we meet this girl named Emily (#2 reason I got sucked in, obvi) who is really good at persuasion and who gets to go to the Academy where she learns all about words.

This book has action, timely storylines about people giving the general public very personalized ads and information based on sneakily gaining access to their information via surveys and browsing history (I said timely, right?), and a big twist at the end involving a town in Australia where a word is released that causes everyone to die (this gives nothing away I promise!).

What I loved best about this story is that Max Barry really knows how to keep the action, suspense, and story going. Barry does not sacrifice anything for his story and he certainly doesn’t sacrifice his craft to get the story told. Large revelations are made with a single sentence. You learn character histories in single flashback stories. This is a remarkable book. And this book is  part of a new list of recommendations I will be giving people who are looking for fun, quirky, and a little bit nerdy books to read.

I give you:

Emily’s Favorite Books about Books or Books about things geeks love:

1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: Not a book about books but it IS about ’80s pop culture so books, movies, and video games are heavily involved. GO READ IT NOW.

2. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde: This isn’t about books or anything but it is about a world with varying shades of color. A book about COLOR. This society is all about who can see how much color in which spectrum (Red, Yellow, Blue, etc). The people with the highest color sight, you guessed it, are also the wealthiest.

3. Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan: This is a lot like Lexicon by Max Barry. This is about a bookstore that is really a front for a secret society that is trying to unlock to the secret to immortality through code breaking. It’s exciting, it’s fresh, and it’s totally nerdy.

4. The Eyre Affair (and though I haven’t read it, I believe you might also enjoy the Nursey Crimes books!) by….JASPER FFORDE. It’s like Fforde loves to read or something given the amount of geeky and literary themes books he writes. This one is great though I had to abandon the series awhile back when I started college.

5. The Manual of Detection by Jedediah Berry: This one was great. It was a mystery set in a kind of otherworld, one like ours, but different. I enjoyed the plot and there was a real “quirkiness” to this particular story that I think only certain kinds of readers will appreciate.

6. Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: So, this is a pop culture kind of book. It’s all about social media in the future and it references books a lot. But in a way to illustrate how dumb people are getting. Book snobs everywhere can appreciate how so many people aren’t reading (though, from my perspective as a Librarian it feels like MORE people are reading in general).

7. A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: This is less literary and more music related but it’s another pop culture infused novel that makes pop culture references smart instead of as a way of dating the book. READ IT NOW.

8. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu: Another “Read it now and forever be changed.” I love Yu’s writing and I loved the way this story is written. I read this pre-Doctor Who obsession so I should probably read it again to see if there are any references (when it comes to time travel it seems absurd to think a writer would NOT include the Doctor)

9. John Dies at the End by David Wong: Hilarious, dirty, and full of great adventure this one is sure to make any reader laugh out loud while going along with the soy sauce induced intergalactic adventure.

10. The Magicians by Lev Grossman: MAGIC IS REAL GO READ THIS BOOK.

These are books I’ve read and loved. I bet there are a million other books about books that would go better on this list but I’m recommending books I’ve read. It’s more personal that way. If you want something new because you’ve read these already head over to your local library and ask a librarian for some help!

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

15 Jul

If Neil Gaiman isn’t a Time Lord himself then he must live in a magical realm that mere humans are not privy to and therefore must write us magical tales and sell them as fiction. Neil Gaiman, I love you.

I have been waiting for “The Ocean at the End of the Lane” since I got the email from B&N that I could pre-order the book way back in April. I was not disappointed. Here is a book that reminds you that sometimes seeing things differently as a child is okay, you were merely seeing the truth that adults were blind to. Gaiman reminds his readers that magic exists but that maybe those who live near magic are not so eager to share it with the other world–they are too busy keeping it at bay and keeping it from destroying the world they love (ahem, TIME LORD MUCH?). Now that I think about it: maybe this is just a book about lady time lords.

The story seems simple enough: A man is attending a funeral in his hometown and he finds himself, in his grief, driving to the house at the end of the lane, a place where he played as a child. While he is there he starts to remember a particularly vivid and dangerous summer when he was 7 and the girl at the house at the end of the lane, Lettie Hemstock, was 11. Suddenly we are taken back in time to the summer when the man, as a young boy, must move out of his room for a renter. This renter kills himself in the boy’s father’s car at the end of the lane. Suddenly, strange things happen. The boy and Lettie unleash a creature into the world that is as old or older than the world itself, a creature from “the old country.” The boy and Lettie must trap the creature and destroy it before it destroys the world.

By the end of the book you wonder how many times you’ve found yourself forgetting something whimsical and magical from your childhood thinking it was just a dream but now second guessing yourself–maybe it was real. Maybe, you had the grandest adventure of your life.

As an afterthought:

Did anyone get to this passage and wonder if he was throwing out a Doctor Who reference,(maybe I read too fast but it seems like an interesting choice of words)? pg. 143, “I knew where Rose was–the peculiar crinkling of space into dimensions that fold like origami and blossom like strange orchids, and which would mark the last good time before the eventual end of everything and the next Big Bang, which would be, I knew now, nothing of the kind.”

When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams

24 Jun

I look to books for answers a lot. Maybe I should be looking to the Bible you might say or, maybe I should be looking to God for answers. When I say that I look to books for answers I mean that I’m looking to God for answers. God works through people so why can’t he work through people’s writings in books? 

While I was working on my MA I wrote my thesis on the dead and on birds. So it only made sense that when I was walking through the new bookstore in town before Mother’s Day (a terrible day when you’ve lost your Mother) and saw the book “When Women Were Birds: Fifty-Four Variations on Voice” by Terry Tempest Williams, I stopped and browsed. When I discovered that this book was also about her own Mother’s death, I bought it.

I loved this book. Williams writes about birds, her Mother, her Grandmother, conservationism, how she met her husband, and her grief when her Mother died. It’s a lot to write about and sometimes I felt like maybe this could have been split into two books (her family and her conservationism) but, I understand that when you talk about your Mother and your experience of her dying, your entire identity is brought to the forefront. 

What I also appreciated about this book is Williams working through the mystery of why her Mother bought notebooks but never filled them. Williams muses on all the reasons why her mother didn’t fill them and what those notebooks represented to her Mother but you get the feeling that these things are more what the notebooks represent to Williams’ perception of her Mother and that’s okay. 

I was expecting to read something to help me on my journey through grieving and mourning and this book delivered. To go further I would also recommend this book to bird lovers, feminists, and conservationists. Williams gets to your heart in a poetic and honest way and you can’t help but want to roam out in the forest somewhere looking for a bird and looking for yourself.

 

Quotes I loved:

“What is voice? I will say it is so: The first voice I heard belonged to my mother. It was her voice I listened to from the womb….I will say it is so: My mother’s voice is a lullaby in my cells. When I am still, my body feels her breathing.” pg. 17

“To be read. To be heard. To be seen. I want to be read, I want to be heard. I don’t need to be seen. To write requires an ego, a belief that what you say matters. Writing also requires an aching curiosity leading you to discover, uncover, what is gnawing at your bones. Words have a weight to them. ” pg 47/48

“Facing the death of one’s mother puts things in acute perspective. I did not have the luxury of fighting with my mom as other friends did with theirs…A rupture was occurring in me.What mattered most was time with family, time in nature, and time with myself.” pg. 55

“Good friends were traded for good reads. Books became my moral grounding, my way of finding a philosophy that comforted me when church did not.” pg. 55

“Reading has not only changed my life but saved it. The right books picked at the right times–especially the one that scares us, threatens to undermine all we have been told, the one that contains forbidden thoughts–these are the books that become Eve’s apples.” pg 97