16 October, 2016

Happy October! I'm on Booktube?

Hey all! Happy "it's finally Fall in New England". It's fucking gorgeous out there. Well, not at this very moment (at this very moment it is dark and gloomy). But the foliage is currently kick-ass. You know what else is great? I'm now on Booktube. Check out my first two videos below:

13 September, 2016

#DiverseAThon tentative TBR

The #DiverseAThon is a read-a-thon on booktube this week, inspired in part by a pretty angry video posted a few weeks ago that really shunned the concept of diversity as a quality to be encouraged and celebrated in books. I honestly couldn't get through all of that initial video, because it truly just confused and saddened the hell out of me. Why isn't diversity something to strive for or celebrate in books? Diversity of experience, background, culture, gender, sexuality, etc. are all normal within our society, and yet they're often not expressed in media in the same ways in which they exist in reality.

The failings of popular media and "classic" media to offer diversity as a worldview isn't accidental at all, because to avoid expressing the world as it is takes a lot of outright ignorance or intentional blindness. This isn't to say that an author is "bad" because they write what they know, although this argument (one that Lena Dunham used so unabashedly when Girls was rightfully criticized) seems like a cop-out to me. If authors truly just wrote what they knew, then we'd end up with an awful lot of published diaries. Instead, it would be awesome if our society encouraged people of very different backgrounds who may wish to pursue a career in writing to do so, and to have the space in which to publish their worlds (be they realistic, or not so realistic). It seems like lack of diversity in publishing is likely a failing of both culture and marketing, and unfortunately, the biggest way we could change the marketing from a position outside the industry, is to change the culture that responds to it.

Importantly, there seems to be a lot of caterwauling about white, male, cis-gender authors being overlooked when there is a focus on diversity. I'm sorry, but are you kidding me? Just because we're bringing more ideas into the fold doesn't inherently mean that we are ignoring or failing to recognize books that should get their due (in fact, it should often mean the opposite. There are a lot of great books that have likely been ignored for far too long). The whole thing confuses me, and I can't help but feel that it's born from some internalized discriminatory beliefs that are not being appropriately explored.

Luckily, what was born from that mess is something that could be really cool: the #DiverseAThon. I first learned about this read-a-thon when I watched the below video by one of the original four creators:

I wholeheartedly planned (and still plan) to take part in this read-a-thon. In the last few days I've been struck down by a nasty goddamn cold that has had me flat out and only reading only comfort books (e.g. The Fellowship of the Ring). Nonetheless, here's what I'd like to get to this week:

Saints by Gene Luen Yang (one half of a graphic novel duology about the Boxer Rebellion in China)
Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw
The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks about Race edited by Jesmyn Ward

Has anybody read these? If so, what were your thoughts? What would you like to read for the #DiverseAThon, or what books can you think of that celebrate the normalcy of diversity?

11 September, 2016

Readalong with Booktube - The Fellowship of the Ring, pt. 1

I have been reading along with the guys over at Stripped Cover Lit to The Fellowship of the Ring by J.R.R. Tolkien. It's definitely worth watching the video above if you have read LOTR before. I have my own qualms with some of the opinions expressed above, as I do really love this series and there are a few elements of literary merit that I picked up on with this re-read that weren't fully discussed in the video above. For that reason, I have taken my comments from the YouTube page for this video and blogged them below. Please do respond in the comments with your own thoughts.

The Stripped Cover Lit guys (Dalton and Adrian) talked a bit about the religious nature of the text, and there is certainly some religious imagery. More than that, however, I think Tolkien was just a total mythology/history geek. I mean, obviously, his first love is a love of ancient languages and lore as a philologist and his heart was set on developing a series that hearkened back to mythological writing. Thinking about that context, the depth of this world-building is absolutely necessary. He's trying to create a back story of a full, developed world separate from our own where such a rich mythology could develop.

Secondly, the pacing at the beginning of this novel seems absolutely consistent with points Tolkien is trying to establish early on about hobbits. Hobbits are removed from the rest of the world, they're separate and they enjoy living calm, slow, simple lives full of small comforts. The Shire isn't an exciting, worldly, or dynamic place. It's a place almost separate from the time upon which the rest of Middle Earth operates.

The pacing at the beginning of this story is necessary to ensnare the reader in the sleepiness and normal boredom that are such obvious features of the Shire. There's something immensely comforting about what you know, and it can also be stifling, and the writing really mimics that in this section of the book.

As the characters venture further into the rest of Middle Earth, more and more things will happen to them and the pacing will change, but you'll always notice that the hobbit characters themselves carry some of their home with them. They like to dally and enjoy their scenery when it's beautiful; they like to stop and eat VERY often, and drink and smoke when they can. That slowness (something that would also be so necessary in building the world of a novel that takes place in the American South, for instance) is an important element of the story.

The beginning of this book is bittersweet because it shows the relationships of two integral characters - Bilbo and Frodo - to their home. Bilbo has already ventured out. He has left home and had adventures that have changed him immensely, and spoiled him in some ways for his home, as it was before he left. The ring has also done this over time. Frodo loves the Shire, and he is never really shown as a character who longs to leave his home or adventure out. He loves his uncle and would leave the Shire out of loyalty to him, but is quite content to live a normal hobbit's life. His life of normalcy is interrupted, however, and he's required to take on a weighty task. The implication here is that leaving home he will never return to see it the way he once did. It's an Odyssey in the Homeric sense of that word. You go away out of the needs of the world, but in so doing you are changed and so is the world (including your home within that world).

I also think Tolkien explores the distinctions between a trio of characters who really begin to circle each other in the books: Bilbo, Frodo, and Gollum. Tolkien's already drawing parallels and distinctions, and showing the reader some different stages of attachment to the Ring, and how that attachment can also alienate one from home and countrymen/women. The sexual/female reading of the Ring is intriguing, but I can't quite gather what the overall point would be. After all, the few women who are depicted in the book are never evil, it's just that women in general are almost non-existent in the series. The ring is certainly a symbol for ensnaring/trapping power (e.g. you attempt to wield the power, but it actually wields you), and obviously there's some historical relevance for female power being viewed this way stereotypically (e.g. "soft power"), but I am not sure that the connection extends very deeply in the text.

One of my big issues with these books is that there are LITERALLY no female characters whatsoever until after this section, and only a couple major female characters developed in this whole series. My favorite, the kick-ass Eowyn, won't even show up until the Two Towers. What's confusing is that female characters aren't even really depicted in passing (except for that one Sackville-Baggins). This is a big failing of the series in my eyes, and I am unsure if it was done out of blindness of the author to a need for developed female characters, or if it was done intentionally. If someone knows, or has read any feminist critiques of Tolkien, I'd be intrigued to hear what theories exist.

30 August, 2016

(Now past) Mid-year update

It's been quite a while since my last post here. Regularly scheduled long-form blogging doesn't always come to mind as my go-to for sharing thoughts. I do have some updates, however!

Let's cover what I've read in August (I am working on a couple books right now, but it's unlikely I'll finish them before Thursday).

The month started out pretty "meh" and definitely got better from there.

I finished The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell first. This book's a fictional story following an imagined current-day descendant of the Bronte sisters, and her obsessive relationship with their works/lives, and with her own family's odd secrets. This book unfortunately (and likely, intentionally) shares a title with a seminal work of feminist literary theory. Although I found the story fun, the plot "twists" were all very easy to guess. Worst of all, the main character's depiction as a horribly stunted homeschooler who's never had a normal romantic relationship struck me as unnecessary and inaccurate/flat. 2.75/5 stars.

Simultaneously, and shortly thereafter, I finished a small book of political essays called The Future We Want: Radical Ideas for the New Century edited by Sarah Leonard and Bhaskar Sunkara. The premise of this book is to include essays on a number of general political issues (the environment, working life, sexual politics, etc.) from the lens of socialism. This was a useful primer with some interesting concepts discussed in brief overview. This could be helpful for someone who wants to get a taste for socialist ideology, without having a ton of background knowledge. Unfortunately, I found some of the essays simplistic, and others I found to fail the logical argument test. 3/5 stars.

I then completed the first volume of The Underburbs graphic novel by Joe Haley and T.J. Dort. This was a local, signed graphic novel that I picked up a couple years back at Manchester, NH comic-con. It was a cute concept with fun art. The story itself was enjoyable for a quick read, but not something that would engage me long-term. 3/5 stars.

Next, I FINALLY finished Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. I have been trying to complete this book on and off for 8 years, as I bought it at the now-defunct book co-op (Food for Thought Books) out in Amherst, MA when I was completing my undergraduate degree. This book is solid and important for anyone who cares about politics and education, especially alternative education. The difficulty lies in the philosophically dense rhetoric of the book, and the fact that it's a translation (I believe). There are some stunning lines in this book, but it requires review with a fine-toothed comb, which can be quite a challenge given some of the dense language and concepts. 4/5 stars (4.5/5 for concept, 3.5/5 for execution).

Yes, Please by Amy Peohler was the next semi-guilty pleasure read on my list. I've been saving this for a slump since receiving it for Christmas, and some well-timed repeat views of Parks & Rec, plus the re-discovery of the Palin/Clinton SNL sketch from 2008 made me pick this up. This is a lovely, highly readable book. My favorite takeaway: "Treat your career like a bad boyfriend" (e.g. keep in mind that he's likely to tell you he loves you one minute, and then run off with the other girl from the office the next, while making you pick up the tab for his dog's surprise intestinal surgery). In all seriousness though, this is some kick-ass advice. Poehler argues that creativity deserves your devotion and love, but your "career" is just whatever works and makes you money at the time. If you take it less seriously, she argues that you'll ultimately be happier. The only downside to this book was the way it ended. It started out very strong and continued that way for a long time, but the last section felt a bit unfinished. 4/5 stars.

Book number six for the month is the lengthy historical fiction novel The Fair Fight by Anna Freeman. I read this for two reasons: 1) the description on OverDrive mentioned pugilism, prostitution, and ladies kicking ass; 2) I still needed to fulfill my historical fiction challenge for the Read Harder challenge. This book was a slow burn, but ultimately fabulous. I am very glad that I listened to this book as opposed to reading it physically, because the three character perspectives lend themselves well to audiobook, and also listening to it on my commute forced me to stick with it even in the slow sections that I may have struggled with in book format. Ultimately, this is such a win and has convinced me to pick up anything Freeman writes in the future. Fucking gorgeous. 5/5 stars.

Currently, I am about halfway through Being Mortal by Atul Gawande (a non-fiction book on aging and how it's dealt with in the U.S. in the present day), and about a fifth through Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig. I am enjoying both very much! I am taking Zen slowly so I can really consider the philosophical implications, while I may or may not finish Being Mortal (it's completely dependent on my commuting time the next couple of days, as it's an audiobook).

01 February, 2016

January Wrap Up!

What I read in January:

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, 3 stars on Goodreads

Fatale, Vol. 1: Death chases me by Ed Brubaker, 4 stars on Goodreads

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel, 5 stars on Goodreads

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith, 4 stars on Goodreads

Persuasion by Jane Austen, 2 stars on Goodreads

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari, 4 stars on Goodreads

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes, 4 stars on Goodreads

What am I currently reading?

Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science -- and the World by Rachel Swaby

Come as you are: The surprising new science that will improve your sex life by Emily Nagoski

Pedagogy of the oppressed by Paulo Freire

10 January, 2016

#TBRTakedown update and Read Harder 2016

What did I read between January 3rd and today?

Well, I think I did well on the challenges *pats self on back*.

I finished Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel, Fatale, Vol. 1 by Ed Brubaker, and The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. I also read (most) of my homework for the week, got halfway through Come as You Are by Emily Nagoski and started Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. I touched everything on the list, and completed 5/7 challenges.

I also unintentionally completed 3/24 2016 Read Harder Challenges. Station Eleven filled the dystopian novel slot. Fatale, Vol. 1 completed the graphic novel without a superhero challenge. The Silkworm, unsurprisingly, won an Audie for best audiobook - it was great!

Challenges without hard and fast rules and timelines seem like a really nice way to encourage more thoughtful reading, but not feel overwhelmed by it.

05 January, 2016

2016 Read Harder and an update on #TBRTakedown

Today. I. Go. Back. To. Work.


Even though I have worked a bit since the 23rd of December, I've also had two stretches of consecutive five day mini-vacations. This has been fabulous, as "the job" is not really my cup of tea.

But, today I go back, and I am procrastinating on here until I absolutely must leave.

Check out the NYPL's amazing recommendations for the 2016 Read Harder Challenge: http://www.nypl.org/blog/2015/12/15/read-harder-challenge

I am all over this challenge, and I've already ticked off one of the goals without even meaning to (read a non-superhero graphic novel completed with Fatale by Ed Brubaker). In general, after reviewing what I read last year, I do also hope to read more books by authors of different cultural and ethnic backgrounds to my own. With that being said, I do tend to agree with Rincey that this sort of collecting of racial diversity is pretty problematic. Is it more important to read interesting and diverse material, or to check off boxes on a list of certain categories that fulfill arbitrary diversity requirements? I would argue that the first is most important, and the second sort of misses the point.

Quick #TBRTakedown update: I am enjoying this challenge. Granted, I haven't been at work yet this week, so I've had some time to enjoy it, but even so I wasn't sure whether my reading brain would thrive on specific goals or fall into a slump. I'm glad it's thriving! I've finished Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, as well as Fatale, Vol. 1 by Ed Brubaker. I am also fairly well into Station Eleven (which is so intense and great so far), Come As You Are, and The Silkworm. I'll need to do some reading for school tonight, so may fall back on some of the books, but so far I've made a decent dent in everything.

Wish me luck and love in the new work year, and I'll wish you all the same!