Monday, December 4, 2017

#AMonthofFaves - This is How We (Don't) Read (Much)

Mon. | Dec. 4 – This Is How We Read #AMonthofFaves – eg. Number of books read so far, genre you read the most from, picture of favorite (or most often used) reading location, most read author, % eBooks, hardcovers, paperbacks and/or audiobooks, hint at what your favorite read of the year is (let us guess), types of books you wish you read more of, month you read the most and least

This should be an entertaining post considering I'm too filled with shame to own up to my reading statistics this year and, well, most of the other years. But especially this year, the year of the "DNF I spent too much time on." I started and labored through a number of books this year, investing more than 50 pages in many of them before reaching that point where I was pretty sure I just didn't like them or was not interested enough to continue, so my DNF stack is high, but it didn't save me much reading time for other worthier books. I attribute this to my year of general book and life slumpery where, at numerous times, I couldn't differentiate between whether the books I was reading were really not any good, really were not for me, or I just, like, was so slumped that I just didn't like books anymore. Of late, I've been more inclined to blame the books and jettison them with impunity and have found that that's lead to a much more enjoyable round of reading.

I would tease some of my favorites in this post, but I'm starting to think I'm only just getting to them.

End of Year Reading Status: I have read *redacted* books so far this year which, in my more optimistic moments, I hope will end up equaling the value of the amount of books I read last year which was...*redacted.*

Favorite Genre: I read most from the genre I typically read the most from, which would be literary fiction. However, it seems my favorites this year fell into the sub-genres of literary horror, literary historical fiction, and literary "books with plucky southern heroines."

Favorite Reading Locale: Meet my couch. This is my favorite place to read books I don't like with occasional interruptions for reading books I actually do like. In the warm weather months, I occasionally read books I don't like that much on the balcony which is also pictured. I have taken the photo in this style to obscure my current read, which is likely to be one of my favorites which you'll have to wait to the end of the month to have revealed unto you.  No, really, I just took a really bad picture and am too lazy to take a better one. Focus on the nice view outside. Blogging is hard.

Most Read Author of the Year: Well, this is weird, it's a three way tie. Normally I'm hard pressed to read more than one book by the same author in single year, this year Justin Cronin, Stephen Kiernan, and Courtney Summers all qualify for this honor, which is especially honorific considering I've only read *still redacted* books this year!

Favorite Disregarded Gadget for Reading: My poor Kindle Paperwhite. It is a lovely reading tool crammed to bursting with enticing reads I've purchased for $2.99 or less over the years I've owned it. I've read only 2 e-books on it this year which, while it may be a significant portion of my redacted reading total for the year, it is also about .0031% of the amount of e-books housed on said neglected device. Oh wait, but I did DNF one e-book after spending too much time on it, so that totally counts as a third, right?

Favorite Book Format: Trade paperbacks. Far and away my favorite is the trade paperback. Hardbacks are too heavy, e-books aren't pretty and pagey enough, and mass markets are lucky if they can even retains their spots on my shelves, I'm usually so averse to them. Ironically, however, one of my favorites from this year actually was a mass market. There, I've duly teased a favorite.

Reading Accomplishment of the Year: Reading the longest book I've read since I read The Stand in 2012. Even at close to 800 pages, it's one of my favorites of the year. And it reminded me of The Stand, only I think I might have liked it better. Another favorite teased!

So that's my reading year to date. I'll be sharing my favorite books of the year at the end of the month (you know, after I've finished reading them), so stay tuned!

How was your reading year?

Friday, December 1, 2017

#AMonthofFaves - The Year That Was

I'm going to take a hack at doing Traveling with T, Estella's Revenge, and Girlxoxo's #AMonthofFaves again this year, despite the fact that writing 4 posts for it will easily double the amount of posts this blog has seen this year.  I miss writing, and this year has been a sort of slumpy year in blogging, reading, and life.  This first post prompt is for general favorites of the year, but I think I'm going to tweak it a little and get a little reflective on you, but it's okay, lots of a favorites are involved in my reflection.  No books, though, there's plenty of other book-centric prompts!

This year was a mixed bag, which is better than I expected of it.  I cried driving home from my New Year's Eve celebration last year.  For the first time that I could remember, I didn't expect the new year to be a new start, a chance at doing life better, enjoying things more.  My job was, and in many ways continues to be, a train wreck burdened with too many projects in too little time for an organization that sometimes seems to take on big moves just to be able to say it's not standing still. 

In a way, I was right. This year was a struggle, but certainly not one worth crying over.  In the midst of struggle at work, I found my voice in my career in a way I never have.  I've gotten to know my co-workers better than I ever have.  Outside of work, the year hasn't been even half bad. I found plenty to enjoy in a year full of challenges, and plenty of events and things to call my favorite.  Here are some:

"Favorite" Work "Event" - Go-live palooza.   I work in lab IT.  Occasionally, our health system sees fit to merge with another hospital and then after a time, we go there and make them switch to our lab applications.  When we do, we go on site to ease the transition/become ambassadors of goodwill, or something.  We did a big one this spring, full of 10 hour shifts and too little staff and trying to keep the wheels on the bus.  It was challenging.  It was also like 2 or 3 weeks of "summer camp" with your co-workers, staying in a comped hotel room and eating reimbursable  meals.  Even after working a 10 hour second shift, we eked out time to eat and drink together every day, and I remembered why I took my job and how much I enjoy my co-workers.  Sub-favorites Discovered at Said Trying Work Event: Bully Hill Riesling and Bonefish Grill's Bang Bang Shrimp.

Favorite Sport - Baseball!  I am an unapologetic Yankees fan *ducks the flying rotten vegetables*, and it was positively awesome watching the new generation of Yankees already showing such promise.  I'm a hundred percent in the Aaron Judge fan club and was downright gleeful watching him win the home run derby and otherwise being awesome.  This year's team was the most fun team to watch since I first became a fan in the 1990s.  Also, I went to more minor league baseball games than ever this year (mostly AAA Yankees in Scranton Wilkes-Barre with a brief diversion to City Island in Harrisburg to watch the Harrisburg Senators).

Favorite Throwback Vacation -  My dad and I went to Cooperstown, NY (home of the baseball Hall of Fame also ground zero for adorable, affluent small town America) in July, and it is perfect.  There's the Hall of Fame, of course, but also a gigantic beautiful lake, delicious places to eat right on said like (hello, Blue Mingo Grill), and all the baseball themed crap you can buy.  And my dad and I can buy a lot of baseball themed crap.  Sub-favorites: Life is Good clothes, ahi tuna "nachos" from Upstate Bar and Grill, the incredible burgers from the ambiance-less Council Rock Brewery (oh, such burgers), clothing with obscure baseball references (any takers on "6+4+3=2"?), and planning a return trip with rented lake house.

Favorite Gift - My oldest friend sent me a copy of the illustrated Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  It's beautiful and signed and an especially meaningful gift for us.

Favorite "Living Your Best Life" in Small Town America Moment - Actually consistently going to my town's small farmer's market that is getting a little bigger and a lot better all the time, buying and trying things when they're actually in season, chatting with the guy who grows the best cherry tomatoes.  Sub-favorite:  Raspberries, cantaloupe, tomatoes, and Caprese salad (even a culinary incompetent like myself can make it).

Favorite "Staycation" - My bestie from high school came to hang out at the end of July and we road tripped to Philadelphia.  We did Reading Terminal Market and the Franklin Institute and Rittenhouse Square and a little bit of Old Town and took the most enjoyable selfie-littered 20,000 step whirlwind tour of Philadelphia, a city I spend startlingly little time in despite living in its state.  Sub-favorite: Cuba Libre food, trains that save me from city driving/parking, the Franklin Institute's super-trippy mirror maze.

Favorite Vacation - Cape Cod in the fall.  This is one of those vacations that I romanticized to death in my mind before finally recruiting a willing participant and making the trip.  Amazingly - amazingly it was everything I thought it would be.  We did all the Cape Coddy things - ate lobster, walked on boardwalks, sat on beaches, collected pretty beach rocks, waded through a flooded marsh (oops), saw the harvesting of cranberries, visited with wild seals, browsed an adorable bookstore and were generally just stupid lucky (like accidentally still being in the beach parking lot with a clear view when the harvest moon rose, getting off the beach with all the seals just as it started to pour rain, and also randomly picking a beach to watch the sunset where we were actually faced the right way to watch the sunset).  Sub-favorites: lobster roll, the beach in the off-season when I don't have to wear a swimsuit or deal with crowds, Titcomb's Bookshop in East Sandwich, the Earl of Sandwich Motel (where they have canopy beds, a "camp fire" every night, and the most reasonable of prices).

Favoritey Hodgepodge
  • Mint Lemonade from Pitango Bakery in Fells Point (Baltimore) - It's more refreshing on an unexpectedly 90 degree day in late September, even if that weather is *not* a favorite.
  • Six - the history channel's Seal Team 6 show
  • Hand soap from Bath and Body Works - I'm currently hooked on the Winter Cypress, but Ocean Citrus kept me smelling good all year.
  • Cards Against Humanity - I thought I wouldn't be able to find people to play this with me.  I was wrong.
  • Summer campfires (minus the camping) - Who doesn't love chatting over s'mores?
  • Litsy - I discovered it last year, but like it more this year.   I mostly use it to afflict people with quotes I find interesting and to quickly discover more books to add to my wish list (I'm LeafingThroughLife there if you want to look me up!

Monday, November 27, 2017

The Train of Small Mercies by David Rowell

In a year when I have been just picky as hell about what I'm reading, DNFing things left and right, when the randomizer picked this one out for me, I was doubtful.  Yes, I pick many of my reads via the randomizer.  I own a lot of books.  It's far more productive than me trying to, like, make a decision and stick with it. 

Anyhow, The Train of Small Mercies was a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book that has turned into a "years later" reviewers book on my shelves.  When I glanced through the reviews, I thought it would get its 50 pages and then land on the DNF pile in the company of many books I thought I'd like a lot more, but it defied my expectations and started a streak of books I've actually finished.  Mind you, I am not sure how this happened.  Train definitely is just the plotless wonder that all the naysayers described, not exactly the book you hunt down when you're in a reading slump, but something about it definitely appealed.

On the day Robert F. Kennedy's funeral train is slated to make its way from New York City to Washington, DC, the sun shines brightly on a nation in mourning.  In each of the states along the way, people are preparing to watch the train pass by and pay their respects to a man who had inspired an unusual kind of hope in politics.  In The Train of Small Mercies, author David Rowell spotlights a person from each state who will see the train and gives us a glimpse of their lives on that day.

First, there's Lionel Chase, following in his father's footsteps as a porter for Penn Central.  This day, of all days, is his first day on the job.  In New Jersey, 10-year-old Michael spends the day playing with his friends and planning to see the train from the treetops while trying to forget the trauma of being a casualty of his parents' divorce. In Maryland, the West family, whose son Jamie has returned from Vietnam missing a leg, waits for the train and also for the reporter coming to interview Jamie about his experience in Vietnam.  In Delaware, Edwin and Lolly turn the day into a party of sorts, celebrating their newly purchased pool with friends as a distraction from their struggles with infertility.  In Pennsylvania, disappointed housewife Delores evades her husband's political disapproval by dragging her youngest daughter Rebecca along on a stealth trip to see the train with a series of lies that may just end in tragedy.  In Washington, DC itself, Maeve, a prospective nanny for the Kennedy family waits for the train's arrival, realizing her job prospects have changed but still hoping for a new start.

Each of these narrative strands are touched upon in brief chapters labeled with the state in which they take place.  There is little to connect each to the others except for the expectation of the train itself and a pervasive sense of Americana.  In a beautiful early summer day shot through with the grief of the funeral train, Rowell draws out a little piece of each ordinary American's story.  Each story has its own heartbreak to go with the larger heartbreak of a nation, and each story seems, improbably, to hold the promise of better days for these Americans whose private griefs are mingled with the somberness of the day.  Somehow, though it doesn't always make sense and the bands of connection are thin, at best, Rowell manages to use these six stories to convey the feeling of a nation in flux, filled with people who, even after being knocked down, somehow dust themselves off and carry on. 

Upon turning the last page, I had to agree with other reviewers that I hadn't managed to get my hands around the plot, if there was one, so I definitely don't think this book is for everyone.  That said, I don't think it necessarily needed a plot.  The compelling authenticity of the characters, the vivid snapshots of their lives, and the overarching connection of the funeral train itself were more than enough to create the feeling of sadness with the promise of hope for redemption that made this book an unexpectedly touching novel that has stuck with me.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Reviewlettes That Are Actually Short!

Often I jolly myself into thinking that I've written reviewlettes.  Unfortunately, all too often they are still too long to qualify.  Hope springs eternal, so I always just call them reviewlettes and hope that the reading public will agree.  The following may actually be short enough to qualify.  So short, in fact, that I have put all four into only one post.  Here in 2017, at the ripe old age of 33, let it be said of me that it is indeed possible for me to be concise.  Now....books!  

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan is a powerful and so incredibly plausible dystopian story for adults that takes place in a United States where prisons have been abolished in favor a society where people wear their crimes in the shade of their skin.  I was entranced by this novel that is a clever futuristic retelling of The Scarlet Letter where megachurches rule and one girl wears her sin in the bright red of her skin, and being trapped in a body turned red might just be what sets her free.

World War II set stories are among my favorites, and Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum does not disappoint.  Trudy has always been bewildered by her mother, Anna, a taciturn woman who refuses to talk about her life during the war.  During a research project meant to discover the stories of ordinary Germans who lived through the war, Trudy stumbles across the remarkable story of her own mother, a woman who saved herself and her child from certain starvation or worse, but at what cost?  An excellent addition to the genre, Blum’s novel is a haunting exploration of the inescapable moral dilemmas that riddle lives torn apart by war.

After her father’s death, Liberty “Ibby” Bell’s mother deposits her on the doorstep of her grandmother, the occasionally crazy Miss Fannie.  Dollbaby by Laura Lane McNeal is a story of a few quirky characters living in Civil Rights-era New Orleans.  McNeal’s story is filled with eccentric characters, southern charm, and the battle to de-segregate, but it seems like she’s trying to do too much.  Too many characters have too many secrets.  Too many coincidental tragedies drive the plot until it all starts to collapse under its own weight.  A lot of people liked this one a lot, but it wasn’t a big hit for me.

I'm always a little iffy on middle grade books since I'm reading them as an adult. Once in a while, I find a total gem, but most of the time I find myself underwhelmed. Unfortunately, The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau didn't really light my fire (Light my fire?  Get it?  I’ll be here…sporadically throughout the next year). DuPrau's dying underground world is well conceived, and irrepressible Lina and serious Doon are certainly characters middle schoolers should have no problem rooting for. As an adult reader, however, I was disappointed with all the telling that took the place of showing, the adult characters that were mostly caricatures, and the slow plot that seems to rely too heavily on the coincidence of whatever Lina's unsupervised baby sister is getting into or gumming to death in any given chapter. Three stars because while it fell a little flat for me, I'm sure its intended audience would find it much more rewarding.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

24 Hour Readathon

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?

My comfy couch in sunny Danville, Pennsylvania.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I'd settle for literally any of them at this point.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to?

My snacks are pretty evenly matched, but I might just order delivery Italian food this evening.  Now, that is exciting.

4) Tell us a little something about yourself!

Let's see, I started my blog just a little prior to the first Readathon .  (That's right, my now much neglected blog has officially turned 10!)  I don't think I read for the first 'thon...but I recall being a pretty enthusiastic cheerleader (RIP official Readathon cheerleading), and I've been hooked on this blogging and 24 hour readathonning thing ever since.

I work in technical support for laboratory information systems at a hospital (nay, a *health system*), and I'm on call today, so I figured, hey, I have to stay home to be available for work anyway, might as well get some Readathonning out of it.  Unfortunately, on call has been demanding thus far, so I am participating in theory more than reality.  One 35 page short story from Stephen King's Everything's Eventual is all I've managed.

Also the Yankees are playing in ALCS Game 7 there's that.....

5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?

Read less than if I wasn't readathonning at all, if things continue as they have been so far.  (Er....hopefully not that......?)