Best of the Year

Taking a few minutes out of being a busy entrepreneurial executive at the hubby’s consulting biz to share my reading stats for 2018.  I finished 84 books — I read more than that, but I’ve made a separate list on Goodreads for “DNFs” (that means “did not finish,” for the uninitiated). I don’t rate those and I don’t include them on my list of what I’ve actually read.

I’m an avid audiobook fan and that led to my favorite discovery of 2018, Percival Everett. First I heard “The Appropriation of Culture” on Selected Shorts. Then, soon after, Levar Burton read “Graham Greene” on his wonderful podcast. After that, I went to the library and picked up a couple of Everett’s short story collections. I love his unique ability to combine a world-weary realism with an underlying sense of serenity. His stories feel kind of Buddhist in their world view.

Also “The Appropriation of Culture” manages to say some really important, insightful things about race while being freaking hilarious. Find it in his 2004 collection, Damned If I Do.

141202Besides Percival Everett, Levar Burton has featured works by Charlie Jane Anders, Octavia Butler and Daniel Wallace, among others. Burton’s podcast is a delight if you enjoy audiobooks. First there’s the creamy-smooth goodness of Levar Burton’s voice, but it’s also a wonderful forum for underrepresented authors. Many of the stories he’s chosen are by women and/or authors of color. It’s a fun way to discover authors who haven’t gotten as much exposure as they should have.

814-kplvc6lAnother great fiction discovery was Mick Herron. He’s been around for a while, but I finally picked up the first book in his “Slow Horses/Slough House” series and loved it. The Slow Horses are failed British intelligence agents. They’ve all done something egregiously wrong, but not quite criminal. Still, they know too much to be allowed back into ordinary society, so why not make use of them. The sad-sack screw-ups are relegated to Slough House (Slough House=slow horses, get it?!?!), where they are meant to shuffle papers and enter data until the end of time. They’re presided over by gruff, shambling, slobby Jackson Lamb, who may not be as washed up as he keeps trying to pretend to be.

And of course, they do NOT stay behind those desks and enter that data. They inevitably get drawn into various high-stakes adventures, which they botch up stupendously before generally getting their sh*t together in the final few chapters. It’s like Johnny English as written by Graham Greene (meaning the British novelist, not the Native American actor mentioned in the Percival Everett story cited above). Far less introspective than Percival Everett, but loads of fun to read. If you like a good caper story, especially of the “gang that couldn’t shoot straight” variety, read these.

Ironically, one of the worst novels I read this year was also by Mick Herron. Called This Is What Happened, it was an utterly unconvincing dystopian tale blended with the now tiresomely familiar twisty domestic thriller genre. Skip this one and read the entire Slough House series instead.

downloadAs for nonfiction, I read so many, many fascinating perspective-altering books this year, it kind of exhausted me. I highly recommend Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore by Elizabeth Rush. This book takes all the talk of climate change and brings it down to the personal level. Rush interviews people whose entire neighborhoods are now underwater and destined to stay there. She examines the faulty assumptions over the last fifty years that have made flooding even worse in places like New Jersey and New Orleans. It will definitely make you reconsider retiring to the seaside, I can tell you that.

9780252082122Another life-changing read was Goodbye iSlave by Jack Qiu. This under-noticed treatise is a bit dry at times but has so much important to tell us. Qiu writes about the morally questionable nature of our mobile device addiction — the slave labor that mines the materials, the toxic workplaces where people who are virtual prisoners assemble the things, the rising pile of toxic trash that comes from throwing all this crap away after just a couple of years. His book offers some possible solutions to the problems presented within the text, including the FairPhone, a repairable mobile device. I wanted so badly to get one after reading this book, but looks like they aren’t even available in the USA.

Last but not least, I read a lot more poetry than I have in years. Possibly this was because I was managing the poetry collection at the grouchy old-school library I last worked at. (You know the kind of library I mean: where the librarians all sit on stools behind a high desk, reading their own books and hoping you will go away and not ask them that question you’re about to ask. It was not a good fit.)

But at any rate, I got to read a lot of poetry. And what lingers with me now is Gabriel, the heartbreaking masterpiece of loss by Edward Hirsch. Published several years ago, this long poem/short book is a father’s elegy for the death of his beautiful, baffling, troubled son. Gabriel died at the age of 22, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, it was many days before Hirsch was able to find out what had become of his son and learn where the body had been taken. Truly, it is every parent’s worst nightmare turned into art. The poem will especially resonate with anyone who has a child struggling, as Gabriel did, with mental illness and developmental disorders.

Hirsch with Gabriel in happier times

And those are my most memorable books from 2018. Sorry if it’s a heavy list, but it was a heavy year.

Happy reading to all of you in 2019!

 

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Book reviews are on sabbatical…

There’s been a lull in my “Book in a Minute” reviews on the blog page. I switched libraries, then I had a shoulder injury, then I left the new library, then I tore up my knee and spent a couple of months catching up on Netflix. Now I’ve become a vice-president in charge of marketing and communications in my husband’s new engineering consulting firm. Because apparently there wasn’t enough chaos in my life.

Now things seem to be getting back on their usual rickety tracks and I’m finding more time to write (and think) about books again. Expect some new reviews soon and possibly even some news about some new writing from me in 2019–although possibly not under this pen name. Details when I’m able to share more with you!

As always, check out my Facebook page for news too.

 

Nathan’s Back!

nathanasnathanOf course, in my heart, he never really went away. Despite that miserable final season of Castle,  I know he’d land on his feet. And of course he has.

For a number of years, the main reason people seemed to visit this site (other than book reviews and shameless self-promotion of my own books, of course) was to contemplate the magic that is Nathan Fillion. Don’t believe me? I have the stats to prove it. For a while, it seemed like Nathan should be paying me his publicist’s fee. But then I got busy with career stuff and kid stuff and marriage stuff and library stuff and kind of neglected Nathan for a while.

Today, I intend to start rectifying that mistake!

So here’s Nathan in a short fan film, I think it first popped up at San Diego Comic Con this month.  It’s Nathan as Nathan. Nathan Drake, that is. Apparently, Nathan Drake is a video game version of Indiana Jones. So maybe a male Lara Croft?

Who cares, it’s Nathan-licious and that’s what counts, right? More Nathan news to come, fellow Fillion fans…

Book in a Minute: Jane Eyre’s Sisters

I know, I know. It’s been a minute. What can I say? New job for me, husband who’s starting up his own new business, shoulder injury, moving — you name it, I’ve got the excuse. I can’t promise a lot more reviews in the future, but this was a fascinating book, so I thought it’d be worth taking a minute to break my long silence!

Jane Eyre's Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine's StoryJane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story by Jody Gentian Bower

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A little slow and ponderous in places–kind of reads like it might have begun life as a doctoral thesis. But what an excellent, under-discussed topic!

As a writer, I’ve sat through countless workshops that try to stuff women’s lives into the “hero’s journey” format laid out by Joseph Campbell. The format was picked up by Hollywood script doctor Christopher Vogler and is widely touted as the only story worth telling.

Personally, I’m not entirely sure I buy the theory that all great stories must fit Campbell’s hero’s journey in the first place. I definitely don’t believe that all great stories about women fit that mold. So Jane Eyre’s Sisters by Jody Bower was a welcome discovery. I’m not sure I agree with all her conclusions, either, but I’m just thrilled that SOMEONE finally decided to analyze the great works of literature that resonate more with women than with men!

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Humanities Are US

If you want to show your support for the arts and humanities, Ramona Defelice Long has created some great posters you can use on your website, blog or social media. Check it out!

Ramona DeFelice Long

What are the humanities?

The humanities are language, literature, law, history, archeology, religion, ethics, art, heritage, traditions. The humanities make us feeling, thinking, creative, caring, compassionate human beings. Without the humanities, we become soulless creatures without a past or future.

The National Endowment for the Humanities is the government agency that spearheads projects to preserve and explore our national heritage.

Have you seen Ken Burns’ documentaries on The Civil War, Prohibition, the Roosevelts. Huey Long, the Dust Bowl, the National Parks, Baseball? Of his body of work so far–27 documentaries–15 have been supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Do you know the Library of America, with support from the NEH, focuses on a writer of the week? This week’s writer is Ursula LeGuin.

Did you realize the NEH, since its inception 50 years ago, has published 7,000 books and, through its Chronicling America Project, catalogued and preserved…

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Steamed about STEM

Everything that’s wrong with the over-emphasis on STEM in today’s educational system, in one simple, badly thought-out ad campaign:

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No, Wells Fargo, being an actor or ballerina is not something you do because you CAN’T be a botanist or engineer. To be a really good dancer, singer, actor or musician takes as much training as (or more than) becoming a scientist. People who succeed in all of these fields, both science and arts, have one thing in common: they choose their paths out of love, not because some statistical trends and educational fads led their parents and teachers (and banks!) to badger them into a particular career.

Arts change lives in ways just as important as the sciences. if you don’t believe that, Wells Fargo, go ask a few engineers why they became engineers. A bunch of them will tell you it was because of watching shows like Star Trek or reading science fiction books by people like Isaac Asimov.

Why is everything in modern society so US versus THEM? People, can’t we all just get along?

 

Book in a Minute: The Pier Falls

The Pier Falls: And Other StoriesThe Pier Falls: And Other Stories by Mark Haddon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Relentlessly dark and disturbing, but so well-written, I kept reading anyway.

The first story, “The Pier Falls” is almost Hemingway-like in its straightforward, moment-by-moment description of a freakish tragedy at a beach resort.

“The Island” retells the myth of Ariadne with a gritty, heartbreaking realism.

But my personal favorite has to be “The Woodpecker and the Wolf,” which reads like the jaded, cynical flip side of Andy Weir’s The Martian. A female astronaut is part of a team stationed on Mars when things go horribly wrong. And then they get worse. Does she emerge triumphant, a la Mark Watney in Weir’s story? Read the book and find out.

But maybe don’t read it too close to bedtime. These are the kinds of stories that trouble the mind and plague the soul long after you’ve finished reading.

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