Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Question Tuesday! (Didn't even mean to do that, but Nerdfighters FTW!)

Okay, let's get real. It's the day after a holiday weekend. I don't know how it is where you are, but it's a gray chilly day in my 'hood, and I'd really like to crawl back under the covers. But I'm trying to Act Like a Grownup over here in Looking for a Job-land, and so I soldier on!

But let's ease into it today. There's a book meme going around Tumblr. I figure I'll go out on a limb and answer some of the questions. We're still getting to know each other, so what the hell.

1. Favorite childhood book? 
Oh my god, this is already impossible. How do you pick just one? But okay, one I remember reading over and over again was There's a Boy in the Girls'
Bathroom, by Louis Sachar. Bradley Chalkers (that name!) wasn't like any of the main characters in my other books. He could act mean, but he wasn't. He had an incredible imagination. He was funny. This book is so awkward sometimes, I'm cringing just thinking about it. So good.

3. What books do you have on request at the library? 
I had to check. It's The Fifth Wave, by Rick Yancey, and Summer and Bird, by Katherine Catmull. I don't even remember anything about that second one. That's okay, it's fun to go in blind.
7. Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?

I like to go through 'em one at a time. It feels frustrating to juggle a bunch at once and not make progress on any. That said, I can do it if one's a book of short stories or essays and the other is fiction.  

12. What is your reading comfort zone?

Fiction. I enjoy almost any genre, but fiction, and specifically novels, is my sweet spot.

15. What is your policy on book lending?

I've been burned before, but I'll still do it. When I really want someone to read something, I find it really expedites things to hand them the book. And then ask them how they're coming along with it two to forty times a day...

21. What will inspire you to recommend a book?

I love recommending books to friends I think Have It All Wrong about some author or series. Harry Potter's a lot of fun to foist on people who expect it to be a simple children's book, and then get totally and completely hooked. And I can always suggest a Stephen King book to people who expect them to just be gross, forgettable horror stories. I love suggesting John Green's books to people who think YA books must be stupid. Basically, if I genuinely think they'll love it, I'll recommend it. Subverting their expectations is a bonus.
25. Have you ever read a self-help book?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichi

You guys are going to get sick of me telling you I love everything I read.

It's just that I have a strict reading policy! Since there are too many amazing books for me to read in my lifetime, I don't waste time on the ones that aren't doing it for me. This doesn't mean abandoning challenging books, just boring or badly-written ones.

Here endeth my reading habit PSA. Moving on.

I'll say this up front: I need to read more diversely. I read in all the genres, sure, and I lean more towards books by women these days, and that's great, but I need to put the effort into finding more books by women (and men) of color. Americanah deals heavily with questions of race, and it is fascinating.

The book follows Ifemelo and Obinze, two Nigerians who elect to immigrate to the US and the UK, respectively. We see them through their childhood, their teenaged romance, their painful estrangement, and their reconnection years later. Through Ifemelo, we get to see an experience I'm ashamed to say I never really thought about before: that of a non-American Black in America.

For Ifemelo, race doesn't exist before she arrives in America. The color of her skin just isn't an issue in Nigeria. In the US, she has a whole new set of rules and social norms to adjust to.To help her keep track, and to observe her new situation, she starts a blog, which becomes a great success. Excerpts of her blog are peppered throughout her chapters, with titles like To My Fellow Non-American Blacks: In America, You Are Black, Baby, and Thoughts on the Special White Friend. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mini-Review Roundup, part one

Is it weird I've been wanting it to rain all week? The little weather app on my phone keeps saying it's going to, but I'm looking at another sunny day. I think I have this misguided idea that my responsibilities will be put on hold if it's gross out. No, I couldn't possibly go to the bank, it's raining!

It's possible that's not how that works.

Anyway. As long as we're avoiding errands, we might as well talk books. These are most of the non-Diana Wynne Jones books I read on our road trip. It's been awhile so I'm just gonna do short reviews. I hope you don't mind.

 I enjoy the hell out of Kate Morton's books. She tends to stick to a certain formula, using a number of female narrators, usually separated by anywhere from ten to fifty years. There's generally some family secret that a daughter or granddaughter investigates, and there are some twists along the way. They're not always the deepest books, maybe, but Morton does a great job of crafting these stories.

I love her unabashed use of women to tell their own stories. She fleshes out her characters well, gets you to root for them, while still letting them be secretive, sometimes cruel, sometimes awesome. Basically, she lets them be whole people.

That said, this wasn't my favorite of hers. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, and there were some really beautiful moments for the characters. But the "twists" were pretty obvious--not often the case for Morton--and the final payoff was a bit of a let-down. For anyone new to Morton's books, I'd recommend The Secret Keeper, my favorite.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Road trip reading

View in The Strand
Okay, so my husband (we'll call him Chef, because that's what he is) and I just got home from a 7 week road trip around the country. We hit New York City, Philly, Asheville, Nashville, New Orleans, Houston, Tucson, San Francisco, Portland...others...It was kind of epic. It was a lot awesome. It's been an adjustment getting used to being home again. It's nice to have a bed. And privacy. And cats.

But it's hard not to miss it. How often as adults do we get to have that kind of freedom? It was great not to think about jobs or bills or, for the most part, grocery shopping, for almost two months.

What does any of this have to do with books? Welp, here's a thing about my book habits: I'm a library person. My mother was a librarian for 35 years, I've always had a library card, always used it. Who has the money to go around buying books all the time?

Okay, so you know how, when you're on vacation, the normal money-spending rules kind of cease to apply?

Yeah. We bought 35 books on this trip. (Just because we had sooo much extra room in our car. Not.) We couldn't help it! I don't know if you know this, but there are some damn fine book stores in this country. And we only made it to a few. The stand-outs, for those of you keeping track, were:

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Railsea, by China Mieville

I dig the cover, too.
Every now and then, you read a book that just makes you say, "Damn. Now I have to start a book blog, because I can't not talk about this one!" For me, China Mieville's Railsea is that book. 

I've attempted Mieville a few times in the past, first with Un Lun Dun and later with Kraken. I can only chalk up my failure to finish them with the assumption that I just wasn't in the right mood for them at the time. To be fair, when I started Kraken, I loved it. It was so magnificently weird. But I got stuck in one of those unhappy reading lulls, and never finished. (Also, true fact, it was on my honeymoon, and I was a bit, erm, distracted. ANYWAY.) I think Railsea is just the push I needed to inspire me to go back and finish Kraken. And, well, everything else Mieville has written, ever.

Because I loved this book.

It starts off a bit slow. I had to push myself to keep going forward with it--until I was forty pages in or so, and things just took off. 

In the world of Railsea, most of the earth is covered in tracks, and people wend their way around in trains. To walk the earth is to risk fairly-certain, definitely- icky-and-painful death at the mouths of one of any number of enormous moles, birds, or insects. Mieville's descriptions are incredibly three-dimensional. Yes, he shows us what everything looks like, in great, quirky, readable detail. But he also shows us what the rhythm of the train feels like under our feet. We hear the sounds and smell the smells and...you get the idea. I sometimes get impatient when there's a ton of description. I like for things to be happening, preferably to characters I give a damn about. Railsea delivers it all.

I don't really want to do an in-depth summary. Will you just go read it if I say it's one of those books where the main character learns something they weren't supposed to and then get chased across the world by pirates and the navy and giant moles? That it's one of those books that's Moby Dick-esque, except funny?(Possibly unfair. I haven't gotten around to actually reading MD yet. But one hears things.) It's one of those books with Women Being Awesome (see also: Women Being Powerful, Women Being In Charge Without it being a Big Deal, Women Looking Out For Number One, Women Being Ambiguous and Women Being Girls Being Badass Adventurers).

Aside from the story, which I loved, and the characters, who I loved, I loved Mieville's voice throughout the book. It wasn't exactly a character, but it did interrupt the story with the occasional short chapter to explain this or that and to be generally awesome. This kind of technique can be intrusive and annoying, but I thought it was successful here. Plus--how to put this?--I loved how he used that narrative voice to keep from having to tell us every last detail. To wit:

[Robalson] put down a bowl of food & loosened Sham's bonds, & Sham began to shout even as the dirty cloth left his mouth. "What the hell are you doing my captain's going to find me you're going to pay for this you crazy pig," & so on. Sham had hoped it would sound like a bellow. It came out more like a loud whine.
Many trains kept records of overhearings like sightings of megabeasts, of any talk of sports & monsters they encountered, knowing molers they met might be searching. Shiverjay ran a finger down a rumour-list, past tales of the largest badger, albino antlions, aardvarks of prodigious size. Some had the names of captains marked alongside. Some had more than one: oh, those were awkward occasions, clashes of hunts..."Ah, now," Shiverjay said. "Here's a thing." He had a superb stock of stories. "You know where the Bajjer roll?" Naphi nodded a vague nod. The sail-nomads gathered & hunted across great swathes of the railsea. "A deep-railsea spearhunter, she told me something that she'd heard from a furrier who'd been trading with a salvor crew--" 
The lineage, the genealogy by which the story was delivered at last into Captain Naphi's ears, was convoluted & not important. What mattered was this: "A solo trainsman saw our quarry."
This just makes me so happy. I struggle in my own writing with the compulsion to show every last (occasionally boring) thing. Mieville just punches right through with humor and gets on with the story. Good man.