Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Report on Reading Goals 2014

Here are my reading goals posted in January, and where I ended up with them!

  1. Flannery O'Connor - I binge-read her complete stories the last week of December, no regrets.  What a riot! It also feels good to focus more on Southern writers.  I actually started the year reading a book that is a fictionalized account of her relationship with another writer, Frances and Bernard.  Flannery bookended my year!
  2. Roger Zelazny - I read the first book of the Chronicles of Amber, Nine Princes in Amber.  I liked it! I brought Lord of Light with me when I visited my Mom as she had radiation treatments, but it didn't grab me at the time.  I have tracked down the remaining Chronicles and will read those eventually.  Really I wish I'd read them as a child!
  3. Samuel Delany - I didn't get very far in reading Delany, only finishing The Einstein Intersection along with the Sword and Laser Book Club.  I have purchased several more - Babel-17 and Dhalgren, which will be the group read for the Misfit Readers in January 2015.  Still going to happen!
  4. Phillip Roth - I definitely didn't get as far as I thought I would with Roth.  I was actually hampered by his prolific output - there are some books with more acclaim than others but I wasn't necessarily starting with those.  I did get through American Pastoral, arguably one of his best, and Deception because it was in my house.  I have two more of his at home and three from the library, so a Roth readalong may continue.
  5. M. John Harrison - Loved the short story I read of his, abandoned the novel.  But at least I can say I tried.
  6. Rumi - I didn't get to him!
  1. Turkey - I did read three more from Turkey.
  2. Iran/Persia - One. Not a lot. So much for challenges.
  3. Iraq - One. Just poetry. Ha.
  4. Iceland - I got through eight books and abandoned two more.  I made some Icelandic dishes and listened to Icelandic music, but never really studied the language like I thought I might.
  5. Africa - I read an entire biography of Africa as well as books from Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco, and Mozambique.  Still have miles to go.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Reading Envy 019: Dump Truck Poetry

For Episode 019, some past guests as well as some other readers contribute their favorite books from 2014.  Thanks to everyone who participated!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy Episode 19

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Books mentioned:

Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence
Hotel Savoy by Joseph Roth
An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine
The Broken Road: Travels from Bulgaria to Mount Athos by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Builder Goose by Boni Ashburn
The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
The Martian by Andy Weir
Inversions by Iain M. Banks
Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee
The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod
Sometimes a Great Notion by Ken Kesey

Also mentioned:
Science Fiction Book Review Podcast
SFF Audio Podcast

Stalk us online:
Jenny at GoodReads
Scott at GoodReads
Jenny on Twitter
Scott on Twitter
Scott on his blog

Monday, December 29, 2014

Around the World in 52 Books in 2014

There are roughly 196 countries in the world, depending on how and when you count.  In 2012, a group of us in GoodReads started a challenge called Around the World in 52 Books.  In that year, I read 64 books from 48 countries.  Last year I focused far more on Turkey, and read 20 books from and about that country alone. I read 69 books for the Around the World challenge last year, and checked a few more unread countries off the list. 

This year I read another 52 books set outside the United States, with 15 countries I hadn't yet tackled.  The highlight for me was the eight I read from and about Iceland, the focus of The World's Literature group.  I also really enjoyed The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne, that takes place in a near future Ethiopia and India. 

Here is my list! The asterisks indicate countries new to my around the world reading this year. 

Africa, alphabetically by country

First of all, all of Africa
Africa: A Biography of the Continent by John Reader

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne (fantasy novel)

Dreams in a Time of War: A Childhood Memoir by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Dear Exile: The True Story of Two Friends Separated (for a Year) by an Ocean by Hilary Liftin

The Sand Child by Tahar Ben Jelloun

The Tuner of Silences by Mia Couto

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole

Asia and the Middle East, including Turkey

The Girl in the Road by Monica Byrne

سووشون Suvashun

Fifteen Iraqi Poets

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabih Alameddine

Korea, South* (I had read North Korea previously)
Another Man's City by Choi In-ho

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamad

Summer's End by Adalet Ağaoğlu
There Was and There Was Not: A Journey through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond by Meline Toumani
Topkapi Palace: Milestones in Ottoman History

Americans and Caribbean, from North to South

Walking Into the Night by Olaf Olafsson
Icelandic Poems and Stories ed. Richard Beck
Iceland's Bell by Halldor Laxness
Icelanders in the Viking Age: The People of the Sagas by William R. Short
Children in Reindeer Woods by Kristín Ómarsdóttir
The Blue Fox by Sjon
The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Continental Drift by Russell Banks

Fake Caribbean
The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

The Other Side of Paradise: Life in the New Cuba by Julia Cooke

Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple by Deborah Layton


The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The People in the Trees

Europe, alphabetically

There Was and There Was Not: A Journey through Hate and Possibility in Turkey, Armenia, and Beyond by Meline Toumani

The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt's Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer by Anne-Marie O'Connor

Chechynya, Russia
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, reread

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Süskind

The Undertaking by Audrey McGee

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
A History of Loneliness by John Boyne
In the Woods by Tana French
A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride

La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior

The Letters of a Portuguese Nun

Ballerina, Ballerina by Marko Sosič

The Infatuations by Javier Marías
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti

UK - including Scotland and Wales
Burning Down George Orwell's House by Andrew Ervin
The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell 

The list of countries still to tackle seems daunting, but I still have many unread books on some shelves at home.  The World's Literature group will be shifting its focus to Oceania and Australia so I expect to read a bit in that area! I'd like to get back to baking from the region I'm reading in as well.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Reading in Place - Florida, the Bahamas, and At Sea

When I travel, I always make an effort to read something related to where I am.  Sometimes those connections are a bit of a stretch, but it can be a fun challenge.  Earlier this month, my husband and I went to Florida for maybe the tenth time, and the Bahamas for the third time.  For Florida, I had previously tried reading Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen, but I wasn't in the mood to go back to it.  Plus it is in the "wrong" part of Florida, set around and in the Everglades.  I was headed to northern to mid eastern coast of Florida. We would be staying in Vilano Beach, right outside St. Augustine before heading south to Port Canaveral to get on a ship.

It was my plan all along to finish Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach Trilogy while in Florida, and had been holding on to Acceptance (#3) until I was there.  Now, the setting of the trilogy is technically "Area X," which may or may not be near Florida, but I felt like it was as close as I could get! It was a perfect read for our few days in Florida.  It was cold there, empty, and between the actual landscape and the setting of the book, I wandered Area X in my dreams.

"This island is about fourteen miles long, six broad, and forty in circumference, containing what I would estimate as about eight-four square miles or more than fifty thousand acres. The pine-and-oak forest comprises most of the interior, sprawling down toward the shore on the landward side, but the side facing the sea has been assaulted by storms, and there you will find mostly scrub and moss and gnarled bushes."
Another book I kept coming across in my searching was Continental Drift by Russell Banks, which travels from Florida to the Bahamas and dips into New Hampshire and Haiti as well.  Not only is it set in the Bahamas, it is specifically set in Nassau, where we were headed.  This novel has some voodoo in it but also a lot of the author's experience, and he captures the feeling of Nassau in the language and entrepreneurial spirit.  

"A few miles west of Elizabeth Town, the road dips and slants toward the sea before it makes the bend at Clifton Point and curves back along the north side of the island to Nassau, and from the road, the land on both sides seems empty... The bougainvillea, cassia trees, mahoe and annatto, a tangled weave of flower, thorn and hardwood, rise up like a hedgerow and block the human life and cultivation that go on there from the sight of passersby - tourists in rented cars, teenagers on motorbikes, policemen from Nassau in their Toyotas, air-conditioned tour buses filled with peering, pink-skinned ladies and gentlemen from the continent."
 This little passage made me laugh because while in Nassau we were on a bus where the driver intentionally went the wrong way down a one-way street, forcing people off the sidewalk, insisting, "It's my choice." So I suppose I was a pink-skinned lady from the continent. I didn't read this book in Nassau, but on the ship, before and after. Other books I considered bringing with me for the Florida-Bahamas connection are the Travis McGee crime novels by John MacDonald.  I had one on the way to me via but it didn't make it in time.  Most of the other books I have found set in the Bahamas are travel memoirs, such as Boat Girl, which is decent but not great.

Not finding a lot specific to my places, I expanded my search to the Caribbean and just ocean-themed reads.  I had exhausted many of the Caribbean novels I knew of, from The White Woman on the Green Bicycle to Krik? Krak!  Many of the novels set in the Caribbean are written by native authors, which I always prefer, but they were specific to an island other than where I was headed.  I prefer to save those until I end up in those places! 

On my shelves of science fiction and fantasy books, I had a few fantasy novels by female authors that I had not yet read, having to do with the ocean (and in the end, they shared a far more specific theme that would be giving some things away!).  The New Moon's Arms, by Nalo Hopkinson, is set on an imagined Caribbean island. The author is from Jamaica and has lived various places in the Caribbean and Canada, and I really liked her novel Sister Mine.  I started with the Hopkinson, and them moved to Singer from the Sea by Sheri S. Tepper.  This one was a much farther ocean, on the planet of Haven, and the main character (whose name is Genevieve or Jenny) has an unexplained (at first) connection to the sea.  This was a perfect book to read while the ship was moving through the water, sitting on a balcony with the ocean breeze ruffling the pages.  I liked mixing fantasy novels into my place-based reading.  It still worked!

"At this season the terrace tops were furred with golden stubble, horizontal lines of brightness against black rock that towered above ice-glittering, echoing fjords. The journey was mesmerizing. Here great waves swept over the reefs between the islands, sometimes a gentle susurrus of ripples, sometimes great shouting geysers of spray that erupted from blow holes on the lagoon side. As nowhere else in Haven, here was the feel of the great sea, the presence of it, the push and sway of it, and so Garth said, the threat of it as well." - Singer from the Sea

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Reading Envy 018: Dystopia is My Religion

In episode 18, Jenny and Scott talk about the best of 2014!

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy Episode 018

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Some of the books mentioned (the ones we've read, at least):

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Orfeo by Richard Powers
Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra
Chimpanzee by Darin Bradley
The End is Nigh, edited by John Joseph Adams and Hugh Howey
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree, Jr.
The Open Door: 100 Years of Poetry Magazine
The Noonday Demon by Andrew Solomon
The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham
Everything Annie Dillard has written
Pavane by Keith Roberts
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Agent to the Stars by John Scalzi (read by Wil Wheaton)
The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara Tuchman
Jesus: A Pigrimage by James Martin

And some lists:

NPR Book Concierge 2014

NY Times 100 Notable Books

GoodReads Best of 2014 (user-voted)

Audible Best Books of 2014 Reviewers Choice - Best Books of 2014

Amazon 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime, Feb 2014

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Jenny's Library Books Mid-December

This month I have two piles of library books.  Since I work in a library, sometimes the books I check out are actually work related.  I'm planning an improv retreat for my group of Outreach librarians and staff in the library, so this pile should not be a surprise!

Bossypants by Tina Fey 
Theatre Games and Beyond by Amiel Schotz
The Improv Handbook by Tom Salinsky
The Second City Almanac of Improvisation by Anne Libera

Of these books, the most useful were The Improv Handbook and Threatre Games and Beyond. I was looking for practical, hands-on exercises I could use and adapt.  The Almanac was interesting but is really for super-fans of that venue, while The Second City Guide to Improv in the Classroom and the Sawyer text were too specific to K-6 students.  I'm going to be using a bit of the Bossypants audiobook to help kick off the retreat.

The Blue Fox by Sjon
My Struggle: Book One by Karl Ove Knausgard
what the world will look like when all the water leaves us by Laura van den Berg
The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison
Insurgent by Veronica Roth (with bonus photo of me in the spine)
Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
Hopper by Mark Strand
The Telling Room: A Tale of Love, Betrayal, Revenge, and the World's Greatest Piece of Cheese by Michael Paterniti
Collected Poems by Mark Strand
When Mark Strand passed away, I collected all the books I hadn't yet read from my local libraries.  That only numbered two, but reading the Collected Poems was a nice personal tribute to one of my favorite poets!  If you are not familiar with his work, check out Eating Poetry, probably the only poem with a stamping, weeping librarian.

The Sjon and Paterniti were for book clubs - World's Literature and the in-person one.  I read the van den Berg to discuss on the Reading Envy podcast, based on a previous Reading Envy podcast, so it felt like a meta-experience.  The Jamison and Cumming are to continue reading more non-fiction, although I haven't read either. They are likely candidates for holiday reads, as well as the Knausgard.  I am half way through the Roth but not super into it - my intention was to read it before the movie came out but I might decide to just enjoy the story that way. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Reading Envy 017: Homeric Radiation at Lake Inverness

In this episode we bring our pal Luke Burrage, who was recording past midnight in Berlin for Episode 017.

Download or listen via this link: Reading Envy Episode 017

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Books discussed:


The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The Homeric Epics and the Gospel of Mark by Dennis Ronald MacDonald
what the world will look like when the water leaves us by Laura van den Berg
Ill Met in Lankhmar by Fritz Leiber
The Son of God in the Roman World by Michael Peppard
As They Were by M.F.K. Fisher

Other books and topics that came up along the way:
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home by Tim O'Brien
Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon, the new audiobook
The "Bryan List" of post-modern literature (see comments on Reading Envy Episode 003)
SFF Audio Odyssey readalong (first of six episodes)
Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink
Find Me by Laura van den Berg
Her Smoke Rose Up Forever by James Tiptree Jr.
Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
George Singleton, author
George Saunders, author
The Big Time by Fritz Leiber
The Persistence of Vision by John Varley
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson
Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson
Gladiator, the movie, which Jenny has never seen
Les Miserables, the movie, where Russell Crowe sings
Les Miserables, the 25th anniversary tv special

You can find Luke Burrage, international juggler and entertainer, on his website.  He is also known for the Science Fiction Book Review Podcast, where he reviews every single science fiction book that he reads.

More stalking:
Jenny at GoodReads
Scott at GoodReads
Jenny on Twitter
Scott on Twitter
Scott on his blog