Resolutions!


The last book of 2018 was How Long ‘Til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin, bringing the 2018 total to 106 books read. This is belated because I kept thinking I would finish another book and write about them both, but well, this week I mostly spent catching up on all the issues of The New Yorker that I’ve been carrying around forever (I’m currently only reading 2 issues of The New Yorker!).  Also, I’m always suggesting books to my mother-in-law so for Christmas she returned the favor and gave me 4 of her favorite books. We’ll see how it turns out, but the first one is a 650 page novel… So that’s taking some time.

Briefly, I will say that I recommend How Long ‘Til Black Future Month if you enjoy sci-fi, fantasy, or magical realism at all. It’s a great short story collection that really runs the gambit between other world sci-fi, fantasy (think dragons), and alternative history. My favorite was a bit of steam-punk alternate history (“The Effluent Engine”) — what if Haiti had been able to stay a free country after a slave revolt, and they’d been able to build a stable country? Also, everyone travels by dirigible and women can do stuff. It’s also a wonderful book because there really is sadly a huge dearth of black characters in sci-fi and fantasy generally. That’s changing, but I think it’s pretty much all thanks to Jemisin…

And now I want to also briefly recommend my favorites from my 2018 reading:

1. The Power – Naomi Alderman
2. Manhattan Beach – Jennifer Egan
3. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng
4. How to Stop Time – Matt Haig
5. Sing Unburied Sing – Jesmyn Ward
6. Fever Dreams – Samanta Schweblin (this book is terrifying, but I can’t leave it off the list)
7. The Animators – Kayla Rae Whitaker
8. When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir – Asha Bandele and Patrisse Khan-Cullors (again, not on here because I enjoyed it per se, but one of the more powerful books I read this year)
9. The Idiot – Elif Batuman
10. The Female Persuasion – Meg Wolitzer
11. You Think It I’ll Say It – Curtis Sittenfeld
12. Everything Here Is Beautiful – Mira T. Lee
13. Happiness – Aminatta Forna
14. An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
15. The Friend – Sigrid Nunez
16. The Fifth Season – N.K. Jemisin
17. The Supernatural Enhancements – Edgar Cantero (looking back, I just really enjoyed the format of this book, not everyone will)
18. Dear Mrs. Bird – AJ Pearce
19. She Has Her Mother’s Laugh: The Power, Perversions, and Potential of Heredity – Carl Zimmer (Fascinating)
20. Let Me Tell You -Shirley Jackson

I held myself to only 20 (I was going for 10, but couldn’t whittle this down further…), so really I recommend almost every book I read this year. A lot of these are on the list because I just enjoyed reading them so much, some because the power of the book demands it (Fever Dreams, I’m looking at you), some because they really taught me something.

What were your best reads of 2018? What are you looking forward to in 2019?

Currently Reading: Unsheltered and Cutting For Stone

Happy Holidays! Merry almost Christmas, Happy it used to be Hanukkah, Happy almost almost almost New Year. Hard to believe 2019 is nearly upon us! I know it’s not 2018’s fault, but I just really can’t wait for it to be behind me. I hope I don’t have many worse years ahead of me… It was a tough one for sure. But books were such a bright spot. I have loved so many of my reads this year, and I’m so glad that I really prioritized and made time for reading.

What goals are you setting for next year? I’m not sure I’ll intentionally read 100 books again, which is to say that I’m going to keep tracking my reads and keep making time for it, but if I read 85 instead of 100, I’ll be okay with it. My goal last year (2017) was 52 and I did 68, my goal this year was 100 and it looks like I’ll finish around 106 or 107 (I’m currently at 105).

My reads this week were Roxane Gay’s Not That Bad: Dispatches From Rape Culture and Limetown which was written by Cote Smith but is based on a podcast created by Zack Akers and Skip Bronkie. I’ve mentioned that I’ve been working on Not That Bad for awhile, not because it’s bad or even slow, but because it is so intense to read. This is collection of many essays, many of them first person accounts of rape and sexual assault, and I found I could read about 3 before I had to take a break. Partially because I didn’t just want to breeze through these deeply personal stories, partly because it just made me so sad about the world we live in.

Despite the intensity of the book, I still recommend it (although if rape and sexual assault are too difficult for you, HUGE trigger warning on this one) as a powerful and well-written collection. The diversity in styles and in stories really makes this a strong book. No one in here is telling exactly the same story, although they are all telling you pieces of a larger story about our culture. I bookmarked A LOT in this book, and I will share a few of the more powerful pieces, but really I had to stop bookmarking because so much of this book feels important.

My first bookmark is a list I intend to come back to should I raise any men in this world – it is the author’s list of what you generally want to convey to your sons (Aubrey Hirsch, “Fragments”):

It’s not okay to hit the girl you like. And it’s not okay to hit the girl you love.

The world around you tells women that they should always nod politely no matter what they’re feeling inside. Don’t ever take a polite nod for an answer. Wait for her to yell it: “Yes!”

Not everyone gets sex when they want it. Not everyone gets love when they want it. This is true for men and for women. A relationship is not your reward for being a nice guy, no matter what the movies tell you.

Birth control is your job too.

Here are some phrases you will need to know. Practice them in the mirror until they come as easy as songs you know by heart: “Do you want to?” “That’s not funny, man.” “Does that feel good?” “I like you, but I think we’re both a little drunk. Here’s my number. Let’s get together another time.”

My feelings about this list should mostly be conveyed in exclamation marks. Another author ends with hopeful notes about the strength of her daughters (Elisabeth Fairfield Stokes, Reaping What Rape Culture Sows), which is a nice bit of optimism.

There’s another piece that is very much an autobiographical account of all the worst things that happened to the author (xTx, “The Ways We Are Taught to Be a Girl”) that plays with how we assign a value to the ‘badness’ of the things that have happened:

My score is low compared to some and high compared to others. The harder the lesson, the higher the points. Some girls would kill for my score. That’s why I don’t talk about my score. I got off easy.

I legitimately think, “I got off easy.” I didn’t get raped … I got fondled at best. Not that bad, right? Lucky, right? Right. Exactly. This is what I’m saying. I got off easy. Why even write this essay?

This is, to me, the central thesis of the book. What has happened so many isn’t okay just because there’s some other person out there who has had it worse, it is that bad. I think V.L. Seek’s essay “Utmost Resistance” (written semi-in the style of a law review article, and about how the law views and has viewed rape) summed things up nicely (if depressingly):

[A] conclusion seems out of reach when we are still stuck debating the facts, deciding whom to trust and what is true. We are trapped in a legal system that has never favored women and has never believed survivors. And we are mired in a circuitous and damning dialogue, so powerful that it invalidates our experiences, our traumas, our truths — a dialogue so powerful that we begin to doubt whether our experience was ever there at all.

Limetown is, thankfully for my mental health, a very different sort of book. It’s pretty much a  prequel novel to the Limetown podcast which just released its second (and I think final) season. This is a sort of mystery-horror story, and the fact that the pieces take a while to fit together and some things aren’t explained is sort of key, so I will try not to ruin it for anyone.

The premise of the podcast is that Lia Haddock is a public radio reporter looking into the mystery of Limetown. Limetown, we’re told, was a planned community doing some kind of secret research, one day things went crazy, and then three days later, all 300 people who lived there had disappeared. The podcast moves forward from Limetown, with Lia trying to unpack what was going on there, what happened, and whether there are survivors.  Lia tells us that she has a personal connection, her uncle Emile was at Limetown and disappeared along with everyone else.

The book is a prequel, and it shifts back and forth between Lia and her uncle Emile’s perspectives as they each grow up (in different decades). It’s an enjoyable enough book, not amazing, not something you definitely must pick up. I think I’d actually recommend listening to the first season of the podcast first, if you like that, pick up the book. I, like many others, didn’t like the second season as much. I love this idea, but I’m not sure it couldn’t have been executed better.

Currently reading: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver, When Will It Be Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin and thinking about whether I can make one more trip to the library before the end of the year…

 

 

Let me tell you, I really like this collection, Let Me Tell You by Shirley Jackson. I think most people mainly know Jackson for her terrifying short story The Lottery or, now that Netflix made a special, for The Haunting of Hill House. But, Jackson, despite dying young and raising four kids, wrote so many other amazing short stories and novels !!  I really enjoyed this collection because it includes short stories, very early short stories, non-fiction writing, and some of her essays or speeches on her process or on writing. It really feels like you get to get in her head a little bit — and she discusses writing both The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery in the essays in the book.

The first section of the collection is short stories which were ‘finished’ (or you know, at least completely written if not deemed finished by Jackson) but unpublished or uncollected. I enjoyed all of them — they were all so different, and I love how Jackson plays with magical realism. She just wasn’t bound to the rules of the world the way some of us are (“I don’t think I like reality very much.”). It’s sort of hard to give examples without spoiling these short stories because first, they’re short so the plots are pretty straight forward, but also some of their strength comes from the way not everything is made explicit (so as in The Lottery, it is never explained WHY this is happening).

The second section is all non-fiction pieces, including one where Jackson talks about being asked to write a children’s story:

I was given a word list, made out by a “group of educators,” and asked to confine myself to this list . . . . “Getting” and “spending” were on the list, but not “wishing”; “cost” and “buy” and “nickel” and “dime” were all on the list, but not “magic”; “post office” and “supermarket” were on the list, but not “Fairlyland.” I felt the children for whom I was supposed to write were being robbed, persuaded to accept nickels and dimes instead of magic wishes.

Considering how TERRIFYING The Lottery and The Haunting of Hill House are (as well as several other Jackson stories), reading Jackson’s non-fiction is delightful. She just seems to see life in everything — she was raising four kids and doing all this housework, so her brain just started making up stories about the laundry basket, and she just kind of seems to live in that kind of world.

The third section of the collection is all very early Jackson short stories, most of which involve WWII or the end of WWII. It’s kind of fascinating to see these early hints of her later style in these stories, they don’t have quite the same light touch or twists and turns.

The fourth and fifth sections are both non-fiction, the fourth centers on her kids/housekeeping and the fifth is all essays about writing.  I found the fifth section fascinating because she does provide a little insight in how she came up with some of her stories. But, the fourth section may actually have been my favorite and made me laugh out loud — this is where you really see that unrelentingly creative brain:

My two forks are insanely jealous of each other, and I find that I must take a path of great caution with them, something I would not do for many of my friends. I try to keep out of their quarrels – who wouldn’t be afraid of an angry fork? – but I am always fumbling the delicate balance of power that is all that keeps them from each other’s throats.  …

I do not mean to say that I am under the thumb of my forks, any more than I am honestly afraid of the meat grinder’s threats, or the bullying of the coffee pot. It is simply that one cannot live a day in the middle of so many personalities without occasionally treating on some fork’s toes. . . .

Although I will admit, it made me wish I had a time machine, I would go back a hire Jackson a nanny or a maid or a cook or something so she could have had a few more hours with her typewriter. I guess she enjoyed the balance, but there is this feeling, how much more could she have written if someone else was doing the laundry?

OH, and PS – This was book 100 for me! I totally met my goal of 100 books in 2018. With pretty much all of December to go.

Currently reading: The Overstory, still working on Not That Bad.

At the beginning of this year, I set myself a goal to read 52 books which I knew for me was pretty doable and I did in fact read 68 books (not including re-reads).  The complete list is below.

Honestly I think that if you love reading, reading 52 books in a year isn’t that challenging, unless maybe you only love reading 800 page biographies.  So step one is loving reading, step two is definitely don’t have young children.  Or possibly just don’t have children and you’ll get a lot more reading done.  Other steps: always bring your book, let yourself give up on books you just don’t like, you can get a couple pages read while you’re flossing your teeth AND then you flossed! (I use the little flosser things to make this possible, I don’t have a third hand), you will have to cut down on your screen time somewhat, you will have to make some time for reading in your life (see step one and step two to determine if this is possible for you).

Looking forward to another  50+ in 2018.

Books Read in 2017

1. The Long War – Terry Prachett
2. Another Place at the Table – Kathy Harrison
3. The Long Mars – Terry Prachett
4. The Long Utopia – Terry Prachett
5. The Long Cosmos – Terry Prachett
6. Grief is a Thing With Feathers – Max Porter
7. Being Mortal – Atul Gawande
8. Swing Time – Zadie Smith
9. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
10. Faithful – Alice Hoffman
11. Prep – Curtis Sittenfeld
12. The Sixth Extinction – Elizabeth Kolbert
13. Island on Fire – Alexandra Witze and Jeff Kanipe
14. Northanger Abbey – Val McDermid
15. Sense and Sensibility – Joanna Trollope
16. The Terranauts – T.C. Boyle
17. Victoria – Daisy Goodwin
18. A Book of American Martyrs – Joyce Carol Oats
19. Dreams From My Father – Barack Obama
20. Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
21. Welcome to Nightvale – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
22. Furiously Happy – Jenny Lawson
23. Pioneer Girl -Bich Minh Nguyen
24. Go Set a Watchman – Harper Lee
25. Splinter the Silence – Val McDermid
26. All the Birds in the Sky – Charlie Jane Anders
27. The Revolving Door of Life – Alexander McCall Smith
28. There Your Heart Lies – Mary Gordon
29. The Winter Sea – Susanna Kearsley
30. The Cafe By the Sea – Jenny Colgan
31. The Three Body Problem – Cixin Liu
32. The Almost Sisters – Joshilyn Jackson
33. Backseat Saits – Joshilyn Jackson
34. Resilient Greiving – Lucy Hone
35. The Bright Hour – Nina Riggs
36. Gods in Alabama – Joshilyn Jackson
37. American Eclipse – David Baron
38. Meddling Kids – Edgar Cantero
39. Every Anxious Wave – Mo Daviau
40. The River of No Return – Bee Ridgway
41. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory – Caitlin Doughty
42. You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me – Sherman Alexie
43. Primates of Park Avenue – Wednesday Martin
44. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
45. Less – Andrew Sean Greer
46. Oryx and Crake – Margret Atwood
47. You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) – Felicia Day
48. The Dark Forest – Cixin Liu
49. My Life With BOB – Pamela Paul
50. The Glass Castle – Jeannette Walls
51. The Jane Austen Project – Kathleeen A Flynn
52. Astrophysics for People in a Hurry – Neil DeGrasse Tyson (11/18/17)
53. The Year of Magical Thinking – Joan Didion (out of order)
54. Shrill – Lindy West
55. Vacationland – John Hodgman
56. Turtles All The Way Down – John Green
57. Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman
58. It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the World’s Family Tree – AJ Jacobs
59. A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
60. It Devoures – Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
61. Death’s End – Cixin Liu
62. Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body – Roxane Gay
63. Difficult Women – Roxane Gay
64. Seven Stones to Stand or Fall – Diana Gabaldon
65. The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan
66. My Italian Bulldozen – Alexander McCall Smith
67. Artemis – Andy Weir
68. Promise Me Dad – Joe Biden

Currently reading: The Power and From Here to Eternity

I’ve been thinking about reading Bad Feminist for a while, and still haven’t picked it up, but it’s been a pretty memoir heavy year in my reading, so when I was able to get Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body out of the library, I went for it, and slightly before that, when Hunger was checked out, I got Difficult Women (also by Roxane Gay but a collection of short stories) out of the library as well.

These books go together kind of perfectly to read around the same time because it a lot of ways, the short stories in Difficult Women are telling the same story that Gay is telling in Hunger.  As a person who thinks about writing fiction, but has never put much/any time into doing so or becoming better at writing fiction, it was interesting to me to really see how the events of her actual life had permeated the fictional stories she wrote.  Most obviously, many of the short stories are set in places where she lived.  But also, as she reveals in Hunger, she was the victim of a brutal gang rape at a young age, she spent a long time feeling very broken because of it, and basically letting people hurt her and break her more because she thought maybe being more broken would make it better or she thought, she just didn’t deserve to be treated better.  Pretty much all the women in Difficult Women are broken either by some particular act of sexual violence they experienced, or just by the general terribleness of their day-to-day lives.  I like a happy ending, so I preferred the stories where there is some redemption for these women, where they are treated with kindness and seem to think that they could eventually come to a place of lesser brokenness.

Hunger is obviously also about weight and eating and food.  I think I’m in a pretty common place reading this book because I identified with some of it, and some of it made me feel like an asshole.  I will say that as someone who once struggled with food and eating and numbers on the scale in a really unhealthy way, if you know that that struggle is inside you, you may not want to read this book. Because as much as Gay is telling the horrible truth about dangerous weight loss and bulimia, I could definitely see this book being somewhat triggering.  It was and it wasn’t for me, as I was reading it, at some points I was filled with the desire to get up and run and run and run, but I wasn’t filled with the desire to secretly not eat food and count calories, but I think that’s because I’ve finally realized that you can fucking kill yourself doing that, and I don’t want to be dead.  So yeah… if you have or have had a serious body image problem, eating disorder, I’m sure you will identify with a lot of this book, but maybe too much.

I felt like an asshole while I read this book because I have never been objectively fat.  I feel weird writing that, and there are certainly people who are skinnier and fitter than me, but there’s a lot in this book I didn’t identify with because I’ve never had to move in this world as a fat person.  I have judged myself harshly, but I have not been judged harshly by others in the way that Gay has been.  I’ve never worried a chair wouldn’t hold me, I’ve never worried about arm rests digging into me, I’ve never bought two seats on an airplane.  I have definitely judged others, and I’ve said careless things to people I love because it didn’t occur to me how privileged I was to not move in the world this way. I’m hoping that having read this book will make me less prone to doing that in the future.

Initially, I was going to say if you’re only going to read one of these books, read Difficult Women, but I think having thought more about Hunger, I would say, maybe you should read both.  Difficult Women, as fiction, is perhaps more enthralling, despite being very short, I really enjoyed the stories of many of the women.  But Hunger is raw and important.  And, for a memoir, actually a pretty quick read.

Currently reading: The Opposite of Loneliness and making a trip to the library for more fiction before this all gets too depressing….  Still going to read Bad Feminist someday…

So, rather than creating a new blog, I’m just going to start blogging here about books again.

Reader, this year I set myself a goal to read 52 books, and apparently I should have set a higher goal.  I’m currently at 55 books read with all of December still ahead of me.  I have a lot of thoughts about these books, and so I’m going to share some of them.  If you’ve read this far, you must be interested.

Most recent reads – Vacationland by John Hodgman and Turtles All the Way Down by John Green.

You must read Vacationland.  It won’t take long and it’s hilarious.  It, like MANY books I can now tell you, involves the author’s mother dying.  If there’s anything that makes someone want to write a book, it appears to be the loss of their mother (“What more is there to say than it was traumatic, a moment that breaks your life in sadness and fear forever? Not much except a little bit.”).  It’s also sort of a coming of middle age story about a fairly privileged white guy, and yet, because he’s very aware of his privilege (and perhaps because I am also quite privileged) I still found it very funny:

I guessed she was busy shoving feelings of her own away, shames and angers that I could not fathom across that sudden, nauseating chasm of class and privilege.  We’re not what you think! I wanted to tell her. I’m not fancy! I only went on television by accident!  But I knew what I was: the villain in a Stephen King novel. I wanted to die. Specifically, I wanted to be murdered by a sentient antique car being driven by a rabid Saint Bernard, because that is what I deserved.

This book made me laugh out loud a lot (the quote it not even close to the funniest part, I’m sorry I couldn’t find a really funny part to quote).  It also made me not laugh out loud because he lost his mother and he has some feelings about it that really resonate with me.  I have led such a privileged existence.  My Mom is/will be my first real loss, and it makes you lay awake at night suddenly aware that you won’t live forever and that this might be all there is and damn, are you wasting it?

I wish she were alive, but I am grateful for her death. If she were alive, I would likely still be working at the literary agency.  For how much longer in my life would I have believed there was time for everything? … Her leaving taught me about the worst sadness, one we all must face eventually…. She taught me that the world would continue without me. And eventually I learned the lesson…. Everything is cliché. Here death taught me that life is short.

I still rebel against this in my head — NO I AM GOING TO LIVE FOREVER.  But hey, eventually I will learn the lesson, hopefully before too long.  Maybe once I have a job that is fulfilling I’ll be willing to consider this more…

Turtles All the Way Down is also good, it really put me at least in that teenage mindset.  Possibility isn’t quite the word I’m looking for, but life just looks different when you’re fifteen.  Anything might happen.  The Fault In Our Stars was better, but such is life.

Currently reading: Hamilton by Ron Chernow (this one is going to take a while…) and It’s All Relative: Adventures Up and Down the Family Tree by AJ Jacobs.  Also considering a trip to the library…

Sadly I’m still carrying a lot of baggage around from last year. I’ve been stressed out and generally spurting emotions. Work has been tough. Telling people they aren’t going to see their kid for the holidays, dealing with crazy people, dealing with mean people, dealing with the overwhelming workload that just. never. stops. I’m resolving to try to work more steadily. To take specific time off, but also not force myself to say…do 5 hours of work from 7pm-12am… Wonder what I am taking a break from now? And also to try not to let people get to me so much. Yeah, me making a mistake isn’t great, but it isn’t the END OF THE WORLD. And yeah, someone may go off on me again, but heck they do that when I don’t make mistakes. So really, I just need to not let that get to me.

*Also I’d like to run 500 miles this year. Maybe 2 half marathons? If we’re dreaming big.

*Stop saying the word “remember” to my Mom. She doesn’t and it just makes me sad.

*Keep trying to force myself to eat apples and yogurt even though I don’t like them. Maybe see if I can start not hating grapes?

*Not overspend, take everything I’ve saved over this year in August and donate half to charity and put half towards my loans.

*Stop freaking out so much about the future, but you know apply for more jobs and such.

*Keep the apartment cleaner, clean out my room at my parent’s house.

I think that’s everything? What are you guys thinking about?